Sunday, March 29, 2020

There Are No Emergencies During a Pandemic

My sister is a floor nurse at a local hospital and is on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. Mom and I keep checking in on her, knowing that, right now, work isn't just physically draining but also emotionally exhausting for her and everyone she works with.

The hospitals protocols are changing almost daily, with new information and as they prepare for the onslaught of COVID patients. One of the things that's in the news right now is the need for ventilators and for N95 masks. N95 masks are a certain kind of mask that keeps out the smallest particles and are the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep health care workers from getting sick while treating COVID patients. They are in short supply right now. And then there are the ventilators — hospitals want to have on hand significantly more ventilators than they usually own for this epidemic. This has been a point of much discussion in the news, with people speculating why hospitals would need so many more ventilators. I mean, other flu varieties don't require this many people to be ventilated, why now?

Kristi explained in a phone call with our mother and I, and here's the reason:

There are no emergencies during a pandemic. 

Nothing, not your loved one being unable to breathe or having a heart attack, is worth risking the lives of healthcare workers who are there to save them.

During normal times, if someone presented to the hospital in severe respiratory distress, they would be put on a bipap machine. It's like a c-pap machine that people use for sleep apnea, only with pressure on both the exhale and the inhale. Patients can be in a regular hospital room if they are on a bipap machine.

Except...

While someone is on a bipap machine their breath is aerosolized, airborne in the room for others to breathe in. Without enough N95 masks to protect health care workers, chances are high that those treating these patients will contract the virus.

If the person's breathing continues to worsen and their oxygen levels don't rise, then they are put on a ventilator, which is a much more serious intervention. The patient is heavily medicated because a tube is shoved down their throat. Without sedation, patients will try to grab at it to remove it,  possibly damaging the airway. During the intubation procedure of someone who has COVID, everyone in the room is highly at risk for being exposed to whatever virus or bacteria the patient may exhale, so personal protection equipment is essential. After the intubation, a machine breathes for the patient and they are typically in the ICU so their medication and oxygen levels can be closely monitored. It is not pleasant.

During the coming epidemic, hospitals are skipping the bipap stage and going straight to the ventilation stage. Why? One, because they don't want to expose their caregivers to the disease by aerosolizing the virus with bipap machines. Two, if the patient worsens, the care team will be frantically donning their protective equipment outside of the room while the patient is in distress, unable to breathe. By the time the care team is able to enter the room, the person may be unconscious, suffer irreparable brain damage from the lack of oxygen, or have died.

From a nurse who was on the front lines of fighting the Ebola epidemic: There are no emergencies during a pandemic.

There is no rushing into a room during a code blue, nurses and therapists surrounding a patient and providing life-saving care. There is no treatment without first taking precautions that the patient may — MAY — have COVID if any symptoms are present. Right now hospitals beds are being taken up by people who are waiting for test results to rule out COVID, since it currently takes 48 hours to get results back. Until a patient is known to NOT have the virus it is assumed they do, meaning that each time a nurse enters the room they must gown up appropriately. It takes much longer to care for patients now than when a pandemic isn't going on.

So yes, there is a shortage of ventilators. There is a shortage of N95 masks. And scientific data is behind all of the changes that hospitals are making to reduce mortality during this pandemic. Science and facts.

*NOTE: This was published with the input of my sister. It is not a reflection of her opinion or that of her employer, only mine.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Cooking During a Pandemic

Our house is out of chicken. I was low before the whole coronavirus/hoarding thing happened, and now all of the stores are out.

It is a main staple for me in my cooking, it is so versatile in all the ways you can prepare it. I've shopped multiple Cub Foods locations, my local Lund's, Wayne hit Costco, and no one has any. We are not dark meat eaters, all those chicken thighs can just sit in the case.

I'm so bummed. And yet...my kids couldn't be happier.

"Chicken this, chicken that," they would say. They are thrilled. No chicken during the entire quarantine! Hooray for them!

Both Wayne and I picked up cuts we normally wouldn't pick up. Pork tip roast. New-to-us cuts of beef. Turkey tenderloins.

And tonight, I roasted a pork tip roast with a dry rub recipe I selected from Allrecipes.com.

As it roasted the house filled with its aroma. It drifted from the kitchen through the entire lower level, up the stairs and finally to the closed bedroom doors of the two teenagers. They finally came downstairs wondering, "What smells so good?"

This stuff, oh yeah.

Even my non-pork eater ate two slices of this roast at dinner, it was that good.

Later this evening, at a virtual happy hour via Google hangouts, my friends and I kept looking for silver linings in what's going on right now.
  • More acceptance from corporations to accommodate work-from-home arrangements.
  • Insurance companies finally accepting and paying for telehealth appointments. (Yay progress!)
  • Unity across our entire country regardless of party.
  • Universal focus on what's important in life: Family. Relationships. Love.
These are crazy times. The last pandemic of this size was in 1918. The Spanish flu took 50 million lives worldwide — its mortality rate was 10%. The coronavirus has a mortality rate of 1%, nowhere near as deadly. And yet, if 70% of Americans get it, 2.5 million people will die.

Let's not go there.

So please, stay safe, stay home, love your family, and eat all the random sh*t you can buy. Except this stuff. I would be hard pressed to buy this, even with the enticement of bacon.

Good Minnesotans never take the last one. Anyone? Anyone?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

We Interrupt Daily Life for This Important Message


  • Don't touch your face.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from everyone around you.
  • Do not shake hands or hug or touch anyone else.
  • If you feel sick, stay home.
  • If you believe you've been infected, call the Covid-19 hotline at 800-HOLYSHT.

The past two weeks have been unprecedented in my lifetime. I've never seen such a fearful response to a virus, to the point that we are indeed in a pandemic, complete with panic-buying and supply hoarding.

It started in Wuhan, China, moved to London, then to Washington State. Now it's in 39 of our 50 states.

It's the flu.

It's a respiratory sickness, one that is worse than usual, and people who are immuno-compromised or have respiratory issues in general are at high risk, as are the very old and the very young.

Markets have crashed. Whole industries (cruises, travel, airlines) have been practically shut down. Grocery stores have been emptied.
Local retailers at kiosks closed their businesses at Southdale Mall. National retailers still open but mostly empty. 

Our local Walgreens, all paper products and hand sanitizer are out of stock.
Local grocery store. No onions? I think we can live without onions...
And as of today, Marissa's school is closed for the next THREE weeks. Three — two for quarantine time and one for their regularly scheduled spring break which they can't possibly cancel in case some families still plan to make the trips they had planned previously. Which is not advised, but you can't stop people from going.

No word yet from Lindsey's online high school, which, I suspect, will be business as usual since it's 100% remote anyway. Wayne's company is asking everyone to work remotely starting tomorrow as well.  And I, well, I work for myself part-time out of the house anyway, so there's no change there.

Which means...we're gonna have a full house. Except Wayne volunteered to be the only person physically in the Minneapolis office, to bring in the mail and what-not. He will be there by himself, because, as he told his boss, they would have to "pry my cold, dead hands off my office to get me to work from home." That's how much he was looking forward to attempting to be efficient and work while at home with his family.

I've never seen a societal response of this kind to a flu warning. Don't get me wrong, I'm not downplaying the illness, but the human response to it appears over-the-top. As public health officials say, if we do our jobs in hindsight it will look like over-reaction. If we don't, well then, buckle up, we're all in for a ride.

I mean...why are people just NOW buying hand soap? Don't we all normally have hand soap in our homes? Do people not normally wash their hands often? To make sure a family doesn't run out of hand soap for a three-week period you may need three, four bottles of hand soap tops. So...why are people buying cases of it? Don't get me on the toilet paper hoarding. That seems like such an American response.

One family meant to purchase 48 rolls of toilet paper through Amazon but accidentally ordered 48 cases, so now they've got enough toilet paper for a small village. Or for their family for the next 3 years, however they choose to use it.

I went grocery shopping this past Monday and got everything I needed for the week. I bought toilet paper at the grocery store (which I usually don't do) because Costco was out the last time I was there; I hadn't thought anything of it at the time. By Friday, grocery stores were emptied, their shelves silent witnesses to the scramble of the early morning crowd who had emptied them of their contents, snatching toilet paper and disinfectant wipes from each other's hands in a frenzy.

Here's the most frustrating part for me. We have two beautiful, wonderful, amazing daughters whom I love dearly who both also have mental health issues. Lindsey has thrived in her Normandale College classes. She's back in a traditional classroom, interacting with "real" people and loving the social engagement. She is always more excited to work on those classes homework than her online high school courses because she has to be prepared for the next class discussion. Now, one of her college classes is moving online for the rest of the semester, and there's a strong possibility that her other college class will as well. Her spring break was last week, but classes are suspended this coming week as well due to the coronavirus.

Most college students would be thrilled — YES! No more slogging to class, sitting in classrooms, having to work on group projects and talk to other people. Lindsey, on the other hand, is incredibly disappointed. This was her only social interaction outside of family, her only necessary trip out of the house three times a week. She enjoyed talking with the other students, she loved the debates and discussions. And now they are canceled.

And then there's Marissa, my social butterfly. The thought of not seeing her myriad of friends in person for three weeks is devastating to her. What will she do when she can't joke with her friends between classes, chat at lunch and give hugs? She loves to hug her friends. She is an incredibly genuine, kind-hearted girl who is always thinking of others. She is going to wither under three weeks of distance relationships.

I, in the meantime, continue to work away at my various projects, do housekeeping duties and guide my girls in their daily lives. I can understand why Wayne wouldn't want to be at home when everyone else is home. When he's working, he is 100% focused on work. I rarely call him at the office, he is there to be efficient and get things done so he can get home. He will probably have an amazing two weeks at work with no one else there! Such an introvert.

We'll see how all of this develops. In the meantime, stay healthy, stay away from others, and cough into your elbow, not into your hand.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

My Writing Project: Paul's Memoir

My journal from 1990-1993.
I have begun a writing project, one that I said back in 1993 deserved to be written. I am working on a memoir of my first love, Paul, who died of cancer at the age of 20.

He and I went to high school together but didn't start dating until after we graduated. We were together throughout college and in the fall of my junior year he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. While doctors said his chances of survival were 80%, after 10 months of aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, he became a part of the 20% that doesn't make it.

I've been in touch with Paul's mother and asked for her blessing to put this down on paper, which she agreed to, though talking about Paul and looking at things that remind her of him is still incredibly painful 28 years after his death. Her grief and mine were and continue to be so different — I had lost my future husband, she lost her child.

I am in the process of going back through my journals and diaries back from when Paul and I were together. The journals document our relationship, its ups and downs, his cancer diagnosis and treatment and eventual death.

One journal covers the majority of the time, the next is a little snippet and then mostly empty, as I had graduated college and life became, well, life.

This was the opening entry of the first journal. I find it ironic because little did I know that by the end of the same journal I would have an actual body to deal with, one that belonged to someone I loved very much.

Here's my first journal entry:

A couple nights ago I had a strange dream. The setting was an old farm or some type of rural building. I was there with an older man, possibly the owner. He was somehow shot and killed and I was shocked by his death. However, this wasn’t the main part of the dream, as that happened quickly at the beginning. 
The burial was the appalling part of the dream. His body, no casket or coffin, was lowered by two ropes into a grave which was filled with water. He was bloated and white, but once under the water he took on a greenish cast. They took the ropes out from under him, causing his body to roll in the water. A dirty glass was placed over him and planks were nailed over the glass, spaced apart so you could still see his body. He floated up to the glass, pressed against it in a desperate way as if trying to escape. Then I woke up. 
Good beginning to a diary, isn’t it?
And so this process begins. I may or may not update this blog as this continues, we'll see how this goes. 


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Creamed Tuna on Toast

Subtitled "Validation that I'm a good cook."
My youngest is known for her back-handed compliments, statements like:

"You're not as annoying as I thought you'd be." (Said to a new student after they became friends.) 

"This isn't as bad as I was expecting." (Said to me after taking a bite of a dish I made.)

"After eating school lunches, your cooking is pretty good, Mom!" (Also said to me after she started taking school lunches in high school.)

So I have to set the record straight.

I'm a good cook. Most of the food I prepare is edible, not chewy, not dried out, has flavor and provides nutrients to my family when enjoyed in moderation. I make an amazing marinara sauce, have learned how to make fresh pasta which has gotten rave reviews, and can roast and saute vegetables to perfection. 

Today I recounted to my kids one of my favorite meals that I ate as a kid — creamed tuna on toast. It is exactly what it sounds like. If you want to try it, here's the recipe:

1 can of tuna
1 can of canned peas (15 oz, strain out the water first)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup

Mix it all together, add a little milk if needed and warm on the stove. While warming, toast up a bunch of bread. Serve the stack of toast alongside the bowl of creamed tuna, and voila! It looked a lot like the photo above when you put it on your plate.

I loved this meal as a kid. It had a blend of mush and crispy toast, or mushy toast if you let it soak in. And I loved the satisfying "pop" of peas in my mouth when I ate them.

When Wayne and I were first married I made this dish for the two of us one night. I like peas, he does not. If his mom ever cooked with tuna he doesn't remember eating it. We sat down to our stack of toast and bowl of creamed tuna and he looked at me skeptically. He tried it, ate one spoonful and got himself a can of chicken noodle soup from the cupboard which he warmed up and ate instead.

"Don't ever make that again," he advised. And I haven't, for as much as I've wanted it myself.

Fast forward 25 years. We have two girls, teens now, neither of whom like peas or tuna. One of them is gluten-free, and gluten-free bread isn't known for being the best, even when toasted.

Today I just described this dish to them both and told them how in my house growing up, it was a staple dish in frequent rotation. They both made gagging noises and agreed that I am indeed a better cook since I never try serving them that dish.

Speaking of which, I believe this entire post is a back-handed compliment to my mom, because I loved that dish and clearly her grandchildren wouldn't. Love you, Mom! 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA)

An appropriate visual for living with someone with anxiety (SWA).
I wrote a post yesterday about a trip Lindsey and I took to New York City over New Year's. All in all, it was an incredible, amazing trip. I had glossed over the real purpose of this trip; it was an exposure for Lindsey's fear of flying.

For us, this was a Very. Big. Deal.

Lindsey hasn't been on a plane since a terrible experience flying to and returning from the Dominican Republic three years ago. At the time her overall anxiety level was really high and she had a panic attack on the plane that lasted an hour. If you've never experienced a panic attack, for an entire hour Lindsey believed she was going to die — truly believed, in her heart of hearts, that this was the end. It was terrifying and traumatic. Once we arrived, we took a car service to our resort, and, sadly, saw a car-scooter collision that was more than likely fatal for the scooter driver. It reinforced the idea that she was going to die on this trip. She and I left after just two days because she was unable to function, she was dreading the flight back so very much. The flight back was just as horrible as the flight there, and she said that her flying days are over.

Fast forward three years.

Lindsey is in a very different place with her anxiety. She is juggling online high school classes with college courses, held down a job, has grown in confidence and in knowing herself. So when she said she was willing to try to get on a plane to see a musical, I was happy that she had identified a "reward" for this exposure that she would be willing to do.

It is a very different experience traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA). This successful trip did not happen without a lot of planning and accommodations.

For one, after arriving in NYC and getting to my sister-in-law's condo, Lindsey was completely exhausted. We didn't go anywhere else the rest of the day and got take-out from the nearest bodega for dinner.
Truth 1: If traveling with SWA, be prepared to be in a city with incredible culinary experiences but be unable to take part in any of them.
Before going to bed we talked about all the places we wanted to see during our very short trip. Lindsey had a whole laundry list of things she wanted to do, but I know we wouldn't be able to hit them all. I knew more than she about how long it would take to travel from one part of the city to another, and also had a realistic expectation of how much energy she would have for seeing all of these things.

Her sleep that evening was interrupted by a terrible stomachache, a known latent side effect of high anxiety for her. Which meant that there would be no morning tourist stuff for us, sleep is critical to her mental health and she doesn't function well without it.
Truth 2: Vacationing with SWA means planning light schedules with plenty of time between outings to rest. Heavy itineraries are anxiety-inducing. 
Once again back to the bodega for breakfast which we ate in the condo, then we took a Lyft down to Lincoln Center to re-create a photo of her chasing pigeons from when she was in New York at age 2. We cabbed it over to the Met but the line to get in was incredibly long and snaked all the way to the end of the block. Lindsey said she wasn't up for the long wait in line and didn't want to do anything else, so we cabbed it back to the condo.
Truth 3: Vacationing with SWA means paying for transportation to go places only to turn around because the crowds are too much. Flexibility and patience are needed. 
We chilled back at the condo. I took a nap before we had to get ready for the show. We decided to eat at a restaurant near the condo, then take a Lyft down to the theater district. The restaurant we chose had a problem with their wood oven, which meant the menu was cut in half. We managed to find things to eat anyways, but this little glitch in our plans meant Lindsey was nervous that something else was going to go wrong. And, eating out makes Lindsey anxious, so she was ready to get the bill and go as soon as our meal was finished.
Truth 4: Dining out with SWA means meals are sometimes rushed and you never ever eat dessert out.
Our Lyft driver to the theater district was so nice! A lovely lady named Clara, whose calm demeanor and careful driving helped Lindsey. We got stuck in traffic on the way there, but because we left super early it didn't matter.
Truth 5: Traveling with SWA means anticipating delays and always leaving plenty of time. 
We arrived at Winter Garden Theater a full hour and 10 minutes before the show, plenty of time to walk around Times Square before curtains went up, which we had talked about doing. And yet, once we got there Lindsey didn't want to leave, she was concerned something was going to happen to us and we wouldn't get back in time. So we stood in the lobby for 40 minutes until they opened the doors, and sat in our seats for 30 minutes before the show began. We had time to get a poster before sitting down, use the bathroom and get a drink.

The opening act was incredible, and then there was a delay for technical difficulties. I've never seen a delay for issues in a play of this caliber before. Of course I was catastrophizing in my head as the minutes ticked by, hoping they would be able to figure it out and not cancel the show. I'm sure Lindsey was doing the same. After about 10 minutes they figured it out and the show went on.

We finally explored Times Square after the show, when Lindsey was less anxious about missing it. It was filled with lights and people and it was a great 15-minute experience, at which point Lindsey had enough of the crowds and we went back to the condo.
Truth 6: Some tourist experiences will be shortened or avoided because crowds are exhausting to SWA.
The next day we decided to try the Met again. There was no line and we were able to walk right in and begin exploring. We ate lunch there, then felt refreshed enough to keep going. I let Lindsey lead, seeing whatever she wanted, moving along when she was done and staying to absorb where she wanted to spend more time. I could've spent a lot more time in the galleries of the Impressionists. There were entire rooms of Monet, Renoir and Matisse, and we glanced at them as we walked through.
Truth 7: Sightseeing with SWA means putting your own interests second to theirs, especially since waiting and boredom increases anxiety. 
After four hours in the Met, I convinced her to walk through Central Park a bit since we were right there. After about 15 minutes we grabbed a cab and headed back to the condo.

It was New Year's Eve. We ordered take out from a nearby Italian place and had the most amazing homemade pasta. We watched a movie and were in bed by 10 p.m. while a million people gathered in Times Square just a few short miles away to watch the ball drop. (See Truth #6).

We never went south of Times Square. We did few "typical" tourist things. We never saw the lower Manhattan skyline, 30 Rock, Empire State, Statue of Liberty or the World Trade Center. We spent more time than most tourists would snuggled up on a couch with a blanket, watching shows.

I was relating our successful trip to a relative of mine, who is looking forward to our family being able to take more trips in the future. We are, too. But one successful trip does not mean her anxiety is "gone" or that this is over — it is one success in a journey toward a better life living with anxiety.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Start Spreading the News....

Lindsey is a big fan of Broadway musicals — she's already seen Wicked, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots and, of course, Hamilton, all in Minneapolis. This past fall she came across the music of "Beetlejuice the Musical" and immediately loved it. She started looking into the musical itself, which has won a few Tonys this past year, and discovered that it's currently playing on Broadway and nowhere else.

"If we get tickets to see Beetlejuice on Broadway, I'll totally get on a plane to get there," she said to me out of the blue one day this past fall.

"Really?" I queried. Lindsey has a significant phobia about flying after our last disastrous spring break trip. After discussing the possibility of this trip, Wayne and I said, "You're on!"

Thus our trip to NYC was planned. We decided that it would just be Lindsey and I, as Wayne and Marissa had gone to New York two years before. We would be able to stay in Laurie's condo in Washington Heights, as Laurie was in Europe on holiday.

Long story short, the trip was a wild success. The flight out went beautifully, even though it was delayed by 2 hours. (Extended waiting increases Lindsey's anxiety.) She was practically giddy when we landed, she was so thrilled that it went well.

Lindsey was in New York when she was 2. I like to joke that Marissa was there too, but I was pregnant with her at the time so she couldn't see much. Not sure why she doesn't remember it. Anyway, we have a series of photographs of Lindsey at age 2 chasing pigeons in front of Lincoln Center. We decided to try to re-create those photos. It was a little challenging since it was raining out and there were hardly any pigeons. But we did find one willing participant. I would say we were successful at the re-creation.

Unfortunately it rained most of that day and was expected to be clear the day we were supposed to leave. So we called the airline and changed our flight to leave a full day later, giving us two full days in New York.

Beetlejuice was amazing. We had just spent $52 on a glass of wine and a bottle of water for Lindsey and shortly after Beetlejuice was singing "Enjoy your $50 wine." We thought he was joking about how expensive wine was, but apparently not!

Before curtains went up.
After the show we walked through Times Square, which was filled with all the theater-goers whose shows had just ended. It was energetic, full of light and crowds and vendors and tourists.

Crowds in Times Square.

Lindsey in Times Square. 


The next day we spent the afternoon at the Met, taking in an exhibit of armor and one of vintage dresses. We had tried to go the day before and the line to get in wound around itself and all the way to the end of the block, probably because it was raining and all of the New Year's Eve tourists were looking for something to do that was indoors. This time, we walked right in and spent four hours walking from gallery to gallery, taking in all kinds of paintings we had no idea were at the Met. We happened across "Washington Crossing the Delaware" and were blown away by the size of the painting.
Lindsey in front of the "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting. 
Armor that Maxamillian I had made for his 12-year-old son.
He must've thought a lot of his son's manhood.
That night was New Year's Eve, and over a million people were gathering in Times Square to watch the ball drop. On the other hand, we were curled up with blankets on Laurie's couch, watching a movie called "Leap Day," appropriate considering that 2020 is a Leap Year. We ordered take-out from a nearby Italian place and it was amazing. Homemade pasta and delicious sauces, we both deemed it a grand way to ring in the new year.

Selfie attempt in Central Park.
The next morning we went back to LaGuardia for the flight back home, which went as well as the flight out. Lindsey entertained herself watching "Maleficent 2" on the plane and was surprised when it was time to start descending from the clouds.

All in all, it was a fantastic return to air travel for Lindsey.