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Archive for April, 2020

Like the phases of the moon, our country has slowly moved from embracing conservative, anti- (big)-government ideology toward a more socialist democracy, and back again. In the 18th Century, we threw off the mantle of a king, and instituted checks and balances with our elected leaders in Congress. It was working pretty well for awhile and our political ship was trending toward starboard.

Then in 1994, Newt Gingrich happened.

Wanting to bring back orphanages was actually not a part of Newt’s “Contract with America,” he was just “thinking aloud.” Wanting to build more prisons and give tax breaks to millionaires was! He started complaining about “big media,” and comparing Democrats to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sound familiar?

“The states’ main fear is that if the federal government could not legally run a deficit, it would simply pass on safety, environmental, health, and other obligations to the states, without giving them the money to pay for new programs. Congress’s habit of enacting “unfunded mandates” has been the major strain on state budgets in the last decade. A federal balanced-budget amendment would likely make it worse.”

His nightmare scenario has come true, Mr T passes on everything, including his responsibility, in this public health emergency to the states. When I watched Gov Andrew Cuomo in his  daily presser, complain about having to get in a bidding war with other states just to acquire life-saving PPE and ventilators, I thought we were deranged… and when he said FEMA would jump in and UP the price even more, I knew we were deranged and possibly doomed.

I remembered reporting on Rumson Borough Council meetings in the 90s, how this Republican group of mostly old, white men waxed on about unfunded federal mandates. They choked at the idea. And just the other day, Mitch McConnell (a modern day Newt) told states to declare bankruptcy??

This morning I found this article about a billionaire enlightening in a creepy way. How does American capitalism work, how should business work; for the greater good, or for their investors’ greater bank accounts?  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/business/coronavirus-marc-benioff-salesforce.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

In a nutshell, The Chancellor of the University of California San Francisco could see the writing on the wall in early March. Cases of Covid were starting to skyrocket and he knew his medical center’s supply of PPE was low. So he called his buddy, the billionaire and “hyper-connected” donor, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.

“…that phone call set off a frenzied effort by Mr. Benioff and his team that drew in major companies like FedEx, Walmart, Uber and Alibaba. In a matter of weeks, Mr. Benioff’s team spent more than $25 million to procure more than 50 million pieces of protective equipment. Fifteen million units have already been delivered to hospitals, medical facilities and states, and more are on the way.

The relative ease with which Salesforce acquired so much protective gear stands in sharp contrast to the often chaotic government efforts. While states have had to compete against each other for scarce supplies and the strategic national stockpile of protective gear is depleted, Mr. Benioff and his team simply called up their business partners in China and started writing checks.”

 

Some might call Mr Benioff a saint, but while I found his actions altruistic, I was concerned that our country had to depend on his beneficence. Do we live in a democracy with a small “d” or is this an oligarchy, or a kleptocracy?

I sent a box of Lysol wipes and Formula 409 out to the Rocker and Aunt Kiki in LA last week, and somebody stole most of the contents en route. We are making masks in our kitchen and we can’t find disinfectant wipes, but Benioff can find a warehouse full of N95 masks from China in LA? To make matters worse, Republicans are still trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/03/republicans-could-kill-obamacare-in-the-middle-of-coronavirus-recovery

As our quarantine wanes piecemeal, state by state, we must remember this time in history when governors had to beg to save peoples’ lives.

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Yesterday I had to bite the bullet, I buzzed Bob’s head! He bought this Norelco hair trimmer weeks ago and I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t have to use it, but after watching a few YouTube videos I mustered my courage. He sat outside in the garden with a dish towel over his shoulders and I got to work. The buzzer had 100 attachments but I only used 4; one for the back, one for the top, two for around the ears and a small trimmer. It wasn’t so bad and I only left one small lightning stripe over an ear.

A runner cruised by and asked if he could be next!

But my next step was starting dinner. I defrosted some pork chops and began assembling the ingredients for rice and beans – shallots, garlic, rice, fire roasted tomatoes, and black beans. My chopping block now stands next to the sink, since my kitchen island has turned into a cutting table for our mask making endeavor. We have already made dozens of masks from donated material and tee shirts.

This week we delivered five masks to Great Grandma Ada and Hudson so that they could supply their friends. The routine so far is that we knock on the locked door and the receptionist opens it to exchange our bag of masks for their drugs. Then we sit in the vestibule and while Bob sorts their medications I talk on the phone, through the window, to Ada. But our last visit didn’t work so well.

First of all, the vestibule is a mini-Grand Central Station. Aides, physical therapists, private aides, and kitchen workers pass through every few minutes and every single one of them must stop… and knock… and have their temperature taken at the door. In the vestibule. One time a maintenance guy came in and started rolling up the carpet under our feet.

But the last time it was a piece of pecan pie that created the log jam. While one son (Bob), a doctor sorting his parents’ meds was sitting behind a table, another son came into the vestibule with his wife to deliver a piece of pie to his mother. And while one private duty aide was leaving and the receptionist had the door open, all four people, within arm’s length of each other, started into talking about pie. Granted they all had masks on, still it was getting crowded in there.

And although I found this conversation interesting, Bob was less than pleased, so he said, “Would you mind taking your conversation about pie outside?”

You would have thought he asked them to practice social distancing or something. In retrospect, I can tell when Bob switches into doctor mode where compliance is a given. It seems that everybody is a bit on edge these days, and long term care facilities are getting their fair share of bad coronavirus news. So the pecan pie fuse was lit, and the aide had a bit of a temper tantrum walking around outside, telling people that guy, my guy, doesn’t own the air. Calling him names while the receptionist disappeared and the couple stormed off to call in a complaint.

And it would have been comical if this wasn’t a life and death situation. I might have chalked it up to a misunderstanding over the Mason-Dixon line; we Yanks aren’t great at small talk, we get right to the point. But since Bob is also a caregiver, besides being family, going forward this “vestibule” arrangement isn’t sustainable. This semi-lockdown was the facility’s idea; aides go in and out of Ada and Hudson’s apartment all the time, to empty the garbage and deliver meals, and they only recently started wearing masks.

According to the CDC 20% of healthcare workers are infected with the virus, but they didn’t count long term care or nursing homes:

“The CDC’s report indicated most of the cases were white women in their 40s, according to The Washington Post.

Women made up the vast majority of cases at 73%, according to The Hill. Many of the infected professionals — about 38% — had underlying health conditions, and most of those who died from COVID-19 were 65 years or older, The Hill reported.

The report likely under counts the number of cases among medical professionals because of a lack of testing in a given region, The Post reported. There are also a number of institutions that are not testing health care workers in order to reserve tests for patients, according to The Post.”  https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article242019511.html

Instead of buzzing around like bees over gossip and horrible ravings about drinking or injecting disinfectant to kill the virus, let’s give ourselves a break and try listening to scientists. Here is a great article about two countries that are doing just that! https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/world/australia/new-zealand-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

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Anyone else having pandemic dreams? We’ve reversed our dream life lately; Bob has been having Covid nightmares and I can’t seem to recall my dreams.

Normally, I have a vivid and colorful dream or two every night, while Bob wakes up empty handed in the morning. He’ll listen stoically over coffee while I regale him with my nightly scenario, only to tell me he’s got nothing. I insist he must have been dreaming, he just can’t remember.

My dreams are the usual anxiety type – “I’m about to take a test and realize I never went to the class,” or “I’m about to get on a plane and the pilot is someone I know who doesn’t know how to fly.” They are actually pretty straight forward, and sometimes my dreams are a reminder to do something I’ve been putting off, like make an appointment with a dentist.

Good luck with that one now, although I could drive to Georgia to get a tattoo!

This morning, for the first time in weeks, almost 6 weeks in fact, I remembered my dream. I was in charge of a theatrical production and I’d promised a script to someone… I was running around but I couldn’t find it. (This is me. Every. Damn. Day with my phone) so I had to go outside… to find the script or the person. And the outside was like the outside of my original high school in NJ, only the sidewalk was crowded with people. I had to yell at everyone to “Make Way!” It was like the parting of the sea, get out of my way, “Back Up!”

Obviously a quarantine dream. Bob, on the other hand, has been dreaming like crazy! He gets into a situation and realizes he’s too close to someone. Or he’s all of sudden surrounded by people and has to figure the safest, best way out.

In general, fear is the dominant emotion manifested by coronavirus dreams. When fear or anxiety becomes too intense during our waking lives, deep, REM sleep fails and we may experience repetitive nightmares. Psychologists say that sharing your dreams with others may help .

“During our dream states, stress sends the brain on a trip. The neurobiological signals and reactions that produce dreams are similar to those triggered by psychedelic drugs, according to McNamara. Psychedelics activate nerve receptors called serotonin 5-HT2A, which then turn off a part of the brain called the dorsal prefrontal cortex. The result is known as “emotional disinhibition,” a state in which emotions flood the consciousness, especially during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when we typically dream.”  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-is-giving-people-vivid-unusual-dreams-here-is-why/

During the 60s, I didn’t really participate in the psychedelic drug scene, remember I went to Catholic school. The whole idea of walking around inside a hallucination never appealed to me, I’d rather be asleep on such a phantasmagorical journey. But this global pandemic is novel, it’s not confined by country or ideology. We are all experiencing a kind of PTSD, well most of us who aren’t driving around with Confederate flags on our pick-ups eager to open up commerce cause, ya know.

They’d rather sacrifice lives and die than have their liberty trampled! Who doesn’t need a good haircut about now?

I’m sick and tired of the vernacular of fear. Of a toddler/president who thinks everybody loves him. Of a government that can’t organize a simple supply chain for SWABS! I’m sleep and dream deprived but I’m not willing to give up now, not when my daughter has spent the last 3 days working in an ER.

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This morning Mr T has been rapid-fire Tweeting: “Liberate Michigan,” Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Virginia!”

He must be sweating this Covid crisis out; not being able to golf or visit his gilded palaces. As much he loves holding a campaign rally Corona Virus presser every day, with vacillating degrees of success, I’m sure he’s aware of his falling poll numbers. After all, he’s a “very stable genius” who loves ratings. So Mr T’s first phase of re-opening the country includes BARS and RESTAURANTS? Oh, and don’t forget to add a few GOP friendly beaches to the list.

This virus doesn’t play politics! Anyone with half of a stable brain knows that testing is the common denominator in every country that has lifted social distancing requirements. I’m very happy to report that yesterday, Gov Bill Lee announced free testing for everyone in the Volunteer State:

“ICYMI: Free COVID-19 testing is available to all Tennesseans, regardless of symptoms. We’re opening 15 new drive-through testing pop-ups this weekend across the state. Find a site near you: bit.ly/34JalHN 

And in another bit of bright news, did you hear that almost ALL the sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt were tested for the corona virus?

“Roughly 60 percent of the over 600 sailors who tested positive so far have not shown symptoms of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, the Navy says. The service did not speculate about how many might later develop symptoms or remain asymptomatic.” https://taskandpurpose.com/news/uss-theodore-roosevelt-sailors-coronavirus-asymptomatic

And here’s the takeaway according to my husband, the doctor – this ship is a select sample of relatively healthy, young people, but it could mean that 30-50% of the population may become infected without any symptoms at all! So if taking our temperatures before we return to work or restaurants is of little use, testing becomes even more important!

This desire to return to normal is universal. But is returning to “normal” really what you want? The Bride calls this pandemic era the Great Pause, and that suits me. What do we value most of all when our freedom to move about has been seriously curtailed? Parents with young children at home have a new appreciation for teachers. Think about doctors and nurses risking their lives for us, the Groom is working 24/7 on his Covid ICU unit this week. Those beds are full, but they haven’t had to use the cafeteria for a MASH unit.

Social distancing has been working in Davidson County; Nashville, a blue dot in a red state, has been starving the coronavirus, the rest of the state maybe not so much! “Vanderbilt researchers said Thursday they are now confident that many infected people in Nashville region are no longer passing the coronavirus to anyone else, and the overall number of people who are carrying the virus has begun to shrink.” https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/health/2020/04/16/vanderbilt-nashville-starving-coronavirus-but-tennessee-not/5145025002/

By slowing down, by pausing our economy, Mother Earth is able to take a deep breath. Still, we miss our families and friends most of all. We miss kissing and hugging our grandchildren, Sunday dinners, and going to a park for a picnic, visiting Great Grandma Ada and Hudson. Continuing care facilities are most at risk now, if we don’t stay the course until everyone is tested and a vaccine is developed we are putting our loved ones at risk.

Mr T must know if he is not re-elected he could be heading to jail. Don’t let the consummate con man dictate what liberation looks like. Voting by mail MUST be our next priority, not gathering on a beach.

The Bride delivered lunch this week, and we blew kisses.

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My kitchen looks like a sweatshop.

There’s the ironing board facing you across from the refrigerator, with its proud Rowenta iron sitting center stage. And a Singer sewing machine has replaced the French placemats at our dining table in this “open-concept” main living/eating room. Scraps of Bob’s Pati de St Barth old tee shirts are littering every available surface, waiting to be cut into straps for face masks… a relatively easy thing to make; like riding a bike for me.

In another life I used to quilt. I would make Log Cabin baby quilts and aprons with a Dresden plate pattern. I’d make Wedding Ring pillows in calico cotton. In another world on a mountain in New England, when my babies would nap I would sew.

But in this world, my daughter calls her Father to go over the protocol she will use for dressing in PPE for her upcoming shift. The Groom is On Call now, in the Covid ICU, following the same ritual of showering in their Red Zone before returning to his family, the same ritual that the Bride was using before Passover. She was just fitted today for her very own N95 mask, a month after our quarantine.

Weeks after a kind neighbor dropped off a few N95 masks for her – he had been in the construction industry.

But my daughter will still need cotton face masks, her colleagues will all need masks, to prolong the life of their surgical masks. Because in this great country, this administration has failed to provide the weapons for this war. In fact, we should all be wearing masks now if we must venture outside.

So instead of having a mental meltdown this past week, Bob and I are making masks!

There was one day that I didn’t bother to change out of my nightgown. One day when catastrophic thinking got the best of me. Nashville has been on lockdown for a month now; we’ve figured out how to use Shipt to get groceries delivered, we’ve mastered the art of Zooming, this “new normal” was almost becoming acceptable. Then, like many others lately, I hit a wall.

I could barely move.

This morning on Morning Joe, I listened to Norman Ornstein talk about his son Matthew, who struggled with mental illness for a decade before it claimed his life. Tonight on PBS, Ornstein’s documentary, “The Definition of Insanity,” will debut – it will tackle the stigma that still constricts our society around mental illness. The Catch 22 of trying to get our loved ones to take medication, only to have them stop and descend into psychosis, until they are hospitalized or jailed, and the cycle repeats itself.

“At age 24, Matthew had a sudden psychotic break, and that began a difficult decade-long journey for him and for his family and friends. … Matthew was particularly afflicted by one component of his illness: anosognosia, the inability of a person to recognize that he or she is ill. Since Matthew was over 18, neither family members nor professionals had any legal authority to get him treatment for the symptoms that kept him from living a stable life.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/opinion/how-to-help-save-the-mentally-ill-from-themselves.html

Whenever we do get back to “normal,” when we reopen the country, I’m sure we will see a spike in mental illness – it will have an inverse effect. As Corona admissions go down, the need for psychiatric beds will go up. Agoraphobia, “The abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks” will skyrocket. Maybe because my foster mother Nell never liked leaving the house, this is something I struggle with on a good day.

But not today. Today we will drive to see Great Grandma Ada and Hudson and Bob will sort their pills in a vestibule while I talk through the glass. Today we will drive-thru Krispy Kreme for donuts to deliver to the Grands. We will stand at the edge of their yard and talk for a little while. And we will continue to walk Ms Bean outside, carefully avoiding other people in the street.

Today we will make more face masks.

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I saw a meme the other day that went something like this, “There will be 2 types of people on the other side of this quarantine: great cooks and alcoholics!” Let’s all strive for the former.

While Bob and I were chopping up nuts and apples for our virtual Passover Seder, I started thinking about food and our relationship to it – do we live to eat, or eat to live? Now, our days revolve around meals like never before. What kind of traditional foods would we need at this year’s Seder table? What could we do without, since it’s just the 2 of us?

What could we even order on Shipt? Horseradish? Would grape juice be just as good as Kosher wine?

Then I started to wonder if people were going to cook a big ham, studded with pineapples and cherries for Easter? Is everybody still coloring eggs even if there are no little children to hunt for them? Today is Good Friday, and as far back as I can remember it was always pretty unremarkable. The statues and the crucifix at Sacred Heart Church were covered in purple cloth, the mood was always sombre. At home, we gave up meat, so I either ate shrimp or fish sticks!

In Ireland, people will plant root vegetables, especially potatoes today:

“…most had a custom of setting their scealláin, or seed potatoes, on Good Friday when it fell in March. This was termed putting down the early pot”, and the people worked each day from Good Friday until they had set all the potatoes.

If Good Friday was late, and fell in April, it was seen as the point up to which such work should focus. In any case, it was imperative that all the spuds be covered before the cuckoo was heard. Nobody wanted to be a “cuckoo farmer”  https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/10-good-friday-traditions-you-ve-never-heard-of-1.3864889

My foster mother Nell was never a great cook, admitting that if it didn’t come in a can she didn’t know what to do with it. But her one reliable, home-cooked, go-to, comfort meal was pork chops and applesauce, with a side of french fries. This was always a special treat, along with her once a year “Haloopkies.” Pork stuffed cabbage simmered in sauerkraut accompanied by rye bread and butter, nirvana for me in the 1950s.

But I inherited my love of cooking from my mother, the Flapper. Almost every weekend I’d watch her chop, cook and bake delicious meals for her diverse family of Catholic and Jewish kids. She abhorred waste, like many Depression-era women before her, so she’d always make a soup out of leftover pot roast with barley or a mulligatawny stew out of whatever was left in the refrigerator.

I just looked up the word “mulligatawny” since I thought it was a word she made up, but no. In fact, it’s a curry stew! The Flapper loved to embellish the truth, which I hated at first, but came to enjoy with my siblings. If someone dared to ask her if a dessert was homemade, she’d proudly say “Of course!” But you never really knew.

The first dish I cooked last month as the pandemic was looming large was chicken chili. It was the last night we had our Grands sleepover, before we were told to shelter in place. I added whatever vegetables I had left in the refrigerator to the pot, plus 2 cans of beans. I chopped up a poblano pepper for a slight whiff of heat, and served it beside sliced avocado and of course, bread and butter. It was a hit with the Bug and the Pumpkin!

Bob’s got his raised bed planted and we have already picked spinach. We ordered food from Shipt online and were delighted, I may never set foot in a grocery store again.  Never thought I’d ever have someone else do my grocery shopping, but here we are in this brave new world. Searching our pantries for lentils and flour, or matzoh, and remembering how cooking can nourish the soul.

I sent Bob over to Ms Berdelle with some chicken soup last night. Maybe I should start a chicken soup food truck when this over? He ran a pretty great Zoom Seder for our family and friends, from 3 years old to 95! It’s time to clean out the cobwebs in our homes and our minds; this is the season to declutter, to wash our patio furniture, to renew our lives, to plant and welcome fresh air and sunlight into our cloistered homes.

This is the season to stay at home and save lives.

I hope that cooking brings you joy during this lonely, holy week, and that your pantry stays stocked with your choice of beverage. Below Bob is setting up the Zoom Seder, while I prepare the Seder plate.

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But Mr T plays one on TV.

He says we should probably wear masks, but he won’t. Why? Because hey, kings and dictators don’t wear masks behind a “resolute desk.” This guy with the bad spray tan is too vain to model the best defense we’ve got for this “invisible enemy,” besides social distancing. I get why he thinks he’s a king, but how could an inanimate object be resolute? So of course I had to look up the definition of “Resolute,” an adjective:

firmly resolved or determined; set in purpose or opinion:

characterized by firmness and determination, as the temper, spirit, actions, etc.

I think we can all agree a desk cannot feel resolute, but Mr T is resolutely set in his opinions. He is vengeful, narcissistic, and mendacious. Maliciously mendacious in fact. I’ve been trying to look for the silver lining in this global pandemic. Bob and I have stopped watching Mr T’s coronavirus pressers, which are just stand-ins for his campaign rallies. I’ll occasionally listen to Governor Cuomo who is the voice of reason these days, along with a real doctor, Anthony Fauci.

Another real doctor is the Groom, who is currently researching that anti-malarial drug that Mr T is so fond of mentioning. His research on this drug started last week, LAST WEEK, along with 40 other institutions across the United States. Until we have any evidence, any evidence at all, it is political and medical malpractice for Mr T to continue to push the idea that we “may” have a possible “cure” for coronavirus.

The Groom is set to be back “On Call” in his ICU in about 2 weeks, right when our curve should hit its peak. This is not a reality show Mr T, and you are not a doctor.

Dr Sanjay Gupta on CNN is another doctor I believe; he’s been saying the same thing my husband, another real doctor keeps saying – the antibody test is going to be critically important. Not just to bring those who’ve recovered back into the workforce, but also to give everyone a certain sense of comfort. After all, my little “cold” right after the tornado may have immunized me already.

Dr Gupta and Bob have also been criticizing our lack of testing in the beginning; seeing how South Korea confronted the pandemic with lots of testing and tracing and isolating is illuminating.

“At the peak, medical workers identified 909 new cases in a single day, Feb. 29, and the country of 50 million people appeared on the verge of being overwhelmed. But less than a week later, the number of new cases halved. Within four days, it halved again — and again the next day.

On Sunday, South Korea reported only 64 new cases, the fewest in nearly a month, even as infections in other countries continue to soar by the thousands daily, devastating health care systems and economies. Italy records several hundred deaths daily; South Korea has not had more than eight in a day.”   https://www.n20/03/23/world/asia/coronavirus-ytimes.com/20south-korea-flatten-curve.html

Of course it’s extremely hard to catch up when your president spends 2 months blaming this pandemic hysteria on the mainstream “Fake” news, like a toddler. Nothing is ever his fault! He is, after all, the greatest living con man with a “…disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/05/opinion/trump-coronavirus.html?searchResultPosition=1

My daughter is another doctor on the front lines of this outbreak. She gets out of her car after a shift in the ER, takes all her clothes off and dumps them in their red zone (garage apartment), then takes a shower. Only after that, will she walk across her lawn and enter her home. She has had to reuse her PPE and still worries about possibly infecting her family. I believe every single thing she says.

Our family will be Zooming in for a Passover Seder this week with another doctor in the family, a retired orthopedic surgeon on Long Island. It’s Holy Week for the 2 big religions in our country and I wish you all a peaceful and safe Seder and Easter. And I wish Mr T would let his real doctors do the talking.

Here they were as baby doctors in Virginia!

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