I’ve been taking part in illness tracking with outbreaksnearme.org since the Spring of 2020, when the Trumpist COVID debacle was in full swing. Ya’ll remember those days right? The hazy smoke-filled days as civilization fell? The zombies roaming the streets swarming the unwary?
There was no official testing to be had. No way to know who was sick and who wasn’t and no way to socialize without risking your own life. So we hunkered down without any government to been seen, no authority coming to the rescue, waiting for the chance to score some toilet paper from the remains of the local shopping center while covered in protective gear to keep the zombie plague at bay.
When outbreaksnearme.org started it called itself COVID near you but within a few months the organizers realized that they could use the more generalized data to track spreads of any infectious disease in the population. It also allowed people who just had symptoms to report themselves sick even when they didn’t know what it was.
A full year has passed since those hellish days of anarchy, with me always always responding “healthy” to the prompt:
COVID Near You is now Outbreaks Near Me! We now track flu too. Are you still healthy? Please answer Healthy or Sick. Reply STOP at any time to unsubscribe.
Today I finally had to respond with sick. The Wife has been out galivanting around town joyful at having escaped from the zombie apocalypse, mask-less and fancy-free for the first time in recent memory. While she was out having a good time she apparently picked up a bug. I, of course, caught it from her because that is what I do. I’m three days into it now, a nasty cough, aches and pains, and chest tightness that is triggering the Meniere’s symptoms. I’m having a joyful time.
It’s almost enough to make you miss 2020. Hunkered down in your hovel, hoping to score a clean corncob to wipe your ass with. Zombies scratching at the walls while you heat yourself next to the fire you made from the last chair in the house, boiling the leather upholstery for something to drink and chew on later. At least there was only one disease out there then. One disease that made you want to chew on the brains of your neighbors.
…although the lethargy spread out over nearly a week. I’m only getting back to my old habits now, three weeks later. Getting back to my old habits just in time for the Wife to be hospitalized with some other unrelated illness. Ah, the joys of normal life.
My dad came to me in a dream last night. He was disappointed in me. He wanted to know why I didn’t want to be a man. He and his first son were outraged that I wouldn’t conform, wouldn’t want to be a man like they were.
Then he told me my hair was too long and he demanded I get a haircut from his favorite barber, just like he always did when he hadn’t seen me in a long time. I told him no. No I will not go get my hair cut, I will cut my own hair. Don’t you know that there is a plague still raging out there?
He sort of goggled at the notion of my doing the work myself and after thinking about it for awhile he asked me what I though he should do with his hair. I looked at his hair in my dream. It wasn’t the hair that was on his head on the day he died. That hair was smooth and white. This man’s hair was even patchier than mine has become. I told him I would cut that hair even shorter than he usually wore it. Wear that age with pride, I said.
He cried then and hugged me, and I wondered to myself that if he had only showed that kind of caring and vulnerability more often when I was young and impressionable, I might have been more willing to see myself as a man when I became an adult.
She doesn’t want to see her name used on the blog, or when I happen to reference her in other online forums. She probably doesn’t want her name associated with my writing in much the same way that Margaret has been associated over time with an amazing ability to argue about anything. She has never understood why I use my own name on my own work.
I am who I am. Like Popeye. Or Descartes. There is no hiding who I am behind another name. It will eventually come back to me as it does to other authors who continue to work at their writing. All I have to do is keep writing long enough and someone will notice it is me writing whether I want them to or not. But I don’t have to use her name or the children’s names. I can do that favor for them, so I will.
I started calling her the wife because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way. This was back when I worked for Tom Hatch, a lifetime and more ago. So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since that time and the appellation just naturally migrated to the blog because of this. The wife has always referred to me as her significant other, which I find clever and cute at the same time. This is probably the reason we are still together after all these years.
At some point in the fourteen years since I first crafted a narrative for explaining the significance of the wife the proverbial “I can’t remember when we weren’t together” moment has occurred. I know that those moments existed, and that they mattered to me before she was a part of my life. They mattered until they didn’t matter anymore. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I’ve been married to for over a quarter century. Defined by the two children we’ve raised together, both of them adults now.
Does this mean that I’m old? Never. The children keep me young. They keep me young, while reminding me just how old I really am. Reality is a bitch like that. We both agreed we wanted children, way back in the pre-marriage days. If we were to get married, we would have children. We would be for each other and nobody else, until death do us part. Straying from each other would mean death showed up just a little bit earlier than death had planned.
I moved to Austin alone at the end of 1988, the beginning of 1989. Moved in with friends who were renting from a homeowner. In between the time I moved to Austin and the time I went back to get married and bring the wife to Austin with me, the housing market had collapsed in Texas and our friends were squatting in the house they had been renting, a house that ended up being owned by the Resolution Trust Corporation. The precursor tremors of this collapse is what made me relocate from San Angelo to Austin in the first place. Architecture work had dried up and so had a lot of the other work that easy access to Savings and Loan money had made possible. The tightening financial situation had everyone at each other’s throats and it felt like it was time for a change.
When I moved to Austin I also wanted to confirm, in my heart, that I couldn’t live without the wife-to-be. I suspected this was the case, but I had been utterly wrong on that score before, many times. There is nothing quite like temporary separation to prove where one’s heart lies. It took scant months for me to realize I was completely out of my depth in Austin without my trusty wingman. I had to have her back at my side. I would make an honest woman of her or die trying. I made a special trip back to San Angelo just to propose to her.
We were married thirty-two years ago today. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. Her parents were in town for the graduation and helped us pack up the house the day after the wedding. They stayed to haul all our worldly possessions to Austin and brought the big horse trailer along with them from Oklahoma to do the job.
The wedding was planned by several mutual friends. Colors selected, dresses made, location reserved. Judge in attendance, annoyed at the lateness of the ceremony, but happy to be there for us all the same. It was a beautifully scripted event right up to the point where it ended. The happy, barely conscious couple kisses and then realizes no one has choreographed how to exit the arbor the wedding was held in. We all look blankly at each other.
The wife says, “Weddings over, see you at the reception.” and I laugh.
Did you notice the arbor reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. It didn’t rain much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. It’s the principle of the thing. Mother nature rained on our outdoor wedding, whatever that means. That wasn’t all. There was also a tornado after the reception and the trees across most of San Angelo were stripped bare of leaves when we emerged from the hotel we spent our wedding night in.
Late ceremony? My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony. They went to Dunkin’ Donuts in their tuxedos on the way to the wedding. Of course there was a delay getting the donuts so they were late. The soon-to-be-wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (moving next day) At the reception, opening the champagne for toasts, I was instructed to “aim for his head!” My brother or the best man? Both at the same time? I missed everyone with the cork. This was probably the smart move.
When my brother was married a few years later, we wrapped their wedding present in donut boxes. Bright pink and orange Dunkin’ Donuts to go boxes taped together in an unholy hodge-podge of a wrapping accident. I don’t think either one of them appreciated the joke. The wife and I laughed for weeks. Joy is in the ears that hear, or maybe revenge is a dish best served cold. Best served cold, like donuts are before you dip them in coffee.
Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. It was the drunken wedding march before the player crapped out completely. The wife-to-be’s garter fell off more than once and had to be retrieved so that it could then be removed again properly at the reception. The Superman and Lois Lane outfits we discovered secreted away in our hotel room on our wedding night. The tornado damage the next day as we are driving out of town, heading for Austin.
Driving, not much unlike how we met the first time. We met at work, four years prior to that day. We both drove test cars. Not vroom-vroom racing, and not on a track. Tire testing on regular highways in stripped-down cars:
The too long; didn’t read version of the story is this; eight hours a day trapped in a car, driving what was known in popular parlance as the double-nickel. Boring fifty-five dead-level miles an hour for four hundred miles per shift. The cars drove two shifts a day even if the drivers didn’t and since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly. If you were the lucky one whose car broke down, you were stranded with that broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you and your car.
Some of us were a little edgy about the wait for the tow truck for up to three hours situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them while trapped sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.
I did nothing during my driving shift aside from chew up my guts worrying about everything that I wasn’t doing because I was trapped in a car. No phones, not even radio stations for most of the drive. Just a CB radio and whatever portable music you brought with you. I hated the job. It was the destruction of my one avenue of solace at the time, driving for pleasure. The only time I had to think was when I was driving, and driving eight hours a day every day was killing me with over-thinking my far too simple life.
This was where I was mentally on that fateful day when I was introduced to the person that I would come to affectionately refer to as the wife. Strung out on too much caffeine, like all drivers are. Mentally frazzled from eight hours of self-flagellation at all the mistakes I had made in life up to that point, including the screw-ups in timing and spacing that I was supposed to keep track of as the tail driver over the last eight hour shift. Bored with my music. Bored with my life. I was anxious to go home, smoke a joint and just mellow out.
Over my shoulder I hear “Hey, Tony, this is that girl I wanted you to meet.” Oh, right. The one with a knife like mine. She said she would show me how to use it. I turn around and I notice her grin first. This was a setup. I should have known. “I hear you want to meet my baby.” she says. “This is my baby.” She draws out a blade that is a good two inches longer than the butterfly knife that I carried and casually flips it back and forth without even checking to see that she is holding it right.
I don’t know if I’m going to see blood or some other kind of demonstration next. Then I notice her eyes. They were grey-green. I’d never seen anything like them before. Not anywhere. Those witches eyes, framed by strawberry-blonde hair, and that impish grin on her pixie face. I was simultaneously in love with her and terrified of her all at the same time, in that very first instant. Casual authority. The way she just flipped that knife around, in exactly the kind of way that I didn’t do unless I wanted to be bandaging a cut in the next moment. That was freaking me out the most.
I think I said “Oh, is that how it works.” Then I showed her my tiny blade, which she laughed at. She proceeded to show me which end of the handle to hold and how to flip it around without cutting myself. Then she demonstrated how to stealth drop one side of the two-part butterfly handle so that she could gut someone in a single motion from draw to finishing stroke. A stroke that stopped mere fractions of an inch from my gut. Yep. I was terrified. She was my dream and my nightmare all in one woman. I had to get out of there or I was going to faint. I made my excuses and fled home to the apartment I shared with a roommate, a roommate who was rhythmically banging his date of the week on the other side of my bedroom wall.
I was out at a Circle K down the street from my shared apartment, meeting another friend a few days later. I was there to pick up a box of comic books, the third one that this particular friend had sold to me. I’m pretty sure he was trying to seduce me with this contraband. Why do I think that? He had tried taking me to gay bars for several weeks at this point in time. Gay bars that he pretended weren’t actually gay bars and then feigned surprise when I noticed that there were no girls and that the guys around us were sitting just a little bit too close. Since that tactic hadn’t worked, he had decided he might have more success appealing to my love of heroic fiction and calling me back to a time before inhibition had closed off the kinds of drives he wanted to exploit with me.
As I was standing there going through the box of books, haggling over a price, I notice a familiar face drive up next to us. It’s that knife-girl. My knees got weak. She was there to get her Dr. Pepper, her lifeblood. She had bailed out of the little lakehouse that she and her estranged husband still shared on inertia alone and drove into town to get a change of scenery and to drop some quarters in the video game arcade down the street from where I was haggling over comics with my friend.
She saw the box of comics and her eyes lit up. “Is there any Superman?” she asked. I knew I had to get to know her better, right then and there. I completely forgot about the friend who had been trying so desperately to get me to open up to him for weeks and I don’t even remember his name now. She and I thanked him for the trade and we piled into our separate cars, then she followed me back to my apartment.
As we went through my most recent acquisitions on my bedroom floor, as well as dragging out the two previous boxes of books that I had acquired so she could see what treasures were hidden there, we discussed the other things that we had in common. Not only was she into comic books and a video game fanatic like me, she was also into Star Trek and speculative fiction too. This was too much for the both of us to ignore.
I had been looking all my life for another castaway from my home planet. Another refugee in this backwater chock full of mundanes, someone who understood what Science Fiction was and why it was the modern day equivalent to mana from heaven. We looked deep into each others nerdy eyes, and then kissed like it was the first time for both of us. We made love for the first time right there on top of that pile of comic books.
So the way into my heart that my friend had tried to exploit worked perfectly, it just didn’t work perfectly for him. I used those comics to seduce The wife instead, and then I married her. Thanks, man. I wish I could remember your name.
32 Years Ago Today Babe. Happy Anniversary
We lived together for just shy of four years before we tied the knot, got married, made the relationship official. We pretended that we weren’t living together for all of those years so that her parents wouldn’t know she was living in sin. They were from a different time, a completely different world than ours; and they’re both gone now. No harm in letting that cat out of the bag. We were shagging it for years before we told you mom and dad. Hope you didn’t mind.
In 2006 I started marking anniversaries by writing a piece with this title, adding to the first one rather than subtracting from it when I could, Just like our love for each other evolves and becomes more complex over time. May it continue on in this fashion forever. It is an interesting dream to contemplate.
She will not appreciate the song list I’m adding to the versions that occur after 2019. Those are not her kinds of songs. This is her kind of song:
It’s also her kind of movie. Giant monsters stomping on buildings. Explosions. I love drama, romance and intrigue. Explosions are nice, but they don’t keep me interested for long unless there are some decent characters on screen as well. These are my songs for her, and the lyrics of these songs still speak to me even if I can’t hear the music anymore:
Love I don’t like to see so much pain So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away I get so tired working so hard for our survival I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive
And all my instincts, they return And the grand façade, so soon will burn Without a noise, without my pride I reach out from the inside
On this date more years ago than I like to count I officially became a parent. I have been raising children since I was a child myself, a phenomenon that is called parentification in psychological circles, so I’m told. I helped raise children, even though I had no idea how to raise them and they weren’t mine to raise. Sometimes in life you get handed a job that you didn’t ask for and you do the best you can with it. I was the eldest in a pack of five for several years; and as the eldest child in a single parent household you spend a lot of time herding the younger ones.
Helping to raise your siblings isn’t really parenting in the true sense of the word. Since you are a child yourself you can always count on mom to get home at some point in the day and then you can quit pretending you know what you are doing and get back to being a child yourself. You can always blame your mom or dad for putting you in the position of having to raise their children for them.
Once you are the parent, things get a little more complex. The early experience helped though. I knew how to change diapers. I knew how to feed a baby, hold a baby, a thousand different things. But at 2 in the morning, when it’s your turn to rock the baby, you find that you miss the days when the real parents would come home and take over. Well, not really. But just for a minute there.
They grow so fast. It couldn’t have been as long as she says it’s been since she was born. There is no way that it has been thirty years. She still looks like a high school student. She’s a good bit taller than she was when I first saw her. Then, I could hold her in the crook of one arm, a little over 6 pounds, light as a feather. I can remember taking her to school for the first time. I remember when she learned to read and then talked me into reading books that she liked. Dozens of them. She got me hooked on anime, an artform that she has a passion for to this day, all of us discovering she has quite a talent for art through her anime sketches. Spending years after that discovery trying to encourage her to explore her talent, without smothering her with pressure to do something with it.
I fondly remember dropping her off at the high school she still looks like she attends, dropped her off for the first time. Sitting there wondering out loud if I “should walk her in…” I mean, I had walked her into every school before this one. Taken the time to meet her teachers before I allowed them to teach her anything. Not this time. The disgusted “DAD!” that I got in return was the first clue I had that she was growing up much faster than I was really ready for.
She’s already on an exclusive list of one in my book. She is my only daughter. That’s a good enough reason to celebrate this day all by itself, without needing costumes and candy, like her brother gets on his birthday. Wouldn’t you agree?
“Go run and play.” She said. She always said that. She never understood how impossible that was, running and playing. Even short sprints would leave me breathless. when I was in elementary school, participating in my first field day, I tried running in all the races. I couldn’t finish most of them. When I came back in tears dejected and frustrated, the teachers tried to console me with a participation award. I still have it around here somewhere.
No one, especially not my mother, the “go run and play” voice in my head, ever thought to ask if I was having trouble breathing. Never in my life did anyone ask. I just assumed this was the way everyone felt while running. The feeling of slow asphyxiation, the inability to ever get enough oxygen into the blood.
I remember the time when running became a thing that everyone thought they should do. I listened incredulously to the descriptions of the runner’s high, wondering how anyone could ever get to that state of euphoria while slowly strangling to death. But I was intrigued by the idea, so I bought a pair of running shoes and some sweats, and tried running a few times just to check it out. Could I run long distances, at all? In all the times I’ve tried, I have never made it much further than a hundred yards, no matter what mindset that I started the run with. It simply was not possible for me to run long distances. I was never going to experience the runner’s high.
Bicycling was different. If you do the exercise correctly, bicycling puts you in the prone position. In a prone position you breath easier, and I could ride all day on reasonably flat ground if I needed to. Trying to ride uphill was a near-impossibility though, as I soon found out when I moved away from the flatlands of Kansas as a teenager.
Breathing is key. If you can’t breath well enough, you can’t do any of these things. I never understood this fact when I was younger. I just assumed that everyone faced the pain of their lungs being on fire all the time that they were exercising or competing. I simply wasn’t driven enough. Wasn’t motivated enough. Wasn’t good enough to compete.
That is where interest in competition stopped for me. I knew I couldn’t win, so I decided not to try. No sport that required physical stamina would ever be something I would excel at. That was me as a teenager and a young adult.
When I met the Wife, she infected me with a need for competition that I had never cultivated in myself. We tried playing softball on the team one of my architecture firms maintained. Between dysgraphia causing me to catch balls with my face almost as much as I caught them with my glove, and my restricted lung capacity keeping me from being able to sprint around the bases without needing to stop and catch my breath, I didn’t lead the roster of most valuable players on the team. To say the least.
I had to change allergists a few years back. The allergist that I had been going to retired, and the random choice that I was required to make put me into the hands of an allergy and asthma specialist. He immediately suspected that I had borderline asthma, and confirmed it with testing. Once again my mother’s indoctrination into the cult of Mary Baker Eddy had taken its toll. Had she been curious enough to go talk to doctors about her son’s weird breathing problems, I might have gotten treatment early enough that my lungs would have developed better.
We treated the Son’s borderline asthma when he was a baby. It was breathing the albuterol with him while giving him his treatment that made me wonder if perhaps I had similar problems. I few years later I no longer had to wonder about it. I’d like to officially thank the Church of Christ, Scientist for fucking up my life and the lives of my mother and her siblings and her children. Without their influence, I wouldn’t have had to watch my mother die from a treatable disease, with virtually the last words out of her mouth being “doctor’s don’t know anything.” As it turns out, they seem to know quite a bit.
Don’t know what to think about this yet:
The preclinical results (in animal models) show that this vaccine induces the sustained production of antibodies specifically directed against IL-4 and IL-13. Indeed, six weeks after the first injection of the conjugate vaccine, 90% of the mice presented high levels of antibodies. Over one year after primary immunization, 60% of them still had antibodies capable of neutralizing IL-4 and IL-13 activity.
I’ve been dizzy for several weeks now, in an unbroken chain of dizziness. During this period of dizziness I had blood drawn for my semi-annual blood tests, tests that came back showing that I was anemic. I wasn’t anemic by much according to the normal ranges for iron in the blood; but still it was low enough that my doctor was concerned about it and thought to mention it to me.
I basically blew the concerns off at the time. I mean, anemia? Right? What is anemia? It means low levels of red blood cells in your blood. It wasn’t critical. It wasn’t like I was four pints low on blood and I really needed a transfusion (I’ve heard that reported by others who have had anemia over the years) I was a few points low on the percentages of iron in my blood in one test. I figured, no big deal, I’ll just start ingesting a bit more iron in my diet. I shifted to taking the Wife’s daily vitamin for a week or so (her’s has iron in it. Men generally don’t need iron supplementation, women do) but after that I went back to my same old Men’s One-A-Day that doesn’t have iron in it, and I forgot all about it.
Until today. Today, as I’m standing there with the world in a fog of dizziness around me, not actually spinning but always worried that the general dizziness might turn into vertigo, it suddenly occurred to me. Brain function. Oxygen carried by red blood cells. Red blood cells distinguished by their ability to carry oxygen because of the ability to bond with the iron that is in them (that is what makes them red after all) is it possible that this prolonged bout of dizziness is caused by the anemia and not the Meniere’s?
To answer this question I turned to Dr. Google, like most of us do these days. As usual, Dr. Google was not a useful source of information on the subject of anemia and related dizziness. This image is the summary that Dr. Google offered me for the search phrase dizziness low iron. See what is second on the list? It took a minute for the reality of the situation to sink home.
Acupuncture. Acupuncture is second on the list of recommended treatments for dizziness. I was almost apoplectic with outrage while reading this summary. Acupuncture has no proven use for dizziness, and yet it is second on the list of what to do about dizziness from anemia. Why? Why is this on the list at all? Why does Dr. Google think that medicalnewstoday.com is a reliable medical news source? Why is this unknown resource cited in a summary that purports to offer solutions to a particular problem? Cited at the top of a list of other possible answers to the question.
I’d like to thank Dr. Google for putting the word anemia back in my vocabulary today (words keep disappearing on me when I’m dizzy like this) put the word back in my vocabulary list so that I can hone the question I want to ask, but seriously? Why is is this website quoted as a source? In Dr. Google’s defense, Healthline is the first resource offered on the page, but the clarification block appears directly under that resource. Healthline’s value as a resource is also questionable. I wouldn’t take their advice as being rock solid without checking facts in other places first. When you read symptoms off a list of symptoms and you start saying “yeah that sounds right” even though you haven’t been complaining about that particular symptom, it’s time to find a second resource.
Using the search phrase dizziness anemia proved to be even less revealing than the previous search phrase. The top resource on that results page was yet another poorly written questionable source that I wouldn’t trust to give me advice about which direction was North, much less give me advice on how to treat chronic health issues.
After a few hours of fruitless searching I decided to quit looking and simply treat the problem that I know exists and see if that helps. I already know I’m anemic because my general practitioner told me I was. I was anemic when this dizziness started. I’m going to approach the problem as if I was suffering from anemia, and simply start by taking some iron supplements to see if the dizziness recedes or not. I have also been listless and tired a lot lately. Maybe it is anemia after all? Stay tuned.
Several days later, after a few days of adding iron to my diet (The Wife’s supplement didn’t have iron in it contrary to my prior statement) I’m already starting to notice less dizziness. Which is good. I didn’t want to have to go back to the ear, nose and throat doctor and get steroids injected into my inner ear again.
I will only be adding iron to my diet for a few weeks at most. I don’t want to overdo it and cause other types of damage that can be caused by having too much iron. I’ve never suffered from anemia before. At least, no anemia that I know of. The doctor who told me I was anemic also told me that blood donation could not have caused the anemia, but I’m at a loss to explain why I would suddenly be anemic outside of the blood donation that I had just given the day previous to getting the blood tests done. I guess I will go back to him and get an order for another blood test and see if the anemia is still present, after I’ve finished my few weeks of iron inclusion.
Weather and allergies frequently mess with my vestibular system. These are a known triggers for Meniere’s in some people. I thought the dizziness was coming from weather and allergies, but then it lasted through several changes in both. I tried the vestibular therapy exercises, as I mentioned previously on the blog, and they helped for a few hours but the next day the dizziness would be back. This is a last-ditch effort. I did not want to take iron supplements because I know that iron can be quite toxic at high doses.
I don’t know what caused the dizziness and I won’t know, possibly ever. This is the problem with chronic illness and common complaints like dizziness. If the dizziness that I’ve had for a solid month goes away, and I get a blood test that shows the anemia is gone, I will have demonstrated correlation. An interesting set of facts that might be related. If I get extended dizziness several more times and each time taking iron makes it go away, I’ve demonstrated a possible causal link. At least for me.
Dizziness is one of the most common symptoms/complaints that doctors hear. Almost anything can cause it. Dizziness is not just one thing, either. It can be a mental fog. It can be a feeling of imbalance. It can be active rotation and when it is active rotation it should be referred to by its real name, vertigo or rotational vertigo. Every time I get a symptom these days I’m always wondering if it is Meniere’s or if my thinking it is Meniere’s means something more serious is going on and I’m missing it.
What I do know now is that next time I donate blood I will be sure to include more iron in my diet before and afterwards. I don’t want to do this again and blood donation is still my only explanation for the anemia. If I become anemic again even with these precautions, then I’ll get concerned.
The rental house I lived in when I moved to San Angelo in 1985 had these damn space heaters in it. Still had them, fifty years after the house itself should have been condemned. Only the ones in the bathroom and living room worked, and when I say worked I mean the gas could be turned on and lit, and there were enough heating elements in them to radiate heat out into the room. I don’t mean that they kept the house, much less the room they were in, warm.
When I moved into the place in the Spring of that year, my new roommate had been living there alone for quite some time. A recent divorcee, he was living in a bachelor’s paradise. The kitchen sink had a motorcycle engine in it. Under the engine was the rotting remains of a summer feast that he hadn’t bothered to clean up before taking the engine apart on top of it. The bathtub had the engine from his truck in it. He had been showering off with a garden hose outside, or going home to his parents house on lake Nasworthy to get cleaned up. Had been driving several miles out to their lake house on a pretty regular basis, before the motorcycle broke down and after the truck broke down. When the motorcycle quit working he was kind of stuck in a rut, until I showed up.
I slept on the floor in the bedroom, on a mattress we salvaged from somewhere. He had his bed in the former sitting room. It had its own front door that we never used. A second front door that let onto the front porch, the nice entrance to the nicest part of the house, the one that still had the best finishes in it for those long-gone guests of the poor people who had probably assembled the building out of the spare trash that they had cobbled together from another construction project somewhere in town.
How we got through that year is a mystery shrouded in clouds of Ganja smoke. What I can say is we made the place livable in pretty short order. We put the truck back together with twine and bailing wire, and he rebuilt the engine for his motorcycle, which let him go back to riding motocross in his spare time, and we managed to live there for most of the rest of that year until the freeze hit. when it got cold, the downside of the shabby and time-worn construction of the house showed itself.
The house was made of pasteboard. What’s that, you ask? Paper? Not paper no, but it might as well have been paper for all the good that it did. To assemble a pasteboard house you put up corner posts and frame the doors and windows. They are generally square houses with four rooms, one in each quadrant of the structure. As I mentioned, ours still had two front doors. One door for the sitting room that you invited your guests into, and the other door was for the living room, where the family spent their time, back in the 19o0’s when it was built. In the center of the structure, where the four interior walls would meet, you put the main structural post to hold up the peak of the roof, which slopes down to just about head height at the eaves. The roof was usually made of tin, and was definitely the most durable part of that house.
After you have your doors and windows framed up, you run lap siding from the corner posts to the door and window frames. There are no studs in the walls outside of the studs required to hold the windows and doors in place. The interior walls could be made of almost anything. Anything that would hold up to what came next. On the inside face of the exterior siding you then staple chicken wire or plaster lathe (if you could afford that) and then you plastered the chicken wire and the backside of the siding to make the inside face of the exterior wall of your house. You would then carefully plaster the interior walls so as to make them look like walls, too.
The resulting interior surface is markedly strange-looking, with accentuated bulges all around the doors and windows, where the only framing in the walls actually existed. You have now created your pasteboard house. It is paste applied directly to the boards that the rain runs off of on the outside of your house, and the interior walls are so thin as to make privacy largely a figment of your imagination.
There is no insulation value in the walls of a pasteboard house. The temperature outside the house is the temperature inside the house. Those little space heaters were like candles in the wind, the drafts through the cracks in the wall were that bad. We had to prop our feet up right in front of the fire to feel the heat at all. The less said about the intolerable heat in the Texas summers, the better. The swamp cooler had mosquitos living in it, just to add to the fun of the oppressive heat. But on those winter nights when it really got cold, it was impossible to get warm anywhere in that house.
The pipes froze, of course. Indoor plumbing was an afterthought, an addition that took up the space where a sleeping porch had been once upon a time. That room had the space heater that could keep the room warm, since it was the smallest room with the lowest ceiling. But the pipes froze routinely because there was no way to keep them warm. We could leave the water trickling over night, but that usually just meant we had icicles hanging from the faucets when we woke up.
The last few weeks we were there, the wooden floors started to bow up, which made sleeping or even walking on the floor an interesting dexterity test, especially when stoned. Clearly the exterior walls were not keeping the moisture out of the house, and the resulting swelling of the floorboards caused them to buckle in several places. We never could figure out how to get them to lay flat again once they started doing that. Which was too bad. The floors were about the nicest thing about the place before they started to buckle.
I caught pneumonia that winter in that rental house on Adams Street. I caught pneumonia and had to beg a space to stay at a friend’s house. A friend’s house that seemed like a palace in comparison to the rental we had on Adams. A palace with insulated walls and central heat and air. It even had indoor plumbing that wasn’t an afterthought tacked onto the back, a bathroom taking up what had been the best place to sleep in the house during the summer. Instead the bathroom was inside the house, like a bathroom should be.
That was my last experience with space heaters. I got lucky. I didn’t asphyxiate because the rooms were so drafty there was always enough oxygen to feed the gas fires and the living, breathing people, and I didn’t set myself on fire sleeping with my feet in the grate. Also? The friend I bummed some crash space off of was generous enough to let me keep living in that comparative palace that her parents had entrusted to her, let me keep living there until I found an apartment in a completely different part of town. An apartment that wouldn’t kill me. Which was a step up, for me.
In the cool light of an impending winter’s day, watching as the world economy spirals down the drain of the Coronavirus pandemic; as the various nations of the world including the vassal states of my own country flex their muscles to assert their dominance, and lastly in light of the naked insanity of our president and his supporters, is it completely reasonable to ask the question:
Is this it? Is this the end of us?
The question could be answered in a number of ways. Parsing the question, it depends on what you mean by the word us. The human race will continue on, and the world will continue spinning just like it always has. In that sense the answer is no. No, it is not the end of us. Some form of government will continue. Other nations will take over our leadership role. This process has already started and will continue whether we want it to or not.
A different take would be to observe that every empire in history has fallen. They rise, and then they fall. We watched the Soviet Union dissolve before our very eyes just over thirty years ago. This could be the point in time where the empire that the United States maintains falls apart.
Maybe our empire should fall apart. Maybe we shouldn’t have an empire in the first place? I’ve been warning people for years that the US is one major crisis away from ceasing to exist. Some people laughed when I first proposed this problem back in the day, the problem that the United States is a paper tiger.
A paper tiger in that, the American people don’t want an empire. They never have wanted one. The federal government in Washington D.C. established one anyway. They did it in our name, at the urging of power brokers of previous generations. Stealing the lands of our neighbors and putting native peoples to the sword in a fair approximation of England or France or any other empire-building nation of previous generations.
We have built a military that is unrivaled in the modern world, spending blood and treasure at a phenomenal rate to the benefit of our corporate masters and even to the benefit of the assembly line workers that build all the armaments that we currently deploy. We can, with pinpoint precision, remove any threat that we recognize as a threat with that military. We can do this and we have done this, right up to this point in history.
We are the wealthiest, most powerful nation in recorded human history. How can we just cease to exist?
…and here we are laid low by a virus, the simplest form of life on this planet. Life so simple that it barely qualifies as life in the first place. It is a little bit of replicating code that has evolved to use the larger bits of life around it to make more of itself without ever knowing what it was doing. It just does what it does, and we can’t stop it.
We can’t stop it. Not with jet planes or nuclear weapons or all the money in the world can we stop it. We can’t stop it unless we accept that we have to stop it, and then make that the thing we need to do now instead of building jet planes and nuclear missiles. This is the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes, bigger than the crash that happened in 2008 that we still haven’t recovered from. It is possible that we are living through the greatest crisis in recorded human history, when our children’s children look back at this time through the lens of history.
The future of the United States as a political entity is a small thing compared to the effect that a pandemic can have on the human psyche. In the end that is really all that matters. Unless we can grasp the threat we face right now and answer that threat. Unless we put aside the petty dictators and their Trumpismo’s and focus on the real threat, the fear that this virus inspires in us all and the impact that its continued existence unchecked in the world represents, then the United States will be done for in spite of its globe-spanning military presence and its corporate reach.
…and just maybe, in the end, that is the way that it ought to be.
At five in the morning Friday, after an evening spent feasting with the same three people that I’ve been COVID quarantining with since March, them drinking champagne, me drinking water and hoping to be able to empty my bowels later (a generally empty hope as it was that night. Alcohol causes constipation, something on the avoid list for those of us who have issues with our guts) a late night spent watching television in an all-to-rare showing of familial appreciation, I was woken from a rather weird dream in which I could hear animal noises coming from a nearby set of bushes, only to discover that the weird noises were the Wife trying to get up off of the toilet and failing to be able to manage it, try as hard as she might.
Spinal stenosis has been having its way with her over the last few years, and it has caused her to become a frequent visitor to pain specialists as they try to address the various pain complaints (neck, back, feet, knees and legs) that seem to crop up at almost random times and places. The last visit to a pain doctor for treatment was a few days ago, and we thought she was heading into a more lengthy period of being free from the daily grinding pain that Spinal Stenosis inflicts on her.
With a little coaxing I was able to help her get moved into a chair in the next room, but it was clear to both of us in a very short time that we were going to have to transport her to the emergency room in order to get the problem diagnosed and addressed, because the pain that had started bothering her as she and the Daughter were preparing pies and cooking ham together was simply getting worse with time.
The problem she was having did not appear to be related to the recent treatments, but the only way to be sure was to bundle her up and take her to a doctor. So at six am amidst the Black Friday sale desperation visible at every shopping center we passed, I drove her to the ER of the hospital that we seem to be spending more and more time at these days.
With masks in place and temperature checks passed, we were ushered into a private space where the nurses and doctors popped in and out and over the next hour or so, until they finally agreed on the pain meds they wanted to try out. The problem here is that most of the pain meds that have been made available over the last few decades don’t seem to work well for the Wife, and most of them are also extremely addictive with some severe side-effects to boot. She has some preferences for older pain drugs, but those drugs are interdicted as barbiturates or some such, and so you have to pull teeth in order to get a doctor to prescribe you any of them. But those drugs do work, if you can get someone to give them to you. The emergency room doctors will not be doing this. They’ll try some other new drug, one that isn’t already deemed bad for some reason or other. It was a new drug, so we figured why not?
Then came the attempts to get an intravenous tap into the Wife’s veins. This is always a hit and miss process with her. Very few nurses seem to have the skill to get a needle in one of her veins. After a few tries the nurse dragged in an ultrasound machine specifically set up to help nurses with people like the Wife , people who don’t want to give up their secret blood supplies to interlopers like medical professionals. It was a cool gadget and with it she was able to hit a vein with the least amount of trouble I’ve ever seen in the many times I’ve watched them try to get a needle in that woman.
With the IV in place they could finally do the thing they wanted to do, and they gave her the pain medication she needed. Her blood pressure receded from the scary levels it had been at up to that point, and she finally started to doze off, only occasionally being woken by the alarms that seemed to go off every time she fell asleep. Heart rate too low, blood oxygen too low, whatever. After this had gone on for awhile, the nurses came back in and hooked her up with some oxygen and gave her a second shot, and at that point she actually slept for a bit.
Hours had passed by then. As I sat there in my mask trying not to touch anything other than my phone, I marveled at the hectic non-stop activity all around us. City hospitals are always a little busy, but I’ve never seen the kind of activity that was going on during that morning. Signs of the long pandemic we are suffering through were everywhere. Plastic sheeting hastily taped up to partition the various spaces that used to be simply curtained off. Masks, face shields and gloves were in place for every person who wandered in and out of the room, including the janitorial staff. The room next to the Wife’s was filled and vacated three times before we left there sometime around noon. Everyone looked tired and stressed, and I wondered if we really should be taking up these poor people’s times with some simple pain complaint that seemed almost trivial in that time and place.
The Wife was sleeping, which was all I really cared about. Sleeping, when she hadn’t been able to sleep at all before that point because of the constant pain. As I mentioned, they discharged her at about noon Friday. We got back to the house and got her into bed, and she promptly passed back out again. The pain doctors are all on holiday, of course. None of them will be available for consultation again until Monday. In the meantime she needs pain medication to keep the back pain to tolerable levels, and none of the pain meds that are commonly on offer do anything to help her with the pain she is experiencing. The ER doctors got her pain to recede enough that she has limited mobility again but they didn’t have any medication to send home with her.
The Wife has to be able to walk in order for her to to get around inside our house. It is an older two-story home, and it simply isn’t set up for wheelchairs or even a walker to work inside of it, even if she stays on the first floor. She can barely get around the house on crutches. Luckily we had some crutches that her father bought her after she injured her leg in high school and that we have never let go of since then. If we hadn’t had those crutches we would have had to call an ambulance to even get her to the ER in the first place, and she wouldn’t have made it back into the house when we were discharged and sent back home.
One good thing that the COVID pandemic has done is allow telemedicine to gain traction in society. Leaving the house is an invitation to get infected, and so talking to doctors via video chat makes it possible to see a doctor without having to sit next to sick people for several hours at a time. We managed to get a telemedicine appointment with or general practitioner on Saturday morning. That is the miracle of telemedicine. Seeing your GP for a few precious minutes on the weekend in order to get you some medicine that you need so that you can not be enduring constant pain for three days waiting for the specialist to get back to you about this problem that just might kill you with pain-induced stress. With the desired prescription winging its electronic way to the pharmacist, I can finally rest easy knowing that the Wife will not be in constant agony over this long weekend.
The insane war on drugs goes on, though, and its victims are people like the Wife who cannot get pain medication because every medication that works for her chronic pain is a medication that every doctor can get in trouble for prescribing too frequently. Pain doctors are the targets of convenience for these stupid government drug crackdowns because obviously you go to a pain doctor to get your pain meds. That is what a pain doctor is for. To help you alleviate your pain. Sometimes the drugs are required and when they are required that point in time has a two in seven chance of being on a day when the doctor will not be available to prescribe them, and no one is willing to go out on a limb and give pain meds to a patient that they don’t know personally, even when that person is in the kind of pain that registers as spikes in blood pressure. This situation is intolerable and has to change.
Pain management has to turn a corner and come to grips with the fact that pain meds are both required and potentially addictive, both at the same time. It is a juggling act that the medical establishment had better learn to master, and soon, if they want to head off the next oxycontin embarrassment. That debacle simply waits in the wings for the next corporation to see a chance to reap a profit from people who have pain and have the money to spend alleviating the pain. This problem is not going away because the problems with pain are not going away either. We are going to have to learn how to deal with this problem. The sooner the better.