Monday, March 23, 2020

What condition our condition is in: COVID-19 to date

I surprised myself to note that just three months into this year, I've already blogged several times as often as I did last year. Of course, last year was spent trying to breathe after having the very air punched from my lungs with Dad's death. It still hurts, but I am getting the occasional gasp in these days. Our fragile world reminds me daily that change is a constant, and I'll try to remember how Grandpa described Dad: the strength of a bull with the reflexes of a cat. The world is not a place for sissies at this moment, and we must adapt, find equilibrium with little help from the shaky edifices around us. If Dad were here, I know he'd say things of great wisdom and comfort. I also know he'd do his best to be prepared, he would be vigilant, and he would hope for the best and do all he could to bring about a good outcome for others whenever possible. To that end, I'm trying to manage my perceptions and to not succumb to the temptation of reacting emotionally to news that can be quite unsettling.

What's going on now is that we are in the midst of the sweep of COVID-19, the Corona virus,  around the world and in the United States. The virus first emerged late last year in Wuhan China, and spread quickly, hitting places like Northern Italy particularly hard, as the Italians did not heed medical authorities' advice to limit social contact. The US Surgeon General said today that we are roughly two weeks behind the wave that happened in Italy, and that this week will be bad. I believe him. This is one of those interesting times which we live in hope of never enjoying. There's a reason why that's an ancient curse. Many people have strong opinions about what is happening, but I've had to tune out quite a bit of noise that is unproductive, politically motivated, and frankly hysterical. I decided to track what's going on in what hard numbers I can locate. I may not have sensible conclusions to draw on these data, but I will keep this record because I believe the numbers tell a story that no amount of manipulation can tart up. Don't serve me mutton and try to tell me it's lamb. I'll also do myself the service of making peace with the fact that we simply don't know where all this is going and how it will resolve. The best we can do is to be vigilant, exercise personal responsibility*, and when we've taken care of ourselves, act as stewards for the more vulnerable folks around us whenever possible. In that way, we can act like the wisest of people with the strength of a bull and the reflexes of a cat.

Because things are changing so quickly, I will post occasional blog updates on things related to the virus and what's going on in my immediate area. For the sake of continuity, I will post statistics from a source I believe to be accurate and even-handed. That source is the Coronavirus Dashboard from Johns Hopkins University. As of today, March 23, 6:23 PM, there are 378,547 confirmed cases in the world among 168 countries, 16,497 people have died of this virus, and 100,982 are considered to have recovered from this illness. To give some sense of scale on these metrics, when I began tracking this site on March 10, there were just around 100,000 confirmed cases, and the growth in diagnosed cases appears to be about 10% /day.

Let's just consider the last 7 days according to Johns Hopkins:

Date   Time     Confirmed Cases        Countries        Deaths       Total Recovered

3/17     4:33PM       196,640                      155                7893          80,648
3/18     1:33 PM      214,894                      157                8732          83,313
3/19     6:43 PM      242,713                      160                9867          84,962
3/20     4:43 PM      271,629                      166             11,280          87,403
3/21     7:43 PM      304,544                      170             12,974          91,679
3/22     8:43 PM      335,997                      173             14,641          98,333
3/23     6:23 PM      378,547                      168             16,497        100,982

In the most loosey-goosey sort of calculation, these numbers indicate a disease that is doubling in confirmed prevalence very 7 days. On a planet of billions, 400,000 people doesn't sound like much, but growth continued at this pace would push the number to well over a million and close to two million in just two weeks. If the number doubles by millions per week, from there things will get sporty quite quickly.

Many have argued that these stats are skewed because 80% of people who will contract the cases will have such mild cases that they may not know they have it(even as they spread the disease), and the others will have such mild symptoms that they can stay home and nurse themselves through what seems like a mild cold. Therefore, 80% of the cases will never be diagnosed, so the metric for the actual number of cases is a huge underestimate, and therefore the death rate is even lower than it appears per capita.

The problem with this disease is not that it has a relatively low mortality rate in the absolute sense. The problem with this disease is that for the most vulnerable in our population, contracting this "minor cold" is not a survivable event. It is easily transmissible, and lives on surfaces for a ridiculous amount of time. We don't have enough hospital beds in this country for 20% or 10% or 5% of our population to all be hospitalized at one time. Furthermore, this is going to make a lot of our brave and dedicated healthcare professionals sick, so they'll be patients as well and will either work sick, or those who are able will face increasingly frightening work situations. I will not sport with your intelligence by explaining this in further detail.

Now we've been asked by our Surgeon General to stay at home, and to each act as though we are carrying the virus to level off the spike in new cases. I realize this is financially devastating for a lot of people, and ruinous to 401Ks and the like, but I also believe that the market will bounce back. I'm not thrilled myself, because this will no doubt create uncertainty in a job market I aspire to enter in 9 months. However, the way we conduct interactions is probably overdue for major shifts in our business and educational sectors to more environments online. These transitions bring so many challenges, but I think ultimately this may be more an incredible opportunity than a bad thing. Let's wait and see.

If this was ever going to happen, thank goodness it is happening at a time when students and workers can interact on network devices that nearly all of us carry. If this had happened 20 years ago, most people would be utterly at sea and terrified. Now we're all connected, so we can keep our sense of balance, right? Try not to think of this as a scary loss of contact, but of a realignment. This is not the Blue Screen Of Death, but more of a soft boot. We need to roll with it and make this work, whatever that entails. Is this a frightening moment? Yes, potentially quite. However, this is what is on our plates. Our houses aren't being bombed. We're not being marched into gas chambers. We have the wealth of libraries and museums and symphonies at our fingertips, dancing at our very command, so compared to what previous generations have faced, this seems less disastrous than other things that could happen. If this is the worst crisis of our lives, many of us are getting off easy.

On a more personal note, I am finishing my Master's while also teaching (really, a full-time job) at a university. Boy howdy is this a huge adjustment for me, but I also have the maturity (yes, it's a thing that exists in the world) to recognize that through my actions, my students will learn how to react to an unsettling and unexpected crisis. I will do my utmost to help them recognize that it's possible to have something wonderful come from a change you never wished for in the first place. I'm going to work with them and I hope to help them be their personal best in their own studies.

My task is made slightly more difficult by the fact that I am sick. I have been grappling with something since last Wednesday that was diagnosed remotely today by a doctor as 50/50 a cold or a mild case of COVID-19. I've already been isolating at home since Wednesday. Sick or not, I have dozens of students for whom I am responsible, and I will do my best to prepare them for future courses by giving them good value in this one, but from a distance. I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing, but it's been a mild annoyance, so far, and I'm getting lots of rest, though I've a raft of papers to grade starting later this week. Watch this space. I was told to go immediately to the ER if I develop a fever or shortness of breath. Trust me when I say I will be on a hair trigger on that.

I look forward to the great works of art, music, and literature that will come of this moment in time. I think when the dust settles from the COVID-19 scare, there will be a burst of creativity that will eclipse the creative renaissance that happened after 9/11. I encourage everyone to re-read favorite novels and listen to favorite music. When you cook or clean or garden, pull up an audio book of something you've always meant to read and listen to it on YouTube or Audible while you work. Make time and space for your own renaissance. If you can't think of something you should read, I strongly urge you to read (as I did for my students) either Howard's End or especially A Passage To India by E.M. Forster. His ardent theme is that humans need to behave in ways that are respectful of the sovereignty of other people, and that this can only happen through empathy. "Only connect" is his primary message. His message is as timely today as it was a century ago. A note on the two film productions of these books -- they are brilliant, but they only touch the hem of the garment of the writing of Forster. Don't cheat yourself-- read the books. They're not that long, and they are a delight and demonstrate an elegance and subtlety of mind that more of us would benefit from cultivating.

Not everyone will behave wisely, so we are better off staying home and keeping ourselves safe as this disease makes its way around the world. We only have so much control over whether we get it, but we do have control over our own behavior. Heck, my case is mild now, but there are no guarantees. I'm hoping for the best.

God bless us every one.

*Remember that: personal responsibility? It means that you recognize and behave in accordance with the fact that what you do can potentially have devastating effects on other people. People used to talk about personal responsibility quite a bit, but this is the moment when the rubber meets the road. Put up or shut up. If you are carrying the virus and have no symptoms and go about your business as usual, you will infect people, some of whom will die from it. I'm sorry that you're bored and sick of being cooped up, but you need to grow up and act like a responsible member of society and sublimate your comfort and leisure so that you don't kill other people. HOW IS THIS SO DIFFICULT TO GROK??? I don't think that's an infringement on your rights, especially when you do so voluntarily because you want to be courteous to others, and, you know, not kill them. Also, anyone who tries to make political hay of this at either end of the spectrum is a jerk.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Life's what you make it

Baby, life's what you make it
Celebrate it
Anticipate it
Yesterday's faded
Nothing can change it
Life's what you make it

Everything's alright

Friday, March 20, 2020

And what a year it has been.

It was exactly one year ago today, a Friday, such a beautiful day that was full of the promise of Spring. Two phone calls came from Mom that afternoon, like bookends that framed the worst thing ever to happen to me. We always say we love each other at the end of calls, and in that first call, she abruptly said "I'll talk to you later" and then she said "All you alright? Are you sick?" and the line disconnected. I noticed the abruptness, but life can be busy, so I went on, though I worried that Dad wasn't feeling well. I decided to call Mom back in an hour or so and check in. The next call was a short while later from her, telling me that Dad had collapsed, was on his way to the hospital, and to prepare myself because it didn't look good. I realized the words I heard Mom say at the end of the first call marked the last moment of his life. 

Every day I want to call him and tell him something. Every day, I think of something he would have found funny or amazing or wonderful. I think often of how happy he would be for every good thing that happens for anyone in our family. Missing him is hard, and I know it always will be. More than anything, though, I am so thankful that of all the billions of fathers in human history, I was one of the lucky three who got him. 

He was clear about who he was, where he stood on things, and about his faith, and that has been a comfort always, but especially in this last year.  I'm thankful for my lovely Dad, and for my wonderful Mom, too. In trying times, it's tempting to feel like everything would be so much better if we still had Dad around, but there's also joy in knowing he is spared the pain of awful things that happen in the world, too. We all talk about him, and about what he would have thought, how he would have advised us. My sister bought a truck and sold it rather quickly, saying "I knew I shouldn't have bought it, I could just hear Dad saying I shouldn't buy that one." Even as we miss him, we are delighted by his sweet, sunny wisdom. He'll be present with us, always. 

Grief is terrible and hideously painful for everyone, and actual mileage may vary. I'll never be the same, and it feels like pure joy is gone forever. Still, the memory of Dad and of all that he stood for is a great comfort, and I'm holding on to that. The only bitterness of his memory is of having lost him, and all the rest is simply sweet. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I have roughly 68 hours left.

68 hours from now, I will no longer be able to say "My father was alive a year ago."

My jaw aches from clenching back the grief of it. He was such a radiant person. He was my sunshine. I always knew that if I got in trouble, he'd Charles Bronson the utter hell out of the situation, and that he'd save me. If he didn't get there in time, I knew he'd lay waste to whatever person or force undid me. Know this: the previous statement was not an exaggeration in the slightest: He was a righteous man, and there is nothing in the world more fierce than a righteous man.

I had no idea that there existed the feeling of being in the front-row-of-the-funeral club. I naively thought I had some time before such an experience. I thought, honestly, that I would die before either of my parents died, and I luxuriated in the silly idea that I would be spared such grief in this lifetime.

What blissful ignorance that was!

Yes, I was lucky. Yes, I was charmed to live more than 53 years never knowing what it was to lose a parent.

Of all the stupid, messed-up garbage I've seen in my life, losing Dad is the first thing to stop me in my tracks. Losing Dad is the first thing to make me feel that the glass is more empty than full. Dad's death is the first thing to make me truly okay with the thought of my own demise. Bach said "Don't cry for me, for I go where music is born." Even though I thought many times over that I would have died before now, whenever I die, I'm okay with that. I will be where Dad is, and that can't be a bad thing.

It would be honest for me to tell you that I could tear every hair from my head on a daily basis with the sheer grief of it all. The very existence of the circumstance of this post is like chewing on glass for me.

It would be honest for me to say that his loss makes me question things in life as I have never done.

It would be entirely true to say that the loss of Dad has vanished the most luminous, beautiful spark that makes life beautiful and meaningful.

But it would be a lie to say that his fight died with him. Something in the world still needs its ass kicked, and seeing as I remain as one of his emissaries, well, I'm going to kick whatever ass is in my power to kick.

I can say with utmost sincerity that Dad is still in my corner, and that his will is utterly committed to my well-being.

I have the shoes for the ass-kicking outfit.

I intend to wear them.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

COVID-19 induced Isolacation

Will write more later.
Trying to get a lot done while self semi-quarantined.

Interesting times, not necessarily fun.

At least the refrigerator is cleaner than it has been in years. Mind you, I'm not calling it clean, but it IS cleaner.