NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The Pandemic is Personal: Ed Hodapp on staying at home in America’s wealthiest city

Editor’s note: Wel­come to The Pan­dem­ic is Per­son­al, a week­ly series focus­ing on on how the nov­el coro­n­avirus (SARS-CoV­‑2) is affect­ing the every­day lives of peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west. We hope to enlight­en you and reflect on what you and oth­ers are address­ing as this pan­dem­ic runs its course.

If you have a sto­ry to tell, please feel free to con­tact us.

Ed Hodapp, who lives in Sam­mamish, has worked in the tech­nol­o­gy and soft­ware indus­tries for over forty years. He enjoys sci­ence, math and his­to­ry, and has been involved in pol­i­tics since 1984, when he was a Hart vol­un­teer.

Recent­ly, I learned that I live in the wealth­i­est city in Amer­i­ca based on medi­an income. So how is sur­viv­ing the crud in a place like this, for a per­son like me?

(By the way, I call COVID-19 the crud; you may have oth­er names, but I have heard so many that I just stick with the crud.)

And as we will learn, for an incred­i­bly small thing that we know so much about struc­tural­ly, we are just learn­ing to appre­ci­ate the many facets of how the crud uses our cells to attack us. So some­thing gener­ic seems appro­pri­ate.

I have many advan­tages over so many oth­ers, most­ly not earned, and I live in a nice neigh­bor­hood filled with peo­ple in about the same posi­tion, more or less.

(Nev­er trust a per­son who claims to have earned a posi­tion in a place like this. Luck and lar­ce­ny are the typ­i­cal tick­ets for entry here.)

Luck­i­ly for me, I was just lucky. I was born at a time when I could expect low cost edu­ca­tion; I enjoyed math­e­mat­ics and physics; and I fell in love with pro­gram­ming com­put­ers. I was born into a mid­dle class, blue col­lar fam­i­ly, when those still exist­ed, and I did­n’t want for any­thing impor­tant grow­ing up.

Even when I had to work hard and spend many hours work­ing, it was always fun for me. So I can sit here after more than six­ty years on this earth, and be grate­ful for being so incred­i­bly lucky.

I guess it is also rel­e­vant to tell you some per­ti­nent facts regard­ing the crud and my house­hold. We are three — myself, my wife, and my niece. Each of us check off at least one or more box­es on the health con­di­tions that can make the crud lethal, so we are very con­cerned not to catch it. But as we learn more about our com­mon ene­my, per­haps oth­ers should be very con­cerned as well.

I am over six­ty, and have dia­betes, high blood pres­sure, and have two defects in my coro­nary arter­ies that I was born with. My wife is over six­ty-five, suf­fers from asth­ma, and some odd autoim­mune issues that puz­zled the doc­tors at Stan­ford back when we lived in the Bay Area. Our niece suf­fers from hypothy­roidism and seems to also have some odd autoim­mune issues.

The crud comes to us

The crud seeped into our life like some kind of slow­ly devel­op­ing night­mare.

There were reports from Chi­na about a SARS-like dis­ease in a place called Wuhan. As seems com­mon with so many of my friends, I was focused on try­ing to get my expen­sive health­care cov­er­age to do the things that they were sup­posed to be doing. I was­n’t focused on Wuhan. Because of changes in employ­ment, and my wife join­ing Medicare, every­thing was a mess. We had some sig­nif­i­cant bills from a (thank­ful­ly!) mild stroke my wife suf­fered in Sep­tem­ber, and the strug­gle to get bills paid by the var­i­ous insur­ance com­pa­nies is still ongo­ing.

We may be well off com­pared to most, but we are cer­tain­ly not in any posi­tion to pay off hos­pi­tal bills with­out seri­ous pain. So I was not real­ly pay­ing atten­tion.

I read a report about a doc­tor in Wuhan who tried to spread the word about this new dis­ease and had been sup­pressed in turn by gov­ern­ment offi­cials.

It seemed it might be much worse than orig­i­nal­ly described. That, unlike SARS, it was not being con­tained, and was spread­ing direct­ly between peo­ple. I decid­ed that it would be a good time to add to some of the earth­quake sup­plies that I was already plan­ning to get some­day. I start­ed read­ing more arti­cles about the crud.

Then came the news that a per­son had car­ried the crud from Chi­na to our area. This was bad, but still seemed man­age­able.

But the news that a high school stu­dent in Kirk­land, who had not trav­eled any­where, and did­n’t know any­one who had, some­how had con­tract­ed the crud, was dev­as­tat­ing. It was here in our com­mu­ni­ty, and spread­ing.

Sud­den­ly those high­er num­bers of deaths for old­er peo­ple and peo­ple with under­ly­ing health con­di­tions became very impor­tant.

It was all so con­fusing and vague.

Noth­ing was cer­tain, but I knew we would have to pre­pare to make sig­nif­i­cant changes in our lifestyle and told my fam­i­ly so.

I knew that these would be hard for my wife and my niece.

Both are used to going out of the house fre­quent­ly. The stroke had made my wife more home-bound than before, but my niece had the ener­gy of the young and many local friends. My niece was also tak­ing class­es at Lake Wash­ing­ton Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy to pre­pare to enter a nurs­ing pro­gram.

Some of her friends were already in the that nurs­ing pro­gram.

Some had been, as part of the pro­gram, to the now infa­mous Life Care Cen­ter of Kirk­land nurs­ing home. One of the nurs­ing instruc­tors became ill. It was just anoth­er bit of luck that my niece had­n’t applied to the nurs­ing pro­gram yet.

The exec­u­tive in charge of my office decid­ed that any­one with a per­son that was espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the crud in their house­hold would be able to work from home. This was before any offi­cial cor­po­rate or gov­ern­ment phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing rules were in place. Again, I was lucky. After a few more trips into the office, I start­ed to work from home exclu­sive­ly.

I usu­al­ly like work­ing from home. I had no idea what kind of adven­ture await­ed me this time though. But the fear of con­tact with infect­ed peo­ple was imme­di­ate­ly reduced. I will always be grate­ful to that exec­u­tive.

Fear, uncer­tain­ty, and doubt

I bought a copy of The Great Influen­za: The Sto­ry of the Dead­liest Pan­dem­ic in His­to­ry, by John M. Bar­ry. It was a fright­en­ing read.

It seems that for all of our tech­nol­o­gy and sci­en­tif­ic advances, we were repeat­ing many of the exact same mis­takes from one hun­dred years ago.

It struck me that the com­mu­ni­ties that did the best at what we are now call­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing had the best out­comes.

And despite all of our exact knowl­edge about the pathogen, we are left just as help­less to prop­er­ly under­stand this nov­el dis­ease.

Just like before, we have had anec­do­tal reports of cures, and just like one hun­dred years ago, qui­nine is one of them. Just like before, we keep doc­u­ment­ing new and alarm­ing ways that the dis­ease may progress, ways that it can attack us, and things that we ini­tial­ly learned that may not be cor­rect.

And where our supe­ri­or knowl­edge should have giv­en us an advan­tage over those one hun­dred years ago, our lead­er­ship and tech­nol­o­gy let us down.

We still lack the abil­i­ty to test for the crud. And per­form ade­quate con­tact trac­ing. And just like before, mass graves are being cre­at­ed in some cas­es to han­dle the num­bers of dead peo­ple. Dif­fer­ent cen­tu­ry, same ol’ stuff.

We were told about the woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate num­bers of ven­ti­la­tors avail­able in our coun­try for a pan­dem­ic of this kind.

Then we learned that unlike oth­er dis­eases where ven­ti­la­tors are used, only 20% to 30% of the peo­ple put on them will live, not the usu­al 50% to 60%.

We learned about oth­er vital organs being attacked; the liv­er, the kid­neys, the diges­tive tract, per­haps the ner­vous sys­tem, even our blood — which appears to clot sud­den­ly, in some cas­es.

We learned that while we were devel­op­ing the crud’s spe­cial form of pneu­mo­nia, our lungs would con­tin­ue to expel car­bon diox­ide, yet slow­ly cease to intake oxy­gen, and that not notic­ing this would result in faster and deep­er breaths that do more dam­age to our lungs. Sud­den­ly, pulse oxime­ters were fly­ing off the shelves.

All of these things height­en the sense of alarm and unease. Social media plat­forms are abuzz with posts about it. How many of you have friends who have caught it?

I have at least one, who has thank­ful­ly recov­ered. One acquain­tance died. The news­pa­pers are full of sto­ries. I now sub­scribe to sev­en news­pa­pers as a result, to get a bet­ter idea of what’s real­ly going on. I am a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence (AAAS), so I get print copies of Sci­ence mag­a­zine every week and can search arti­cles online. There is plen­ty of infor­ma­tion to fuel the anx­i­ety about the crud. (Time to search out that DVD of On the Beach…?)

There is one source of arti­fi­cial­ly induced anx­i­ety that is whol­ly unnec­es­sary.

It is the com­plete lack of faith in our nation­al lead­er­ship.

Per­haps even more dis­con­cert­ing than the Trump regime’s incom­pe­tence are the efforts of a group of right wing bil­lion­aires to under­write the activ­i­ties of right wing pro­tes­tors who are try­ing to rein­vig­o­rate the Tea Par­ty move­ment in a des­per­ate attempt to improve Repub­li­cans’ elec­toral chances this autumn.

They talk of a return to nor­mal­cy, but that’s a fan­ta­sy. Mass graves are not nor­mal. We don’t even know how many peo­ple are dying – some states are delib­er­ate­ly down­play­ing or hid­ing deaths like­ly to be from the crud. Trump’s own regime is all but demand­ing that the CDC declare low­er num­bers of deaths from the crud than is real­is­tic. We do know that we have had a large increase in “excess” deaths over the aver­age that would typ­i­cal­ly occur over time.

We have allowed a ter­ri­ble toll of stu­pid con­tra­dic­tions to creep into our soci­ety. This pan­dem­ic has sharp­ened their shad­ows for us.

But for some, they don’t want these things fixed; they want us to break trail through the pan­dem­ic for them, while they go into hid­ing in their under­ground bunkers. After all, they worked hard to cre­ate these stu­pidi­ties.

The new nor­mal

The most notice­able thing about the new nor­mal for me, is that get­ting enough sleep, and being able to con­cen­trate on some­thing with­out being eas­i­ly dis­tract­ed is very dif­fi­cult. Like I said before, I usu­al­ly like to work from home, but now I dis­cov­er that what I real­ly liked about it was that my wife would go to work or go out shop­ping, and my niece would go to school or out with friends.

I was then left won­der­ful­ly alone to focus on the code I was writ­ing, with only the snores of two lit­tle Yorkies to dis­turb me.

Now I have to put foam earplugs in my ears, which does not endear me to any­one else in the house, includ­ing the Yorkies. But despite my earplugs, we all are learn­ing to get along bet­ter. We did­n’t start off that way, but being in such close prox­im­i­ty, with­out relief, has forced us to work hard­er at being nicer to each oth­er.

This is one of the pos­i­tives for our home. It’s not per­fect, but it works.

One of the things about work­ing from home that is affect­ing many peo­ple is the hap­haz­ard and woe­ful­ly unreg­u­lat­ed way that many of us access the inter­net.

The Inter­net is no longer an intrigu­ing new medi­um that is incon­ve­nient to lose access to. It is instead a vital con­nec­tion to the world that is every bit, if not more, vital than the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry tele­phone sys­tem it has been dis­plac­ing.

Our local cable provider is incred­i­bly inept at diag­nos­ing and fix­ing issues in their infra­struc­ture that affects large swaths of their cus­tomers.

We spent over two weeks with flail­ing ser­vice, until in des­per­a­tion, I pinged the CEO on LinkedIn. That got a response. We do not need this added stress and annoy­ance, though. We need an FTC-enforced ser­vice lev­el agree­ment with ISPs, with prop­er penal­ties for fail­ure to per­form.

Since we are all on the crud’s hit list, we decid­ed to avoid going into inte­ri­or spaces out­side of our home if at all pos­si­ble. So far, we have suc­ceed­ed in that.

This means that we have had to resort to the var­i­ous deliv­ery ser­vices to get gro­ceries. As time goes on, this means less and less Ama­zon, and more oth­er ser­vices like Instacart. We also use Cost­co’s home deliv­ery ser­vice.

See’s Can­dies has a pick­up ser­vice, so we can get some sweets, too (we haven’t, but we prob­a­bly will soon). We have some nice sumo oranges com­ing to us.

We are still learn­ing how to order gro­ceries online. We get too much of some things and not enough of oth­ers. We are still too used to going off to our local Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mar­ket for the few things we missed. The time delay between order­ing and deliv­ery takes more dis­ci­pline and plan­ning than we are yet capa­ble of.

It was per­haps a lit­tle fun at first; now it is just anoth­er annoy­ance.

But stay­ing home is a bit tire­some after awhile. I used to vis­it one of my neigh­bors with a suit­able alco­holic bev­er­age in hand, and we could talk about local and nation­al pol­i­tics. Recent­ly, when we had nice weath­er, we decid­ed to meet in my dri­ve­way. We brought our own chairs and booze, and chat­ted away ami­ably for a few hours. Wow. What a dif­fer­ence that made in my mood.

A cou­ple out walk­ing stopped and talked to us, so they were invit­ed to the next gath­er­ing at my neigh­bor’s dri­ve­way. Our wives joined us, and we had three cou­ples chat­ting away like mag­pies. I under­stand that even though we were main­tain­ing more than six feet of sep­a­ra­tion, that this would not be con­sid­ered an essen­tial ser­vice, so any risk is unjus­ti­fied. But we will prob­a­bly do it again.

It is just too much fun, and we try to be very care­ful.

Since we are out­side, it seems less risky than going into a gro­cery store, but then, get­ting food is an essen­tial task.

Where now?

What is next for us? It seems that we are still learn­ing more about the crud, or bet­ter put, the dis­ease that the crud induces in our bod­ies.

Some states are exper­i­ment­ing with relax­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing.

All evi­dence that we have avail­able tells us that these exper­i­ments will end bad­ly, with more peo­ple in ICU rooms, and more peo­ple in mass graves.

I am glad that I do not live in one of those states. I got lucky again.

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