Lake Sammamish from the air
Villa Marina and Lake Sammamish from the sky on a quiet Saturday morning (Photo: Marty the Adventurer, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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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