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.
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.