My writing process is simple. I base my post on whatever I happen to be thinking about, and what I am thinking about is often stimulated by world events or personal activities. I never seem to lack for a topic. However, that appears to be changing. My life has become so routine that new activities are limited, and exciting writing topics are on the decline. COVID-19 stories dominate the news, and I have written quite a few posts connected to that topic. But how much can I write about COVID-19? Hold on to your seatbelts; here is another post.
The current health crisis has dramatically changed my lifestyle. I’m not bored, and I’m still productive. However, a routine day is, well…very routine. Yesterday, I walked to my friend’s townhouse project. We chatted for a bit before I took his MacBook Pro and started to write a blog post for his construction website. Tom kindly went to get bagel sandwiches for breakfast. I was left alone to write about home remodeling, a subject where I can’t claim expertise. It’s not that I’m unable to put a coherent story together, I’m more concerned that I’ll phrase something incorrectly and somehow embarrass my friend to his more knowledgable readers. With that said, I wrote the post to which I added the construction photos that I had taken over the last few days.
Before Tom had a chance to review my writing, his friend Wess arrived. Wess is a talented carpenter who has worked with Tom for decades. He was “volunteering” his Saturday to help Tom remove a large bay window, that space being repurposed for a sliding patio door. Tom and Wes usually converse in Polish, a language that I have no comprehension of. Recently, Wes has made an effort to talk in English, which has been much appreciated, and it allows me to join in.
The morning transitioned into the afternoon, and I headed back home and emersed myself into one of my obsessive interests, technology. Julie had given me a pair of AirPods at the beginning of the year, and I love them. When I become interested in a topic, I want to know everything about it. In this case, I was interested in the difference between my costly device and much cheaper clone products. I understand that most would find such an exploration utterly dull, but it held my concentration for hours.
After a few telephone calls to loved ones, it was time for dinner; the offering was Domino’s pizza. Domino’s has a low ranking on my pizza desirability chart, but my kids love it. The group’s lively conversation quickly extinguished any negative feelings about the pizza dinner. As a family, we have worked hard to eat dinner together and to focus on interacting with each other. Our meal was filled with talk, laughter, and a lot of kidding.
Julie suggested that we all play a game, but board games are not my thing. We reached a compromise; I took a shower, and the others played a game. Later that evening, we were glued to the family room TV, rewatching a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica. We viewed the show with the same enthusiasm as some might when watching a football game. The show concluded it was time for bed.
A perfectly routine day.
I have had disturbing dreams as of late. I wouldn’t call them nightmares, but they are unsettling. A recent one had me repeating both graduate and medical school, as I wondered if I could still take on these arduous tasks. Such dreams are a window to my subconscious and suggest hidden stress to me.
I pondered the question of stress this morning as I sat in the big chair in my study. I contemplated my current life and asked myself, “What is wrong? What is missing?” I centered myself, closed my eyes, and opened my mind to a stream of consciousness. At first, my mind was blank, but it soon was flooded with images and sounds. These are some of the ideas that flowed over me.
Despite talking to my siblings daily, I was missing them terribly. Before COVID, we had developed many in-person activities, “Sibling Breakfast,” “Sibling Lunch,” and random visits for coffee and conversation. I longed to see them in person.
Although I see my friend Tom nearly every day, I missed the spontaneous and crazy things that we did before the pandemic—driving into Chicago at sunrise just to have breakfast at our favorite greasy spoon, going on camping adventures and road trips, exploring locations.
My friend John had invited me to spend a few days at his Florida home. Julie and I had booked a flight before the pandemic but had to cancel it months ago. Speaking of trips, Julie had I started to go on them as a couple. We would find a cheap airfare to somewhere, and the two of us would explore our destination. I missed traveling.
Three of my children have returned home, two from college and one from the Peace Corps. My college kids had to complete their spring semesters on-line. My Peace Corps daughter had to leave Africa and a teaching job that she loved. Their loss makes me feel powerless.
Last year I took Violet the campervan on many adventures. She currently sits idle in my driveway. There is no place to go during this explosion of infection. I feel guilty about Violet. I feel like I’m letting her down. I invested a lot of time and money into her. Once a symbol of my retirement freedom, the pandemic has reduced her into an icon of what I can’t do.
I am a photographer, and I have continued to do photography work. However, I have a keen interest in landscape and cityscape photography. However, it isn’t feasible to travel to a town or bucolic pasture to photograph these subjects during this time.
I’m not much of a shopper, but I miss the ability to go to a store for a single item. I now limit my shopping to only grocery stores, which I go to once a week. Trips are currently done as purposefully and quickly as possible. There is no time to try or discover exciting new products.
I miss my daily walks to Starbucks and the quick but pleasant chats that I had with my favorite baristas and the early morning coffee crowd.
I miss going to the movies, and “sneaking” in a bag of popcorn.
I miss going to cheap restaurants—places where I could sit down and enjoy my food without the worry of preparation or clean up.
I miss making new friends. I miss family parties. I miss catching up with my cousins. I miss getting dressed and going to church on Sunday. I miss the act of standing next to a neighbor when chatting with them on the street. I miss the smell of a campfire. I miss… I miss so much.
I explored all of these thoughts and pondered how they were connected. Many contained a grain of spontaneity and a sense of a future. What would I do tomorrow? How can I plan for my next activity? Before COVID, I could anticipate an adventure with Tom, or a trip with Julie, or an upcoming photo project. This has changed with the routine regularity of my current life.
I like to shake hands. I want to give hugs. I like to push my creativity. I like to feel free. I want to feel safe. I like to be responsible, and I love being mischievous.
Activities that I do have an impact on who I am. I am in the process of grieving over who I no longer am. My world has changed in a matter of months. I want my old life back, but I may have to accept the ways things are now. I think this is the conflict that fuels my sense of “missing.” and “missing” is just another name for loss. With loss comes grieving.
Dear reader, I have worked hard to simulate those things that I can no longer do. However, a simulation is like saccharine, still sweet, but with a bitter aftertaste.
As the crisis has continued, I have tried to keep my interests alive. I do order food from those restaurants where I formally dined-in. I have made an effort to take creative photos. I call my sisters and connect with my friends in many ways. It is all good, but these good things still have the aftertaste of a synthetic solution.
That is to be expected. Will life return to normal, or will I need to accept my current situation as the new normal? Either way, I plan to make the most of it. Every day is a gift, never to be repeated. I can’t waste today pining over what I have lost. I have to accept my feelings as real, and I need to respect them. However, I cannot submit to them. I have to live in the present and plan for a new future. That will be my effort.
I was preparing to spend a few days with Ralph at his summer home, which is about an hour west of me. I tapped his address into my iPhone, put the phone into Violet the campervan’s phone holder, and started my journey. Since I was bringing dinner, I made a quick detour to the Fresh Thyme Market, a small grocery store just down the street. Being lazy, I left the phone in its holder during my grocery adventure. When I returned to the camper, I tossed steaks, watermelon, and salad into the 12-volt fridge and hopped into the driver’s seat to continue my journey. I looked up at my phone and saw a bright fluorescent green vertical line across the screen. Crap, my phone’s display was busted! Over the short time that I visited Ralph, that single line morphed into multiple lines making reading anything on the screen impossible.
On my return home, I investigated my repair options. I contacted Apple customer support, who told me that the screen needed to be replaced and that the estimated cost for the repair would be an astounding $560.00! My iPhone X is three years old, but I’m not ready to buy a new one, so I explored aftermarket options and found a store in Naperville that would replace the screen for $150.00… a much more realistic price. They said that they could replace the display in under an hour, which sealed the deal.
There were no surprises with the repair, but I was surprised by what I saw in the small and cramped shop. Both technicians were mask-free, as were three customers. One of the customers was sitting in a chair waiting for a repair suggesting that his exposure time in the store was significant.
Yesterday I took Violet in for routine service at my local Dodge dealer. The staff was wearing masks (although several had their noses sticking out). However, two customers were mask-free. In Illinois, we are required to wear masks in confined spaces like retail stores and shops, so why were all of these people ignoring the law?
When I read the news, I see photos of people in bars, churches, and nightclubs all shoulder to shoulder and all mask free. I recently saw pictures of several political rallies where both the candidate and the majority of the audience were bare-faced.
We are in the midst of a worldwide disease pandemic. Entire countries have shut down, almost half of a million people have died worldwide, and one hundred and twenty-four thousand souls have been lost in the US alone. That is more US deaths than during the entire First World War.
We are gaining more knowledge about this illness. A few medical treatments are starting to emerge that may help some patients. We are getting a better understanding of the best treatment practices. Worldwide efforts to develop a vaccine are in hyperdrive. However, we are nowhere near a cure.
Countries have tackled the spread of this disease in different ways. Their varied approaches have given us a window into what works and what doesn’t contain the virus. Unsurprisingly, the most beneficial methods are those that we have known about and used for over 100 years. Those methods include social distancing and isolation, hand washing, contact tracing, and wearing a mask when you can’t control social distance. Regions that have successfully implemented these changes have had greater success at containing the virus than places that have been laxer.
In the US, we have had conflicting information concerning the virus and how that impacts opening the economy. Also, there seems to be a stream of half-baked recommendations that confuse the general population. A YouTube video from a Michigan family practice doc that foolishly recommended washing fruits and vegetables in soapy water had over 20 million views in its first week. Even the premier source of infectious disease information, the CDC, erroneously told citizens not to wear masks, only to have to backpedal on that wrong information.
Any competent physician knows that wearing an appropriate mask can help prevent the transmission of disease both to and from the mask wearer. Most citizens don’t have access to medical-grade masks and have to make do with “dust” style hardware store masks or homemade cloth masks. These masks dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19 from the wearer and depending on the composition of the mask, offer some protection to the user from getting the virus from an infected individual.
The most contagious places to catch this coronavirus are indoor locations, with poor air circulation. The higher the density of people in these places, the higher the chance of infection. Indoor parties, crowded bars, packed in-house church services, and the like are high risk and should be avoided at this time. However, there are other places like grocery stores that can’t be avoided by most. That is why everyone must wear a mask when you can’t control social distance. If everyone wears a mask, we can dramatically reduce the rates of viral spread. This is not a theoretical idea; it is a proven fact. Wearing a mask is a no brainer. So why are people actively refusing to do this?
Before I explore this question, I need to examine other phenomena present in this country. We have lost nuance, and have become a country of absolutes. For instance, some have taken social isolation to the extreme, and others have entirely cast it to the wind. We have developed an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to many things in daily life. We have lost the ability to work together. We have become more concerned with personal gain over what benefits our greater society. We have developed a culture of mistrust. We have become an “all-in” society. If someone believes in one tenant that a particular group espouses, then they are expected to become a follower of all of the other ideologies that the group promotes. We have assumed a “contest” view of life that supports that the only way one group can prosper is by decimating another group, which then becomes the opposition. We believe that the ends justify the means, no matter how dangerous the ways are.
As a Christian, I find such splitting behaviors abhorrent. As a psychiatrist, I understand them to be destructive and dangerous. These ideologies play into many of our decisions, including our willingness or unwillingness to wear a mask. The question is, how do these beliefs and other factors cause us to take a position that is so contrary to our well being?
Masks are uncomfortable, that is a fact. They are hot; they fog up your glasses; they make it difficult to be understood. As a physician, I can tell you that just about everyone quickly adjusts to these inconveniences. But, yes, they do suck.
When I was researching this post, I came across articles that noted that people refused to wear masks because they felt that wearing one made them look weak. This is one of those reasons that are hard for me to comprehend. Why would a mask make anyone look weak? Wearing one makes them look responsible, and their actions help the wellness of their fellow citizens. In my mind, mask wearers are strong and patriotic.
Wearing a mask highlights that things are not back to normal. This is undoubtedly true, but the reality is that things are NOT normal. Denial isn’t the name for the longest river in Africa (…old AA joke).
Some people feel that wearing a mask is anti-God. How masks and God are connected is anyone’s guess. I know that early on, some religious leaders said that God would protect their churches and congregations, which may play into this belief. I also watched a video of citizens voicing their concerns about mandatory mask-wearing during a Miami city council meeting. One individual said that the council was doing the work of the devil by requiring masks. The citizen seemed firm in her belief but did not give any evidence as to why she held them.
The wearing of a mask has taken on political implications. Statistically, Democrats are more likely to wear a mask than Republicans. Masks seem to have become weaponized in this regard. I recently viewed photos of a rally in an Arizona church that was packed with over 3000 young people. They were shoulder to shoulder, and I estimate that the number of mask wearers was under 5%. I hope that this meeting doesn’t turn out to be the source of a super-spreader infection, but that certainly could happen. Placing politics over health is a real tragedy.
Some people strongly feel that wearing a mask is a personal choice. “If I get sick and die, it is my choice,” they imply. As individuals, we are allowed to do stupid things, as long as they don’t impact others. We can smoke cigarettes, which are known to cause many diseases, but we can no longer smoke in public places because this would harm others. Shouldn’t that same logic apply to wearing masks?
Some don’t wear masks because they think that COVID-19 is overblown or a hoax. Some groups have promoted these false ideas, and a person’s local experience additionally amplifies them. I have heard people say, “I don’t know of anyone who has gotten COVID-19,” as if this limited information can be generalized to the entire population. Alabama Governor Kay Ivy famously said, “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California. Right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.” I guess the idea was that the virus was somehow not impacting Alabama at that moment, so WTF. Sadly, if you take a look at the number of Alabama cases, they are on a steep increase. These numbers would likely have been significantly lower if there had been better direction from officials in that state.
Some refuse to wear masks for reasons that seem entirely bizarre. Watching the same Miami city council meeting, I witnessed one furious man, saying that he would defend our flag to the death, implying that wearing masks was somehow going to destroy our country. This, along with the idea that Satanists are promoting masks, just seems crazy. It is challenging to explain crazy.
Some are afraid that wearing a mask damages our economy. Well, this is sort of right… but indirectly. The global pandemic is harming our economy, and wearing a mask reminds us of that pandemic. Wearing a mask may make certain activities more complicated, like going out for dinner on a date. However, the more we control the virus, the sooner our economy will return to normal.
So what is the solution?
We have not had a unified message about the necessity of wearing a mask. This needs to be done on all levels of government and from both sides of the aisle. We know that wearing masks can reduce the number of infections as well as the number of deaths due to COVID-19. All people who have a voice need to be echoing this reality.
We need to emphasize the benefits of wearing a mask with transparent statistics. One study showed that if everyone wore masks, the rate of infection would drop to 1/12th of a population where no one wore a mask. As an example, let’s say that 100 individuals contract the virus in a non-mask wearing group. In a statistically identical group of mask wearers, only eight individuals would get sick. Staying well benefits the economy.
Similarly, we need to publicize situations and cases where lack of safeguards, including masks, has caused outbreaks, and we need to personalize these situations. It is one thing to say that 53% of participants became ill when they attended a choir practice in Washington. However, these numbers would be much more compelling if actual people told their stories about this event. I am in no way trying to exploit victims of this disease, but I’m confident that many individuals would gladly speak up about their COVID experience if they felt that it would help others. Numbers always have more impact when they are attached to a relatable situation or person.
We have to model good behavior. Our officials should all be wearing masks in public settings, and they all should be practicing social distancing. “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t fly.
We need to nationalize standards. Yes, we have guidelines, and yes, a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work well in a country as vast as the US. However, standards can be customized to accommodate different needs and regions. Let’s say you want to bake a chocolate cake. You will have the best results if you follow a standard recipe. However, you can customize your results to fit your needs. A little more chocolate? A little less sugar? A different frosting? Any reasonable changes will still result in a good cake. Imagine a scenario where 100 people need to bake 100 chocolate cakes, but they aren’t given a recipe. Some will have baking knowledge; others won’t. In the end, there will be many different cakes, but many of those will be inedible.
The cost of non-compliance must be emphasized. What is the actual price to the economy if we can’t get this virus under control? What is the emotional damage of losing a loved one? We need reasonable guidelines, and these can change as we gain more knowledge. It is unreasonable to expect everyone to stay behind closed doors, but it is foolish to open up the country altogether. Our leaders need to not only inform us but to re-emphasize what we can and can’t do. We were able to mobilize our country during WWII by using various methods that emphasized safety, patriotism, and sacrifice for the greater good. Many feel that the WWII generation was our greatest generation ever. People think proudly about those individuals and their sacrifices. How is it that we are divided over a potentially more deadly crisis? This does not have to be the case. We need leaders who can lead and have the ability to place the needs of the greater society above short-term gains.
It has now been over 12 weeks that Illinois has had a shelter-in-place order, and although some of the restrictions are easing, life is not back to normal. Also, COVID-19 is still a threat. This dynamic duo has impacted us on many levels, ranging from economic to physical well-being to emotional health. It is this latter point that I would like to address today.
As a psychiatrist, I worked to explore ways to reduce the emotional impact of this crisis on my family and me. That is not to say that the pandemic has not impacted me. On a personal level, I have noticed a higher amount of irritability and sensitivity. Although I’m usually an optimistic person, I have had a few more down days. Most significantly, I’m experiencing more nightmares. This latter fact is an expression of anxiety that I’m effectively masking during waking hours, but seeps out when I’m sleeping. As Illinois restrictions have lightened, new challenges have emerged. Toilet paper scarcity is no longer an issue, but now I have to decide how much social interaction is safe.
I’m not psychologically perfect, but I do believe that I have done well by utilizing a variety of psychological techniques.
Here are some of the coping tools that I have used. You may find them helpful when dealing with your social isolation.
Accept your feelings
It is normal not to feel normal during a crisis. This is an unprecedented time in world history. You may find yourself more irritable, slightly more depressed, or a bit more anxious. These feelings are not failings; you are reacting to a difficult time. With that said, if these emotions are pulling you down, it is essential to try to control them. Many of the suggestions below can help you feel healthier. However, if your emotional state is severely compromised, you must seek help.
Maintain a routine.
Over the last 12 weeks, have you had times when you weren’t sure what day of the week it was? I have. We are creatures of habit, and most of us do well when we follow a routine. A routine not only gives us structure, but it also frees up psychological energy. We don’t have to think and plan mundane activities when we follow a pattern of behavior. There are many ways to develop a routine. An excellent place to start is to mimic your regular wakeup time and bedtime. Another easy routine activity is to make sure that you get dressed in street clothes as soon as you get up.
Keep up with hygiene.
Shelter-in-place rules have made it more challenging to keep up with traditional grooming, such as getting a haircut. As rules relax, it is essential to assess your particular needs and risks when deciding to return to a barber or stylist. However, hygiene issues have a more basic side. When you are isolating alone, it is easy to put off washing your hair, taking a shower, or even brushing your teeth. However, it is critical to do these activities just as you would if you were out-and-about.
Even during the height of restrictions, it was OK to leave your house for a little fresh air. The risk of getting COVID-19 during a socially distant walk is extremely low, but the benefits to your emotional state are significant. I try to go on a walk by myself or with family members every day.
Reach out to others.
One way to feel less socially isolated is to be less socially isolated. But how can you do that when you are required to have limited contact with others? Facebook is OK, but my feed has turned mostly into ads and memes. The more connected that you can make any communication, the better. A text conversation is preferred to reading your Facebook feed; a phone call is better than a text message; a video call is better than a phone call. There are some individuals in my life who I have made of point of calling every day. My goal is to show them that they are important enough for me to reach out to them regularly. Some of my contacts are video calls; some are voice calls. I try to augment my voice calls with photos sent as text messages or email attachments. Regular calls to people who you love is a win/win way to spend your time.
Find your own space.
If you are sharing your living space with someone, it is not only important to share time; it is also important to have alone time. Find a place in your home where you can be alone. I go to my study and my wife “chills” in our sunroom. We have five adults living together, and we are fortunate that our residence has enough space for each of us to have a private spot. I understand that not everyone is as lucky as we are. However, even claiming a comfy chair can give you a place to get away.
I isolate myself in a chair in my study. To the right of the chair is a window where I can explore what is happening on the street. To my left is a small table with a lamp. At the moment the table is holding a cup of coffee and my phone. On my lap are a lap table and the MacBook that I’m typing this post on. It is a simple set up that allows me to have some private time where I can be as productive or unproductive as I choose.
Limit the news.
News in the US tends to be sensational. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Too much news can be agitating and does little to enhance or inform. Try to limit your news to known reliable sources and “ingest” it no more than twice a day. Having a cable news service on 24/7 will likely make you feel more agitated and depressed.
Learn new skills, revisit old ones.
I have a friend who is spending some of her isolation time learning about house plants. I know others who are tackling simple home projects.
Before the pandemic, my wife and I were empty nesters. We have had to readjust to having a full house with the return of three of our children. When it was just the two of us, it didn’t make much difference if we cooked or went out to dinner. However, with the return of the kids came daily meal preparation. I am a competent cook, but coming up with a regular meal has been a drag. With that said, the thought of an exclusive diet of microwave meals or fast food burgers turns my stomach. I have returned to alternating cooking meals with my wife. When I cook, I involve my kids in meal preparation. Their participation makes the task more enjoyable. I have also resorted to conjuring memories of my mother’s weekday cooking. She was an excellent cook, but many of her meals were simple or one dish concoctions. Cooking for my family has made me feel productive, and I’m glad that I can provide them with something that they can look forward to.
Institute conversations at home.
Although there are periods where I need my alone times, there are other times where I want to connect with my immediate family. We try to eat dinner together, and we do this at the dinner table. We limit electronics during dinner, and we often use “conversation starters.” One of our favorites is “rose and thorn.” Each family member talks about something good and something bad from the day. Rose and thorn helps us know what is going on in each of our lives and serves as a springboard for additional conversation.
Institute activities at home.
There are many options here, and it is crucial to find an activity that everyone enjoys. A family movie, family game night, family craft night… the list goes on. Structured activities allow for easy interactions.
Redefine holidays and important events.
There have been several important events that have happened during our shelter-in-place time. In our case, we celebrated Easter, several birthdays, and Mother’s Day, but we modified the events to fit our new restrictions. We have made an effort to extract those traditions that are important and changed them to fit our current situation.
In our neighborhood, I have seen an explosion of lawn signs celebrating everything from birthdays to graduations. Our neighbors are tackling the same issues that we are. Do what you can to keep special events special.
Be kind to yourself.
You would think that shelter-in-place would be a perfect time for me to tackle all of the household projects that I never seem to have time to do. However, I can tell you that I have been less likely to do heinous projects during COVID-19. I simply don’t have the desire or energy to do repetitive or borning tasks. Why? I believe that it is partly due to the fact that I’m expending a lot of energy coping with life in a pandemic.
By all means, clean out a closet or organize a spice rack if you have the desire to do so. However, be kind to yourself and back off the guilt if you don’t want to. That stuff will be waiting for you.
Expand your social circle responsibly.
Most things that we do have both risks and benefits. The secret to success is to balance these two oppositional forces. During the first few weeks of isolation, I found myself feeling more irritable and somewhat depressed. I was missing the daily contact that I had with a friend. He was also socially isolating and was at low risk for being a coronavirus carrier. I started to visit him in his backyard for short chats, which made a world of difference in how I felt.
As restrictions ease, it may seem like the battle is over, and life is returning to normal. That is not the case. It is important to connect socially, but it is also essential to weigh the risks and benefits of any social interaction. Remember, it is about both the viral load and the length of exposure. Places that maximize both of these factors are the most dangerous to be in, places that minimize them are safer. Do get out and enjoy life, but do so in a responsible way. Naturally, common sense activities like wearing a mask and handwashing are critical musts. Remember that the ultimate loss of freedom is death.
Reach out for help if needed.
The above tips can help you deal with the COVID blues. However, some individuals will experience depression and anxiety that goes well beyond the typical. If you are experiencing significant depression, debilitating anxiety, or thoughts of harm, it is imperative that you seek professional help. Contact your doctor, hotlines, or your local hospital if needed.
I hope you have found these mental health suggestions helpful in dealing with the stress and anxiety that this global disaster has brought us. We will get through this; tomorrow is another day.
I tried to write posts that are informative and positive. I think that there is enough shocking news in the world. I attempt to avoid controversial pieces, as they tend to alienate readers. I’m not sure if this piece will be considered controversial, or it will alienate others. However, this is what I feel compelled to write about today. It is as simple as that.
This year has started with a bang, and it continues to spiral out-of-control. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we function in our society, killed countless individuals, and divided our country. That last statement surprises me the most, but it is sadly true.
Social distancing and the wearing of face masks have been demonstrated to reduce infection rates. Sweden’s approach to social distancing was laxer than its neighboring countries. Deaths in Sweden due to COVID-19 were almost 40/100,000 residents compared to 6/100,000 residents in adjacent nations that had stricter orders. In the U.S., we have seen individuals and groups promote behaviors contrary to good public health. These forces were countered by health officials and media outlets that emphasized the importance of viral containment. However, coronavirus news has been pushed aside and replaced by another crisis.
On May 25, 2020, a black man, George Floyd, was detained by police under suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He was unarmed and did not appear to be a threat, yet a police officer obstructed his airway for 9 minutes. This action killed him. Watching the video account of his arrest was horrifying to me, but it also haunts me. It is a vision that I can’t get out of my head. That video launched a world-wide protest against police brutality. There has been a surge of other videos of police violently attacking citizens who appear to be of no physical threat to them. The officer’s attacks in these videos seem to be rageful and out-of-control. Like everyone else on the planet, I watched in astonishment as the police and military used chemical agents and bullets to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C., so that the president could take a photo-op. Equally disturbing are officers without name tags or organizational insignias who were part of the military force in Washington. Where are they from? Who are they accountable to? There was no way to identify them. Scenes like these have made me feel like I am witnessing events in a totalitarian state, not the USA.
Not all police have acted brutally. In my hometown of Naperville, a protest for George Floyd/BLM was scheduled. The authorities had determined that there was the potential for violence. Based on this information, many businesses boarded up windows and secured their establishments. I walked down to witness the protest and saw a peaceful assembly. The police were en masse, but they were off to the side. Their presence was undeniable, but they were agents of calm, not violence. I continued to follow the evening’s events on a video feed from our local cable T.V. channel. The peaceful protest transitioned, and a different element roamed the downtown, breaking windows and looting stores. At some locations, the police formed a physical barrier to protect stores; at other spots, they pushed out looters and sealed them off from those areas. I am in no way supporting the looters’ actions, and I feel terrible that over 30 businesses suffered damage. However, the police’s sensible and calm behavior in Naperville contained the problem and did not escalate it. There was damage to property, but no one died on either side. It was a fantastic example of the excellent work that thoughtful police do.
I have known a few police officers well, and two generalities have stood out. They are just regular people, and they have a strong commitment to serve and protect their communities. So how is it that we see videos of police officers practicing such terrible brutality? I feel that rogue cops represent a tiny percentage of the police force. Unfortunately, some police follow a code of protecting their fellow officers at any cost. Because of this, these bad apples continue to abuse their power. Cover-ups can be systemic in organizations. Former Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanual was implicated in suppressing video evidence of the fatal shooting by police of Laquan McDonald. Initial police reports said that Laquan was acting aggressively, but the court-ordered release of police video showed that he was walking away when he was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke.
I believe that we have mostly peaceful protesters with a small percentage of looters and we have primarily good police with a small percentage of corrupt cops.
A small group of bad apples can spoil the reputation of the larger bunch.
As protests have continued, some choose to focus on the protesters rather than the reason for the protests. It sickens me to hear leaders talk about dominating others to justify abusing their power. It also upsets me that thousands feel that they need to put their lives on the line for our leaders to hear them. Every protest group offers the potential of becoming a COVID superinfection zone. It is a frightening prospect.
You may think that this post is a veiled condemnation of President Trump. I will not deny that I feel that has continually stirred the pot of divisiveness to the detriment of our country. However, I believe that a more significant issue is our societal views of different minority groups. As a nation, we spend an extraordinary amount of time identifying groups who we perceive as different from us as our enemies. We determine that entire categories of individuals should have fewer rights than ours and that their very existence poses some threat to us. Some use this separation to incite fear in others to gain power and influence. They make our country weaker. However, we, as a society, accept these lies. Can you think of any minority group that has not experienced prejudice? Women? Hispanics? Blacks? Gays? Jews? Chinese? Fat people? Muslims? It doesn’t take much to qualify as an outsider, and with this designation comes fewer rights than the majority.
If you are in any minority group, it becomes more challenging to achieve your goals. The American Dream is that you can determine your destiny. I do believe that the individual is responsible for their fate. If you want a good job, you need to obtain the skills necessary to achieve it. To get accepted to a top university, you need to study hard. If you want a beautiful house in a safe neighborhood, you have to save the down payment. However, for the American Dream to be real, everyone needs to be on the same playing field. If we are all dealt the same cards, it is up to us to play them. However, if the deck is stacked, some players always lose.
Groups in power want to keep their power, that is a fact. They justify their actions to maintain control. Their fear of losing power may cause them to act in ways contrary to their values. A fellow officer may feel compelled to corroborate a false story thinking that someday his own life may depend on the lying officer’s protection. Politicians and others may justify their prejudicial and inhuman behaviors of groups by dehumanizing them. Children in cages become unlawful, illegal invaders. Muslims become terrorists. Women are labeled frumpy, ballbusters, dumb blonds, and girls. Once designated as “less than,” it becomes OK to treat these groups as “less than.”
As a country, we gained world power status because we were a melting pot of creativity and ideas. Our diversity has always been our strength; it is foolish to think otherwise. The limitation of large segments of our population may temporarily benefit a few. Still, its overall effect is the weakening of our country. The more we divide and alienate, the more we erode the basic tenets of our Constitution. The Constitution is the foundation that our country is built on. Erosion of a foundation results in the collapse of the overall structure.
We are creatures of novelty. Now that there is a new story to capture our attention, the ongoing pandemic has receded into the background. I fear that the same will happen with police reform. The protests will end, and our collective minds will focus on the next big story. We cannot let this happen.
I grew up in the 1960s, a time of great Soviet hubris. I remember a quote by Soviet Prime Minister, Nakita Khrushchev who said, “We do not have to invade the United States, we will destroy you from within.” Unity creates strength; division creates weakness. As we justify the abuse of others, we deem different; we move ever closer to his prediction. The group of marginalized individuals grows ever larger; it is only a matter of time that those who are marginalizing will become marginalized themselves. Perhaps, that has already happened. Who will be left to protect our values and our country when we are all considered the enemy?
I read the email from Ralph. He was inviting my family and me to his farm for the weekend. I felt reasonably confident that Julie would want to go, but I was less sure of my kids. To my surprise, they were eager as they had fond memories of outings there when they were younger. Our invitation was at the beginnings of the lifting of shelter-in-place restrictions in Illinois; I knew that both Ralph and Anne had been carefully isolating.
Ralph is my former business partner, and his wife Anne is my dentist. They live in a nearby suburb, and the farm is their get-away place. To call it a farm isn’t exactly accurate, but that descriptor is about as good as any other.
Ralph’s father was a famous researcher who was a professor at a prominent university. Along with his pediatrician wife, he decided to purchase the farm in the 1960s. This move was stimulated by several factors, including the fact that a few of his colleagues had bought vacation cottages on the nearby Rock River. However, his father had bigger plans and eventually obtained 650 acres of land that included fields, forests, and a former rodeo. The rodeo’s site had a main house, nine log-style cabins, a two-story barn, and various other outbuildings. It was situated on an idyllic pond and became the family’s weekend home. In the 1970s, Ralph’s parents built a new home on a ridge overlooking their lake. This is the place that I have visited over the years. The first time that I saw the old homestead was last year as it is about a mile walk from the “new” house.
Visiting the farm is a unique experience; in reality, it is a private preserve. There are expansive open fields, densely wooded forests, ponds, creeks, and a lake. The site also contains a helicopter landing field, an abandoned caboose, and a 7-foot plaster-cast statue of Cleopatra. Edmonia Lewis sculpted the original sculpture (The Death of Cleopatra). Ralph’s dad donated it to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. but had a cast made to keep for himself.
The property’s most unusual feature is a buried, multi-room bomb shelter that even includes a garage to store a car. Under a hill, the shelter has several entrances, including a secret tunnel to the main house. That opening was located in one of the bedrooms, and to reach it you had to propel yourself down a hidden slide.
Current observers would likely view the building of a massive bomb shelter as eccentric or possibly even a little crazy. However, I would disagree with both descriptors. To understand why someone would go to great effort and expense, you need to understand the era when the shelter was built. The Cold War was in full swing in the 1960s, and the treat of a nuclear attack from Russia was a genuine fear. Many people had makeshift bomb shelters in their basements, and students practiced “duck and cover” exercises in school. In fact, in 1962, it was revealed that Russia was building missile launching pads in Cuba, only 91 miles away from the U.S. mainland.
Ralph’s father’s actions were consistent with the fears of the time, except he had the financial means to protect his family on a grander scale than most. Thankfully, for all of us, the family never had to use their hidden bunker.
I am also trying to protect my family, not from a nuclear blast, but a novel coronavirus. I have instilled in them the need to socially distance, and they know the importance of handwashing. I have laid in some extra food and supplies so they would be safe and fed if, for some reason, I couldn’t go to the grocery store. I have kept abreast of the latest news and medical research since knowledge is often the most potent weapon against any adversary.
Now that the country is opening up, it is important to know what situations are safer and what situations are more dangerous.
Most research has shown that the best practice is to stay far away from others, as individuals can be infected while exhibiting no physical symptoms. The 6-foot rule is an excellent place to start. The more open the setting, the safer the environment. The more confined the setting, the more dangerous. The more talking, singing, coughing, laughing, sneezing, the worse the setting. Short periods spent in places offer less viral exposure than extended periods. To put this in practical English:
-Outdoor open spaces with few people are relatively safe.
-As outdoor spaces become more crowded, they become less safe.
-When you can’t maintain at least 6 feet of distance, wear a mask. Even a homemade mask offers some protection to the wearer and benefits those around the wearer.
-If possible, avoid closed spaces with poor air circulation (bars, churches, movie theaters). Such places are even more dangerous when people are singing, shouting, or doing other activities that move a lot of air.
-Eye protection may be useful in “trapped” spaces, such as an airplane.
-Washing your hands regularly is one of the most important things that you can do to stay healthy. Do this often, and every time you return home, even in situations where you think you haven’t touched anything.
-Use an appropriate hand sanitizer when you can’t properly wash your hands.
– The amount of time that you spend in a given place counts. The chance of getting coronavirus from a short visit to the grocery is relatively low. If you work in a grocery store for 8 hours a day, being infected by a coworker is higher.
As the country opens up, it is essential to choose your activities wisely. You don’t need an elaborate bomb shelter to protect you and your family, just some masks, a little soap, and a heavy dose of common sense.
BTW, we had a great time at the farm. Instead of writing a narrative about it, I thought I would end today’s post with some photos.
My favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla. My wife prefers caramel swirl. Although I feel that caramel swirl is inferior to vanilla, I accept her preference, and I find no reason to quarrel with her about her choice. I can like my flavor, and she can like hers.
There are other areas in my life where I am more passionate about my feelings. Some have views that are different from mine. Yet, I accept this as I believe that the best practice is live and let live.
I can stretch this thought further into areas where I may feel that someone else’s belief is downright outrageous. Perhaps they believe that some over-the-counter supplement will cure their medical illness, or they are convinced that we never landed on the moon. Maybe they think that the newspaper horoscope offers direct guidance for their life. “You do you and me do me,” I think. I’ll accept you for who you are. Others don’t need to lockstep behind me. I may not agree with what they believe in, but they have the right to believe it. That is a good thing, right? In many cases, the answer is yes.
Differences come in many forms that go well beyond opinions. Different races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes, education levels, and so on. When we accept our differences, we can also recognize our similarities. In most instances, we are more alike than we are different.
“It’s your thing, do what you want to do!” isn’t just the tagline from an Isley Brother’s song, it is an anthem of acceptance of others. But can this concept foster the opposite effect? Unfortunately, I believe that the answer is yes.
We have laws that are designed to establish acceptable norms. Rules are necessary to allow our society to function. It is against the law to discriminate based on many determinators such as race or religion. It is against the law to willfully kill another person. It is against the law to exploit children, and the list goes on.
It is possible to draw some conclusions using the above examples. When differences in actions or opinions are relatively inconsequential, the best practice is acceptance. When activities or ideas break established norms, the best practice is a correction. These points are almost universally accepted, but there is a grey zone where it becomes more challenging to determine or categorize harmless differences vs. dangerous ideologies.
In my last post, I attempted to answer common questions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. I based my responses on established information obtained from primary sources, reliable publications, and governmental information streams. I felt good about my attempt to provide this information. I made a concerted effort to write the piece at a level understandable to non-medical readers. Beyond posting on my blog site, I also linked the article in several other forums, including a local Naperville Facebook page. The post got mostly positive responses, but I was surprised at the adverse reactions that I received. One person felt that I wasn’t qualified to write the article because I was a psychiatrist. She didn’t realize that psychiatrists are trained as medical doctors. Another person simply said, “So many untruths” without further explanation. Still, others responded to my informational post by registering an angry icon. The negative comments were reinforced by some readers who signified their agreement with the commentator with “thumbs-up” clicks.
The next day I scanned a different post in the same forum that noted that a person’s loved one was being called back to work as a bartender. The writer was seeking opinions if others thought that he would be safe. One responded (edited):
“All you people are sheep. I’ve worked everyday through quarantine. I’ve been in peoples homes. I’ve hosted parties and I’d say I’ve shooken a minimum of 3 new peoples hand daily. …You guys need to realize the person funding this vaccine same person. Funding micro chip same person owns Amazon. Social distance is an ordinance for the fact that when everyone can take these masks off they will still have to be distant for no other reason but satellite imagery and recognition…”
In another post, a person asked if anyone knew when Illinois was going to cancel shelter-in-place. She received this reply from someone upset with Illinois’ stay-at-home restriction:
“Looking at non shithole states to move to.”
Newspapers report that some protestors believe that the country’s head of infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, is lying to us about the coronavirus and that he is trying to profit from this pandemic.
Protesters are carrying rifles when marching on state capitals. Photos of unmasked protestors co-mingled with unmasked children and infants splash across the news media. They claim that they are defending their civil rights.
Fringe religious fundamentalists say that this pandemic has been predicted in Revelations and that the cure (a vaccine) is a ploy to inject microchips into the greater population as the “Mark of the Beast.”
Despite 100,000 deaths in the US, some people believe that COVID-19 is a made-up hoax.
Some business owners have opened their shops in direct opposition to state laws saying that they are exercising their civil rights.
The federal government tells us to socially distance and wear a mask, while at the same time encouraging protest groups and demonstrating a lack of concern with social-distancing.
Despite dire warnings of a second wave of infection, people crowded beaches, parks, and pools over the Memorial Day weekend. When asked why they parrot, “I have to live. Depression and anxiety are dangerous too.”
Despite countless authoritative sources that have documented the infectiousness and lethality of this novel coronavirus individuals justify their irresponsible actions by noting that it is no worse than the flu.
People minimize the impact of this illness by claiming that it only kills the elderly. And they imply that this population is expendable.
As a physician, scientist, and psychiatrist, I have been trying to make sense of these illogical and dangerous thoughts and actions. I accept that there will always be individuals who have alternative beliefs and that some of those beliefs will be “out there.” However, it appears that these reckless behaviors have gained a foothold in portions of mainstream society. Why are individuals reacting so strongly during this time of crisis? A time when there is clear evidence that their actions are dangerous not only to themselves but to the greater population? We value individual rights and accept differing opinions in this country, but when is the “Me do me,” philosophy exploited to the detriment of the greater good? And how do we, as rational human beings, justify these dangerous actions?
I think there are many reasons why individuals are ignoring clear facts and placing both themselves and the greater population in danger. Here are some of my thoughts:
The rejection of science and medicine
The mistrust of science and scientists is a long-standing tradition for some, as is the incorrect assumption that science and religion oppose each other. We have all read stories of “mad scientists” whose evil ambitions cause pain and destruction. We have also had real-life examples of how science has damaged our world with nuclear waste and chemical dumping. Many individuals would disagree with the old DuPont tagline, “Better living through chemistry.”
There are many examples where errors in scientific judgment have had significant consequences. However, there are many more examples where the knowledge and implementation of science have dramatically improved our quality of life. If you lack an understanding of the fundamentals of science, it is easy to demonize this area of knowledge and dismiss any conclusions that scientific examination affords. Also, some people feel that science and religion are oppositional forces. There could be many reasons for this belief that range from the false impression that all scientists are atheists to the interpretation of sacred works.
Physicians used to be revered in communities. As a practicing doctor for over 30 years, I have witnessed a decline. This is partially due to the changing roles of doctors. As medicine has become more complicated, the need for multiple physician experts (specialists) has weakened the doctor/patient relationship. Also, most doctors in the US earn their living via a production model. The faster they work, the more they make. Working as quickly as possible is counter to establishing a meaningful relationship with patients.
The internet has provided an explosion of both good and bad medical information. Patients can come to an appointment with a preconceived idea of their problem and a treatment expectation. I can recall patients who misinterpreted information from medical websites. Because of this, they would refuse to accept my medical advice. Dr. Google can seem a lot more credible than the doctor sitting across from you.
Science vs. religion
As a practicing Christian, I believe that God gave us our minds and free will to explore the world. I think that religion and science coexist quite nicely.
I was at a function where I talked to someone I would regard as educated and intelligent. I was shocked when this person told me that they rejected that humans were contributing to climate change. There was a religious connection to her belief, and honestly, her comments took me aback. Later that day, I asked my wife how it was possible to reject something accepted by the world community, and has been demonstrated time and time again in real-life examples. My wife was raised in the same religious tradition as this person, and so I thought she might have more insight. She noted that some fundamentalist religions view science as the enemy because its conclusions can be contrary to the literal translation of the Bible.
When the Bible says that the world was created in 7 days, I interpret it using a week to symbolize that it didn’t happen instantly. That is compatible with what we know scientifically. Others believe that the world was created in 7 actual days. I’m not trying to get into a me vs. you argument. Still, I can see how this different interpretation could lead to the belief that science is anti-Bible. That is not the case.
There is a world out there where everything has a sinister and secret meaning. It is a world run by influential people who sometimes practice magical rituals. It is the world of conspiracy. Conspiracy theories abound and seem to explain just about any event or problem. 911? There are conspiracy theories to explain it. Sandy Hook? There are conspiracy theories to explain it. Pandemic? There are conspiracy theories to explain it.
Most conspiracy theories have some basis in facts. However, those facts are misinterpreted or manipulated to make the argument more plausible. They offer the believer the inside scoop and explain to them the whys of the world.
Promoters of conspiracy theories can gain a cult-like following. With it, they can achieve a certain amount of power. Some will also use their influence to sell things that range from herbal supplements to magical toothpaste.
I find it interesting that there are quite a few real arrangements that are both secret and unsavory. They are often more interesting than fictional conspiracy theories. Deals do get made behind the scenes; the privacy of individuals is compromised without their permission. Plots happen in real life. For some reason, these actual events don’t seem as appealing as alien-human hybrids, or Masonic conspiracies to overtake the world. This is likely because the uncovering of real plots requires quite a bit of time and research. Also, there may be little payoff. A conspiracy theory only needs a seed of truth. Still, that seed can be grown into anything that the theorist wishes. Random information can be added; non-confirming information can be subtracted.
Beyond hucksters, governments also use this technique. I just watched a news clip that described how Russian and Chinese Arabic outlets are promoting the idea that a US lab created this novel coronavirus. Conversely, we have implied that this coronavirus was either created or released from a Chinese lab. Why would governments get involved with conspiracy theories? To manipulate a naive group, and to serve as a method of distraction.
The Mark of the Beast
As long as I have been listening to late-night radio, I remember stories of hidden organizations that had plots to label humans with the “Mark of the Beast.” Over time the “Mark” has changed from social security numbers to credit cards to UPCs and more recently “chip” tagging devices like you use to ID your dog and cat.
I’m a practicing Christian, but I’m not a Bible scholar. However, I did do some research. Most well regarded Bible scholars say that the “Mark of the Beast” from Revelations doesn’t refer to a mark that someone places on you. Rather it symbolizes a person embracing the Devil. Could this involve an actual mark? That is unclear, but not relevant to my point. The Mark of the Beast is about a person’s conversion rather than someone being branded.
Some anti-vaccers and other fringe groups say that the world is developing a coronavirus vaccine because the entire population will be secretly injected with a microchip… serving as the “Mark of the Beast.” Here we see a blending of conspiracy, religion, and manipulation.
When opinions are as important as facts
There has been an increasing tendency to accept opinions as facts, mainly when an influencer of power expresses the idea. Do you watch YouTube? Have you ever seen a popular host talk ecstatically about a boring product? In many cases, that person is being paid to gush by the advertiser of that product. Yes, it is a commercial, except it is being sold as an honest opinion.
“1 + 1 = 2,” that is a fact. “Chocolate cake is the best cake,” that is an opinion. An opinion can sometimes become a fact with research and fact-finding. However, in most cases, this is neither done; nore is it desired. Vetting an opinion runs the risk of disproving it.
As humans, we like to have opinions as they give us a sense of mastery and knowledge. As in most of these examples, opinions can be used to manipulate others. Remember, facts can be verified by multiple credible sources. If this can’t be done, it is an opinion.
When powerful agencies or people lie to us
There are many examples where influential individuals or groups used their influence to manipulate us. A classic example is the case of the tobacco executives who testified under oath to Congress that smoking was not hazardous to your health… when they knew otherwise. People in power are caught in lies and break their promises. Add to this reality, their seemingly enchanted lifestyles of privilege, and it is easy for the mainstream to reject the establishment.
The “N” word
No, not THAT word. The “N” that I’m referring to is an “n,” and it stands for a number. We love testimonials, and they sometimes can be useful in our decision making. A friend tells us about a good and honest mechanic… score! However, these benefits don’t apply in all situations.
As an example, a person receives an experiment drug and survives a COVID-19 infection. It must have been that drug that they took, right? Wrong, that is why we have research protocols. Early on in the pandemic, I recall reading about a person who was convinced that hydroxychloroquine saved their life. Was this a fact or just a coincidence? A larger sample pool has suggested coincidence. Researchers have the tools and techniques needed to explore the benefits of a treatment, and even they sometimes get it wrong. Correlation does not imply causation. “One swallow doesn’t make a summer.”
Smart people should not be trusted
There seems to be a general distrust of smart or highly educated individuals. I have heard people refer to them in negative ways, “They live in an ivory tower,” They think that their sh** doesn’t stink,” etc. Presidential pundits talk about the importance of likability when it comes to choosing a viable presidential candidate. It has been said that citizens vote for someone based on how relatable they are. In other words, someone they would enjoy having lunch with. I’m not sure why there is a bias against smart people, but I am confident that their opinions shouldn’t be discounted.
Individual rights, the battle cry
We are a country of individuals. We pride ourselves on our rights and our freedom of choice. However, we live in a diverse society. What happens when individual rights negatively impact human rights? What if your freedom to express yourself has a direct negative impact on my rights? What if your desire for self-determination harms your dependents?
Real news as opposed to drama TV
I have to confess that I don’t watch a lot of TV news, as I get most of my information in other ways. However, I have deliberately watched shows from all of the major networks as well as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. Most networks try to present real facts during an actual news show (although those facts can be skewed depending on the network’s bias). However, the “fun” begins when the commentators take over. They have their agenda, which seems to consist of promoting a specific ideology (often right or left). Their shows appear to carry even more weight than the network’s actual newscasts. It is easy to confuse their editorial interpretations as trustworthy, unbiased facts. “This group is always good; the other group is always bad.” If you see this pattern when listening to a commentator, consider turning off the TV.
Everyone’s an expert
My friend Tom has worked in the construction industry for over 25 years. As a general contractor, he is one of the most knowledgeable experts that I know when it comes to home repair and remodeling. I often go with him to initial appointments (I’m retired, you know). It amazes me how often potential customers try to show their “superior” knowledge when it comes to a construction job. By association, I have picked up some facts about construction. Even with my limited experience, I can tell you that many of these consumers have no idea what they are talking about. However, in the age of the internet, it is possible to glean information on just about any topic. With that little bit of information, it appears to be easy to assume that you know more than someone who has dedicated their life to learning a skill set.
I have seen this same phenomenon with some patients. I recall a lady who I had seen for some time. She was doing well on her current medication and had made excellent progress overall. One day she came into a session angry at me. She demanded to know why she wasn’t on a particular medicine. She said she had done research on that medicine, and it seemed perfect for her. I reminded her that she was doing well, but she was not satisfied with my comment. I let her rant for a few minutes and then reached for her chart. I located what I was looking for and said to her, “Do you remember that medicine that you tried about six months ago?” “Yes, it was terrible. It had so many side effects. Why in the world did you put me on that terrible medicine,” she said. “I put you on that medicine because we were trying to improve your mood, but it wasn’t the right medicine. People react to medicines differently, which is why an expert prescribes them. That medicine is the one that you want me to put you on today.” “Oh,” was her only reply. She had seen a glossy commercial about the medicine on TV and felt that she had expert knowledge of psychopharmacology based on 60 seconds of information.
Do as I say, not as I do
If you are a person of few resources, you can expect to receive the maximum punishment if you break the law. However, it seems that the rules are different if you are a person with power or money. Worse yet is when influential people criticize others for the very things that they are doing themselves. This leads to an us vs. them separation, and the hypocrisy breeds mistrust.
Overdosing on outrage porn
It is exciting to be excited. It is even more appealing to be excited around others who are excited. A typical example of this is watching a sporting event with friends. However, there is another side to this phenomenon. It can be exhilarating to be outraged about something, and this is more exciting when done with others. Of course, there are times when we should be outraged as our anger causes us to elicit change. However, outrage porn is also a technique that many partisan news outlets use. They beat their version of a story over and over until the viewer is hopping mad. It is exciting, but (in my opinion) it rarely results in a change. Why do they do it? The longer you watch, the more money they make.
The art of the scapegoat
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where you were always right and never wrong? For most of us, this is a fantasy, but for some, it is a reality. What is the secret? Blame someone or some group. “I didn’t do a poor job; I did a great job… someone else did a terrible job… It’s their fault,” and so it goes. If someone says that they are always doing a good job and that someone else is always to blame, they are either lying or delusional (or both).
One note philosophies
We live in a time of sound bites and bullet points. We identify with celebrities and leaders based on minimal information, such as their stance on universal healthcare, immigration rights, or abortion positions. Once strongly allied by a single doctrine, it becomes easy to accept or ignore other attributes of that individual that might usually offend our sensibilities. To make those abhorrent ideas acceptable, we rationalize them or adopt them. In this way, it becomes possible to accept or ignore behaviors and ideologies that we would normally reject.
The more a person is different from us, the easier it is for us to distance ourselves from their needs or plights. Propaganda effectively makes enemies appear different. Think of posters of Japanese from WWII; they were drawn to appear subhuman. Likewise, Japanese propaganda of Americans made us look like monsters. This effect can occur subtly and, more recently, has been used to marginalize Hispanics, Muslims, and the elderly. Once dehumanized, it is easy to ignore a group’s plight. “Isn’t it OK for a few elderly people to die if that makes America great again?” This sounds a lot better than, “Isn’t it OK for my grandmother to die if that makes America great again?”
Snake oil and pseudo-experts
We all have to make a living, but some individuals do this at others’ expense. Usually, vulnerabilities are exploited. Hair tonics for the balding, weight loss “miracles” for the fat, get rich quick programs for the financially unstable… the list goes on. Fear can be a powerful motivator during a crisis. At times it is used to hawk benign products, like dehydrated shelf-stable foods. However, at other times it exploits the vulnerable by promising them magical protection from the offending agent (like a coronavirus). These types of exploitations can not only be financially draining, but they can also be life-threatening. Moreover, these salespeople will often use the tactic of “You can only trust me.” This places the customer in further danger as they are isolated and no longer accept more objective advice.
Partisanship is defined as blind adherence to a particular cause or party. Partisanship has exploded over the last decade and has slowed the government to a near halt. The enemies are clearly defined. They consist of anyone who opposes the leaders of that party or any group that threatens the power of the party. Both Democrats and Republicans practice extreme partisanship, and this attitude has had a detrimental impact on battling COVID-19.
The purpose of this post was to ask the question, Are there times when individual rights need to be adjusted so that others’ rights are also respected? I am a firm believer in individual rights, but they cannot exclude the rights of others. However, there seems to be a societal trend to champion individual rights above all else. This pattern of behavior has many roots, some of which I listed above.
The unbridled expression of individual rights can only exist in a situation where there is no impact on others’ rights. However, in societies, individuals’ rights have to be balanced by the rights of the group. Actions that promote the rights of an individual at the expense of the group’s rights will invariably negate both.
To state this more eloquently, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
We are always stronger when we work together. When we adopt patterns of behavior that are contrary to this, we can initially feel more powerful. However, in the long run, we become weaker and more vulnerable.
Explore some of the constructs that I have listed above and see how they apply to your beliefs or actions. As always, Peace.
As far as I’m aware the following post provides accurate information as of 5/19/20. I have heard so much bad, inaccurate, and dangerous false information on this topic that I felt it necessary to address this topic. If you read all of the questions you will have a good and reasonable understanding of this pandemic as of this date… Dr. Mike.
What is a virus?
A virus is a microscopic parasite that consists of an outer protein coat that houses genetic material. Think of genetic material as a set of instructions. Some viruses also have a lipid (fatty) outer coating. For instance, the coronavirus has a lipid outer coating. A virus is very different from living organisms as it does not have the internal machinery to build those things necessary for life and to create useable energy molecules that are needed to live. Also, a virus cannot reproduce/replicate on its own.
A virus is simple in its structure. Many viruses have projections on their outer surface that allow them to connect to the host’s cells. Once connected, the virus injects its genetic material into the host cell and tricks the host cell into making more viruses. It hijacks the cell to do its bidding. Once the host cell fills up with newly manufactured virus, it bursts (and dies), releasing many new copies of the virus. These copies infect other cells, and the process repeats.
Is a virus a living organism?
Many scientists would say that all living things have specific characteristics in common:
All living things are made up of cells.
All living things have the machinery needed to metabolize. In other words, they can make things that they need, like proteins. They can also create energy molecules needed to power their internal machinery.
All living things can reproduce/replicate themselves.
Viruses do not have any of these characteristics, so most scientists would say that they are not living. However, some may argue that they are living, but very different from all other forms of life on this planet.
Are bacteria and viruses the same thing?
No. A bacteria is a single-cell organism that has the internal machinery to metabolize and reproduce. Bacteria are considered living. Also, bacteria are usually much larger than viruses.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a crown of spikes on them. Corona means crown. These spikes allow the virus to connect with the host cells and infect them. There are many different types of coronaviruses, and some have infected humans for millennia. The most common human coronaviruses cause mild upper respiratory symptoms (they are one of several virus groups that can give you a common cold).
Different types of coronaviruses infect different organisms. Most are species-specific. In other words, a virus that can infect your dog won’t infect you. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes a specific virus can mutate, which allows it to infect other species. When this happens, it can be dire to the new organism as it may not recognize the virus, which allows it to spread further and cause more damage. This is the case with the coronavirus that is currently causing global problems. It has never infected humans before, so its impact is severe.
What is immunity?
When we are exposed to a dangerous agent like a virus, our bodies launch a defense against that agent. If we survive the infection, our bodies can remember the virus. If we are reinfected again with the same virus strain, we quickly recognize the agent and launch a counter-attack to neutralize it. This ability to neutralize a formally dangerous agent is called immunity.
How do vaccines work?
In most cases, a vaccine contains unique parts of the virus, but not those parts that can cause disease. When injected with a vaccine, our bodies recognize those parts as foreign and launch an attack to eliminate the invader. Once exposed, our body remembers these parts as dangerous—exposure to the real virus at a later date now results in the rapid elimination of the virus.
Do vaccines cause autism?
NO, NO, NO… this has been researched many times. Don’t believe bull**t.
Can vaccines cause illness or death?
Vaccines are generally very safe. A tiny percentage of people receiving a vaccine may experience an adverse reaction, and some of these reactions could be serious. Overall, vaccines have saved millions of lives and have reduced or eliminated many terrible diseases.
What is herd immunity?
Everyone in the group has resistance to a virus. This is often done by immunization. When done effectively, herd immunity can eliminate a virus. A virus needs a host to reproduce. If there are no hosts, it will disappear.
What is the official name for this coronavirus?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
What is COVID-19
This is the name for the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2.
How do you catch this virus?
This is a respiratory virus. A sick person will shed the virus in respiratory droplets when they cough, sneeze, sing, or even talk. The particles infect the next person by entering that person’s body through their eyes, nose, or mouth (not the skin). If you have a high concentration of the virus on your hands, you can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth by touching your face. This is why handwashing is important.
Does wearing a mask protect me?
It’s complicated. Special masks (N95) can filter the air that you breathe and prevent the virus from entering your nose or mouth. However, these are in short supply and are reserved for people who are working on the “front-line,” like doctors and nurses.
Other types of masks have only a limited ability to block the virus from entering. However, they do reduce the travel distance of an aerosol (spray) when someone coughs. Less spray means a safer environment for those around you. If I wear a mask, I protect you, and if you wear a mask, you protect me. If we are all wearing masks, we are protecting each other.
What is an ACE2 receptor?
This is a particular part of the surface of a human cell that is involved with blood pressure regulation. This receptor is found in abundance on lung cells, but it is also present in many other parts of the body. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 binds to this receptor, which is the first step to cause an infection.
What is zoonoses?
This is when a disease in an animal infects a human.
Where did this virus come from?
All scientific indications point to a bat as the original host for this coronavirus. It is likely that the virus mutated and then infected another type of animal and that a human caught the virus from this secondary host.
There is NO evidence that this virus was created or modified in a lab.
Do all pandemic viruses come from China?
Not at all. For instance, the Spanish Flu of 1918 likely originated in the US, and the MERS pandemic of 2012 started in the Middle East.
Are coronaviruses common?
This is a large class of viruses. Most of this class of virus doesn’t infect humans, but several do cause the common cold. However, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is new to humans, making it much more dangerous.
Why are health officials concerned about this novel coronavirus?
No humans had ever been exposed to this virus before 2019. This allowed the virus to run rampant and allowed it to cause life-threatening problems in those who were infected. This virus also seems to be very infectious. There are people who can contract the virus who are symptom-free, but they can still spread the virus to others.
What does the term pandemic mean?
A widely spread epidemic. In this case, worldwide.
Is COVID-19 just another flu?
NO! Strains of the influenza virus cause flu or Influenza. COVID-19 has respiratory symptoms that are similar to the flu, but a coronavirus causes it. It is more dangerous and appears to be more infectious than the flu. However, the flu is also pretty dangerous in its own right. Remember that the “stomach flu” is just a generic slang term for GI distress and has nothing to do with respiratory flu.
Why is COVID-19 more dangerous than the flu?
For many reasons, it is likely more infectious, more lethal, and impacts more organ systems than the flu. The respiratory flu is a severe illness, but COVID-19 is worse.
Was the Spanish flu of 1918 caused by a coronavirus?
No, it was caused by a mutated influenza virus that initially came from birds.
Is this the first time that humans have been infected with a novel coronavirus?
No, the SARS outbreak happened in 2003, and the MERS outbreak happened in 2012. Different members of the coronavirus family caused these. MERS killed about 40% of those infected, but it was harder to spread than the virus that causes COVID-19. As of the time that I’m writing this post, over 3 million people have been infected, and over 300,000 have died. The highest number of deaths have occurred in the US, with (at the time of this writing) over 90,000 deaths.
Do viruses mutate, and how does that change them?
All viruses mutate. Many mutations result in an inactive virus. However, some mutations can make a virus more infectious or deadly.
What are the symptoms that COVID-19 cause?
The classic symptoms of this virus are fever, shortness of breath, and dry cough. However, many other symptoms can occur, including mental fogginess, pink eye, sore throat, loss of smell, blood clots, strokes, heart attack, skin conditions, GI distress, and more.
Some of these symptoms happen directly due to the virus, others due to overactivation of our body’s defense systems, and others due to unknown reasons.
What is a cytokine storm?
This term is used when the body launches such an aggressive attack against a virus that it also starts to destroy parts of itself. Think of this as “friendly fire.”
Is it dangerous to take ibuprofen (Motrin) if I’m ill with COVID-19?
There is NO credible evidence that taking ibuprofen will worsen a COVID-19 infection.
What increases my chance of getting sick with this virus?
The only way to catch COVID-19 is to be exposed to the virus. The higher the concentration of the virus and the longer the length of exposure to the virus, the higher the chance of infection. If a sick person coughs in your face, that is a load of virus! If you spend time in a confined space with a moderate concentration of virus (church service, crowded bar, airplane), that’s a lot of exposure. Either scenario increases your chances of getting the illness.
The virus has been found on everything, from cardboard boxes to the soles of shoes. However, these are unlikely to cause an infection due to the above reasons.
However, if someone with an active infection coughed on a hard surface (like a keypad) and you touched that device shortly after that, you could transfer the virus from your hands to your face and infect yourself. Bottom line, wash your hands!
What is the kill rate?
Deaths divided by the rate of infection.
Other viruses have higher kill rates, so why are we so worried about this virus?
Because this virus is so infectious. The more individuals infected, the higher the actual death rate!
Many people die from the flu, so why are we so worried about this virus?
Is this a serious argument? Really? We already have 90,000 deaths in the US, and the number will probably approach 120,000 by summers end. These are not just numbers; these are human beings. Are you willing to sacrifice your mother, or father, or favorite teacher, or great co-worker, or best friend unnecessarily?
Do I have to have symptoms to spread this virus?
NO, this fact makes this virus very dangerous for obvious reasons.
Did China withhold information about this coronavirus, and why?
It appears that they did. I don’t know why, but it was likely for economic reasons, and also to stockpile equipment (like PPE and respirators) needed to treat the illness.
Did China’s delay in telling the world about this coronavirus worsen the epidemic?
Why is the outbreak so much worse in the United States than in other countries?
I am despondent to say this, but the US response to this pandemic has been shameful. We had all sorts of data from past pandemics. We also had data from this current pandemic. Yet much of this information was ignored. We never had a cohesive strategy and never used the full power of the federal government to direct us. Experts were ignored, rumors were deemed as important as facts. The list goes on. History will look at this time very unfavorably. It is so sad to me.
Can I get this virus from touching packages or the mail?
This is very unlikely, and there have been no reported cases of transmission by these routes.
Can I get this virus from having sex?
There have been reports of infected men expressing virus in their semen. Is this a problem? The answer is unknown, but it is MUCH more likely that you will catch the virus from an infected person by all of the other things related to having sex—proximity, deep kissing, etc.
What are the best practices to avoid becoming infected with the virus?
Stay away from sick people and from places where you can have long exposures to lower concentrations of viruses (large assemblies, bars, planes, etc) when at all possible.
Socially distance. The virus only travels a few feet when someone coughs before it falls to the ground.
Wash your hands thoroughly. Soap inactivates the virus.
When you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at the right concentration (many DIY sanitizers on YouTube won’t work).
Wear a mask when you can’t socially distance (for instance, when grocery shopping).
Limit trips to places like the grocery store. Shop deliberately and quickly.
Use on-line services if possible.
Should I wear gloves?
I have seen so many people misuse gloves that it is hard to recommend using them. If you know how to use them, gloves can help protect you in some situations. However, misusing them could potentially increase your chances of infection.
What kind of soap should I use to wash my hands?
Any type of soap will work well. Just wash for at least 20 seconds and try to rub all parts of your hands as this increases the chance of breaking down the virus.
What kind of hand sanitizer should I use?
The hand sanitizer must have (by volume) 70% isopropyl alcohol or 60% ethyl alcohol. Commercial sanitizers that are alcohol-free won’t kill this virus. DIY sanitizers that don’t have this concentration of alcohol (by volume) won’t be effective. Rub your hands for 20 seconds to help destroy the virus.
I hear that the virus can survive on surfaces for a long time, should I worry about this?
In most cases, this is not an issue. However, it can be a problem if the viral concentration is high and the “seeding” is recent. An example would be an infected person coughing on a touch screen that you touch and then rub your eyes. In this case, you would be infecting yourself with a high concentration of fresh virus. Always us sanitizer when you get to your car, and then wash your hands when you get home.
People are telling me to take certain supplements or remedies, should I do this?
People are making money off of this tragedy. No remedy or supplement is helpful.
Is it important to eat well, get enough sleep, and try to do those things that generally keep us healthy?
Yes, a healthy lifestyle, along with good practices, can increase your chances of staying well.
Why did states need so many ventilators? Was this a scam?
No, there was no scam. Many of the early deaths from COVID-19 were due to respiratory failure. In these cases, a respirator would be the only option. However, we are now learning that some individuals with low oxygen in their blood do well with more conservative treatments, like CPAP or O2.
Why did states want us to shelter-in-place?
This is a tried and true (Think Spanish Flu of 1918) way of reducing the rate of infection. If everyone got sick at once, the health care system would become overwhelmed, and more people would die due to reduced access.
Why are we supposed to stay 6 feet away from others when we are out and about?
The virus spreads by respiratory droplets, which typically don’t travel farther than this. When out in public, keep your distance. The 6-foot rule doesn’t work when you are in a confined space, like a church. There have been reports of many people who were more than 6 feet away from an infected person getting sick and dying in such situations. Although they were exposed to a lower concentration of virus (likely expelled in smaller droplets when the parishioner sang), they were exposed for a longer time.
Do I need to sanitize everything?
Use common sense. Clean things as you usually would, wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer when you are out and about. Higher precautions are needed when people work in highly contaminated areas (for instance, a doctor working with COVID-19 patients in the hospital).
What should I do when I go to a grocery store?
Wear a mask, keep as socially distant as reasonable, shop quickly and deliberately, wash/sanitize your hands as soon as possible when you leave the store. Consider using on-line services, “senior store hours,” or other ways to keep those most at risk safe.
Is it safe to go to church, bars, concerts, or other enclosed experiences?
I answered this above. At this time, I would avoid these places. Remember, it is not all about you. You may get sick and recover, but are you willing to kill your spouse, child, or friend as an expression of your independence?
Does the time that I’m in a risky place matter?
Yes. More time equals more exposure.
What is more important, the virus or the economy?
This is not an either/or choice. Both have to be addressed concomitantly.
I don’t like the government telling me what to do; they are not the boss of me!
Really? If you can’t move to a deserted island, suck it up and grow up. It not just about you and your wants. This virus is a big deal. I could go on, but I would just get progressively more pissed off.
I’m young; I don’t care if I get COVID-19 because it won’t kill me.
First, it could kill you. Second, it could kill someone you love. Third, it could kill someone who could help you in the future (like a doctor). We live in societies for a reason.
If I’m older and get COVID-19, will I wind up on a ventilator?
Older people are more at risk for respiratory failure, but we are now learning that some of these patients can do well with less invasive treatments, like CPAP.
What is happy hypoxia?
Some patients with oxygen levels so low that would typically be in a coma have been alert and appear almost normal. The reasons for this are unclear. However, it may mean that some individuals who would usually be placed on a ventilator may do well with more conservative treatment.
Are there treatments for COVID-19?
At this time, the only known treatment is supportive care. However, new treatments are being explored, and some appear promising. This history of medicine is full of examples of things that were thought to help particular problems. However, when put to rigorous study, they either didn’t help or caused more harm. PLEASE, let health care professionals do what they have been trained to do. A video on YouTube or an endorsement from a celebrity means little and could potentially harm you.
Can I catch this coronavirus a second time?
Despite some reports, this seems unlikely. Successful exposure to a virus typically leads to immunity that can last for years or longer.
Will there be a vaccine for this coronavirus soon?
In the past, it would take many years to create a vaccine. New biochemical methods have reduced this development time. Remember that a vaccine has to be developed, tested to see if it works, tested to see if it is tolerated, and then it has to be made in high quantity. A vaccine in 12-18 months could happen if all goes well.
Why are some countries that seemed to stop the virus now seeing a re-emergence of the virus?
This is expected as countries start to open up. The goal of social isolation is to reduce the rate of infection, so there is available medical care and to give time for vaccine development. However, foolish openings will result in unnecessary deaths. We need to look towards those countries that have had the most success and follow their lead.
Are containing the virus and reopening the economy two separate things?
Both have to be considered. They are interconnected in every way.
Isn’t it worth having a few old people die to save the American economy?
As we now know, COVID-19 affects every age. However, it does seem to be that older individuals are at higher risk. As an older person, I can say that I’m still relevant to the people who love me, and I’m contributing to the world at large. Stop using the term “people” instead substitute the name of a real person. “Isn’t it worth having my mother die to save the American economy?” That little substitution makes a big difference, doesn’t it?
Will this virus go away?
The virus will not go away. It may fade for a bit during the summer (or not, depending on how states reopen). It is likely to return during the flu season. This will be rough as hospitals will already be taxed at that time. However, treatments will be developed, and a vaccine will become available. Over time COVID-19 will become a preventable disease.
Will we ever have another pandemic?
Yes, with 100% certainly. It is critical to learn from our successes and failures in treating this pandemic. I can’t emphasize enough that we will need a strong and clear direction from our experts and leaders. Without this, we will have a repeat of our current disaster.
Dear readers, we will get through this crisis. We need to be sensible, and we need to look at the entire situation. The economy does need to open up, but it needs to open reasonably and rationally. Individual rights are important, but so are the rights of those impacted by others. This is not our first pandemic rodeo The playbook is already available; we need to look at it.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, COVID style. My daughter Anne was 8 when I re-married, so Julie started to celebrate Mother’s Day the very first year that we were husband and wife. Initially, our celebrations varied, but after a few years, we were in an established routine. This was especially the case when we started to have our children 23 years ago.
A typical Mother’s Day would include some sort of breakfast in bed. At the same time, the kids would sing “Happy Mother’s Day To You,” using the familiar birthday melody. Church followed, and then we headed off to my niece Karen’s house for a fabulous brunch. Karen would make everything from scratch and did not want guests to bring dishes. Instead, she wanted the moms to feel special and pampered. Note that Karen has three kids of her own.
After several hours of partying, we would head home. Julie would request a special dinner, and we would make it for her that evening. It was a pretty standard celebratory day, and it has become a family tradition.
COVID-19 has put a few obstacles in our Mother’s Day program this year, but our efforts were not deterred. Our main obstacles included limitations in grocery availability, difficulty in getting gifts, and the cancellation of both in-person church and my niece’s brunch. We have already navigated a COVID Easter. It seemed appropriate to follow a similar course for a COVID Mother’s Day. The plan was to do what we could to maintain our traditions while adding new “fillers” to round out the experience.
The morning started with breakfast in bed. My kids are now young adults and value their sleep, so I stepped in and prepared this simple meal. I couldn’t get our usual yeast cinnamon rolls, but I did find some ready-to-bake ones that were pretty good. I cut up some fruit and made strong coffee. I woke up the kids, who were happy to join in. I sent one of them on a mission to find our “breakfast in bed” tray. It was missing, and we decided to make do with a red cafeteria-style plastic tray. I tried to glam the tray up by using other red items on it. The idea being, “Look, we did this on purpose.” As we have for decades, we marched up the stairs loudly singing, “Happy Mother’s Day To You.” As Julie has done for decades, she gasped with excitement and surprise. Score!
Later that morning, our oldest daughter, Anne, phoned to wish “Step-Mom” a Happy Mother’s Day. Julie was delighted to take her call, which was terminated early due to the needs of Anne’s small children.
Our church attendance has been a streaming event for the last two months, and we fired up a MacBook to Chromecast the Mother’s Day service to our family room TV. I passed out Ritz crackers for communion, but something was wrong with them. Although the package was new, it appeared that some of the crackers had peanut butter on them. After the service, we solved the mystery by visiting the Nabisco website. What appeared as peanut butter was just some remains from the baking process. Whew… our crackers will survive another day.
Much of the afternoon was spend individually and peacefully; until it was time for dinner. At 5 PM, I sent out a group text and was happy to see three smiling faces. Julie had found a recipe for a Mediterranean shrimp dish in the “Tribune,” but it called for odd (for us) ingredients. Will and I had gone to “Fresh Thyme” on Saturday. We were able to find Fetta cheese and Kalamata olives without difficulty. Still, we were at a complete loss when it came to the elusive fennel bulbs. A helpful produce man pointed us in the right direction.
The recipe writer waxed something like, “Easy weekday shrimp and fennel bake.” It was not so easy when you had never made it before. I took the director’s role and set the kids on various tasks. Grace sliced the fennel bulbs, Kathryn peeled potatoes, and Will had the job of shelling and deveining the shrimp. I’m a big believer in cleaning as you go when cooking, so I washed as the prep dishes piled up.
The only asparagus that I could find was pre-wrapped and was slightly past its prime. I processed what I could into short spears. I also tossed together a chopped salad loaded with sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts. Lastly, Grace placed “bake and go” baguettes into our toaster oven for a quick crisping. While our concoction was baking, we set the table using some of our “better” dishes. By better, I mean that they matched each other. We were ready.
Although we couldn’t go gift shopping, I found a few things on Amazon, which I had (thankfully) ordered weeks before, as the pandemic has slowed down deliveries. I quickly wrapped them using some of our pre-COVID-19 wrapping paper stashes.
With dinner on the table, it was time to call down our honored guest. We had all made the main course, but we had no idea what it was going to taste like. Shrimp, fennel bulbs, oregano, olives… it was a mystery meal. Thankfully, it tasted pretty good, and Julie was happy with our efforts.
Julie often requests an ice cream cake for her special days, and I have traditionally ordered them from our local Dairy Queen. However, I found one at the grocer and grabbed it as a quick substitute. I did my best to decorate the small, quarter sheet cake. It was pretty good, but I still shudder at its $40 price tag. Price checking has become a casualty of racing in and out of the grocery store.
I don’t particularly appreciate playing games, which, for some reason, makes my participation all the more desired by my kids. I submitted to card games and dominos and tried to be a good citizen. The evening ended with a group watch of “Alone,” an Amazon reality show that chronicles the adventures of people who are dropped into the wilderness. That ended our day. We did our best to create a special Mother’s Day, and in the end, our celebrant felt special.
As I go on my daily walks, I am noticing more Happy Birthday banners in the front yards of houses. I think that they are taking the place of birthday parties. Others are finding alternative ways to recognize events in their families.
We celebrate special events for a reason, and it is crucial to attempt to continue traditions during these challenging times. Don’t abandon cherished family activities; modify them instead.
Shelter-in-place and social isolation are two terms that were new to me but have become familiar phrases in the last few weeks. I’m a person who feels that every event can be a learning opportunity, including our current viral crisis.
In an earlier post, I explored my continued awareness that despite being an introvert, I need people in my life. The first few weeks of shelter-in-place were tough as the only real contacts that I had were with my immediate family, and they had their activities and interests. Julie was working, Kathryn was adjusting to life back in the USA, and Will and Grace were attending classes online.
I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, and I spent most of my energy trying to put together a survival plan for the family. Where could we get toilet paper? Did we have enough soap? How could I make DIY hand sanitizer and disinfectants? Emergency planning was all that I could do.
I was prevented from doing things that I loved as I was isolating indoors. I couldn’t go on a camping adventure with Violet, the campervan. I couldn’t take myself on a photography safari, and there wasn’t much to write about as my daily life had been reduced to the mundane.
One of my favorite retirement activities before the pandemic was hanging out with my friend, Tom. We have always gotten along well, and we saw each other often. We were keeping up with each other electronically, but for whatever reason, that wasn’t cutting it for me. I mentioned to Tom that I was feeling frustrated and bored, and he suggested that I stop by his backyard for a socially distant barbecue, which I did. I was surprised by how much better I felt with the addition of a little bit of normalcy.
Tom recently purchased an older townhome close to downtown Naperville that had never been updated. He planned to gut the place entirely and to reconfigure the interior into a more modern and efficient space. He was going to demolish the interior on his own to save funds for the actual remodel. Tom is an experienced contractor who knows the protocols for such a task; however, he is only one person. I was concerned that he would injure himself by tackling all aspects of this enormous job alone. I was determined to help, but my efforts were met by family concerns for my safety due to the coronavirus. I felt that their worries were unfounded as I would be wearing a respirator and gloves during the demolition process. Besides, I would take other precautions, like bringing my homemade hand sanitizer to the job site.
I knew that one of my primary functions would be as a photographer to document the process. We write a weekly construction blog, and photos always make the posts better. However, this would not reduce Tom’s chance of injury. Multitasking presented the most significant injury risk to my friend. He would be inherently safer if he could concentrate on a single task rather than trying to do everything by himself.
I have been hanging around construction sites for some time, and I am starting to get an understanding of the construction process. However, knowledge isn’t the same thing as skill.
During most of my life, I have been thrust into leadership positions. This is likely because I’m responsible, organized, and I have good problem-solving skills. As a physician, I was a chief resident, co-founder of a successful psychiatric practice, and served as a medical director in several positions. I am comfortable in leadership roles, but leadership was not needed here. I needed to be a follower, a gofer, a grunt. The most helpful thing that I could do for my friend was to become a day laborer.
Some of you may think that it is beneath a physician to do such things, but I disagree with this idea completely. I am many things beyond a doctor, and I feel that all honest work is honorable.
Tom’s townhouse is an easy walk from my home, and I have been going there in the mornings to do whatever was needed. I have pried tacking strips off of floors, taken countless loads of refuse to the dumpster, and even sawed through a pipe or two. My actions have allowed Tom to concentrate on methodically stripping the interior down to the studs.
My stated goal was to help my friend and to increase his safety. However, I also have benefited from my actions. I’m getting a little exercise, I have social contact, and I am continuing to learn by observation. Hosts on DIY TV shows often state how much fun it is to deconstruct before they construct something. Frankly, I think their statements are total crap. The process is physically challenging, filthy, and potentially dangerous. However, the method also serves as a classroom for an uninformed person, such as myself. Each layer of the interior has to be removed and properly disposed of. Appliances have to be recycled, ceilings and walls have to be cut away, insulation discarded, plumbing fixtures removed, and electrical connections isolated. Deconstructing a house is another way of learning how to construct a house, and I find that process very fascinating. By participating in the process, I have gotten a master’s class in home construction.
Soon tradespeople will descend on the property. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and others. I’ll help in whatever way that I can, but, likely, I’ll mostly be photographing and writing about the construction experience in Tom’s blog. However, after all of these years, I know most of Tom’s subcontractors, and they usually don’t mind my picture taking and obsessive questions.
When I first met Tom, he was surprised that I was always asking questions. “Why do you want to know that it is useless information to you?” He would ask. I would always respond that there was no such thing as useless information. Over the years, I have put to use some of that “useless” information, but for me, the process of learning is reason enough to learn.
I choose to be a competent human being. To me, that means that I am more than just a title or job description. I’m glad that I have had the training to adjust complicated pharmacological cocktails for schizophrenic patients. However, I’m also happy that I have the knowledge base to make a meal from scratch for my family, fix a friend’s computer, or put together a solar-powered electrical system for Violet the campervan. Each activity has worth, as does picking up clumps of insulation and tossing them into a dumpster. It gives me pleasure to think that in some small way, I am helping my friend. Every slab of wallboard that I chucked is one less that he had to do. To me, a friend is someone who is there for you when you need them. Tom has certainly been there for me, and I enjoy returning the favor.
During this terrible time, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves. To think that we are being cheated, or put upon by the world. This is a perfect recipe for sadness. I would suggest that it is better to think about what you have instead of what you are missing. Extend yourself to someone else and try to be supportive of them. I’m not Mother Theresa. Yes, I feel that I’m helping a friend, but I’m also getting quite a bit in return from the interaction. The result of helping someone has made me happier. We live in a world of “me,” and with it, we see higher rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction. In my career, I saw individuals who were always looking for ways to feel better about themselves. They judged their happiness with their latest purchase. They would blame others for their unhappiness and take no responsibility for their own dysfunctional behaviors. These patients were almost impossible to help as they expected someone else to do their work. Their lives could have been transformed by taking some of their self-absorbed energy and “spending” it to make someone else’s burden lighter. During this crisis time, we all need to work together. There is strength in numbers; if we stand alone, we will become dust in the wind.
I always thought that there was something different about me. I enjoy people, but being around large groups exhausts me. I prefer having a few friends rather than many connections.
Early in my medical career, I was certain that something was wrong with me. Many of my colleagues used friendships to make work connections and to build their practices. They would form relationships with referring docs and therapists to ensure a steady stream of patients to their office door.
I would observe their business acumen. However, the thought of doing something similar was impossible for me. Pretending to like someone was not in my emotional playbill. I remember when the medical director of my clinic asked me to invite a new doctor over for dinner, as he seemed to be uncomfortable and unhappy in his new job. Apparently, I was supposed to make him feel more at ease. I did what I was told and invited him over. The new doc seemed significantly more uncomfortable than I was, and any questions that I asked were met, at best, with a one-word answer. Eventually, that doctor not only left our practice but also the state. I think he was packing his bags well before I served him our wild rice casserole, but the memory of that dinner still gives me a shutter.
Over time I understood that I wasn’t defective, I was an introvert. I form very strong relationships with a few people and I’m a loyal and true friend. My close circle doesn’t exhaust me in the least and I miss those connections when I don’t see them. However, I’m also very comfortable being alone and I can’t remember the last time that I was truly bored when I was by myself. I always can find something to do.
Like many introverts, I can be a functional extrovert. Put me in a social situation or ask me to give a lecture and I don my extrovert cape and perform. That last word was chosen deliberately, as my actions are an act. I know how extroverts behave and I do likewise. In many instances, I’ll enjoy these situations, but after a few hours I’ll need to have alone time to regroup and recharge.
I discovered that I was an introvert many years ago. However, I continue to learn about my personality and my personal needs. Over the last few years, I have traveled solo in Violet, my campervan. I have enjoyed these trips, but I have often wished that I had someone with me to share the adventure. When I say “someone” I mean someone in my close circle of connections. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I always want to be by myself.
Although I accepted the fact that I was an introvert, It always seemed that I was shortchanged. My extroverted doctor colleagues had the sales advantage. They could use their personal traits to attract business, I had to rely on the quality of my work and word of mouth to do the same.
My extroverted neighbors easily intermingled with each other, partied together, and even traveled together. I would wave to them from the driveway and quickly return to the comfort of my house.
My extroverted friends always seemed to have a hundred people to see and a million places to go. This was never the case for me.
My friend Tom is an extrovert and has the ability to connect with just about anyone. It seems that anywhere I go with him he runs into someone he knows who automatically wants to stop what they are doing and have a conversation with him. It is interesting to me that a super extrovert and a quiet introvert would become best friends.
Over time I have not only accepted being an introvert, but I have also come to value it. I may form fewer relationships, but they are deeper and more meaningful. I may spend more time alone, but I always find something to do. I am a continual learner and explorer, and I like the fact that I have the time to study new things and skills.
When COVID-19 resulted in shelter-in-place rules I thought would be fine. What would be better for an introvert than being locked up in their house! However, my assessment wasn’t accurate.
During the first few weeks of being sheltered-in-place, I found that I was feeling irritable and down. I initially attributed these feelings to the obvious. The stock market, which was the source of my income, was dropping. In addition, basic supplies that ranged from toilet paper to flour were impossible to buy. I was feeling afraid and insecure. However, after a week I accepted the situation and let go of the anxiety around it. However, I was still feeling unsettled. I didn’t feel like learning new things, or writing, or taking photos, or doing just about anything. It was a difficult time, but also a time for introspection.
Julie was home as were three of my kids, and that was good. We did do things together, but they were also involved in their own activities. I reflected on what was missing and it was clear that I was concerned about and missing other people in my life. I decided to come up with a plan. I’m close to my two sisters and during this time I would call them every day. I would also have more regular contact with my oldest daughter, Anne. She has a busy life so daily contact would be a burden to her, but we could certainly talk once or twice a week. I increased my calls to my childhood friend, John. We have always been close as brothers, but like many brothers, the time that we spent together has shrunk through the years. I decided that I would call John at least once a week. I also reached out to my friend Ralph. Ralph is still in the workforce and busy seeing patients, but I wanted him to know that he was important to me.
My friend Tom presented as a special case. Prior to the pandemic, I saw Tom almost every day. During the first week we were still in regular electronic contact, but I was still missing him. Tom just bought a townhome that is in need of total rehab. In efforts to reduce his cost, he is doing a lot of the initial work by himself. I’m certainly not a construction guy but I have been hanging around Tom for many years and I have observed a thing or two. I also knew that demolishing the interior of his townhome would require that I wear PPE which would also provide virus protection. I could help my friend and have a little social interaction all at the same time! I like win/win scenarios.
Lastly, I kept up other social connections with friends and family via Zoom, Facetime, and emails.
I believe that being an introvert has made it easier for me to shelter-in-place. However, life is not about absolutes. I do need social contacts and I do value those people that I am close to. My efforts to connect with those people who are important to me have been met positively by the recipients. I’m happy that I am as important to my connections as they are to me.
During these difficult times, it is important to recognize who we are and what we need. We need to look at what has made us happy in our normal lives and we need to replicate those things to the best of our ability during these difficult times. When I say replicate I don’t mean duplicate. Shelter-in-place orders are there for a reason. Be creative and explore ways to “normalize” your life.