Do I Control The Universe?

Note: this post was written on the listed days in a diary-type format.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Problem and Preparation

In December 2021, I learned that my adult daughter, Anne, was scheduled to have carpal tunnel surgery in January. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the hand’s median nerve is irritated. This is caused by repetitive trauma, and it is common in individuals who heavily use power tools, folks who are constantly flexing their wrists (like house painters), and people who use a computer in their job. Compressing the nerve can create all sorts of strange symptoms, from hand numbness, to pins and needle sensations, to muscle weakness. We use our hands thousands of times a day, so you can imagine how disabling carpal tunnel syndrome can be. Luckily, carpal tunnel surgery is straightforward and involves opening up the carpal tunnel to relieve the pressure on the median nerve. However, surgery requires recovery time, and during that period, it is difficult to use your hands for simple tasks.

Anne’s partner, Chris, took some time off, but he is now back to work. I offered to come down for a few days and help her out with jobs like laundry and cooking. I plan to be as helpful as possible while avoiding being intrusive. Along those lines, I have tried to keep my communications open with Anne as we pondered what tasks she would like me to do.

I know that it can be difficult to have a house guest 24/7, so I’m planning on sleeping in Violet the campervan. However, there is a problem, it is January in Illinois, and as I write this, it is a balmy 4F (-16C) outside. So sleeping in Violet will be a challenge.  

If you asked my kids for one of my dadisms, it is likely that one of them would recite; there are no emergencies for those who are prepared. I plan on adapting this philosophy to the task at hand.

I have winter camped in Violet in the past, but every situation has been unique. I have successfully camped in Montanna during freezing nighttime temperatures by wrapping myself up like a burrito in a sleeping bag and then covering the bag with my quilt. I have used a portable electric heater when camping in Wisconsin when the temperature was in the 20s (-6C). I have a built-in Webasto heater that Tom and I installed in Violet last summer. I recently tested it, and I could sleep through an 18F (-8C) Chicago night.  

Camping with Tom in Wisconsin.

I don’t like to be bound in a bag when sleeping, and I won’t have access to shore power as I’ll be stealth camping in Anne’s parking lot. The Webasto uses gasoline from my gas tank, but it also needs 12-volt power from my house battery to operate its blower and electronics. This latter fact could be a problem as I normally recharge my house battery using solar panels, and daylight is in short supply during Midwestern winters. In addition, lithium batteries can be damaged if you attempt to charge them in freezing temperatures. 

Solar panels on my roof easily charge my battery in the summer; not so much during the winter.

It seems like the only reasonable solution will be to combine several techniques to stay warm during this adventure.

Last summer, Grace and I made a heated sleeve to warm my house battery so it could be charged when the temperatures were below freezing; this may be the time to try out our gadget. However, I’ll still need to be conservative in my power usage. I need electricity for my 12-volt fridge, house lights, and electronic devices (like my iPhone and AirPods). I will use the Webasto judiciously, as constant use will drain my house battery. What other heat source do I have?…Hmm, I’m a little heat generator. 

The battery box warmer Grace and I made. The brown disks are 12-volt heating pads.

I’m a side sleeper, and I constantly shift my blankets to regulate my temperature. Because of this, I’m not a fan of encasing myself in a zippered sleeping bag. Instead, I’ll use my 30-year-old flannel-lined sleeping bag opened up as a bottom insulating layer and my Walmart quilt as my top covering. This is my usual camping setup, but it will be inadequate for freezing temperatures. Wool blankets are warm and durable and would be the perfect additional layer. However, a new quality wool blanket is expensive. I went on eBay and bought a used (and dry cleaned) wool blanket in anticipation of this trip. I’ll also try out a small 12-volt electric car blanket. The gadget uses less than 40 watts of electricity per hour, so it should be reasonable to run it off an accessory battery pack. The plan is to heat my bed before I climb into it and run the blanket as needed. Lastly, if I’m in a pinch, I have a camping throw-style blanket that can be used as an additional layer. I think that should be more than enough.

I’m a pretty organized guy and have a spot for everything. The sack that looks like a sleeping bag is actually my emergency camping throw blanket.

I want to bring some water to make hot tea or coffee in Violet, but I’m concerned that the water will freeze. So I’m going to try to keep some water bottles in an iceless Yeti cooler that I own. I’m hoping that the insulation of the cooler will have a reverse effect by keeping some of the outside cold away from the water. 

My Yeti cooler. It is nice but overpriced. If I had to do it again I would buy a knock-off at half the cost.

I always carry a few emergency food supplies in Violet, things like tea bags and a ration bar. However, I’ll stock up on a few more items before heading out to Champaign/Urbana. I’m not sure what I’ll buy, but it will likely be snack-type items like protein bars and crackers. I’ll be eating my meals with my daughter’s family, but it feels more secure to have a small stash of camper food at the ready for any snacking emergency

Even heating water for tea will be a problem at these temperatures. I have an electric induction cooktop that I use in the summer, but it uses 1800 watts of electricity which will be difficult to replace with my solar panels in winter. I have a backup butane stove, but butane doesn’t flow well below 32F. I think that I can keep a canister of butane in the Yeti and take it out when I want to use it. As long as I can keep it above freezing, I should be able to use my table-top butane burner for heating beverages. 

Using the Yeti to keep things warmer than freezing.

I have already packed a change of clothes, and I always have a travel Dopp kit at the ready. In addition, I’ll take a small shovel and a battery jumper pack for winter emergencies. Naturally, a first aid kit is part of Violet’s basic provisions.  

At the moment, my batteries are fully charged, and they are staying warm in my house. I’ll need to bring them out to Violet and connect them back into her electrical system tomorrow morning. I’ll go to the grocer today to pick up my snack items. I have already charged my iPad, Kindle, and headlamp, so they are ready to go. I think I’m about as prepared as I can be for this adventure. I’m writing this on Tuesday morning; I’ll be leaving for my daughter’s Wednesday morning. Onward ho!

Batteries! The big one is my main battery system and the top one is an accessory battery.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022-Travel Day

Today didn’t start very well. Connecting my house battery to Violet took much longer than I had anticipated and involved a lot of troubleshooting. This was the start of my sadness, as I also dealt with triple-header trauma. Even my sister admitted that I was experiencing a real sh_t show of a day. 

My best friend, Tom, had to move his family into his uncompleted townhouse. It doesn’t have a working kitchen or shower. Tom has worked like a dog to finish this project, and I felt terrible for him. Next, my daughter, Grace, studied for the GRE the entire winter break. Due to COVID, the test is now given at home via computer. It was decided that she would take the test at my wife’s office, but she ran into a major Wi-Fi glitch there and missed the exam. She was demoralized. Lastly, a friend I have known for the last 50 years suddenly passed away due to COVID. She was a kind, sweet, and smart lady who will be missed. Yep, that was the start of my day.

I loaded Violet with my necessary supplies, including food and bottled water. I placed my 12-volt electric car blanket under my top blankets. I neatly folded the wool blanket and placed it on my Walmart quilt. I packed snow boots, and I even took along my pair of Yak Tracks ice cleats. I felt that I was ready for anything.

My experimental blanket setup. The plaid sleeping bag is my bottom insulating layer that is topped by the 12-volt throw blanket (bright blue). My top layers consist of my cheap Walmart quilt and a very warm wool blanket. Naturally, I’ll unfold them when it is bedtime.

It is only a two and one-half hour ride to my daughter’s, but I found myself getting sleepy towards the end of my journey. I didn’t want to show up to Anne’s groggy, and I felt that a 15-minute nap would enliven me. I stopped at the Casey gas station by her house and filled my tank. I found a quiet parking space on the side of the store, pulled in, and climbed into the back for a little snooze. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and turned on the Webasto, which promptly gave me an error code. Ten minutes later, I fixed the Webasto, but I had robbed myself of two-thirds of sleep time in the process. I drove the 3 minutes to Anne’s apartment.

I had a nice view of a cornfield from Anne’s parking lot. However, the freezing cold prevented me from spending much time outside.

Anne’s partner, Chris, had picked up their kids from school and arrived shortly after I did. It was wonderful to see everyone, and even their dog, Hunter, seemed excited that I was visiting. We spent the evening catching up. I did a few small jobs for Anne, promising to do more the next day. The evening ended by watching Encanto, a kid-friendly movie. At 8 PM, I left the apartment for Violet with the promise that I would return at 7 AM for coffee and to drive the kids to school.  

It was in the low 30’s when I entered Violet. I started the Webasto with the plan to run it for about three hours, allowing me to ramble around Violet’s cabin. The Webasto can get the cabin temperatures in the 60’s, but it is slow as it blows warm air instead of hot air. With that said, the cabin was tolerable after about 30 minutes. I put a privacy cover in Violet’s side window and blocked off the driver’s compartment with insulated drapes. It was now time to change into my sleepwear. I decided to use my normal PJ setup (tee-shirt and lounge pants) as I wanted to see how my blankets worked without the assistance of thermals. I powered up the 12-volt blanket for 30 minutes to heat my bed. Soon I was under the covers talking on the phone, watching YouTube videos, and contemplating the meaning of life. By 11 PM, I was ready to sleep, and I turned off the Webasto to conserve power. I had to ensure that I had enough electricity for two evenings and nights. My blanket combination was toasty, and it was clear that the outer wool blanket was making a substantial difference.  

My little Webasto heater does a good job, but it takes a bit for it to heat the cabin.
I covered my side window and pulled down the insulated drape that separates the front of the cab from the cabin. Yes, I could have done a neater job pulling down the blanket, but it still worked.

The temperature dropped to 28F (-2C) during the night, and there were a few times that I woke up because of the cold. I have been told that I’m a warm resource in bed, but I’m pretty temperature-sensitive, and a little chill wakes me. However, I was just mildly cold, not freezing. I remedied the situation by running the electric blankets in 45-minute intervals during the night. The total time that I ran the blanket was around 3 hours, including the 30-minute initial blanket warmup. By morning, I was 90% satisfied with how well my blanket setup worked, and I was certain that adding the car throw for the next night would bring me the result that I was aiming for. I patted myself on my back. My planning had served me well.

I only used 20% of my auxiliary battery that powered my 12-volt blanket and charged my devices. Pretty good!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

I planned to wake at 6 AM, but I set another alarm for 5:30 AM. I would start the Webasto at 5:30 so the cabin would be tolerable when I had to get dressed at six. At 5:30, my alarm chimed. I started the Webasto and looked down at my phone. I was surprised to see a text message from Anne. “Hey, I just wanted to touch base-Diana threw up last night and has been wheezing/coughing this morning. I need to get her tested for COVID to be safe-I would say wait till I try to do this just so I can make sure she’s not sick-i don’t want you to get sick either.”  

That was something that I didn’t plan for. My van isn’t very big. I have spent extended amounts of time in it, but not many hours in the cold with no place to go. I have rudimentary facilities in Violet, but I prefer to use them only in the most urgent situations. Also, I was unfamiliar with Anne’s town, and with COVID exploding everywhere, I didn’t want to spend time warming up in a public place.

Anne initially planned on getting Diana COVID tested at her school, but that wasn’t possible. She then booked a rapid test for 9:30 AM, but it turned out that it was for Friday at 9:30, not Thursday. Finally, she left with her family, and they drove to a local hospital where both Diana and Chris got tested. Unfortunately, Chris was also feeling off. 

I waited in Violet running the Webasto as I mentally calculated the watts going out vs. the limited power coming in from my solar panels. Yes, I could heat the van for many hours, but if I ran the Webasto all day, I would likely run out of battery power by the evening when I needed it the most. I had done so much problem solving and preparation. However, I didn’t prepare for my granddaughter to get sick, causing me to stay for an extended time in Violet at freezing outside temperatures. Finally, Anne texted to tell me that they would return by 10:30 AM, which would be in a few hours. 

Here is a shot of the power reserve of my main battery. I took this sometime on Thursday morning. I had already used 26% of my battery, an amount larger than I originally calculated. This was likely due to the cold zapping some of the battery’s energy. You can also see that the Webasto is using only 39 watts. That’s very efficient, but over time it will still drain the main battery down to zero.

As in any crisis, I adopted my emergency strategy to do nothing initially. Instead, I paused, took a deep breath, calmed myself down, and looked around me. I had done many things to deal with parts of this situation. Last week, I made a patch cord to use an auxiliary battery, just in case I ran out of power. That would give me more Webasto time. I again wondered if I should risk going to a public place like a coffee shop or the library to keep warm. Still, I deemed sitting hours in such an environment dangerous due to the infectious Omicron variant. 

I needed some caffeine, and hot tea sounded perfect. I checked my Yeti cooler and found that my idea to keep my water unfrozen worked, but what about the butane canister that I also insulated? I took out my butane stove and placed it on my induction cooktop. I slid in a hairspray size can of butane and clicked the igniter. A flame appeared! I dug into my food stores and found some emergency biscuits (in actuality, Walkers shortbreads). Hot tea and biscuits, delicious! I changed out of my sleepwear and into my warmer street clothes. Now, I could turn the Webasto down a notch and save a little battery power. Adequately warm, and fed I waited for Anne to return, hopefully with good news.

My butane stove worked despite the cold. My problem-solving had worked!
Hot tea and biscuits, a perfect way to start a cold day.

Anne did arrive, but not with the news that I wanted. Diana and Chris got tested, but it would be 2-3 days before their results. Anne said that she would also take Diana to the 9:30 Friday test. Since that was a rapid test, she would have the results Friday. I couldn’t use their apartment; I was uncomfortable spending long periods in public places; I was discharging my house batteries faster than I was charging them. The writing was on the wall. I told Anne that I couldn’t stay and help her; I had to return home with guilt and shame.

When I started this post I thought that the message would be that you could avoid problems with thought and planning. However, it appears that I had another lesson to learn. Yes, all of my planning benefited me. It kept me warm enough in freezing temperatures; it provided me with unfrozen water to make a hot cup of tea. It gave me food, so I didn’t have to go hungry. I won’t mention how I used the largemouth capped bottle hidden in a cupboard, but it was helpful, and I was glad that I had planned to take it. 

All of my plans amounted to little as I couldn’t achieve the goal that I had set out to do; to give my recovering daughter a coupled days of peace and a little bit of pampering. The demands that I was placing on Violet the campervan exceeded her abilities. Soon there would be no place to go.

I handed Anne a coffee cake that I brought for Thursday morning breakfast and gave her my apologies and goodbyes. Two and one-half hours later, I was back in Naperville, unpacking all of those things that I had just packed the day before. I felt bad.

I couldn’t install a shower in Tom’s new house to make his move more pleasant, I couldn’t solve Grace’s GRE Wi-Fi issue, and I certainly didn’t have the power to save the life of my friend, Patti. I couldn’t even do a dad thing like helping my daughter for a couple of days as she was recovering from surgery. Four things over 24 hours that showed me that I was powerless.

I believe in preparing for emergencies, and my planning did serve me well. However, I also know that unfortunate things happen even with the best planning. Sometimes, you have to let life play out as you stand by and watch. No one, including me, controls the universe. Lesson learned. 

The Benefits Of Cooking With Your Kids

We just had our special Christmas dinner, and it was only a week after Christmas. We visited Julie’s relatives on Christmas day and had our official Christmas dinner in Minnesota. However, I like the idea of having a special meal that celebrates our immediate family’s Christmas.

I did some grocery shopping early and bought a beef tenderloin at Costco the week before Christmas. I had rebate money on my Costco credit card and decided to blow it on the family. However, spending $130 on a single chunk of meat took my breath away. I tucked it safely into the freezer as soon as I got home. The thought of it spoiling before our celebration was a strong motivator. A few days before our Christmas meal I went shopping with my daughter, Kathryn, to buy all the sides. Brussel sprouts, carrots, potatoes, rolls, kale salad, and a chocolate pie. We were all set!

Since she was COVID evacuated from the Peace Corps, Kathryn has lived with us, and my two youngest are home on winter break. My kids are all adults now, so we had to coordinate the meal based on their work and social schedules. The Sunday after New Year was open and so that day became the day of our pretend Christmas meal.

When Julie returned to the paid workforce many of our meals went from homemade dinners to frozen pizza. She was adjusting to adding a new and time-consuming job to her schedule, and she didn’t have the energy to continue her home duties as she did before. I started taking over many of her former jobs, from cleaning the house to making family dinners (she continues to cook several days of the week). 

I always cook the Sunday meal, and I have involved my kids in meal preparation for many years. My goal was to teach them the fundamentals of cooking so they would never have to rely on restaurants, fast food, or frozen dinners. Cooking becomes easier with practice, and learning one skill or technique makes it simple to learn the next.

If you want to cook regularly, you must develop accessory skills. I felt that teaching these skills to my kids was every bit as important as teaching them how to saute vegetables or how to bake a good cornbread. So what are accessory skills? Let me tell you…

Plan it: Meal planning is straightforward if you do it all the time. However, it can be a nightmare if you are an occasional cook. I’m comfortable making just about anything. However, my kids like simple dishes, and so that is what I focus on. When I was a divorced medical resident I had no money, and I needed to adopt economical meals as part of my regular eating regimen. I embraced casseroles and one-pot meals. I stretched meat by making it a side-attraction rather than the main event. I prepared breakfast foods for dinner. I never felt deprived, and I was always well fed. I have tried to pass on the same way of thinking to my kids. At some point, they will be living independently, and they will probably be on a budget. I don’t want them eating fast food every day.

Simplify it: Most of us don’t want to eat the same meal every day, but do we need a thousand choices? Too many options can lead to decision fatigue. At our house, we tend to eat a few dozen meals repeatedly. Yes, we add other recipes on occasion, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Purchase it:  You have to have the ingredients to prepare your food, and in my humble opinion, you should always have essential ingredients on hand—items like flour, seasonings, canned tomatoes, eggs, pasta, and the like. Part of my effort with my kids has been to teach them this rule and how to shop and where to shop. I usually take one or two of them with me when I buy groceries, and we compare prices, make choices, and stockpile often used ingredients. In addition, the person who shops with me is privileged to pick out some special treats, which serve as a small incentive to encourage their participation.

Dump it: Before starting any meal, I ensure that the dishwasher is emptied. Honestly, I hate emptying the dishwasher, and I’ll either assign it to one of my kids or empty it with their help. However, having an empty dishwasher when you start cooking makes cleanup exponentially easier. 

Use it: My kids know how to cook using simple tools, like a good knife. However, I also have taught them the benefits of using time-saving kitchen appliances. We Kunas are fans of the Instantpot, slow cooker, and food processor. Oh, and Kathryn bought me a new waffle iron for Christmas to replace my worn 40-year-old one. I love waffles for dinner.

Clean it:  This is one of the most essential skills to teach fledgling cooks. If you use every pot and bowl in the kitchen and then leave the mess to be cleaned after dinner you will hate the idea of cooking. We have a rule in our kitchen called wash as you go. For example, if you use a measuring cup, wash it immediately so it will be available for subsequent use. That way you only use one measuring cup. The same rule goes for any other item used in cooking. When the meal is done, all of the preparation gadgets are washed and put away. Beyond necessary things, the kitchen is clean. This makes for a pleasant eating experience.

Finish it:  When we are done with our meal, everyone helps clean. We all clear the table. If I’m the chief cook of the day, I take the dishes (that are now on the counter) and place them in the dishwasher. One kid will wash down the table, and I’ll clean the counters and stovetop if they are not already done. Other kids will put away the leftovers. In less than 5 minutes, the kitchen is clean, and no one worked very hard in the process. 

My kids have become skilled cooks. However, we have all gained a lot more than food knowledge. Cooking together requires teamwork and compromise. It encourages leadership skills as well as the ability to follow.  

The most significant benefit to our cooking time is social. We enjoy preparing a meal as we joke around and shuffle from one counter to another. We work as a team, and we all benefit from the fruits of our labor. That cooperative effort extends to the meal itself. No electronic devices are allowed during dinner, and we go around the table so every family member gets a chance to check-in and tell us about their day. 

Cooking dinner with my kids has become a high point of my day. Let’s face it, daily events are often more significant than special ones, and I suspect that my kids will remember cooking meals with me more than some random event.  

Life is primarily routine happenings and encounters. Yet, we tend to focus on trivial things, like a two-week vacation. Yes, those things are important, but why not celebrate what we have to do every day? That way, we have pleasure 365 days out of the year.

Peace

Mike

I used cash-back from my Costco credit card to buy the beef tenderloin, but I was still blown away by its $130 price tag.
My kids are now skilled cooks who only require me to tell them what their task is.
William washing the Brussel sprouts which will be roasted with Italian Seasoning and Parmesan cheese.
Dinner is served!
A delightful and delicious post-Christmas dinner. Teamwork made the preparation easy.

What’s Up With Vaccinations?

It is 6 AM, January 1st, 2022. I sit in my comfy leather chair, Macbook on my lap. There is darkness outside the mullioned window that is direct to my right. In me, I feel darkness too. That darkness is from two years of the COVID pandemic and the consequences of its most recent Omicron explosion. I also have to admit that I have anger, but an anger that is clouded by sadness and pity.

It appeared that we were turning a corner. People were meeting again; offices were opening up, some mask restrictions were being lifted. However, as I write this, someone who I have known for over 50 years is on a ventilator; several close relatives are sick with COVID, everyone that I have talked to knows someone who has recently been exposed. I was supposed to visit my daughter Anne today. However, multiple people in her apartment building are sick with COVID, and the county where she lives is raging with it. My best friend, Tom, is in a crisis and needs my help. Tom has helped me countless times, but I can’t help him in his hour of need. Why? Because Tom, his wife, and his son all have COVID. Most, if not all of the people I know, have been vaccinated. They have breakthrough infections. Many of them will recovery because of their immunizations. However, they are still sick, and they are still contagious. I have been immunized and boosted, but I am a person approaching 70, and that one fact places me at a higher risk of having significant consequences. It is imperative that I protect myself in all reasonable ways.

It sounds patriotic for some to talk about personal freedom and personal rights, but during a worldwide emergency, such talk is selfish bullshit. I know that this statement may offend some, but it is the truth. We don’t live in isolated remote settings where we are self-sufficient pioneers. I just found out that two people close to me are now sick with COVID because someone close to them refused to follow any COVID guidelines, citing personal rights. Even those who live far away from their neighbors still have contact with them when they go to the store, gas station, church, or 100 other places.  

Many people in highly populated urban settings seem to comply with mask guidelines, but this appears to be the opposite in more rural places. A number of months ago, my family entered a restaurant in a small town in Indiana. Naturally, we were wearing masks. We were met with glares not only from the patrons but also the staff. The place allowed self-seating, and so we sat down. After a long wait, a maskless employee came by to tell us that it would take at least 45 minutes or longer before we could be waited on. I can’t say what her reasons were, but my gut feeling was that she wanted us out of her restaurant. We left.

I am dumbfounded why people are putting their lives at risk by not getting vaccinated. Vaccinations provided almost 100% protection from the original COVID virus. That level of protection is less as new variants appear, but it is still instrumental in preventing the worst consequences of an infection.

Many reasons are given, but it amazes me that large groups of individuals are so willing to discount facts for fantasy. However, it sickens me that a few influential individuals have promoted these lies with a total disregard to their followers. Why is this?

The rise of the pseudo-expert.

I am a science guy. I spent years doing basic research in microbiology, immunology, and cancer. To gain a better understanding of disease, I became a medical doctor, and to gain a better understanding of behavior, I became a psychiatrist. I have three board certifications, and I have received national honors for my medical work. I went to one of the best medical schools in the country. I have the ability to read, interpret, and critique medical literature, and I understand the basics of immunology, vaccination, and the treatment of disease. I can analyze and evaluate expert opinion concerning COVID, but I would never consider myself an expert in COVID. The topic is too vast. Yet, some guy on a news channel with absolutely no science background or some pseudo-scientist on YouTube can make bold, irresponsible, and dangerous comments about COVID and its treatment. Why do people flock to their opinions? People, you are being played. The more you watch, the more they make. The bigger the crisis, the more you watch. Anyone on YouTube can claim they are an expert by bedazzling their audience with pseudo-jargon or the use of crappy/irrelevant studies. The majority of news on cable channels isn’t news at all; it is editorial opinion made to look like news. Hosts live and die by ratings. No consumer is willing to watch hours of boring information, so there is always a crisis created or an enemy group to vilify. Showbiz is not reality. That lovely HSN lady who is trying to sell you overpriced makeup is not really your friend, and commenters on cable channels are likely looking out for their best interest. Both parties need to make a living, and more viewers mean more bucks.

Government missteps

There have been and continue to be governmental missteps. I’m not here to stir a political caldron, but these are the facts. Government officials are not trained as scientists or medical professionals; they are political; they are motivated by power and politics. Our former president was an expert in making money, and economics seemed to be his main focus when he was president. It was clear that he understood the magnitude of the impending COVID crisis in early 2019 (that is an absolute fact), but he downplayed it as he knew it would potentially damage the economy. That was a foolish thing to do. Likewise, our current president doesn’t seem to have the ability to move the country out of this misconception and unify us. Lesser politicians seem more interested in maintaining their voter base despite clear evidence that their actions are hurting their constituents. Politicians are supposed to protect the people, and the government is supposed to provide a structure that supports the overall well-being of society. The government is failing.

Conspiracy theories

I don’t even know where to start here. Indeed, many deals happen behind closed doors, and people in power use that power and influence to gain an unfair advantage over those who do not possess such options. It is true that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer in almost any situation. However, this does not mean that you can take some random fact and create an entire storyline based on that fact. Just for the record, Hillary Clinton is not eating babies, and Donald Trump is not the secret head of QAnon. It may be fun to entertain stories about Masons, the Vatican, and alien implants, but it is dangerous business when people listen to completely unsubstantiated theories and then use those stories to make ill-informed decisions about their and others’ welfare.

The God/Science conflict

I’m am not sure how this happened, but there seems to be a general distrust of science among some conservative religious groups. God gave us our minds, and it would appear that by doing so, he wanted us to use them. I’m not saying that science is all good, but it is not all bad. If you use a toilet, smartphone, or even a toaster, you have embraced science. However, note that science and scientific knowledge is constantly evolving. By its very nature, it changes as new data emerge and old data is either modified or disproven. However, that process is a good, not a bad thing. Millions of people of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds are working to understand this coronavirus and how to treat it. As they learn, more rules and recommendations change or get modified. That is the way science works, and it is not a reason to discount a recommendation. The general treatment recommendations for COVID 19 have remained the same, but they have been modified to account for new information. In addition, governments have to balance risks vs. benefits not only on an individual’s level but also on a societal level. These two areas can sometimes be conflicting. We don’t live in a perfect world, but that doesn’t mean that you should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Real science vs. fake science

Currently, we have over a dozen different COVID vaccines available worldwide. They were designed using different methodologies, but they work by the exact same method. They introduce a unique part of the virus that is non-infectious to the individual whose body recognizes the foreign intruders and mounts an attack. It is that “attack” that causes some people to feel side effects when they get the COVID shot. Our bodies are incredible creations that have mechanisms to fight disease. Once we are exposed to a pathogen, we can quickly recognize it in the future, and we are much more capable of mounting a specific attack against it. That attack can eliminate the infecting agent before it has time to do significant damage.  

Sometimes that “memory” is very long-lasting; at other times, it is more short-lived and requires a booster shot. For instance, a polio vaccine offers life-long immunity, while a vaccine for tetanus needs to be boosted every ten years. Since COVID is so new, we don’t have a complete understanding of how long a vaccine will last. However, many informed physicians believe that an initial immunization combined with a booster shot will offer long immunity. However, this can change as new variants emerge.  

There are several different ways to produce vaccines. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have been in development for the last 20 years, but the COVID vaccines are the first to use this technology in a broad population. However, there are a number of vaccines using mRNA technology designed to treat other medical issues that are currently in the pipeline. The advantage of an mRNA vaccine is that it can be quickly developed, something essential when treating a pandemic. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA technology, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses a different technology called viral vector. In both cases, your own body is the star as it creates the defense against the virus; the vaccine helps your body by giving it the components needed to mount the defense.

We have a number of treatments that have been proven to help some people who are already infected with the virus. Some of these antiviral treatments require IV infusions, and some can be taken in pill form. We have had antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections for over a hundred years. However, viruses are not bacteria, and antiviral agents have only been around for several decades. In addition, many antiviral agents are specific to a given virus, making their development more difficult. It is fantastic that we have a few antiviral agents that we can now use for COVID so soon after it emerged.

In addition, there are other medications, like steroids, that can help some who have COVID. Lastly, there is supportive care like ventilators for those in desperate need. None of these treatments are 100% effective. The best option is to not contract COVID; the next best is to get it when you are immunized; the most dangerous is to be unimmunized when you contract it.  

It is clear that we have some treatment options that help, so why is it that individuals refuse these options or choose treatments that not only don’t work but may cause additional harm? This is a mystery to me, but it likely centers on our need to be our own expert and to be in charge (another individual rights issue). Such behaviors are supported by pseudo-experts who site crappy or unrelated studies or quote quack doctors. Why do these people do this? In my opinion, the reasons probably center around power, influence, manipulation, or direct/indirect profit-making. Shame on them! 

Doctor’s have been threatened by patients and their families when they refuse to treat someone with a useless and potentially dangerous pseudo-treatment. How horrible is that? I am glad that I am no longer on the front lines as I’m not sure that I could maintain a professional composure if someone was threatening to kill me if I refused to poison their loved one!

Individual vs. societal rights

Why have we become so black and white in our thinking? We live in a society, and because of this, we have to act accordingly. I can’t raise cattle on my quarter-acre suburban lot, and there is a reason for that. Likewise, I can’t shoot a gun in my backyard. These rules change with the setting. I can raise cattle on a farm, and I can shoot a gun in a gun range. COVID is causing so much pain and injury because of our social connections and not because of our individual rights. Therefore, we have to approach the problem as a societal issue, not as an individual rights one. 

Let me give you an example. Let’s say a person wants to drink an excessive amount of alcohol every day. If they were going to stay in their home while they did this, it would be their individual right. What if they had a family? Now their actions impact their spouse and children. Some may argue that they still have a right to do the above; others would disagree. Let’s extend this a bit further, do they have a right to be drunk and drive? Most would say no as their actions could have a negative consequence on innocent others.

How about COVID and vaccinations? If a person had little to no contact with others, most would agree that they have a right not to be vaccinated. They are making a personal decision. However, that simply is not the case when we are dealing with individuals who are interacting with others. To understand that, you have to look at the impact of the unvaccinated.

  • Unvaccinated people are at a higher risk of contracting COVID and are at more of a chance of getting potentially deadly or long-term consequences. Their selfish actions clog hospitals and cost untold amounts to society on many levels. They place innocent compromised individuals at risk of contracting COVID just like a drunk driver place innocent bystanders at risk by their actions. Burdened health facilities’ abilities to treat other medical problems are compromised too. Dad’s heart attack may not get the treatment that it deserves due to exhausted staff, depletion of supplies, or lack of ICU beds. 
  • Unvaccinated people allow for more dangerous mutations to occur. When someone has COVID, they become a virus factory. It is not uncommon for someone with active COVID to shed 100 billion virus particles. Every time a virus is replicated, there is a chance that a mutation could occur. Some of these mutations result in an inactive virus, but others may lead to a more active mutation. The more people who are not immunized, the greater the number who will become sick. The more people who are infected, the greater the chance of creating a more dangerous variant. By not getting vaccinated, the individual not only puts themself at greater risk, but they also put the entire world at risk.  
  • Delta and Omnicron originated in people infected with COVID. If those individuals never got sick with COVID, those variants would have never existed. That is a fact. Do individual personal rights allow someone to do this when it could be preventable? How many people have died due to Delta and Omnicron? How many people have had long-term health consequences? How many people lost days of work, missed family events, or couldn’t be there for a loved one in need?

Risks vs. benefits

Everything in life has risks. Every time you leave your house, plug in an appliance, walk on a sidewalk, or take a bath, you are taking a risk. However, these are reasonable risks, and the benefits of your actions outweigh the potential danger that they hold. Sometimes we have to take greater risks. We may need to drive between point A and point B during a snowstorm, or we may have to accept a toxic treatment to fight off aggressive cancer. Every day we balance risk vs. benefit. Doctors do this with every decision they make. Nothing is 100% safe; taking aspirin has potential risks. However, if risks outweigh benefits, then a treatment should not be done. Current acceptable treatments for COVID, including vaccinations, do have risks. However, those risks are tiny compared to the benefits that they provide to both the individual and the society that they are part of. Quack treatments, like Ivermectin, have risks that exceed their usefulness and should not be used.  

The reality

So who is getting the vaccine, and who isn’t? If you are educated, have financial stability, have insider knowledge, or have a background in science, you are more likely to get immunized. If you are poor, have lower education, have fewer resources, are rural, and have less social support (unmarried), you are less likely to get vaccinated. A good portion of unvaccinated individuals cite fear of the vaccine, conspiracy theories, or individual rights as their reason.  

Those who have access to the best information and have the best financial resources are the ones standing in line to get vaccinated. They include politicians like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, who have not only been vaccinated but also got the booster shot. These folks are privy to the very best information and have the resources to obtain the very best care. Think about it.

In the end.

The sad reality is that those who most need to read this post won’t. Further, those who do read it and who are into conspiracy theories or pseudo-experts will likely not waiver in their opinion. So why am I writing this? If even one person changes their mind and lets logic rule, it will have been worth my New Year’s Day morning. Here’s hoping.

Peace

Mike