You’ve Been Eliminated

“With a heavy heart I’m writing to let you know that *Amy passed away Monday morning peacefully in her sleep.”

Name changed for privacy

You know those reality TV shows, where there is a picture of each member, and as they are voted off of the show, one of the pictures turns gray every week?

It seems like such a ridiculous comparison; being booted from a TV show for entertainment, and someone losing their life to a ridiculous and heartless disease. Nevertheless, the connection is there.

I’ve already lost count of how many of these messages I’ve read. It’s the message that comes up in your support group when someone is taken from us too soon. No matter how many times it happens, you’re never ready, you’re never expecting it, and you’re always shocked.

I’m pretty sure everyone has the same reaction. It is grief, after all. It has a pattern. A cycle. If you’re familiar with it, you know that it doesn’t really end. You cycle back through it. Rinse, wash, repeat. It does get a little bit easier as you process the same loss over and over again. I tell people who ask that you will never forget. It will never go away. Anyone who tells you it will is lying, in my personal opinion. What will happen, however, is it will get easier. You will start to remember with more joy than tears. It won’t punch you in the gut as often. It’s a little less violent.

After seeing a version of this reflected in a humorous way on the show, Jane the Virgin, I am convinced many of us go through a full mini-cycle of this when we learn about these kind of deaths on a consistent basis.

The Kübler-Ross model of grief represents five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think this leaves out one initial stage. It leaves out the stage of shock. It seems like a rather important one to me, because it describes what you’ll later refer to as a trigger. That first moment when you learn of a death, and the world stops for just a moment.

It’s not like anything else you hear in a day. Someone’s life is over. Many other lives are affected. Some more so than others. When it comes to illness, especially a shared illness among people in a support group, it’s not just someone. It’s someone like you. It could have been you. So the world stops. You stop.

For a moment, sometimes a very brief moment, and sometimes for a lot longer, there is nothing. Only shock. Only the words. You don’t process them. You just understand what they mean. I learned in therapy that the word for this is dissociation. At least, this is my first reaction. And I suspect this is the reaction people describe as shock.

It’s the same feeling you have when you have a grief attack. That’s what I call a Moments when all of this bubbles to the surface and it feels like it just happened. Even 20 years later, it can feel like yesterday. It just takes a trigger. Something that reminds me of that moment, and it’s like I’m transported there. It’s the same feeling of shock every time.

I recently received news that somebody who is critical in my life was diagnosed with a very dangerous disease, that could end in death. I knew I was not reacting correctly. But I went about my business, took care of some of the related issues, and it wasn’t until that evening, at least 12 hours later, that I broke down and the reality of what was at risk hit me. I wanted to call my old therapist and say, “I get it now. I understand dissociation now. To the point that I know when it’s happening.”

Today when I received news that someone in my support group had passed away, in my mind, I saw the name fading. Knowing people through a support group, especially when it’s for a terminal illness or one that has no cure and can become terminal at any moment, means you get very close very fast. You learn to trust people you have never met in real life in a way that you don’t trust anyone in your “real” life. Which makes those people very real.

Sometimes you don’t even have a face to associate with a name, but you know the name very well. You get used to seeing the same names responding when you post about serious and complicated issues. You start to associate those names with a feeling of being cared for. Of being understood by somebody who gets it. For me, my condition is only diagnosed in one person out of every million per year. I’ve never met anyone else in person that has my disease. So the only people who “get it” in my life ARE those names for whom I have no face to connect. Other than a profile picture or pictures shared since I met them. (This might be a good time to mention that sick people don’t often like taking pictures of themselves. So it’s probably not a surprise that most of the profile pictures are not actually pictures of people.)

After hearing or reading that somebody has passed, I sit in disbelief for a minute. However brief, even if I don’t recognize the name at all, I still experience that numb initial moment of shock and disbelief. I question whether I would’ve been ready if today had been my day. What if I’ve been meaning to do that I still haven’t done? This many people later, why haven’t I done them?

Then there is, for at least a moment, a feeling of denial. No matter how many times it happens, there’s a little person inside of you that screams, “NO!” Every single time. Stage one of the five stages. Or stage two if you’re counting my extra one.

And then it’s sort of feels like I experience the rest of them all at once. Anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s almost as if we live in a constant state of grief once you enter this world, and each time you learn about another death, it’s just a surge of all of these emotions. But somehow, still always, shock.

That moment where we realize one of the people who entered this game in reality just got… eliminated from the game. There is silence. We all entered together. We’ve all had a core experience in common. It has gotten real many times. We’ve seen this happen before. We all know this is going to happen. And happen again. And again. And again. And still again. We all know the next one could be us.

And then we have to go back to life. Knowing that some people are not getting to go back to life after this. We have to keep moving as if everything is OK. Please understand that we carry those gray pictures with us. And they pile up. You start with one, then you have a few, then you can’t remember how many you have. But it’s a wall. It’s a wall in your mind with profile pictures fading away… much faster than they should.

If only it was a reality TV show that would end with the players back in the game of Real Life.

To Open or Not to Open…

“We, the [Parties], of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Constitution for the United States of America

What? Is that not what it says? Wait… It’s “We the PEOPLE,” not “We the PARTIES”?! 🧐

We live in times where nothing can be discussed or decided without making every issue a blue or red issue. Left or right issue. Rich or poor issue. Have or have not issue. Privilege or discrimination issue.

It should be no surprise to anyone that there is a debate about opening the states back up, and different states are going at different paces, with a definite leftist/blue identity leaning towards staying closed, and the rightist/red identity leaning towards reopening.

I have been exhausted by political parties for years, and I left mine to become independent for that reason. This pandemic and the reaction to it has been all of the evidence I need to know I did the right thing. Until people stop looking at this as a political issue, and start listening to the people with medical degrees, since we are discussing a medical issue, it’s like we are in kindergarten and we are being taught to read by being given numbers.

Information/Transparency

The medical opinions should be provided. And they should be provided independently of any concern about the financial well-being of the country. Working from that, the government needs to do whatever it needs to do in order to try to manage the financial devastation. The fact that there is financial devastation does not change the medical facts.

Here, in America, that’s not how it works. Instead, we remove medical professionals from meetings, remove them from their jobs, remove them from public sight and earshot, while everybody screams and cries and stomps their feet at the other side making wild accusations, usually directed at a political official from a different party.

The struggle is real… For everyone.

It really seems like there’s only one way to resolve everything when it comes to reopening. Here’s what we have.

Some people think it’s time to re-open and some people don’t. Those who think it’s time to reopen fear for the collapse of the economy. And for the losses of their income, homes, and life’s work/careers. Some worry about mental health issues, and that being quarantined for too long it’s going to result in increased suicides. I can’t argue that fact. These are valid concerns. I’ve seen some measures put into place to help for people who need help due to depression and anxiety caused by this.

Asking people to stay home to protect everyone else, especially elderly and immunocompromised people, poses a very real risk of financial ruin, depression and suicidal inclinations for some people.

But asking elderly and immunocompromised people to go back to work too early, poses a very real risk of death or permanent disability.

Those who don’t want to return yet fear for their lives, and the lives of their children, their loved ones, and even people they don’t know. If they are forced to return to work, they return to an environment where we have seen report after report after report of people who simply don’t tell people they are sick because they don’t want to be quarantined. We take the biggest risk we’ve ever taken, and some of us will lose that battle, and each time, another family will grieve someone before they should’ve had to. That’s not a small ask.

So is there a viable solution? I think I know of one.

Why can’t we do both? (Test Run)

It doesn’t appear science is going to answer the question. But maybe we’re just not applying science in the right way. Some people are very hands-on. Maybe it’s time to let them try a lab experiment. Some people are very hands-on. Maybe it’s time to let them try a lab experiment.

So let’s try it. By volunteer basis only, everyone who has complained about staying home because they need money, and don’t believe in socialism, (at least at times like this, when it is necessary to implement some socialist concepts,) should volunteer to return to work on a temporary basis.

Those who choose not to, should continue to be allowed to stay home while we try this experiment out. There are many jobs to be had, because as long as a significant portion of people are remaining at home, there are delivery services galore, and lots of services being used in order to work from home. Just like there are child care services being provided for children of essential workers, people who are against staying closed can take their children to childcare centers run by other people who are against staying closed.

That can be our test run. It doesn’t require anyone who is not willing to be at risk to put themselves at risk, but also doesn’t require people who don’t believe there’s anything to fear to stay home. They can go live their lives the way they would if everyone had returned. They should feel safe, because I’m sure there are no people who will ignore the regulations and recommendations.

Reevaluate

Then evaluate the situation after a month. After a bunch of people have re-joined the workforce. see what the numbers look like. This is mid May. If we find out by mid June what happens if we open up right now, we find out on a smaller scale, and only those who chose to go back are risking anything. Nobody is required to risk their lives to find out if it’s safe. Only those who choose to be out there.

If it proves safe, the rest of us can re-join society with those assurances and feel better about it. Maybe provide one more stimulus check for this month, and those who choose to go to work and be our test cases get the check as well, so they get a bonus for being a test case. Meanwhile, nobody who has to stay home because of their health, age or other risk, goes without basics.

If it proves not to be safe, whether it’s because the virus is too strong and we just moved too quickly too early, or whether it would be safe, but for people who refuse to wear the masks and follow the rules, and even play games by licking bottles of sanitizer or purposely coughing on people, then we scale back, but hopefully this would mean we could do so before the potential disasters, such as overwhelming hospitals, becomes too high.

If we have the space now, to handle an increase, this would allow us to test that theory, but on a smaller scale than if everybody went back all at once. If we moved to early, hopefully with part of us still not going out, we could still handle the influx of new cases. But having part of us stay home will keep it from becoming the disaster it could be if everybody goes back all at once.

This could also potentially save the lives of people who are at increased risk, who might be otherwise required to return to work or lose their jobs, by giving them a few more weeks to find out what happens, and to feel safer about returning to work if it all goes well.

We can’t have a draw.

My instincts tell me this will never happen. Because somebody has to win. There has to be a clear winner and loser. We will continue scratching each other’s eyes out until there was finally a date declared when everyone can go back to work. The date will be too late in the minds of many, and too early in the minds of others.

For the sake of every person living in America, I pray whatever date that is proves to be the right one. That we find out the measures we have taken have been effective, and we never reached that terrifying point we were worried about, where hospitals reach maximum capacity. I pray they are right.

I also pray for everyone who is in a high-risk category, and dreading the idea of going back to work before you believe it’s safe. I have been in the position of having to choose not to work because of health issues. It was a nightmare. I have the scars to prove it. But I also know that it doesn’t matter if you have a job, a home, a car, and food… if you’re dead.

Is that a whistle I hear out there somewhere?

“May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Sunshine and Shit

Today was an adventure. Somebody met me through a mutual friend on Facebook, and began talking to me, after looking at my Mother’s Day cover photo that had five generations in it. I was holding my baby in the picture, and that baby is now 21 years old. Which tells you how old the picture is. It very clearly said Mother’s Day. I thought it was obvious.

But as we were talking, I noticed questions that I knew were headed in the direction he was not likely intending with who he thought he was. Then he said our favorite words ever, which was unexpected coming from someone who was the son of a doctor, and I met literally through one of his dad’s patients, from the office where he worked. (It’s unusual for someone in the medical field to still not know not to say something like this. But then again, I am reminded that doctors have said it to me, too.) Incidentally, the mutual friend was my daughter’s fourth grade teacher. I had already said she had turned 21. He was not doing the math. 

I finally decided to let him off the hook easily and asked if by any chance he was looking at my cover photo, because that was the reason I didn’t look sick. I wasn’t. Because that was 20 years ago. Indeed, that’s what he was looking at. “Surprise! You catfished yourself!” I told him to look back a few pictures for the other half of me, and that he didn’t have to worry about trying to reel it back in, because I don’t date. 

We still had a pretty interesting conversation. He’s a really nice guy. I hope he finds what he’s looking for, and maybe we will end up with a great friendship out of it. We continued chatting for a bit, and he got to hear some of my other shocking and amusing life stories. And then I reminded him to just take care of his own health, because when you lose your health, you lose everything. 

He said I had a really good attitude about things. And I reminded him that I really didn’t have a choice. My life has had so many loops in this roller coaster ride, that the only way to survive it is with a sincerely huge and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor. And Xanax. And medical marijuana. OK, so maybe I’m not that great at it after all. But I know how to fake it well. 

I sort of ended the conversation with a little bit of a metaphor that I didn’t realize at the time made perfect sense. I said life is full of sunshine and shit. You can’t have one without the other. I wasn’t even thinking about the connection between fertilizer and sunshine. But if that isn’t the perfect description of life, I don’t know what is. 

Those of us going through the medical journey that leaves us with either a high probability of immediate/sudden death, or a promise of guaranteed imminent death (terminal), understand that if we hadn’t lost everything we’ve lost, we wouldn’t know how to appreciate what we have left. Everything we value has more value now than it ever did before. Every hug, every good day, every good morning, every lock of hair, every walk to the mailbox, and every school event with our kids… means 1000 times more than it did before this journey.

I’m sure all of us would trade it for the lives we had before, but we probably never would have appreciated a single minute of it the same way we appreciate every single minute now. And that, in itself, is something to be grateful for. Some people will never get to experience the magic of really LIVING in a moment with such fierce intensity. We are determined to suck every drop of life we can out of what we are given.

And that, my friends, is how you turn shit into sunshine.

Mask Fail #3

I’m doing this in Star Wars order. In other words, I’m starting at number three and I have no idea where I’ll go from here. I know I have at least two mask fail stories I could share. Maybe three. But we’ll call this number three. In honor of yesterday being Star Wars day.

Not long ago, they delivered about the fourth notice to the apartment complex residents advising about all the measures they were taking to keep us safe, including using PPE.

However, when I went to check the mail, just after the notice was delivered, I noticed the employee in the golf cart was sitting in front of me without a mask, as a resident, also not wearing a mask, was leaning into the golf cart talking to him. No effort to social distance at all. I didn’t say anything right away.

I rolled my eyes at everybody I saw out without one. And I was very pleased when I saw people wearing one. Until I drove past the same guy and saw him laughing at two gentlemen wearing masks and walking about 7 feet apart. If I hadn’t been afraid of the fact that he wasn’t wearing a mask, I would’ve rolled the window down and handed him his rear end on a platter. But there was no way my window was coming down anywhere close to him.

This time I didn’t let it go. I wrote the apartment complex an email and asked that they please not deliver any more notices to me about how they are taking everything so seriously if they are not going to wear a mask or gloves on delivering said notice to my door, and possibly delivering the virus with it. Especially while I am sitting here two weeks in with a fever I still can’t get rid of.

They apologized and said they had just received their masks, thanked me for offering to donate some if they needed them, and said they would be wearing them from now on.

I thanked them, and true to their word, I have seen them all wearing a mask ever since that day. However, that little man is definitely not a fan of them. I had previously seen other employees wearing one sporadically. But never him. And never social distancing for him.

I almost lost it today when I drove past him and saw the way he had the mask on. Clearly, he is irate about having to wear it. He was literally at the dumpster, where people would usually appreciate wearing one even if there was no virus. But he had it on his forehead instead of over his mouth and nose.

I’m not going to lie. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t even be mad. Maybe later it will be less funny, or if I keep seeing it, I will comment again. I don’t want to become the pariah of the neighborhood. But I definitely thought you all might get a laugh out of it. I suspect we will see more and more covidiots circulating as the states reopen prematurely. Get ready to laugh. A whole new series of Memes is about to emerge. In the meantime, enjoy the angry little old man that doesn’t want to wear his mask.