Covid-19

Fear Gone Rabid


New York is that cab. I am that cab. Hell, we are all that cab. Balanced precariously, not on the tip of a friendly well-trained nose, but on the edge of the undomesticated and aggressive Covid-19, while the sun continues to rise in the background each day, unconcerned by the dramas and traumas of human beings.

I’ve ranted over the past couple of weeks, vented the anger and frustration of not enough people in the US taking this seriously enough, the hideous politics of a literal pandemic while we have a president and administration that cares nothing for its citizens. These last days, though, no matter how I try to hold tight to the protective coating of anger, anxiety has continued to ratchet up and fear has coated the surface of every thought. Writing, whether fiction or blogging, is my way of taking control and muddling through, always has been. So I’m writing now hoping it will help me get a handle on this. I’m not sure it’s possible, with no end in sight and no certainty as to the scope we’re facing. I may or may not actually post this one.

If you are a reader who follows Mrs Fringe, whether long term or more recent, you know I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in emergency rooms, ICUs, hospitals. More than most, not as much as too many. My fears today, the anxiety that’s taken a blowtorch to my gut over the past month, comes from those experiences, from knowing how these things are “supposed” to go, from being able to envision but not able to face what lies ahead for too many of us. The other day I went to the grocery store. A long line to get inside, but once I was all was neat and organized, people (for the most part) working to keep their distance from each other. Not necessarily six feet, but this is Manhattan, it just isn’t physically possible in most shared indoor spaces. As I walked up the frozen food aisle I had to stop because the cases on either side of me took on the gray fuzziness of oh shit, am I going to pass out? I wasn’t, and am not, ill. This wasn’t the first time I got dizzy while out and running a necessary errand in recent weeks, had a moment of oh my god, this is not right, not a personal trauma, the world is wrong and will never be the same. Not even the first time it’s happened outside of Covid-19. I have a strong stomach and high tolerance for medical stuff, but oh man did my knees go out weeks? after Husband’s second open heart surgery, when the physician’s assistant was removing the drainage tubes from his chest and abdomen and I heard the peculiar, specific, sucking, squishing thwok of that first seal being broken. Other times also, with no particular, obvious trigger, always after a crisis has passed, when the fear, emotion, excess caffeine, lack of sleep and often lack of decent nutrition hit me in a mundane moment of checking for a ripe avocado. This time my brain isn’t waiting until after. I’m panicked now.

I, Mrs Fringe, am fucking terrified. Our closest hospital is one we’ve been to many times, both their adult ER and the Peds ER sections. Many fine doctors there, some inpatient units are excellent, never had any problems in the ped ER. The adult ER? Another story entirely, and over the years it’s gotten worse and worse, to the point where I’ve said I will not go there for anything anymore. Why? Because they’re chronically understaffed, and an understaffed and overcrowded ER is dangerous, no matter how good and well trained the nurses are. Less than a year ago we were there, Husband, it was a guy from housekeeping who turned on the oxygen and gave him a nasal canula when I couldn’t get a doctor or nurse to come over when his o2 was dropping. One story of many, and that’s with me there, staying out of the way when I can/need to and making noise when I need to do that too. Again, not the fault of uncaring or lackadaisical nurses, but the limits of how many high needs patients any one person can reasonably care for, with new patients streaming in and needing assessments every few minutes. Stretchers stacked like a damned game of Tetris, many times I watched workers from transport needing to move 4-10 patients just to reach the patient they were there for and be able to get them to their next stop in the hospital.

I stay when Husband is in. I stay when Art Child is in. For all our hospital time, we don’t go unless it’s absolutely necessary. And part of when an ER visit or hospital stay is absolutely necessary, by definition, means the person being seen/assessed/admitted isn’t feeling strong, maybe can’t speak, certainly can’t make a fuss if they need something and staff are busy elsewhere. Other hospitals. It was me who yelled for the nurses in the step-down CICU after Husband’s first open heart surgery, when he turned blue and all tubes and bags filled with blood, his aorta ruptured along the suture line of his new valve. Would they have come running thirty seconds later? Would thirty seconds have mattered? It might have, considering they needed to reopen his chest there in the room and manually pump his heart on the way back to the OR. Or when Husband was on a vent and the ICU dr decided this was the perfect time to preen for the nurses and show off how the temporary pacemaker leads were/weren’t working, giving unnecessary shocks until I spoke up because he didn’t know about damage to a nerve he was expecting to see a response from because of a prior surgery (Husband, obviously, unable to tell him). Or, less crucial but important, when we had the (thankfully rare) experience of an unkind EEG tech who was too rough placing leads on my girl’s head, and she was too terrified to do anything other than cry quietly. Or the times food service sent non-diabetic meals to Husband. Or the many other times when calories in take precedent over what type of calories, so I go out for foods to tempt while the hospital trays sit uneaten. Or with MIL, when some slick talker from billing came into the room to offer threats about insurance claims and what would be owed. Yes, I kindly invited him to get the fuck out and take it up with Medicare, not a vulnerable elderly woman who’d had her chest cracked open two days before who’d only been off the vent a matter of hours.

These are just a few bad moments of lapsed or potential lapsed treatment in otherwise great care, with many, mostly reassuring moments. Every ICU nurse I’ve ever interacted with (Peds, cardiac, or general) has been great to oh my god this person should be nominated for sainthood). ICU nurses are extraordinary, with training that goes well beyond the nurse drawing blood at your local GP’s office. But when hospitals have literally overflowed into tents, it isn’t just equipment that will be in short supply, it will be staff, doctors, nurses, nurses aides, physician’s assistants, because both there are too many patients and because they themselves who are getting sick.

Yes, there are the very real extra fears that go with knowing people in my immediate world are particularly vulnerable to more severe manifestations of this virus because of pre-existing conditions. And it’s more than that.  If one of those I love needs to be admitted because of Covid-19, or what about the non-Covid-19 related reasons I have the experiences I do that haven’t magically disappeared, how will I be able to just leave them there? Maybe in a hospital, maybe in a fucking tent? Nerd Child isn’t even here. He’s safe and healthy, for now, but if things go sideways and he was to get sick? I couldn’t go to him. If Husband or Art Child or Man Child was to need hospitalization he couldn’t come to be with them either. The thought of walking away, not being there if Husband is on a vent? Literally makes me sick. One of my children? I can’t imagine it, because the pain of that very real possibility overwhelms my ability to paint that mental picture. But I can’t stop thinking about it, at least the edges of the possibility, because I have been there in “normal” times. Our normal abnormal. In fully staffed hospitals with all the needed equipment. It’s knowing that if medical equipment needs to be rationed, there’s the very real possibility those preexisting conditions will render them ineligible for a needed ventilator. It’s the incredibly stupid comments I continue to see and hear online, in the news, in the community, from stupid people still blaming the ACA, or Obama, or saying those same rationing conditions existed under “Obamacare.” Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you’ve never experienced a loved one on a ventilator I’m glad for you. I hope you never do. It’s awful, and illness, injuries and novel viruses don’t give a shit who you vote for. But for those of us who have, repeatedly, who deal with chronic illness and disorders that make things like staffing patterns, hospital admissions, ICUs (hell, the fact that we “joke” about July being the worst time to have a crisis requiring admission because that’s when the new residents come on board), know the best cart to get coffee from part of our basic facts of life, there’s an entirely different level to this hell we call the Covid-19 pandemic.

This isn’t a potential crisis, it is a crisis. It’s real and it’s here. That was a few days ago. As of last night, there were 26,697 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in this city, 5,250 hospitalized, 1,175 in ICUs, and 450 deaths. Those numbers are just in NYC, just the confirmed cases. It may or may not be futile, but I’m doing all I can to keep me and mine safe, keep others safe from us should one of us get it. Please, please, all of you do the same.

Say. The. Words.

Come now. You–and I’m talking to you, 45, GOP, Fox News, et al–and I both know what it is you aren’t saying out loud. I have no special mind reading powers, we ALL know what you mean. So say it.

When you state the cure (social distancing, purposeful slow down of the economy) is worse than the disease, you’re saying your stocks and bank accounts are worth more than people’s lives. Hell, Tmp doesn’t even care about the economy of the country (outside of wanting to see big numbers, YUGE), he cares about his personal bank accounts and businesses.

Let’s put to the side that this makes no sense in terms of basic, surface logic. I mean, if 40-70% of the population is sick, dying, overwhelming the health care system, how great is the economy going to be? Who will be buying shit? working? The wealthy, but contrary to popular GOP opinion, the wealthy aren’t enough to keep the economy going.

When you say grandparents are willing to die for the economic health of their grandchildren, you aren’t only talking about grandparents who are 90+. You’re talking about everyone over the age of 60. You’re talking about the…what? one million? two million? grandparents in the US who are currently raising their grandchildren. You’re talking about all of the vulnerable population regardless of age, due to cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, homeless, incarcerated, hospitalized for other illnesses or injuries. For all the nonsense war analogies, this isn’t war, no one is pointing a gun at people in a particular uniform. It’s a virus, not checking to see which flag you’re waving, or the date of your birth certificate, before penetrating cells. You know it. I know it. We all know it. I guess you’re assuming your wealth will protect you from dying, despite your advanced age. Statistically your odds are better than the average Joe retiree, the fact that you can access a Covid-19 test, and access it before you’re at death’s door–will automatically tip the scales your way, so not a delusional thought, though of course, no guarantee.

It is no surprise this administration has created such a dangerous scenario with its mishandling of this pandemic. It is no surprise you were unprepared and unwilling to do or say anything to upset Dear Leader, point out his lack of clothing or unwashed, groping hands. It is no surprise the cult following still standing behind this administration will throw themselves on the proverbial funeral pyre in order to stay in line and protect him, sacrifice millions–including themselves, because many of them are not only among the most vulnerable because of age, health, and economic status, but those sparsely populated red states–very limited access to health care even without a pandemic. No surprise at all. We knew it the day the GOP fell in behind Tmp as their nominee in 2016, when millions voted for him knowing what he did/didn’t stand for, what he did/didn’t understand, or care about.

I understand that doctors in some countries have had to make these types of decisions that place a value on each life because of limited supplies and equipment. I understand it may come to that in certain regions of the US. My heart goes out to the patients and their loved ones and the doctors. People go into medicine for a variety of reasons, some altruistic, some not, but I don’t know of any who go into it in order to be placed in these types of positions. A doctor, a panel of doctors, making these impossible decisions based on the best science and information available to them in the moment is a very different thing than a government making these types of decisions not because of last resort, but because money is worth more than lives–as evidenced by discussion of decisions that will increase the number of human beings who will become seriously ill, with a percentage of those dying.

Frankly, I am very willing to sacrifice myself for my family. If there is one ventilator available, and I and another member of my family need it to live, don’t hesitate. Save my children, my husband, my mother in law. But that is a personal choice. I will not decide your life has less value than mine. I do not believe the lives of my family, my friends, even myself, are worth less than the lives of the uberwealthy nervous only because of the worth of their stocks. So go ahead, you cowards, blustering behind your stock market charts from under the shadow of your red ball caps. Use your words. Tell me it’s worth it to you to take the life of my 18 year old immunocompromised kiddo. My late 50s husband who has worked his entire life, paid taxes, cared about others, raised three very fine children, isn’t done with life yet, and is more upset by the term unemployed than he was facing a rare and risky open heart surgery.

Reopening everything, ordering people back to work, will not save the economy. It will kill people unnecessarily. Seniors, yes. Also health care workers, middle aged people, young people, maybe even pregnant people–and we all know how much you care about life pre-birth. I understand this, and you do, too. Fucking say it.

Top of the Heap

There’s a bit from the manuscript I’m querying that keeps going round in my head. Is it in poor taste to quote from my own work? Do rules about poor taste apply when we’re in the midst of a pandemic and facing the apocalypse? *shrug* I’ll quote it anyway.

He should have missed me. Pined for me when we weren’t speaking, begun to waste without my dumplings. But in fact he looked fine when I snuck upstairs and watched him hauling cases of clean glasses to the bar. Healthy. Maybe he’d gained a pound or two. How could that be? I was good for him, damn it. I would be there, even later, when he got sicker and most people got afraid. Maybe. If he wanted. If I wanted. I turned my mind sideways, so’s not to think how people could be good and bad for each other at the same time. Simulcast, like a presidential speech, or a Grateful Dead concert, when the sound was supposed to line up from the TV and the radio exactly right, but there was always that lag, so you didn’t know where to put your ears.

That last bit, not knowing where to put your ears. That’s how I feel these days, but I don’t know where to put my mind, can’t quite think about anything straight on without needing to let my thoughts slide to the next, and yet now matter how much slip sliding between the neurons, those thoughts always slide to another aspect of Covid-19. The danger to my family, personally, health-wise? Slip. The economic ramifications? Slide. The thought that if one of my loved ones ends up hospitalized I don’t think I’d be allowed to actually, physically be with them? Slither. The entire country changing forever? Well, that one is something we’ve been looking at for close to four years now, isn’t it? Sigh. And what I’m talking about today. New York. The city. My New York.

The rate of confirmed cases in New York City is, so far, following the terrifying curve that’s been expected, with confirmed cases rising exponentially. For the most part the parameters for testing are still strict because of limited tests available, so when I say there were close to 4000 confirmed cases by late yesterday afternoon, it isn’t my imagination run wild to say there are likely tens of thousands of actual cases through the city already, confirmed or not, severe or not, symptomatic or not. The only thing moving faster than the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in NY right now is the number of jobs lost, which dwarfs the number sick &/or testing positive. People in the music industry, hospitality, restaurants, retail, on and on.

Much of the city looks like a movie set right now. The flats and backdrops are there, subway cars empty and waiting, lighting is right, but still far from filming, only a few people moving about here and there. I know that is good news, our best and–except for testing (out of individual control) and hand washing–only defense. Still creepy as fuck.

Being a born and bred New Yorker is its own cultural identity. You can be anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and if you say you’re a New Yorker, people have images that come to mind. Images of the tourist traps you avoid, the cultural institutions you grew up frequenting, the shops and restaurants they’ve maybe dreamed of visiting but for you are–were?–daily life. If, like me, you’re of a certain age and/or from certain boroughs, you don’t actually have to identify yourself as a New Yorker, not for nothing but your accent does it for you, recognized no matter where you are.

Broadway is dark. I love live theater, and yes, I love Broadway shows. I haven’t been able to go regularly in years, out of budget, but man oh man, nothing like it. Those shows are mind-bogglingly expensive to produce and run. With weeks, maybe months, of no sales, how is it going to get up and running again? And those are the big boys, what about the off-off Broadway shows?

The Metropolitan Opera laid off its union employees yesterday. Union employees. Think about that.

Though still technically allowed to run delivery/pick up service, many of the restaurants have closed. Restaurants in New York, even the top ones with the Big Name Chefs, run on a very, very narrow margin. The restaurants everyone has seen on tv shows/movies, read about in Page 6, and or the local corner joints that have been serving locals for decades. Katz’s Deli (1903), Lombardi’s Pizza (1905), Peter Luger (1887), Tavern on the Green (1934), The Rainbow Room (1934), Totonno’s (1924), The Russian Tea Room (1927), Delmonico’s (1837), Sylvia’s (1962), Nathan’s (1916), Jing Fong (1978), Russ & Daughters (1914), Barney Greengrass (1908) and I’m guessing literally, easily, a hundred others people world wide would recognize the name or interior shots of.  Weeks/months of no income?

And the shops. Not just the big names that are more of a tourist attraction than shopping expedition for most (Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman), but the ones that are known through the city and often across the world. Shops that represent New York, make this city this city. Mood Fabric, Matt Umanov Guitar’s, Rudy’s Music, Canal Street Market, Moscot’s Eyewear, Kiehl’s, and on and on and on. I can’t think anymore.

I’m no stranger to long running businesses closing their doors, no New Yorker is. With the rise of commercial rents having gone from ludicrous to impossible over the past couple of decades, the sight of a beloved local shop gated with a big long sign saying goodbye, thank you, and after X generations we’ve had to close because we lost our lease (only to sit empty for months, years, before being replaced by yet another half empty high rise, a CVS, a Starbucks, a bank whose name is going to change by the time you blink because it’s been absorbed by another bank) is a familiar one. Always a moment for sadness and reflection on how very clean and cold and corporate so many old favorite areas have become. But not everywhere, and not all the businesses.

So I’m thinking, when we get to the other side of this–and we will, whether it’s weeks, months, or over a year–what will be left of New York? My New York, our New York. Who and what businesses will be able to ride it out in this city of those that represent the city and the people in it, not the chain outposts that are already all too common a sight. Yes, we are a constantly evolving city, it’s what allowed it to become an icon and identity unto itself, self-absorbed though it may be. But those often small, multi-generational, not necessarily big name or big dollar places? They’re the heart that keeps beating.

 

Are You Okay?

Normally bustling hallway of hospital

The question on everyone’s lips. Well, not everyone, some are still licking toilet seats because they think it’s funny or just moaning about the inconvenience of bar closings, having to cancel vacations, having to self-quarantine if ill/possibly exposed to Covid-19. But pandemic or not, stupid’s gonna stupid and selfish is gonna selfish. The good news is there are also incredibly generous people working to feed the hungry/about to be hungry, some (too few) companies who are continuing to pay employees they’ve been forced to lay off or furlough while their doors are shuttered.

But back to the question. I am not ok. I know this, knew it, thought if I acknowledged the fact it would help keep my anxiety under control. Until Husband’s appointment yesterday with his young, upbeat doctor who just a couple of months ago said I was feisty, whose face was somber and I found myself having to work not to cry in response. The above photo of the hallway in the hospital? Yeah, that hallway is usually a hub of activity with an outpatient lab, cash machine, tea/snack kiosk just behind, and elevators leading to many of the individual doctor’s offices and departments. more than once we’ve had to wait for one of the elevators to arrive and open a second or third time because they were just too crowded. Not yesterday.

For everyone who is practicing social distancing, there are many of us who can’t stay home for two or three weeks, or six months, or a year, or however long this breath holding season is going to be. There are people performing essential services who have to go to work–and don’t kid yourself, it isn’t only doctors, nurses, police, firefighters and EMTs who are performing essential services–it’s also your pharmacist, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, truck drivers, bus and train operators, etc. And people who have to get to the doctor for appointments that can’t be put off if we’re going to try to avoid needing an array of doctors, nurses, and hospital beds for non-Covid-19 related reasons.

There would never be a good year for a pandemic, but this timing feels particularly devastating. This is a life altering event. Fuck, this is a world altering event. On a personal level, Husband and Art Child, who would both always be vulnerable, are both at points where they have no reserves for their bodies to call on. Mother in Law, who’s at a stage where every year seems to take an exponential toll. Nerd Child is in his senior year of college, campus now closed, though he was able to successfully petition to stay because of extenuating circumstances. Great! Except eek! he’s still my heart, and I really, really hate having him far from me during this. Man Child, who is currently strong, healthy, and miraculously still employed for the moment, but don’t think for a second I’m not thinking about him having contracted viral meningitis less than two years ago.

I was still reeling, just beginning to process the medical mayhem of the last several months for our family when this virus hit the US. On a national level, when we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the definition of civil service, or science, or compassion. At a time when it couldn’t be more clear the US needs nationalized health care, the citizens are showing with every Democratic primary they don’t want it. Not enough, not yet. On an international level, with not only our country deciding they miss the good old days of nationalism and sanctified subjugation, and global climate change threatening everyone and everything.

I haven’t been able to focus to escape into reading. Or writing. Or querying. Can’t stress bake because my building has a gas leak, we will have no gas (means no stove/oven) for who knows how many months. I’m still doing my yoga every morning, checking in with friends through text, email, and social media, here at home we’re counting toilet paper squares but we have enough food. I’m hand washing and disinfecting and elbow sneezing, no-face-touching (iffy on that one, it’s freaking hard!), and you better believe there is no toilet licking. At this point no one in my immediate circle has or seems to have Covid-19, but way too much of this is out of my control.

So here we are, in the year of 1918 and 1929 decided to have a baby and call it 2020.

I am hanging in and hanging on, doing what needs to be done, but I’m not ok, how about you?