The Doc’s Dilemma

This morning our memoir writing class eagerly connected into our new Zoom classroom. We surprised ourselves with efficient advanced mailing of assignments over the weekend and getting our sound and video sorted out before the official class start time. [If you’re following this blog, you may recall my homework posted here a couple of days ago under “Coronavirus Haikus“.]

Our hesitant attempts at this verse form ended up being a refreshing source of joy and wonder. These verses became an outlet for a landscape of emotions and experiences, we are struggling to figure out.

Dr. dilemna-1Our self-appointed class comedienne, who never fails to make us laugh, did a ‘one-eighty’ on us this morning. There was none of the usual light and breezy stories we so look forward to. As a medical professional, who thrives on being in the middle of all the action, she has been unexpectedly forced to sit on the sidelines this time – due to personal risks. The media has been so focused on the dire situations our doctors and nurses have been thrust into, that we hadn’t considered others who might be excluded.

Setting aside her default style today, our fellow writer reminds us that there may also be those among our first responders who are struggling, because they cannot be there.

She gave me permission to share her piece. Thank you dear friend.

Haiku Doc’s Dilemma  

Yesterday calmness
Slow deep breaths and long dog walks
What a difference

Home on furlough
A perk of the elderly
This is new for me

Harvey struck last time
Brief paralysis then go
Doctors are like that

We’re Team NRG
Twenty-four and seven
Twenty-three days without stop

That is what we do
We assess, we act, we help
We like the front lines

This time so different
Molasses, not torrent
We wait and we wait

I am home on leave
I feel very conflicted
It’s a balance act

I miss my clinic
I miss my nurses and staff
I miss my patients

Pulling me one way
Pulling me another way
What is the right thing to do?

Protect yourself, Doc
Protect your dear family
We care about you

I called my dear friend
She always gives good advice
She said, “This is real

Please do not go in
I cannot get out of bed
This is not pretty

I am sick with chills
Short of breath when I get up
We are quarantined”

Do I take a risk?
To me or my family?
Risk their health and lives?

Feel anxious today
Worried about my dear friend
Who knows what’s ahead?

Equal opportunity virus – or maybe not?

equal opportunity

Last week we learned that Boris Johnson also tested positive for the virus; adding to a growing list of notables across the globe. Tom Hanks was the first to grab my attention – that was sad. Then there was a raft of NBA basketball players – how did that happen? And a few days ago “the palace” released a statement that even Prince Charles has it – deary me! Now we’re learning of local Houston personalities like US congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher and “legendary” rapper Scarface — though I must admit I’d never heard of him before this.

Everyone’s first reaction is perverted comfort in the fact that this stealth villain can also reach the lofty echelons of society. The rich and famous are not escaping it’s tendrils. Privilege has not bought them immunity. 

It’s an equal opportunity threat.

Or is it?

Privilege may have granted them access to testing. Did they have to pass the same screening that you or I would to get tested where we live? I don’t think so.

Will fame and fortune gain them preferred access to medical treatment, if it’s needed? If decisions have to made with scarce resources as to who gets a ventilator in limited supply and who doesn’t, how will lines be drawn in this country? Based on likely health outcome, as we’ve heard in Italy, or the ability to pay, which is our typical default model? How would we choose between a young able bodied person with no insurance and the elderly frail with medicare?

There are more questions than answers right now. I have my concerns. I hope we are not tested. 

And if we are, I pray that we will be touched “by the better angels of our nature”.


High school check-in from Grimsby days

2020-03-29_10-11-51Growing up in Grimsby on the northeast coast of England in the late 60s / early 70s, the sound of Radio 4 programming was the constant background to our family life. The little wireless radio in the windowsill was turned on in our kitchen when the sun came up and didn’t go off again until the family sat down for supper in the evening. It was our mother’s primary source of all knowledge, rather like me and NPR today. Family life clattered around it with the radio fading into the background when we came through for breakfast, after school hellos, just hanging around or hunting for snacks.

The only time of the week that our noisy comings and goings took a backseat to Radio 4 was at 9am on Sunday mornings when Alistair Cooke delivered his weekly “Letter from America“. It was like church in the kitchen for those 15 minutes every week.

He would would speak of a topical issue in the US, tying together different strands of observation and anecdote and often ending on a humorous or poignant note. As ex-pats living in the pre-internet, CNN, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. era, I’m sure my parents were eager to hear any deeper commentary on the news from their home country. I can still hear his distinguished voice speaking into that quiet Sunday breakfast gathering around our Formica kitchen table.

Today, on a Sunday morning, another lifetime later, I connected in Zoom with five of my high school friends from that period of my life. They are now scattered across England, and I’m in the US. I felt as hungry for connection to what’s going on with them this morning, as my parents must have been seeking in Alistiar Cooke’s letters from America — especially during times of crisis as their home country dealt with assassinations, riots, a war gone wrong and even an impeachment.

I realized this was my Alistair Cooke moment.

This morning I wanted the threads still connecting me to that part of my life to tell me how they were doing with the coronavirus back in England. What were the restrictions? Were people following them? What were their new routines? How were they coping? What is the general mood? Are they getting tested? Zoom put us all together in one virtual moment in time.

We jumped around from being serious to giggly, upbeat to gloomy, to joyful and comforted. It was as much fun as the last time we gathered three years ago for several days of reminiscing, sharing of laughter and tears, and reflecting on the passage of so many decades.

We were amazed on either side of “the pond” at the dramatic differences in how the pandemic is being handled. The most notable aspect of their reports to me was how similar, consistent and aligned they were in their understanding of the national messaging and the responses each one of them was taking personally. The only point of some dispute – really more of a discussion – was whether you could go out for longer than a 30-minute walk each day. A finer point, which seems trivial compared to much larger questions of intent and interpretation here at home. Otherwise, it all sounded very similar from Dorset to Yorkshire to Leicester to Lincolnshire.

It was pretty simple: Only go out once a day for exercise and do not leave the house otherwise — unless it’s necessary to purchase food. Work from home unless otherwise deemed essential or exempted. They also all seemed to be tuning into the 5pm Daily Briefing, which sounds similar in concept, if not actual execution, to our “White House holds Coronavirus Task Force briefing”.

I can feel the pressure to get back to work building up in the national conversation here, so I was struck by the fact that they are all expecting to be in isolation like this for 12-14 weeks — until early June. And nobody seemed to take issue with it – no questions asked. In fact, they are prepared for the June date to be extended. They understand that this is required to avoid a disastrous spread and complete collapse of the health system. One of our group had just returned to the UK after living in Italy for the past 40 years. She’s very close to what is happening there. Daily videos and messages from Italy leave no doubt as to what the UK fate might be if they do not heed the government restrictions. I did not expect this level of unanimity from a group that had expressed different emotions over Brexit a few years ago.

On a lighter note, they were all getting involved in the various online choirs being organized, music lessons and regular coffee morning visits on video chat. Several of them are newly besotted with a Joe Wicks’ exercise program online – apparently he’s very easy on the eye. I will definitely have to check that out. I was also introduced to some new Netflix series and was left feeling uplifted, connected and hopeful about our future.

We had so much fun that we scheduled another gathering next Sunday.

It took a pandemic for us to even think about this. We are wondering why?

Coronavirus Haikus

HaikuOur writing class assignment this week is to write haikus (three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count).

It was fun, challenging and soothing all at the same time. Of course, what else are we all going to write about now, except the one topic at the forefront of our minds.

Share back some of your own …

US top of charts
Leading number of cases
Hope not in my house

N ninety fives scarce
PPEs, gowns, gloves in need
Doctors, nurses scared

Zoom-ing in to meet
From far away see, talk, smile
Bye now, zoom back out

TP, pasta hoards
Fill garages and pantries
Who is eating this?

Tom Hanks, Bojo, Charles
Even privilege not immune
It just buys testing


Runaway promiscuous thinking

Promiscuous: “demonstrating or implying an undiscriminating or unselective approach”  –

intrusive-thoughts_0That’s how my brain is working these days. I’m ping-ponging all over the place, dragging my mood and emotions behind it through all manner of terrain. From serenity to heart-stopping panic, I’ve covered lots of ground.

I’ve soaked in deep quiet offered up by a new podcast called “Sink into the Taproot of your Heart“. Just reading the title calms the spirit. Thanks to Jackie for sharing. I’m calmed.

I’ve listened to interviews from doctors in Italy that have made my heart race and force a recounting of it onto anyone who will listen. I need some way to empty out the mounting nervousness bubbling within. I’m agitated.

I’ve been on bucolic evening walks through our neighborhood that resemble a Hollywood fantasy of life in the good old days. Families out walking; children playing tag; adults visiting on their front lawns; impromptu chats with neighbors we rarely see. I feel connected and buoyed up and safe. I’m soothed.

I’ve read eyewitness accounts from doctors in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago that erode my confidence in there being any guarantees of adequate care for me, if I get sick. The warriors on the front lines, our last defenses, are talking of writing their own wills, feeling like they’re in “Chernobyl”, and putting in place universal DNRs for Coronavirus patients. Alarm bells go off. Anxiety levels spike again. I’m terrified. 

It dawns on me that a positive test might feel like a death sentence. I’m very adept at leaping from finding a weird lump to a cancer diagnosis to being told to get my affairs in order. So the prospect of getting the Coronavirus will for sure result in me imagining a short path to an overflowing hospital morgue. I am fretful. 

I’ve anchored the dawning of each day in my regular meditation practice. Divine intervention this morning led me to selecting the “infinity” symbol instead of the usual 20 mins. I didn’t realize it until I felt an urge to check the clock after a sense of refreshedness seeped through me. That’s when I saw that I had been meditating 48 minutes already. I clearly needed that. Thanks be to God for fumbling fingers on iPhones! I am restored.

I’m all over the map. I keep looking for any positive signals to cling to, while still stumbling over many others that set me back. I’m trying hard to be discriminating and selective in my thinking, but it’s hard to keep promiscuity at bay. It’s too seductive.

Right now, I’m going to bake a cake for my son’s birthday. That will surely sooth my soul.

Be well dear readers, stay at home, and play this group of Nashville singer’s It Is Well With My Soul when things feel dark.

Meet an “invincible summer” in Thelma Z

“In the midst of winter, I found that there was in me an invincible summer” Albert Camus

Staying calm under pressureThis is the tag line of the blog by Thelma Z, a new acquaintance from a memoir writing class I’m taking. It reads like something that might arise out of our current calamity. It speaks to me as a message for right here and right now. However, this is not a new blog or a new tagline, she’s been writing here for over 10 years. This arose from an earlier tragedy in her life.

With several more years on her clock than me, Thelma, and so many others ahead of me in age and wisdom, appear to be weathering the COVID19 threat with greater ease and calm. I’ve placed phone calls to all my 80+-year old relatives this past week and the contrast between their calm, matter-of-fact reactions and my fretful concerns is striking.

This is not their first rodeo.

With that, I’d like to invite you to visit ThelmaZ at her blog, where she has started reflecting on the current Coronavirus threat from her vantage point. Start with “The Virus is on Everybody’s Minds” from March 15th and then read how things have changed in just seven days in “Coronavirus: Part 2” from March 22nd. She tells me that she’s a regular Sunday poster — I’m already eager to read her upcoming Sunday post. Lots has changed since the 22nd, just three days ago; what will be happening by Sunday, four days from now?!

Cleaning wipe-out, dropped Zooms and mixed messages from on high

exhausted from cleaningI’m plopping down at my writing desk completely exhausted from a spurt of housework. I had this idea that I could give the downstairs a quick once-over in an hour or so after lunch. I’ve never been wowed by the speed or thoroughness of my housekeeper, so I knew I could knock this out in no time flat.  You know where this is going … it’s not even that big of a space, but it took almost 3 hrs. and has left me pooped. So much for me thinking I’m pretty fit and snappy. What a baby. Clearly I have been under-appreciating my housekeeper. All future oversights on her part — if she can ever return — are already forgiven. I could write a whole long, drawn-out epistle on what else I learned about how hard her job is, but the bottom line is a newfound respect for Maria.

Before that, I spent most of the morning in Zoom calls that kept dropping and cutting in-and-out. It would seem that our WIFI is not tolerating three of us on concurrent Zooms, and I, for some inexplicable reason, drew the short straw when bandwidth was being apportioned by our router.

This is  all very tedious. I thought I had left this virtual life behind me when I retired. Now, I’m back in the thick of it trying to help newbies find the link to the meeting room, then the Mute button, then the Chat button, and more. Everyone’s device is slightly different and we don’t all speak the same technical language. It’s hard work, but everyone is so patient and determined, I’m inspired to persist too. Each call brings progress and excited oohs and aahs as we learns new skills and tricks.

There aren’t many spring chicks in my various groups, so it’s miraculous how well people are figuring it out. In the 7am bible study we were even successful in marking up the Whiteboard displaying Psalm 1 with hearts and arrows to indicate which verses touched us most. At the beginning of the call, we all checked in by having 24 of us write a couple of sentences into the Chat window simultaneously. This tool is perfect for us, as we actually would all like to talk at the same time. Now we can!

Pslam 1 Whiteboard

Between two of the Zoom calls, I went out for a run on the Bayou near the house and happened to catch on the radio Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo giving a briefing on the “stay-at-home” order to go into effect at midnight tonight. I feel like the vultures are circling. What an impressive 29-year old woman, wow — I’m thankful for strong, clear-thinking young leadership in Houston. Then, when I walk back into the house, I notice a new notification in my news feed from the White House announcing that the President “would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter”. I can sense a fight brewing. Uncertainty is piling on top of uncertainty.

Maybe I need to go back to my cleaning. The whole of the upstairs awaits my attention. There’s nothing like hard physical work to quieten the mind and bring your whole self to rest.

The future planner in me is confounded

future planningIt’s Monday morning. Another week is up and running. Time to check in with plans and to-do’s for the week and beyond.

Planning is in my DNA. I’m a look-ahead kind of person. What are we going to do next year, next summer, next week, tomorrow? Every idea adds color, topography and glorious anticipation to the future. These are transformed into checklists, dream lists, calendar entries and itineraries, which propel me forward with enthusiasm and gusto.

My motto for the kids has always been “give your future self a gift“. Do something today you’ll be glad you have done tomorrow.

As our calendars are hit with cancellations now reaching into April and May, events in June and July are also shining less brightly on the horizon. How do I think about the rest of the year? What shape will it take? It no longer looks like a colorful landscape dotted with family birthday parties, cohousing workshops, high school graduations, girls retreat in the Hill Country, wedding showers and a much anticipated son’s wedding in Ireland. It looks like a big flat empty expanse – nothing punctuating the horizon. Just Zoom calls, long walks and weekly trips to scavenge for groceries.

What should I be doing now that would be a gift to my future self?

Right now, I’m still groping around in the dark trying to create small look-ahead ideas — things that will feed my future self, things I’ll be glad I did when this is all over. Reinvigorating my daily writing practice. Taking more time to call old friends. Redesigning a cozy family birthday dinner this week into a 10-foot-apart gathering at a local park. None of these venture very far ahead of where we are today. Cancellations on top of cancellations would be too disheartening.

Any version of the future I construct right now seems either too unrealistic or too dismal to spend my energy on. I’m digging deeper into the present day and week. I’m wondering if time will appear to slow down? I’m wondering if I will be changed by this — will I still be a ‘look-ahead’ kind of person when this is all over?

Time for intermittent media fasting

Unending coronavirus anxietiesWaking up long before the rooster crows – yet again – with doom and gloom churned into my sheets, I realize something’s gotta give. The thoughts are non-specific. I’m covered in a blanket of angst. The darkness outside has pierced my soul. I’m on guard and alert to a pressing danger that’s shapeless but feels very real. All’s well in our small patch of earth today, we even have toilet paper! But taking comfort in our safe bubble almost seems naive. 

When daylight breaks, the interior darkness lifts as the household comes alive and cups of caffeine bring on a burst of optimism. The night demons are put to bed and I slip back into my comfy suit of positivity, that I inhabit during the day.

As I linger over my sleep stats in my FitBit app the recent gradual decline in my ‘sleep quality’ rating is undeniable. I need to fix this. I bet it’s due to my Lenten alcohol fast – maybe I should reconsider. I don’t care what the experts say, I definitely sleep longer after a glass of wine. Or maybe it’s time to ratchet down my caffeine consumption even further – that would be the worst, forget that. Or perhaps too much blue screen too close to bed-time. I’ve got many theories, but deep down I know what’s really going on.

It’s clearly an overdose of news feeds. I’ve been on a slippery slide into hyper vigilant media monitoring this past week. My smart phone has been glued to my body — constantly buzzing with breaking news. Borders are closed. The NYSE halts trading. All manner of closures are extended. Lock downs announced. This is not the stuff that makes for sweet dreams at night.

When I’m not checking the buzzing notifications, I’m plugged into podcasts and radio streaming with opinions and expert updates. I heard an interview with a Dr. in New Orleans saying that they were much better prepared for hurricane Katrina than they are for this virus. I’ve seen forecasts of rising numbers that shoot off the charts.  And watched stocks plunge at an equally alarming rate in the opposite direction. This is a train wreck I don’t know how to avoid. 

I’ve steeped myself in coronavirus information to the point where I’m close to becoming a case study for medical student syndrome (frequently reported psychological condition among medical trainees that experience the symptoms of the disease or diseases they are studying). None of this is helpful. I know it, but feel a responsibility to stay informed.

Nevertheless change is needed. With the principles of intermittent fasting in mind, the smartphone has been quarantined for most of the day. It’s parked downstairs out of harm’s way. It’s only been a couple of hours, but I’m already feeling some freedom in my new-found ignorance. The real test will be my sleep rating tonight. I’m optimistic!

Time to turn my attentions to other things. Is there anything else going on in the world?

You don’t have to like playing with me … you just have to endure it

Scrabble game1The social director at our house (yes, that would be ‘yours truly’) has lost her old job. The routine Thursday scouring of local papers and websites for “what’s going on this weekend” doesn’t produce much in the way of safe social-distancing. And, of course hanging out with friends is out of the question, even outside, since the rain arrived and the temps have dropped. I will give the media credit for filling up their pages with clever in-home distractions or links to events converted to online streaming. But, honestly, it’s just not the same.

So what does one do at times like these? Play games of course! It’s the best. They suck you in and shut out the world. They fire up competition and camaraderie. They make you laugh and remind you to not take yourself so seriously.

That’s what we did growing up at any opportunity that knocked our regular routines out of orbit. We had an entire section of an old wardrobe in the hallway crammed with the usual favorites like Scrabble, Monopoly, Cribbage, Candyland, Cluedo, chess and checker boards and mismatched card decks. I thought this was what all families did. You knew it to be a universal standard of sorts, rather like everyone serving turkey for Christmas Day dinner. Who doesn’t do that, right?

That was, until I married into a family, whose ‘go-to’ is reading books. Unlike my game-crazy family of origin, my family by marriage and procreation does not possess the game-playing gene. I’m not sure I belong to this tribe. How is sitting around in silence and reading together considered a fun activity? How did I end up living in this wrong place?

In calmer seas I can usually suppress doubts about failing to raise my kids properly – to love playing games, or beating myself up for having failed to make playing games a prerequisite for choosing a life partner. But during natural disasters (think hurricanes) and now epidemics, I am forced to face these gaps, in an otherwise pretty awesome family life, anew.

And, in all fairness to my husband and kids, they are not spared when I’m disappointed. I do not slink away in silence to simply ‘get over it’. They are surely made to suffer too. I do not hesitate to launch into badgering and nagging them to play with me, until they relent or escape me somehow. But now we’re cooped up together, so there’s no escaping my enthusiasm.

I’ve been beating the drums on this all week long … how about some Scrabble? maybe Quiddler or Boggle? …. no takers. Then last night I decided it was time to get serious. I boldly declared Saturday to be Game Night! Be prepared! I’m coming for you. There will be no excuses – you have been given fair warning. We are going to play and you’re going to endure. Who knows, you might even like it – though they are unlikely to admit it, lest it encourages me all the more.

The big question now is whether I will have to let them win at Scrabble to ensure it’s not our last game during social isolation?