I’m in an MRI tube and don’t know when I’m getting out!

claustrophobia-2If you’ve ever had an MRI, you have your own story to tell, but I’m guessing most of our stories include some coping strategies. I don’t think of myself as claustrophobic, but being cranked into one of those tubes can turn it on for me like a finger in an electrical socket.  Little panic thoughts start racing through my brain — they are creative and crazy.

What if the tech forgets about me? What if the thingy that moves the tray in and out of the tube (with me on it!) gets stuck? What if there’s an earthquake, or a power outage and I’m stuck here? What’s my exit plan – could I wiggle my way out if I lose my cool?

“Breath” … “You can do this” … “Say your mantra”

So far that’s always worked to keep me fixed in place as I watch the minutes faithfully march towards the end of the test. I know it will be over; I know when it will be over; I can manage this.

This “Stay At Home” order is starting to feel a little like that MRI tube. I didn’t think this was going to be so hard for me. Stick with your schedule, keep meditating, exercising, etc. You’ve got this. It will be over soon enough. I can manage this. 

However, I’m starting to experience fleeting panic thoughts creeping around in my head and causing some havoc. The cool veneer is cracking a little. I’m getting a little testy. Just ask around.

When is it going to be over? What if we get stuck in here for a really long time? Will things ever be the same? What if I freak out? What if I dissolve into a heap of misery? Mantras and deep breathing can only take me so far. What kind of escape strategy can I fantasize about? 

I can’t bail out of this one. It won’t be a matter of rescheduling another appointment or appealing to my doctor for some relaxation meds to smooth the way. Alcohol, sugar and carbs appear to be the best anesthetics we have right now, but they will leave us crying over the “COVID 19 pounds”. Also not ideal.

After all the spiritual, metaphysical, exercise, etc. tips and techniques are exhausted, at the end of the day I just need to put on my big girl pants and get on with it. That’s what I know my mom would have done, and my Depression era grandmother, and my pioneering great-grandmother.

That’s my pep talk to get me through another day. Hope you’re hanging in there too.

Slipstream paranoia

slipstream runnersI cannot get this picture out of my head. The person in front is one of those speedy runners zipping past me on my daily run, and the person in the back, splattered with COVID-19 lurgies, is of course ME dragging along behind!

A new study, a collaboration between Leuven University in Belgium and Eindhoven University in the Netherlands, popped up in my Facebook feed last night with this picture [thanks to my cousin Cindy]. The title “Why in times of COVID-19 you can not walk/run/bike close to each other” demanded to be clicked. I definitely needed to know about this.

If the speedy runner’s “cloud of droplets” are free of contamination, then this is reduced to an abstract yuck factor. If they do have COVID-19 however, then I’m getting slammed. The trails along our bayou are narrow. Running single file is the only option in many places. Geez, yet another COVID worry that will require extra vigilance. Is it even possible to make my outdoor routes safe? To what extremes do I really need to take all these precautions?!?!

With this new picture imprinted in my brain, I braved one of my usual routes this morning. Everyone in my field of vision became a potential threat. I continuously scanned the horizon, like one of those green radar screens on a submarine … in an old movie. Bleep – adjust – bleep again – adjust course again. Avoid the torpedoes and destroyers. I could see all these imaginary emissions spewing behind the runners, walkers and bikers around me.

According to latest findings in this Belgian-Dutch study, “the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meters, for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters.” 

That’s all well and good, but when they quietly sneak up behind me, and swish past me, I have little recourse. They breeze by, cut in front, and I’m sprayed (see picture again) by the time I can react.

The study states that The risk of contamination is the biggest when people are just behind each other, in each other’s slipstream.”

So when forced into the “slipstream” what can I do? Slide down the embankment to the water, or jump out into the deep weeds, or the road, and by then it’s too late anyway (again … see picture of me covered in red-, yellow-, blue-, green-sized viral droplets), or start wearing a mask? Forget the mask — that thing makes for labored breathing in an air conditioned room – much less in humid 89F temps while running (yep, that’s ~32C for my metric friends – it’s getting hot round here already).

Today I abandoned the bayou trail after a few hundred yards and returned to the neighborhood streets. I found running in the middle of the road was really the best way to avoid the slipstream. Cars don’t sneak up on you and they just spew out exhaust fumes – I can handle that, my lungs are used to it.

Oh wait … the mayor is announcing on the radio right now that “County and City Parks will be closing at midnight tonight for the Easter Weekend”.

Maybe I’ll be running in place in the garage tomorrow, or doing laps around our postage-stamp sized garden?

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”  – Lexico.com

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.

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?