In a meditation group yesterday, the introductory inquiry was to share one thing about our bodies that we appreciate or are grateful for (this inquiry was followed by an ‘affectionate body scan’ meditation). Responses included among others the ability to see, hear, move around; to taste, breathe, stretch, and heal. I’m grateful for all those aspects of this living, breathing, largely functional body that I both am and inhabit: In short, I’m grateful my body is above the ground.
We all know there are infinite and unfathomable threats to the health and well-being of our precious physical bodies out there in the world, and also hiding quietly within our very selves. I am frequently astonished to learn of a new way some unanticipated internal event can potentially kill me. I remember to this day the first time I heard of an aneurysm when I was an early teen. I heard of a new way our bodies can betray us just the other day, but fortunately cannot remember what it was. So I’ve been thinking about health the past couple of days more than usual, and want to share two links that came to my inbox that made an impression.
The first is an interview by Eric Topol, cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine, speaking with Chris Van Tulleken, an infectious disease physician-scientist in the UK’s National Health Service, about his staggering research into ultra-processed food (that isn’t food), its global health ramifications, and the political machinations that keep increasing its pernicious influence. It’s well worth the 47 minute listen.
The second is an article reporting compelling research that having Covid-19 increases CV risk, which is the risk of having heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease. The virus “directly infects atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries, producing a persistent inflammatory response.” This is big news, and another excellent reason to take this virus seriously and make a concerted effort to not get it.
Speaking of heart attacks, I really should take a break from the cheese sandwiches. Today I had to make an emergency veggie Philly cheesesteak. It’s my first ever and I didn’t have time to do it right, so I melted the cheese on the bottom half of the bun while I finished up sautéing onion, pepper, and mushrooms, and slathered the top bun with ranch dressing. It was delicious!
And we were blessed with another mild day and just enough sunshine to eat another lunch outside. I’m taking advantage of every opportunity. The sun shone on us as clouds rolled in to the south and darkened to the north. While I mourn the loss of lives in all the tragedies large and small across the globe today, I remain grateful for the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of another day above the ground for this body.
I am continually frustrated with the load of ‘cordwood’ that I paid a lot of money for last fall, despite my best effort to let go. Every time I load wood into the trolley to bring it inside I get an opportunity to practice acceptance and equanimity. Every time I load up the woodstove with half a dozen or more hand-sized ‘logs’ which happens about every hour or two, I get an opportunity to practice acceptance and equanimity. It’s not so much that I mind the extra work of having to fill the stove so very often: It’s keeping me warm, after all wood is wood. What I mind is having paid so very much money for such tiny scraps of wood. So very much of the wood is actually mill scrap. These were supposed to average 14″ long and 3-4″ diameter, that’s what I paid for.
But like my friend Peter used to say, “Oh well.” I can still practice gratitude, noting that I won’t run out of firewood this winter, that there is a kind helper who brings it down to the house for me, that I have a house, that I have a good stove and chimney. No matter what our challenges, if we are paying attention we can always find something to be grateful for. I have the added gratitude of a good recliner, and sufficient leisure in a day to spend some time in it reading, with a cozy blanket, and a sweet companion.
I’m grateful that there are people who read this blog and when it doesn’t show up they sometimes check on me to make sure I’m ok. For you, I want to let you know that I’m working on a big project for the next several weeks, and will be posting less often than usual. It doesn’t always take a lot of time to post, but I like to give it a hundred percent attention when I do it, and I won’t have that available at the end of every day for awhile. Thank you so much for your attention, responses, and affection. I’ll be here as much as I can this coming month, but not every day. I’m grateful for break time.
Wishing everyone peace and ease on this third anniversary of WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 as a “public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).” WHO reiterated that designation today, stating that the world “cannot afford to be complacent” at the same time they seem poised to succumb to the same ennui as most Americans. Oh well. Not my job.
I’m so grateful for this mindfulness path. Some days the challenges are small, some days larger; some days easier to navigate, some days harder. But it’s always good to have some awareness of what is actually going on, what is real, versus what’s all in my head. Today gave me plenty of opportunities to practice.
Today’s guidance in the Mindful Life Community was about going beyond forgiveness to having compassion for those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is hard enough for me, much less compassion for those who have wronged me, even long ago, without an apology or accountability. But tonight’s Mindfulness in Recovery meeting, where we discussed the guidance, opened my heart to remind me how ego lies at the root of resentment, and opened the door to finally forgiving, and even having compassion for, that crazy bitch who stole from me and the state, and let my house fill with mouse shit, when she was supposedly tending it for me during my mother’s decline and death. Does it sound like I’ve forgiven her? It’s hard, but I’m getting there. I’ve made some pretty awful mistakes too.
Why was I even thinking about her? Today’s Mindfulness Activity was “to reflect upon some people or situations that you may be resentful of. Try to step back and identify the suffering that gave rise to it. Can you find it in your heart to forgive? Can you find it in your heart to be compassionate? Can you give yourself permission to heal? As you go about your day, try to be aware of how your outer actions are reflective of your inner states. See if you can recognize this in yourself and others.”
I had plenty of time to reflect on people or situations I may be resentful of as I drove to the dentist and home again this afternoon. I was anxious about going to the dentist because of potential covid exposure, and my anxiety was well-founded. There were absolutely no covid precautions in place: no signage even suggesting voluntary masks, no masks on staff, no hand sanitizer on the counter. There was a large, older gentleman in the waiting area, unmasked, and I sat as far as possible from him, but that didn’t make me feel any better when he coughed without even covering his mouth. Then I heard one of the unmasked staff beyond the counter also cough. The tech who led me back masked when I asked her to, and the tech who did the x-ray came in masked because I’d asked; the dentist of course was masked for his protection but when he pulled down his mask to talk to me–I felt his breath on my face–I got that static in my head and took a long while to figure out that it was okay to ask him to keep it on for my protection. Just in time for him to leave the room.
I am having second thoughts about pursuing a crown with this office. Yes, the middle-case scenario is what’s prescribed, not a filling (best-case) or a pull (worst-case), but a crown. (This is not the kind of crown I want.) But I’m grateful for the technology and the expertise to repair a tooth, despite the sticker shock from the price tag.
I was grateful that staff were willing to mask when asked, and some were even pleasant about it, but the general lack of awareness and concern for at-risk patients appalled me. Any medical office should have hand sanitizer on the counter. Any medical staff should be masked when they interact with any patient, or at the very least, when a patient comes in masked anyone who interacts with that patient should automatically put on a mask when they see that the patient is masked. I get that I’m on the fringe where I live, that people in this county are done with covid, but as Eric Topol wrote just last week in the Washington Post, the coronavirus is not done with us. I’m grateful for access to newsletters from leading researchers, analysts, and medical professionals, including Topol, and public health professor Dr. Leanna Wen, whose email today addressed the plight of a woman whose husband is immunocompromised with stage 4 kidney disease.
“For millions of Americans who are immunocompromised or who live with someone who is, it extremely difficult to live in a country where most people no longer see covid as a threat. The same is true for elderly Americans who are more vulnerable to severe outcomes and those who simply wish to avoid the potential consequences of infection, including long covid.” (from The Checkup With Dr. Wen: We need to do more to assist the immunocompromised 01.12.23)
Dr. Wen agrees with this woman’s policy prescriptions, which include this proposal, so relevant to my experience today: “Masks should be required in medical or dental situations until and unless covid becomes much less of a threat to those who are at risk. Many at-risk people already skip necessary medical and dental appointments due to fear of contracting covid, and optional masking in these venues only makes matters worse.”
All in all, at the end of the afternoon as I drove home, my nerves felt frayed. I chose to turn my attention to some healthful comfort food once I got home, and calmed myself, indeed practiced the skill of relaxation, by cooking this delicious red lentils with butternut squash and tamarind paste.
The dish came together and simmered until dark, when I sat down with one bowlful, and then another. Grateful for food, grateful for teeth, grateful for another full day of practice and living fully.
Today I’m grateful for all the usual things: waking up alive, a morning with a festival of clouds, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with potato chips for lunch–so simple, so delicious. I’m grateful that I know how to make bread, and learned to let it cool overnight before slicing–these were pretty thick! It was too soft still warm to slice thinner. Grateful that I know how to make jam, which couldn’t be easier. I’m also grateful today for meaningful interactions with many people.
Kudos to Kelli at the clinic for giving me an absolutely painless injection, and she was kind enough to come out to my car to do it, though I was planning to go inside. I’m grateful I brought an attitude of ease and interest rather than fear or resistance; it led to a good conversation about the local Covid surge, and us each giving just a bit more kindness and attention to the other than two strangers needed to. I dropped off some cookies with friends I haven’t seen in person for awhile, and enjoyed a cautious stroll in the sun. We also talked about Covid, as well as efforts to save our local library, an essential community resource. There were some text and phone connections, and I’m grateful to have spent a couple hours in mindful conversation with my Foundations class that’s about to graduate next week. The day wrapped up with a spontaneous zoom cocktail with Amy, always a warm fuzzy.
Throughout the day, though, there was something niggling in my mind. A number of people have told me recently, in talking about Covid, “We’re moving on with our lives.” There’s a very subtle perspective in there, an implication I’m inferring, that disturbs me a little bit, and I’ve been trying to tease out what that’s about. Whether I read it in an article, hear it in an interview, or hear it face to face (usually prefaced by “I respect your precautions, but…”), there’s an implied judgment, an unflattering comparison. As though I, and people like me who are still taking Covid precautions seriously, are stuck–as though we are not ‘moving on with our lives’ but frozen in time, frozen in fear, frozen in some lesser state than those who proclaim that Covid is over for them.
It seems to me that many of them are not moving on in any way, but have simply gone backwards to living the same way they did in their pre-pandemic lives. No shade intended… but also there’s no need to be smug about it, or think it’s a superior way to live to those of us who have made substantial changes in our lives. In many ways my life is more satisfying than it’s ever been; in some ways more limited. It’s complicated. But I’ve definitely been moving on with my life these past few years in a positive direction. Lots of people reassessed during the pandemic and chose to move on with their lives in meaningful ways: to leave unfulfilling jobs, to work from home or to move, to simplify their lives; chose to explore other aspects of life’s many riches besides ‘business as usual,’ the paradigm btw that got us into the climate crisis in the first place. For awhile there, the Earth itself enjoyed a reprieve from the impacts of our collective human lifestyle, although that, too, is complicated. Ironically, the 8 billionth human was added to the current global population this week. The minority of humans, those of us who suffer largely from ‘First World problems,’ really do need to figure out a new way to move forward–as this pandemic proceeds, as climate chaos increases, as our interconnectedness simultaneously deepens and frays–rather than simply going back to business as usual.
I’m grateful for all the doctors and other scientists who continue to research the many facets of Covid-19. This diagram is from Eric Topol’s newsletter a week ago, delineating the number of new variants as of November 3 that have multiple convergent mutations. Note that at least ten of these variant families are resistant to prophylactic Evusheld, and/or monoclonal antibodies currently used to treat Covid. Some days Topol, who is among other things a professor of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute, offers good news in his daily Covid update, and some days not so good news. In one report this week he cites research suggesting that Paxlovid treatment for acute Covid significantly reduces the incidence of subsequent Long Covid. On the flip side, he cites another study indicating that “a 2nd or 3rd infection is associated with worse acute and post-acute (Long Covid) outcomes than not having a reinfection.” I don’t pretend to understand the statistics, charts, and graphs he cites, but I do understand the plain English of his interpretations.
I’m grateful that the top scientists in the world continue to take seriously the threats to public health from this virus. Most authorities on the subject concur that this pandemic is far from over. I’m saddened to see so many in my community sickened with Covid right now, and disillusioned to see almost everyone I know dropping precautions right and left. When I share my concerns with friends in explaining my ongoing vigilance, they offer polite but insubstantial sympathy. I’ve been crystal clear since March 2020 that I have no intention of getting Covid and absolutely do not want to be exposed to it. I’ve shared with my close friends that I already suffer chronic pain (most likely from a previous infection of an unknown virus thirty years ago); that another virus laid me low for nearly two years after an acute attack of vertigo that prevented normal functioning for six months; that I already have enough trouble breathing (even before the COPD diagnosis and being on night oxygen). My life is already hard enough. I don’t bitch about it here, or much anywhere. Instead I celebrate the good and the beautiful that helps me enjoy this one life, one precious day at a time. But I’m laying it on the line tonight.
For almost three years, I’ve asked people to respect my precautions and accept my protective isolation, and for the most part they’ve been willing and supportive. Some have been kind enough to do my grocery shopping regularly this whole time. I had a heartwarming conversation with a friend on Tuesday morning in which she assured me that people would be happy to honor any guidelines I might lay out before connecting with me. I pointed out that a) I’ve already been clear about my guidelines, and b) I don’t have any right to ask people to change their behaviors just to come near me. But I do have the right to protect myself by limiting my potential exposure with ‘informed consent.’ It’s like avoiding an STD: just let me know where you’ve been and with whom, and then I can decide how close I want to get to you. Ironically, at the time of that conversation, I had no idea that I’d been potentially exposed the day before.
I sense my friends are getting tired of me–I’m an extremist, an outlier. I sense my community, like much of the world, has decided they’re over Covid even if it’s not through with them–we’re in a hyper-local mini-surge here these days: everyone I talk to knows someone who has Covid right now–as one by one they drop their previous precautions like masking in the grocery store, or refraining from large gatherings, or traveling, or so many more. Perhaps they’ve surrendered to the inevitability of catching it, or the presumption of immunity. Or they’ve had it and “it wasn’t that bad.” Or they assume that because people they know who’ve gotten Covid have said “It’s like the flu,” that they’ll be sick for a few days and then be fine. But not everybody is fine: Covid still kills nearly 400 Americans everyday and they’re not all old and riddled with co-morbidities. And the parallel pandemic of Long Covid is revealing horrifying neurological and other systemic breakdowns occurring in millions of people, including an appalling rate of suicides by people whose brains just quit working. Check out this video featuring Yale Immunobiology Professor Akiko Iwasaki.
Or read this article in Time about neurological symptoms in Long Covid sufferers. While I’ve been super cautious, I’ve chosen to take a few risks during these pandemic years, largely to get healthcare for me or my pets. I can’t control everything: I need surgery for skin cancer next month. I’ll be in a closed building with plenty of other people with no mask requirements for hours under the knife. In this case the risk of cancer spreading outweighs the risk of the virus. Tough choices. I’ve figured (another naive assumption) that if I survived acute Covid, and ended up with Long Covid, at least I’d have the skills to handle prolonged fatigue, chronic pain, brain fog, and the other symptoms I’d read about–I’ve had plenty of experience with those already, plus now I’ve got mindfulness. Then I learned of a particular suicide that raised the question of the limits of the practice, and opened the door to deeper understanding of the dire realities of Long Covid. My budding complacency was shattered. Any temptation to lower my risk threshold evaporated. I’m grateful I enjoy being a hermit.
A friend was supposed to come visit tomorrow, and I’ve been really looking forward to it, tidying up the patio and everything. I was so sad when she called today to let me know she’d been potentially exposed to Covid, and tomorrow will be too soon to know whether she’s gotten infected. We had an open-hearted conversation about details and timeline, about risks and possibilities, and all with good cheer and understanding, we concluded it would be best if she doesn’t come. Better safe than sorry! We’ll visit another time, when there are no heavy questions hanging overhead. I am so very grateful for her honesty and integrity in broaching this uncomfortable issue. There are people I know who, given the uncertainties involved, might well have simply made a decision to come anyway without giving me all the information. Where Covid is concerned (as well as with just about any other scenario I can imagine) honesty is the best policy for me. I am always grateful for honesty, even if it means I’m disappointed.