Category Archives: Coronavirs Covid-19

Run Past

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I sprinted past the moment, though it didn’t truly exist in the way that things do.

I had looked forward with such intensity and anticipation that it had condensed into an impossibly small point in time.

Because I’m older, I now see that this is how most of us manage the span of our entire lives: increments, milestones, and anticipated moments.

There are labels for this sort of thing. “Futurizing” is one of my favorites.

Though covid fleetingly slows us from careening as carelessly as we once did, even its lesson of mortality will soon enough become a vague memory.

Each of us will step back into the tide of normalcy, whatever that might be, and pace forward.

Birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, achievements, all seemingly without terminus – although undeniably connected by an invisible strand.

I predict we’ll be more feverish postcovid. We’ll collectively feel the pause button click free and begin our mad dash to collect what we thought we missed while the world held its breath. People do not like to feel like they are missing out, even if what they have fills their lives.

Weirdly, I feel that we should take a breath and slow down. Sit and stare. Read and contemplate. Look within and around. We were not prepared, despite having history’s best medicine, technology, and logistics.

Our failure wasn’t external, however.

It lies within us where, in reality, each of us lives.

Trial By Food Court

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“It’s called a Food “Court,” because if you eat at one, it feels like you’ve been to trial and sentenced to eat prison food.”  – X

It was once a thriving place, one that thousands of people a day visited. It’s heyday arrived before the virus. I rarely go there anymore. Looking at the bricks on the outside evokes a “Walking Dead” vibe that is difficult to shake.

Before entering, I noticed the mask signs everywhere. “We proudly require our employees to appropriately wear their masks at all times for your safety” indicated one such sign. I knew well that this couldn’t possibly be true. Even medical professionals start doing stupid things with their masks and protective gear if given enough time to get sloppy.

Like many places, this place added security to ensure that people coming in would wear their masks. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, such public places provide great and literal ‘security theater’ that you can watch from a casual distance. It always provides something to enjoy.

Before the anecdote to follow, I’d like to mention that I did my double-order maneuver. I chose the eatery at the food court and ordered. I stood to the side. Known for its very rapid service, I waited patiently for about five minutes. People picked up their orders. I began to notice that people who ordered after me were getting served. Still, I waited. After ten minutes, I walked up to the counter again. I ordered the same meal I already purchased and paid for. I paid for the second order, too.

As I finished, the cashier who helped me with my first order said, “Hey, did you get your order?” I leaned in and said, “No, so I gave up and just ordered again.” He looked confused. “And you paid again?” I nodded in affirmation. The other two people in front looked at me and then each other, knowing they’d messed fairly spectacularly. A whirlwind of activity then commenced, with each looking at the order-up screen, previous orders, etc. They decided that they’d given my order to another guest. The other guest had said nothing when given the extra order. All the possible guests guilty of such a thing were seated in the food court. I interceded: “While they should have said something, they are blameless. One of you combined the orders and handed it to them. It’s not their fault. I paid twice because I wasn’t upset. Mistakes happen. I don’t want a refund. Just give me my food. By the way, that’s why I call it the Double-Order-Maneuver.” Because this particular thing had obviously never happened to any of them, they were clueless about how to proceed. A minute later, the cashier handed me my bag. “Thanks, Fred,” he said. “My name isn’t Fred. I used a fake name when I order in these places to cut down on communication problems. Obviously, I need to reconsider that tactic. Y’all have a good day and don’t worry about all this.”

I imagine someone had to figure out a way to explain to the manager that a customer gladly paid for the same meal twice.

I sat at a table for two in the food court, watching. There were more people than one would imagine. Several of the eateries in the food court were closed, with a couple barricades permanently. Covid keeps pounding coffin nails into the ones that attempt to survive there.

The kiosk of gumball machines sat forlornly to one side, it’s inventory inaccessible due to the ropes and tape. The piano, once attended by a cheesy but talented pianist, sat covered and forgotten.

A security guard and cleaning tech walked past me on my right. The cleaning tech was furiously gossiping to the security guard, who walked a foot away from her, leaning toward her to catch each word. The cleaning tech’s mask was already below her nose. As they stopped to wipe a table, the cleaning tech pulled her mask down to her chin. Though it seems like an exaggeration, I could see the spittle from her mouth arcing toward the female security guard.

People walked past. The two moved around, still standing close to one another. Whatever vexed the cleaning tech must have been very important. As I was about to circumspectly snap a picture, they moved to another table. The tech angrily pointed at a dropped straw wrapper as she snatched it. I took a picture anyway.

I took out my marker and wrote on a napkin, “Having a mask below your nose, much less below your mouth, is like having no mask at all.” I laid the napkin in the center of the table as I collected my trash. Doubling back, I walked the long way around the food court. By then, two more security people walked up and joined the two gossipers. Another food service worker joined them. Three of them had their masks on incorrectly. I took a picture of the group as they moved along. I noticed a few people were looking at the group with differing amounts of “What are you doing?” written on their faces.

I stood on the other side of a kiosk in the middle of the indoor hallway, watching. In less than a minute, the original security guard and the cleaning tech made their way back to my table. The security guard leaned over and read what I inscribed on the napkin. Her head snapped immediately back up, scanning around her. She then looked incredulously at the cleaning tech next to her, who still had her mask down. I didn’t need to know what was said. The body language might as well have been expressed using nautical flags.

I burst out laughing at the over-reaction. Instinctively, I moved all the way around the kiosk.

I waited fifteen seconds and when I emerged on the opposite side, the female security guard clutched my napkin. Her frenzied gait communicated that she was about to catch the other loitering security people and show them the napkin.

Her time would have been better served to tell the cleaning tech and her fellow security guards to stop walking around without their masks on their faces. This is especially true since it is the essential function of their presence. Barney Fife could keep the potential mayhem at bay without assistance; no one needs multiple security guards milling around asking for trouble.

The security guard pulled her mask completely down as she aggressively explained that someone had left an unwelcome napkin on the table. Naturally, the other guard pulled his mask down, too, possibly in an effort to hear better. It’s a common and stupid tactic that many of us are guilty of when wearing a mask for long periods. (Like we do when we turn down the radio when we’re driving and looking for something.)

In a move that should be noted for posterity, a man standing with the other two guards leaned over and read the napkin. Although I couldn’t hear what he said, he pointed at each of the guard’s faces, then up, then around. I’m sure he was mentioning cameras and people watching. As if on cue, both guards grabbed their masks and yanked them up above their noses.

The original security guard said something angry and crumpled the napkin in disgust.

I laughed again. She crumpled the napkin so theatrically that I couldn’t help myself.

While no one looked toward me, at that point I didn’t care. What were they going to accuse me of? Writing truths on a napkin?

 

 

How Long Is A Piece Of String?

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A lot of thought and solutions are ridiculous. I sometimes get caught up in either the details or see the issue from too far away, so much so that complexity becomes obvious simplicity. In my case, though, I’m not in charge and not being paid to weigh the complexities of moving social issues.

It’s possible to give a completely accurate answer to a question – and sometimes such an answer follows a logical route. It might still avoid addressing the fundamental question, though.

During this pandemic, I encounter several such scenarios on a daily basis. When well-meaning people are involved, it isn’t difficult to point out that the objective and the solution aren’t compatible. With authoritarian or toxic people, we get bogged down into sublimely ridiculous situations, like a Seinfeld episode written by sociopaths.

This pandemic has consistently beaten into my head that adults are not in charge and the ones who make many of the decisions are winging it, often for personal gain.

Completely random and incompatible directives and rules are issued. We collectively scratch our heads, trying to figure out the objective to determine whether the rule is a 10mph speed limit sign on a 6-lane highway at noon on a summer day. Eventually, someone will insist on clarification. Inevitably, we regret it because we’ll get an inscrutable non-answer that helps no one. This leads many people to choose malicious compliance or to continue to do whatever they want to.

Years ago, someone hit me with the riddle of “How long is a rope?”

Given no more information, I surrendered and said insufficient information was provided.

I knew it was going to be a trick answer. The smug look of victory on the guy’s face asking me was evidence of it.

“It’s twice the length from the middle,” he replied. “Gotcha!” He proclaimed.

“Does a fart smell or stink?” I asked him, as I walked away. Because I gave him the same condescending and smug look as he gave me, the question tortured him for a day.

Which leads me to the look of confusion on an expert’s face today. He gave me a stupid non-answer. I immediately reverted to my tried-and-true, “Does a fart smell or does it stink?” I bowed and walked away.

No-Visitor Policies Do Harm

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*Legal note: this is written under the auspices of both employee safety and in the interest of public health and debate. This commentary is almost universally applicable, regardless of geography. The policies I’m complaining about have negatively impacted thousands of lives without furthering our collective public health interests. They piss me off because people don’t understand the implications until they affect them personally. (Which might well be the national motto for the United States.)

Not all healthcare facilities and hospitals adopted a blanket approach, precisely because such policies wrongly isolate patients and reduce the quality of life of everyone involved. To those who properly implemented precautions without simultaneously severing the vital family-patient link, I thank you. Were such a facility nearby, you can be sure that you would be my first option for all healthcare services. The idea that a family cannot interact in person with their family member when they are ill is one of the most abhorrent ideas I’ve dealt with as an adult.

I have serious concerns about the no-visitor policies healthcare facilities adopted when covid made its appearance. Most of these policies weren’t based on science; they certainly went too far. When I see ‘heart-warming’ videos of long-wedded couples communicating through windows, my heart doesn’t melt. It hardens – and against those who insist that isolation in lieu of reasonable precaution is in the public health interest. We allow millions of Americans to wander in public without taking basic precautions. We are not making good decisions as people, as citizens, or as businesses.

Though it says something less than positive about me, the above angers me. It’s not an irritation that can be overlooked. I see the impact that misguided and poorly-executed policies have on real people. Your mom, sister, grandmother, son, daughter, and friend. Now, me.

Perhaps my inside view of how healthcare works discolors my opinion. Healthcare is a mammoth business. We routinely forget that healthcare is at our service. Though it is a business with a mission, it is one that should focus on the human impact of policies. They all say they agree, though when I outline my argument that demonstrates the no-visitor policies to be draconian, their faces harden and they fall back to a “trust us” stance. Failing that, they aggressively insist. After all, they hold our family members hostage inside their facilities. What can we do? Before you think that ‘hostage’ is too harsh a word, I suggest you drop a family member off at an ER without knowing they have policies that endanger your family member and isolate you from them.

Is there any other business you can think of that operates this way? By invoking the label of public safety, they can hide any motive or lack of reasoning in a policy that harms your interests. The fact that not all hospitals adopted blanket no-visitor policies logically indicates that there is strong disagreement among experts. In my case, it was nonsensical.

I did not have a voice in these policies. No family member did. As you’ll see through my emails, my presence in a hospital as a visitor constituted LESS of a risk to hospital staff than even those very hospital workers. One of the dark secrets of our covid response is that we failed to test each and every healthcare worker. Even while we were in Phase I, we didn’t test. Although the state mandated that surgical candidates would have to be tested prior to entry into the hospital, efforts to test healthcare workers at the same level of sensible precautions were stymied. The motive for such decisions probably jumps into your mind in the same manner as it does for everyone else. The public interest would have best been served by universal testing for everyone in a healthcare facility, followed by stringent testing on a scheduled basis thereafter. This can be done without fear of dismantling the healthcare industry. It would, however, make us all safer.

It is true that it would expose the fact that healthcare workers are working while infected with covid. How many might be up for debate but it would be foolish to insist that the answer is ever ‘zero.’ We can’t fix a problem by ignoring huge variables. Even though I’ve said it already, my commentary is couched inside the box of the public health interest. Only the most feeble arguments would stretch to claim that my mentioning it somehow lessens the confidence of our healthcare industry. The industry is staffed by fallible people, as is any other field such as aviation, police, or engineers. People try to do their best. When policies are shown to cause harm, they need to be modified in the same way that ‘best practices’ evolve within healthcare.

Although I intervened in the cases of others when they were fighting hospitals needlessly keeping them at a distance from their loved ones, I knew eventually the policies I loathed would affect me personally. I had several conversations with my wife. During each, I repeated that I’d rather risk a lower chance of survival in exchange for the simple human right to have her visit and watch over me and my care. It is for the same reason I’ve instructed her that I don’t give consent to ever be airlifted anywhere. I trust my local healthcare facilities. I trust them more because proximity increases the chances that people who know me will be able to visit and observe my care. I do not want to ever be in a facility that denies her access to me unless it is a prison. Weirdly enough in the case of a prison, she’d still be able to visit.

Hospitals of course weight varying interests when establishing policy. Covid, though, has caused a lot of decisions to be made with inadequate information or in fear of liability. You, as a family member, are powerless to appeal, threaten, or sue hospitals for their policies.

One of my friends in particular was forced to endure days of being away from her dying husband. She finally was allowed to see him shortly before his death. I think Northwest Arkansas was on the verge of mounting an insurrection had she not been granted access. All those days they were separated were needless and harmed the public interest. Anyone looking at the issue from a wide perspective agrees that blanket no-visitor policies only serve to hurt human beings. They are written to protect hospitals – which already enjoy immunity and liability protection. If you read my emails below, I address the futility and stupidity of these policies that prohibit loved ones from seeing their family.

During those weeks, despite the fact that the policies did not affect me personally, I wrote opinion pieces and contacted as many interested people as I could to object to these horrific no-visitor policies. The silence from those who could have made sensible changes was astonishing. The same was true regarding efforts to test everyone working in healthcare.

My mother-in-law was rushed to the ER. She was suffering from what we presumed to be diabetic shock. We all met at the ER entrance at the hospital. No one was allowed to enter the ER with her, despite her deteriorating condition and her complex medical condition. A State Trooper, complete with gun, badge, and uniform sent a clear message to my sister-in-law that family members were the problem.

My mother-in-law is 80. She sat in a chair unattended for quite a while, getting worse. No one was there to insist they be cautious with fluid intake, insulin, or the other things that were vital to her proper and safe care. My mother-in-law’s inability to have someone there as her advocate and loved one contributed to a level of care that suffered as a result. Now that the moment has passed, the hospital can claim this to be untrue. As we’ve discovered once again with our recent riots and the events that precipitated them, events that are recorded or witnessed are more difficult to excuse away. Prior to covid, one of the best means to improve a patient’s care was to have both companionship and oversight for that patient. Those will diligent family members directly improve and suffer fewer health complications than those who don’t. No-visitor policies have stripped patients of the right to have oversight by those who care for them.

I wrote the hospital through its portal. My goal was to request permission to assist in better care for my family member, as well as provide companionship. I knew that the approaching holiday weekend would increase her isolation. Here’s what I wrote:

“My mother-in-law is in your facility.

I work at another hospital. I’m COVID-negative and get screened each day.

I’d like to know why I am not allowed entry into the hospital to visit my mother-in-law.

She was admitted through the ER without a COVID test. I also know that even though hospitals are testing all elective surgery candidates, they are not testing all employees within the facility.

IF you have a method to allow me to visit, please advise me as to the protocol.

Thanks, X Teri”

Someone wrote back:

 

“Thanks for reaching out to us and I’m sorry your mother-in-law is ill. If you will send your phone number, I can have one of our nursing leaders call you. I’m copying our Interim CNO in case she is able to respond by email but I think a phone call would be easier.
These are certainly tough times for everyone and we are sorry for the pain and inconvenience these temporary policy changes on visitation are causing. As you know, they are in place to minimize risks of patients or staff health being compromised, particularly since many people are asymptomatic before they test positive for covid.”

In short, the above is a “No, you may not visit” response.

The next day, I received a reply from someone else, presumably higher in authority:

“Teri, ____________ copied me on your request to evaluate the possibility of visitation at _______________ hospital. As I am sure you recognize, this is a difficult time, the surge of Covid patients has required administration at our hospital, as well as the region, to place restrictions on visitor access. These efforts are to mitigate any possible exposure to our patient population already managing their illnesses or post surgical recovery.

We have made available to our staff access to ipads or recommended the use of phones to support face time calls and discussions with the nursing and physicians if requested by the identified contact family member to provide additional means of support. Nursing staff are available 24/7 to connect with families.

I can empathize with the challenges this places on families but safety is our priority at this time as we continue to care for our community.

Please reach out to me personally if you have any additional questions or needs.

Thank you for your understanding.”

 

Here is my reply:

 

“Thank you for replying.
 
My first name is X, as unusual as that is. This isn’t a “gotcha” email. Please don’t interpret this email as an attack. I am writing it in one fell swoop to voice my objection and concern.
 
I have a family member in your facility. I know that her initial care was less than desirable due to no one being allowed to accompany her during her initial ER visit. No matter how the issue is characterized, she did not receive the care she could have, precisely because the adopted no-visitor policy prohibited her caregiver or another person from being present. This absence needlessly caused the healthcare workers to lack information that would have affected both the timeliness and effectiveness of her treatment. I don’t expect anyone to enthusiastically agree with my assessment. It is, however, a hard truth – and one supported by the facts.
 
I understand the issues surrounding covid.
 
One of the things that has long puzzled me is that while hospitals pre-test elective surgery patients, we still haven’t tested all healthcare workers.
 
Statistically speaking, we know that we have covid-positive healthcare worker cases. We had the opportunity prior to resuming surgery schedules to test each team member at our local hospitals. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do so.
 
This continues to trouble me greatly as I see families grapple with the ‘no visitor’ policies. I knew it would eventually come around and affect me personally.
 
Knowing that “we don’t know” whether healthcare workers continue to expose patients is an issue that I can’t get around. While I, as a worker in a healthcare facility in Northwest Arkansas, get screened daily, have been tested for covid and follow routine precautions each day, can’t assist in the healthcare of my family member. This disconnect isn’t logical and doesn’t serve my family’s interests or those of public health.
 
While I still would not agree with the visitor policies most hospitals have adopted, I find it illogical that hospitals are not doing everything possible to help our community; such efforts would include testing each and every team member at your facilities. It certainly would allow for those of us in healthcare and who have been tested to be allowed to see our family members.
 
The fact that I’ve been tested when most of your staff has not should be sufficient justification to be allowed to wear PPE and see my family member. Once you see it written that way, it is hard to continue to see fit to disagree with my claim that I should be able to visit my family member.
 
I don’t expect my reasoned response to draw a change of heart for your hospital.
 
I’ve argued against these policies from the day they were implemented.
 
Each of us is exposed and exposes others on a daily basis. It’s true that we might hopefully reduce our involvement, the statistical truth is that we have passed the point of logical precautions.
 
While it might be easier to issue a blanket no-visitor policy, it is one not based on consistent logic or one taking into account the needs of human beings when they are ill.
 
I only wrote back in the futile chance logic would prevail and I’d be allowed to visit my mother-in-law.
 
Absent that, I did not want my silence to be interpreted as agreement with a policy that goes too far and without merit to the extreme of impacting our companionship and oversight of the care our family member might receive.

 

The first person wrote me back, instead of the person higher up. A holiday weekend was approaching. It’s likely the higher-up was off for the holiday.

“X – thank you for copying me on this. I am not a clinician but what you say does make sense to me & I can assure you it will be discussed. In fact, we all know that – in ordinary times – we encourage involvement of family members & other caretakers. ______________ checks email regularly and would encourage you to reach out to her or the house supervisor any time you want to discuss a concern or have a question. Again, I’m sorry for the issues that have led to these temporary very strict policies”

I waited and heard nothing directly about my appeal or request. So, I wrote both of the people I’d heard from:

“I know the holiday probably exacerbated _________’s lack of enthusiasm to attempt a reply to me. I forwarded the email to you because you were the first point of contact for my issue. Each day that passes with rules that force distance between family members is one that cannot be reclaimed.

In your reply, you said something critical to my issue: “…these temporary very strict policies…”

From a family point of view, the policy that prohibits me from seeing my mother-in-law isn’t temporary. It could very well be permanent. I know people who experienced that very issue. They didn’t get the chance to speak face-to-face with their loved ones. They’d entered healthcare facilities without oversight and companionship. And they died in those conditions.

While I objected to these policies when they did not personally affect me, I’m flummoxed to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced them how needlessly draconian they are. Because I have a view from the inside, I know that these policies are blanket policies and do not generally advance the objective of public safety that they purport to. In my case specifically, they only do harm.

I enter a larger healthcare facility each day, get screened, and have been tested for covid. Yet, when misfortune touched my family, I was somehow classified as the general public and denied access to my family member. I’ve been tested for covid, which is far and away more than the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in your facility can say.

Additionally, your healthcare workers live and work in one of the hottest hot spots in the United States. They eat, shop, and move about among a high concentration of people who do not wear masks and do not observe proper social distancing. Your healthcare workers, the ones caring for my mother-in-law, come to work after such exposure each and every day. Even though I work in a similar but different environment, I am lumped in with the general public, despite being tested and despite following protocols when out in public.

It is lunacy to deny me access to my mother-in-law. Factually speaking, I present LESS exposure to your staff and other patients than your own healthcare workers.

It’s easy for me to get preachy in these emails. On the other hand, hospitals are places where people experience tragedy daily.

When people are ill, especially as old as my mother-in-law, there is no such thing as temporary.

The policies you are enforcing might well be permanent in my case. I don’t know how else to say it.

When logic does not intersect with law (and voluntary rules), the effect is that people needlessly are harmed.

If hospitals don’t intelligently and scientifically lift these burdensome and needless restrictions, the same policies may one day befall you and your loved ones.

Again, I didn’t expect a reversal of policy but I honestly hoped that sense, logic, and compassion would prevail.

I’m still waiting. I’m not the first. And it is a further tragedy that I will not be the last.

X”

I haven’t received a reply, of course. Two days have elapsed. I wrote them a final email, after hearing nothing in response.

“Given that I wrote Saturday and did not receive a reply, I am assuming that my emails weren’t bumped up for further consideration? I didn’t know if there was an appeal process or if an edict had been announced that allows for no variance. I know that some patients were allowed visitors in the interim.

I can understand if you would have said, “The matter is closed.” I wouldn’t be happy, but it at least it would have been a final statement.

Since this issue came up for me personally, several people have reached out and provided me with details about other families and how they were dealt with. I have a lot to consider going forward.

Under the assumption that no one will reach out to me again, I’ll close by saying that it was wrong for _____________________ to prevent me from being with my mother-in-law in the ER and thereafter in her room. It’s a policy without logical footing and one which inhibits the public health you’re charged to protect.

Thanks, X”

As with thousands of others, the hospital has artificially and needlessly robbed me of my ability to be with my family member.

Looking at my case specifically, it is a fact that I present less of a risk to patients and staff than the staff members working in the facility do. I can prove I’m not covid positive. I can enter using PPE that eliminates the risk. Meanwhile, staff members caring for patients at the facility that denies me entry are working, shopping, and living in one of the hottest hot spots per capita in the United States. They haven’t been tested. They walk among a community that does not protect itself by wearing masks or social distance at a rational and reasonable level.

They are a bigger risk than I am.

I’m been tested. They have not.

Anyone who doesn’t question these policies hasn’t had the misfortune of watching their family member needlessly suffer.

My mother-in-law moved a few months ago from a remote location to Springdale in part to be closer to medical care when needed. We’ve visited more in the last few months than we have in years. Ironically, hospitals have worsened that wound of isolation by refusing to allow me to see her.

One hundred thousand people die from infections they receive while in healthcare facilities. This was true before covid.

The workers caring for my mother-in-law haven’t been tested, even though it is an obvious step to ensure the public health and employee safety.

Somehow, I’m the problem?

These policies must go. They must be replaced by sensible public policy and hospital rules that take into account the interests of the whole patient.

Test all healthcare workers, both now and on a scheduled timeline.

Allow designated visitors, even if a covid test is required.

Ask patients and visitors to sign a liability form, to address the primary and obvious reason that hospitals continue to abuse their discretion regarding visitors.

Require masks in public.

Or..

Continue to do the same.

.

.

.

P.S. The hospital responded to my appeal request on Friday, days after my mother-in-law was discharged. It’s hard to make this stuff up.

 

 

 

 

I Have A Question

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I’m still waiting for a reasonable, honest answer to this question: why did the State of Arkansas fail to require a Covid test for all healthcare workers?

You’ll note that the Governor goes out of his way to classify correctional carriers and other sectors. Notably absent? Healthcare workers – one of the single most important possible classifications to track.

It has always been in the public’s best interest to ensure that all healthcare workers are tested, yet proposals to do so have been unceremoniously shown the door like a drunken Uncle on New Year’s Eve.

We’re required to get flu shots each year, among other things.

We mandated that non-emergency patients be tested, yet did not conduct a baseline safety test to benchmark how many of the healthcare workers helping them might be carrying the virus.

Knowing how many healthcare workers have the virus would give us insight into the behavior leading to getting it. After all, healthcare workers are presumed to be the most cautious and educated about this sort of public health hazard. Their infection rate leads to immediate recognition of how well what we’re doing is working.

When I point this out to people, they get that recognizable and confused, puzzled look on their faces, the one that immediately indicates that they assumed that sort of thing had happened.

It hasn’t.

This kind of question falls under “public safety and worker safety” guidelines, so I of course am unconcerned about asking such a reasonable question publicly. I’ve asked it at least 500 times in the last two months.

I’m still asking.

It’s the right thing to do, even at this late date.
– X

Maskholes Everywhere

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This picture has nothing to do with the post. 🙂

As I entered Harps, I saw two men milling around without masks or their faces covered. Like most guys at the store, they seemed as if they’d never ventured into a grocery store before.

They looked exactly like you imagine they would. My path intersected a couple of times with them. The younger of the two, a man wearing a black stocking cap, seemed to be aware that his lack of a mask was drawing attention from passersby.

I pulled a plastic sheath of 5 masks from my left back pocket and opened it.

“Would you guys like a mask? No charge.” I stepped closer. I was wearing a mask and social distance didn’t seem to be a factor in their lives. Truth be told, my workplace is much more dangerous than the grocery store, even with people milling around without masks.

The younger guy in the stocking cap stepped and said, “Yeah, thanks!” As he took one from the sheath, it must have dawned on him that his friend didn’t want one.

“Don’t want one, don’t need one,” his older friend said as the other guy took one.

“Mark, you’ve always been a dick, haven’t you?” The younger man said it exactly as a friend would.

“Okay, give me a mask. ” He took one. “Can I have another to shove down my brother’s throat? He never shuts up.”

“You two are brothers? If you don’t mind me saying so, I don’t see the resemblance.” I wasn’t thinking this might sound rude coming out of my mouth.

“Thanks!” the younger man said and we all laughed, even as the older brother punched the younger man’s shoulder.

I handed the younger man the sheath with the other three masks in it.

$5 Is The Price For Happiness

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Hey, Mr. Impersonal Retailer: today, I erased the damage you did to one of your customers.

On the way home, I listened with interest to the NPR story regarding the necessity of human contact, especially in contrast to the demands of the pandemic. Without much thought as to whether I needed to go inside, I pulled into a store. The story was still very much on my mind as I made my meandering way about the store. I wandered like one of Trump’s sentences.

Mr. Magoo helped me at the self-checkout. I had an item that needed approval. I was focused on being kind to him, as Mr. Magoo and I have a storied history. In the past, he upset Dawn a couple of times. He is a fervent follower of the anti-customer credo: “He’s not happy until the customer isn’t happy.” Because of my history with him, I try to remind myself to be as neutral as possible when interacting with him. Without going into specifics, I’ve repaid my debt to him by way of several pranks.

On the opposite self-checkout belt, less than 3 feet across from me, I saw a dark-haired woman quickly step back from her cart. Another cashier, one I often refer to as Mrs. Molasses, had left her customer to approach the dark-haired female customer. If people had floating icons above them, the cashier’s would be a languidly flashing “E for Empty” icon. From the other side, another worker approached, trapping the customer near the belt and between the two employees, both of whom were very close to the customer.

As I’d made a couple of passes through the store, I noted that no one seemed to feel any urgency. I’m not blaming them; I’m just commenting on the overall atmosphere of the store. For whatever reason, I had two employees who seemed to have suddenly acquired an unnatural interest in the female customer across from me. I assumed she was trying to steal something.

They were inside her personal space, despite the coronavirus, despite the floor markings and signs, and despite the fact that they were too close even for precovid society. Regardless of their motivation to be so close, they were ignoring the bigger issue of what prompted the fluid rules regarding purchases in the first place. Whatever triggered their sudden enthusiasm, it caused them to ignore all the social distancing protocols.

The customer had already stepped back. Her body language told me she was upset. To my surprise, Mrs. Molasses admonished the woman for having two cans of Lysol in her cart. The other employee, on the other side of the cart, berated the customer for ignoring the ‘one per customer’ signage. She had two 6-packs of toilet paper. Their tone suggested she had killed a puppy on Aisle 7.

“I’m so sorry, there’s so much toilet paper, even huge packs of 36 rolls. And the Lysol was all on clearance. I didn’t think it mattered,” she said, looking back and forth between the two employees. Her eyes were teary, and her voice sounded alarmed.

I won’t say precisely what one employee said as she grabbed one of the 6-packs from the customer’s cart to put it out of her reach. The other employee grabbed the Lysol from the customer’s cart. The customer cringed and flinched as they did so.

The Lysol can was huge, I’ll admit. It had a clearance tag on it and was marked down to slightly under $5. The 6-pack of toilet paper was much smaller than the 12, 18, or -36 roll packs still on the shelf. I made a pass through the toilet paper aisle during today’s retail adventure.

Regardless, the employees were enforcing the ‘1-per-customer’ rule literally. That the Lysol was marked for clearance or that the woman could have said, “Please exchange my two 6-packs for one 36-pack,” was completely ignored.

It wasn’t what each employee said that mattered, not really. It was their body language and tone. They saw an opportunity to express their authority. I don’t know what prompted them to be so needlessly harsh.

Because the employee grabbed the toilet paper so quickly, I didn’t have time to react to what prompted the tirades. I did, however, have time to say, “Miss, might I have that can of Lysol?” She looked up at me and at the can in her hand. She was weighing telling me “No.” I couldn’t imagine what might be her reason. Instead, she said, “I can’t give it to you. You’ll have to pay for it.”

I bit my tongue, as four or five clever things to say sprang to mind.

“Uh, okay, given the nature of commercial transactions, I’ll offer money in exchange for the can of Lysol.” The employee only grew more confused.I had to spell it out. “Yes, that’s fine.”

It provided the female customer a brief moment to collect herself.

I waited inside the double entrance. I saw Mr. Magoo looking over at me a couple of times, even though I was about fifty feet away. I think he knew what I was up to.

In a couple of minutes, the female customer who’d been accosted approached.

“Ma’am, I bought this fine large can of Lysol and suddenly realized I no longer need it. I’d like to give it to you as a gift, if you don’t mind.” I probably sounded crazy, especially since I was wearing my mask.

The woman reached out and took it. “Why, thank you. This means a lot.” She trailed off, uncertain of what to say.

I jumped in. “I apologize for the way those employees treated you. If they’re so interested in safety, they’d require everyone to wear masks. And everyone noticed how they invaded your personal space at the register. That was uncalled for. They are officially on my prank list.”

The woman’s eyes teared up. She was about to cry.

“I can’t thank you enough. I don’t know what to say,” she told me.

“Then say nothing and have a good day. Put those assholes out of your mind and focus on the people doing it right.”

Way behind the customer, I could see Mr. Magoo gesticulating in dismay to one of the employees. It was obvious he was communicating that I bought the female customer the can of Lysol. I waved and smiled. Perversely, I hoped that Mr. Magoo would make the mistake of trying to approach me and reprimand me for doing the horribly unjust thing of buying a can of Lysol for another person. He’s learned the hard way that I am very unpredictable.

The female customer and I left the store, both now happier than when we’d entered.

It cost me $5.

I’m not sure how close to edge the female customer was before I intervened.

When she left, I knew she was happier and that what I’d done had lightened her mood drastically.

Let’s face it: that’s often a difficult feat.

X

Nothing To See Here, Just Commentary

The absurdity of some people is astonishing. Earlier in the day, I entered a popular non-essential store. Not a single person wore facial protection. Most didn’t pretend to observe safe distancing. My post isn’t about that, though. At best, such stores have shown a compliance rate of 1 in 5.

It’s about the huge store packed with people. Outside, a disinterested man stood stoically and tapped his tablet as each person entered and exited. The stacks of carts were marked “Disinfected,” even though I could see that they hadn’t been. Human boredom and lack of interest had caught up with the process. It’s only natural. The guy collecting empty carts was doing so without any PPE, and pushing the dirty carts into the holding area. I watched as he started a new line and pushed it all the way through to where the customers could grab them. The zombie hitting his tablet observed him doing it, but said nothing. Customers would assume that the signs saying “Disinfected” were in fact clean. They weren’t. I said nothing because this store does not welcome commentary.

Inside, signs were everywhere, warning of the necessity of maintaining social distancing and practicing safety first. About 1 in 4 or 5 wore facial protection, including employees. A customer stood 2 feet away from the deli attendant, leaning over to within a foot. Neither flinched as they engaged in an animated conversation. Along the back, where the slaughtered animals lay packed in small packages, a woman with a small girl in her cart passed, coughing openly and without a facial covering – and without bothering to cover her mouth.

At one of the registers, the clerk wore gloves. She used the same pair of gloves across customers, touching their groceries, coupons handed to her, as well as reaching over to handle their cards and press buttons on the self-pay kiosk at the station. She handled cash, handing it across without sanitizing her hands. The customers were mostly doing the same.

Waiting for my wife, I watched the behavior of both employees and customers. Other than the number of signs, it was no stretch to imagine we were back to normal. I could make a list of no-nos. You get the idea, though.

Waiting in line, I noted the blue tape on the floors, spaced 4 feet apart. (Not 6) Of the customers ahead of us, 1 wore a mask. None of the others did. I watched our cashier handle things handed to her by the the customer. The cashier handed one back and then put her fingers inside her mask and pulled it down, then run the back of her left arm across her face and nose. She reached back up and pulled the mask up as the customer handed her more items. A manager was called as the light flashed above. The cashier pulled her mask down again, hooking her fingers inside her mask. She wiped her hand across her face again. The manager pulled her mask down and handled the same items handed over by the customer. She leaned in and repeated herself a few times. Her face was 2 feet from the customer and even closer to the cashier, whose mask was down. They finally figured out the coupons and how to ring up the items separately. She pulled her mask back up and left.

I began to load my things on the conveyor. The cashier didn’t throw a separator on the belt. I moved around within the 4 foot sections of tape. “Sir, can you move back?” the cashier hissed at me. “Yes, of course,” I replied as I retrieved the separator and moved back around, shaking my head at the stupidity of her focus.

In the next line back, a woman with a small boy was simultaneously hollered at by the cashier. I had seen them twice earlier in the store. At one point, the woman carefully reminded the boy to keep his distance to avoid touching things.

The people currently at the cashier weren’t wearing facial protection. The cashier pulled her mask down by putting her gloved fingers inside her mask and hollered, “Move back!” The woman apologized. The man behind her, fed up with the charade the store offered, cursed and said, “Just check the f%%% out already. No one is covering their face and you’re sticking your fingers inside your mask and using the same gloves on everyone, so what exactly are you doing correctly?” Stunned, that cashier went back to work. The woman with the small boy, although embarrassed, nodded in appreciation to the man. Note: when the man reached the register where the other cashier had hollered, he politely asked her to use sanitizer on her gloves before handling his groceries. She reluctantly complied.

My cashier kept looking over her shoulder, trying to get a good look at the man who had admonished the other cashier, even as she checked out my items. I had no doubt she was going to say something mean to him. I made eye contact with her to let her know it would be wise for her to say nothing. Had she done so, I was going to say something that would have really angered her. While she checked us out, I observed her reach inside her mask twice and scratch her face. I knew she had barked at me because she was unhappy that someone required her to wear a mask. It’s easy to bark at customers. It’s a mistake to bark at those of us who’ve made the extra effort.

The entire store is a testament to the folly of viral safety. Though there practices and protocols in place, the people who are supposed to enforce them don’t. I observed employees without masks, employees failing to wipe carts (as promised), stick their fingers in their masks, constantly pull them down, stand much to close to both one another and customers, wear gloves across multiple people, fail to use sanitizer on hands/gloves, and handle items across the customer-employee barrier.

Two weeks ago, I (correctly) predicted there would be an increasing rush to back away from isolation protocols.

I’ve witnessed the push grow. Stores here in Arkansas are great places to observe customers and see whether they think the protective measures should be followed. Lowes, Home Depot, furniture stores, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and many grocery stores have driven home the observation that our compliance rate was always low.

I’m out in the world everyday and have been since the virus started. My job requires me to be out in it.

Even before the virus, I had many problems with people in my profession failing to practice basic contact precautions. Even with the virus, I’ve continued to witness what can only be called ongoing stupidity.

I’m not making a case for whether our protocols are warranted, or even that I know the answers. I’ve many instances of perplexity in confusion as I watched employers and public institutions wing it as the virus made its demands.

I am saying, though, that our single biggest problem is that we’re more committed to the idea of safety theater than actual safely. Human sloppiness will always derail our efforts to protect the public safety.

It’s always been that way. And always will.

Proper safety costs money. It costs effort. And most of all, it requires consistency.

Saturday Morning Notes

 

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-I’m an expert stylist now, apparently. Dawn surprisingly asked for my assistance doing her hair, including hair color. Given my prank-to-seriousness ratio, you think alarm bells would have prevented her from such a suggestion. The social distancing period is a great time to find out what works and what doesn’t. Keep your fingers crossed. We don’t own any firearms, so the odds of me surviving are good.

-My humble cousin wrote a fabulous nostalgia story about my grandma. Thousands of people have read it and rightfully loved it. Granda would shake her head at our modern foolishness but would also appreciate the love that echoes in the story. Grandma survived a tornado that demolished my original small town, as well as the great depression, multiple wars, and men in general. I’d do anything to sit in her living room in the cloud of bacon smell and listen to her take on the world we see outside.

-Tempering the joy I’ve had watching my cousin and another fellow writer realize their gifts, my trollish alcoholic relative made his return. I had to learn some new website management skills to eradicate his footprint. I’ve had to blacklist ip addresses and multiple email accounts, as well as turn off automatic comments in places where it will be a hindrance to other people connecting with me. You’d think that needing to make multiple identities would trigger a bell of caution in someone’s mind. That’s what alcoholism does. It blinds people to the harm they’ve inflicted. They build impossible narratives to reshape their role as one of victim instead of perpetrator. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t see himself in the way that those around him do. I can’t change him – and neither can they. I make an effort to avoid needlessly embarrassing him, despite his trail of angry words. I make no mention of him to family and friends. They just know I’m struggling to find a way forward with an anonymous family member who insists on control, anger, and a dedication to drink. During the last blog blitz, the person in question posted some outrageously offensive words, including an implication I’d murdered someone. He probably doesn’t realize I kept screenshots of each incident of nuttiness and hate. I don’t look at the folder containing it, as each piece is a roadmap to mental decline that should have been avoided. He still rewrites history even though everyone involved compared notes and realized that the issue wasn’t us; rather, it was an addiction that went untreated and festered. I can’t imagine cursing at someone via text more than once, or haranguing anyone, much less a family member, after being asked to stop. The anger would signal to a rational person that moving on or radio silence would best serve everyone. While I don’t wish him a lesser life, I long for a sustained silence and the absence of his needlessly erratic finger to no longer pierce the bubble of my better life. Distance is the best gift he can provide; my own monkeys and circus require my vigilance. My wish to have a life devoid of alcoholism is mine to make. I wasted too many years allowing the pathology of alcoholics to bend me. Worse, I cannot pretend otherwise.

–Note: Since I already wrote a novel during revision of the above paragraph… I don’t live a life with drama or those suffering addictions. In my world, the normal one, those with issues get help and we help them get it. People exhibiting angry behavior don’t stay in our orbit. It’s bad for everyone. Allowing the person with behavior issues to drive the car is pure lunacy. As for my relative, it was painful trying to distance myself again after years of needless strife he put between me and anyone in his inner circle and those who knew his secret. It didn’t have to be that way. He could have gone to rehab more than once. He could have stopped drinking. Once we started talking again, it took an accidental conversation with someone close to him to realize that not only had the addiction taken control of his life, but that he was actively campaigning to create differing fantasy worlds depending on who he spoke to. We’d all been “had,” so to speak. It was a crushing discovery. I didn’t recover from it. In the midst of it, I felt an immense pain for the people around him. I know firsthand the darkness that angry addiction conceals. The person I once knew was gone in spirit, leaving a resentful and angry man bent on maintaining his addiction. All of us pay. I can’t do it. I tried.

-My in-laws are finally settled in Springdale. I’m going to miss the horrible drive to the middle of nowhere. Having them so close to the things we take for granted is going to improve substantially all of our lives. I’m certain. I’m jealous of their house. It isn’t new, but I would pay a hefty price to swap neighborhoods with them.

-While next week might provide the anticipated kick in the nether regions for my daring to say it, returning to work after a bit of an absence was weirdly comforting. The day started with a bit of amusement. A knee-high black and white dog ran into the dock entrance. (It was of the good-boy breed, obviously.) Although there was a covid screening table staffed with vigilant people, the happy canine ignored the quarantine lines and admonitions. We all stopped, happily petting the dog, and giving it the good boy love he deserved. Once one of the volunteers had him back outside, he again madly dashed back inside as I started to turn the corner out of sight. I laughed harder than I have in a while. Even though I only missed three days of actual work, something substantial had shifted in that interim.

-The same is true out in the world in general. The mood shifted, too. Whether it’s advisable or not, I’ve noted a trend that brought more people back out. Whether it is crisis fatigue or attributable to misinformation, people are simply looking at the pandemic differently. The inevitability has hit a threshold of some sort. It is difficult to explain. It’s observable, though. Those of us who are essential and exposed to a large cross-section of the population see it increasing each day. If you’ve heard that essential personnel and those who simply couldn’t self-isolate look at this crisis in a markedly different way, it is the truth. This pandemic has segregated our perspective on it and its effects going forward.

-Though this prediction is not scientific, I predict we will emerge from isolation sooner than what is recommended. The things I’ve witnessed by being in the medical field have shaped me in ways that I’m still thinking about. I predict that the patterns emerging will determine our future resolve to follow the same blueprint. Along with a prediction of emerging from isolation sooner, I predict that the solidarity in resolve so many had at the onset of this virus will not sustain to the next pandemic. Again, these are not things I’m comfortable with. The trends are observable, though.

-I hope everyone who had the chance took time to sort through their old photos, the ones collecting dust in forgotten places. The people who preceded us need an occasional nod to reinvigorate us. Share those pictures with everyone you can.

See The Silver Lining Of The Pepperoni

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The belt in the picture tells the story of healthier eating since February 1st.

I’m officially adding two words to my vocabulary: precovid and postcovid. We will need words to divide our lives easily into instantly recognizable periods. Both ‘precovid’ and ‘postcovid’ serve that purpose. Everyone can understand their meaning without explanation. All of us recognize the truth of the two words. “Remember before?” will be one of our go-to phrases in the ‘after’ of this.

My wife bought me a new belt last year. I don’t use it because it’s rigid and lacks the comfort of my old one. It’s also wider and feels like I stole Hulk Hogan’s WWE belt. Not that anyone missed it, but I’ll take comfort any day over the options of style, fashion, or common sense.

When I started, I had no way of knowing that the pandemic would hit. Once it did, it eerily served as a replacement for the therapy rubberband that many people use for behavior modification. Looking at the underlying conditions contributing to COVID told me, “Hey you, dumbass!” And not politely.

I’ve read a bunch of commentary in the last few weeks about people increasing in weight and girth because of being isolated. My case reflects the opposite. I’m not trapped at home. My job places me right in the beast’s barrel, so to speak. Even when I’m too tired to fuss over ‘what’ I’m going to eat, I’ve so far resisted “the call of the pepperoni.” As you might guess, I love a bathtub full of chips and salsa.

Despite my previous bitching and moaning about Walmart in the precovid days and their hateful self-serve kiosks, Walmart (and Harps too), has been an unforeseen blessing. I don’t give my praise begrudgingly; they deserve it. It hasn’t been perfect. But their presence has made life drastically easier for many of us, whether we’re isolated or at liberty due to being essential.

Please throw this praise into my face once we’re past the crisis and I return to my hobby of freelance bitching and moaning.

As the particulars of the epidemic mounted, I often looked at my weight and nervously shook my head. I’ve had a dozen chances to lose enough to determine if my blood pressure would no longer require medication. I’ve lacked the wit or will to make it so. That’s on me. Pepperoni and starches are my mortal enemy. My wife and I still have 400+ assorted candy bars in a closet. I’ve eaten none of them. However, my previous failures to stop hurting myself by overeating continue to be my burden.

I haven’t eaten from the cafeteria at work since the beginning of January. Most often, my breakfast, which I tend to eat between 5 and 6 a.m., consists of a can of green beans, tomatoes, or soup. It’s the spices added that add the delight.

From there, I’ve resisted the pull of fast food. There have been exceptions, but even then, I’ve relented from filling my cavernous yaw like a dump truck.
I had Pizza Hut one night, but ordered my favorite, one which sounds terrible to sensible people: thin crust, no cheese, minimal sauce, no meats. With 10 different spices and sauces. You’ll I know I’ve lapsed into sadomasochism is you see me attempting to eat Dominos; or rather, the box it comes in. Studies have shown that Dominos pizza isn’t actually food.

I’m waiting for the enchanted umbrella of consistency to slip off my shoulders. I know myself too well.

We all see the reminders to see the good, find those who are helping and try to peer into the ether to see benefits from our inescapable calamities. Mine is this: the virus was a knock on my front door. Let’s see if the lesson is transitory or lasting in my case.

P.S. I’m not bragging. It’s dangerous, because tomorrow might bring new challenges that derail me. For example, someone might give me a truckload of potato chips, pepperoni, or pasta.