That new mask smell.

There’s nothing like the smell of a new mask every morning. Now that the PPE shortage is over, our instructions have changed from “wear a mask as long as you possibly can, and protect it with a face shield at all times” to “get a new mask every day and face shields are strongly recommended but not required.” This is still not the same as the pre-COVID standard where a mask was never worn with more than one patient and was disposed of upon leaving the room. A year ago we were wearing the same mask for months.

The protocols haven’t changed otherwise. I still wear hospital-issued scrubs that I change out of before I leave the building and that are laundered by the hospital. I still wear a fresh isolation gown and gloves for each patient. I wear a PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator) with COVID patients and a mask the rest of the day. If you watch Grey’s Anatomy, those doctors are all wearing PAPRs – except theirs are so loose you could stick your hand between the hood and their cheek and theirs aren’t turned on. We also don’t wear microphones inside of ours. And they never seem to sanitize them – it would slow the narrative to watch them spend minutes after every patient wiping everything down.

Each patient in the non-COVID parts of the hospital is now allowed one visitor – not one visitor at a time, or one per day, but the same one person. In rare circumstances they can change that person. It is odd to see visitors after so many months without them. In the COVID units there are no visitors.

I just finished another tour of duty in the COVID unit. The census is down considerably. This time it was just me and I still saw a few of my regular patients. Last time it was three of us full time. Each time I go there I learn something new, or see first hand what I’ve read about.

I saw a long-hauler – someone with symptoms that just won’t go away, and who continues to be sick and test positive months after the initial infection. They haven’t been in the hospital the whole time, as the illness waxes and wanes. I saw incidental findings – asymptomatic people whose infection was discovered on hospital admission when they came in for something else. I saw a COVID denier who can’t explain why he has a persistent cough and shortness of breath but he is sure it isn’t COVID because that’s fake. He can’t explain why he can barely make it from the bed to the chair with two of us helping, or why he is incontinent. He wants to go home because he thinks this is all our fault and he’d be fine if we just let him go home. He hasn’t really thought through how he’d get there, or even into the car. Is this thinking disorder a COVID symptom, or is this a manifestation of the same thought process that led him to thinking the whole think is a conspiratorial hoax?

I had another COVID dream last night; like the universal dream of finding yourself somewhere in public naked or in your underwear. In my version I find myself somewhere without a mask. The potential consequences are much worse than embarrassment.

COVID dreams

From what I hear, everyone has had a dream in which they find themselves naked in a public place (and at school forgetting their locker combination, or sitting for an exam in a course they never attended…). For me, one of them is delivering newspapers and not remembering if I’m supposed to deliver to a particular house. (With over 100 to remember and it being 50 years ago, plus many of the houses along the lake being torn down and replaced, you’d think my sleeping self would cut me some slack.)

A co-worker asked the other day if anyone had had the dream where you find yourself in a restaurant without a mask. I said, “Oh, yes! You have too?” She asked if others in the dream were wearing masks and I said, “No, that was the scary part! A whole restaurant full of people without masks, even when we weren’t eating!”

Her dream was the same – a restaurant full of maskless people, and we tried to find a way to get out safely. A new pandemic nightmare. How about you? Have you had this dream or another recurring pandemic nightmare? Tell us in the comments.

Thanks to those who have donated to The Ride for the Carbone Cancer Center, including fellow bloggers California Alps Cycling and A Midnight Rider.

Daylight Losing Time

Just when it is getting light enough to ride to work both ways without lights, it is time to set our clocks ahead by an hour, plunging me back into darkness every morning on the way to work. Are we in GMT -6 hours, or not?

Groundhog Day/That Was the Year That Was

In these parts, they claim that if the groundhog sees his shadow (Feb 2, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox in the northern hemisphere), we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter – which is the amount of astronomical winter remaining (duh). A cloudy day is supposed to mean an early spring. Since winter around here lasts at least six weeks after groundhog day, I figure clouds might just mean winter lasts into April. Two years ago on January 30, the temperature here dropped to -26 degrees Fahrenheit. Wind chill was estimated at -50. (It was colder in the infamous wind tunnel by the pharmacy building.) That morning is when I learned that one’s eyes can be frost-nipped, and I bought goggles for cold weather.

The red eyes, not to mention the ice in the lashes, are from cold. But that was two years ago and today (January 28) was our first time below zero since that cold snap. So the one good thing about 2020 was that it was warm, if that can be called a good thing.

January: CPR renewal, when it could be done face-to-face still. Surgery and a long convalescence. My first trip out in the real world was to go to a funeral. The only live concert of the year (Dwight Yoakum for my birthday).

February: The only live theatre of the year (in Minneapolis); a show stage-managed by my daughter, who was sick as a dog (a phrase that dates at least as far back as the 1700s, but I haven’t found a satisfying explanation) but the show must go on. I came home and promptly got sick. The test said it wasn’t COVID-19, but it was the sickest I’ve been in years.

March: Two weeks of quarantine and return to work in scrubs for the first time ever. Still wearing scrubs and probably will until I retire or they wear out, whichever comes first. And if they wear out first, then I will retire.

April-September: All club rides canceled. Instead of riding every Wednesday night with 100-200 friends and acquaintances, followed by a beer and then dinner with a few friends, I rode alone every Wednesday night, then went home and did the laundry and made dinner. (Pro tip: if you want riding gear to last, hand wash in cold water and dry on a rack after every ride. I just retired my 1991 Death Ride jersey because it lost its elasticity after 29 years.)

July: The Death Ride canceled, along with our trip to California to hang out at a cabin in the mountains, where we stayed during the 1992 Death Ride. While I’ve mentioned it before, I haven’t explained it in a while. 200 km, 15,000 feet of climbing, 5 mountain passes, elevation ~5000-9000 feet. (Oh yeah, and it takes place in one day.) At one point they changed the name to Tour of the California Alps for insurance reasons. I guess no one wants to insure an event with death in the name. Everyone called it the Death Ride anyway, so now they use both names (The Death Ride: Tour of the California Alps) – kinda like a scholarly article with a title, a colon, and a subtitle (“Colonoscopy: An examination of the use of punctuation in the titles of scholarly works”.)

August: Camping trip with family. No swimming (too many people at the beach). No live theatre (the park has a resident theatre troupe that does original musical theatre, but not this year). Our daughter moved back in with us after the trip, in order to go to grad school.

September: Canceled century ride, so I camped and rode alone. A different kind of fun, but no less fun.

November: Thanksgiving dinner for 3, instead of the usual 20+.

December: Christmas like Thanksgiving, with an added large-scale Zoom call, with breakout sessions so it almost seemed like work. Bailey (named after George Bailey from “It’s Wonderful Life”) joins the family. While he likes to spend a lot of his time sleeping, he demonstrated his athletic prowess by jumping over me while I was sitting in a kitchen chair. I caught him before he landed on the table. He was a rescue dog, looks like mostly Viszla but with the coloration of a Chocolate Lab. Maybe a little Weimeraner and some breed with shorter ears than any of those three. When not eating things he shouldn’t or running wild laps, he spends most of his time curled up in a tiny ball or watching out the second floor window to keep tabs on doings in the street.

We got a bit of snow this week. Today we added a few inches of heavy and wet snow so the depth has actually decreased from this measurement. I got out the roof rake to take off a few hundred pounds. The snowplow made four passes down our street, so there was a lot of shoveling. The only thing worse than shoveling out the snow left by the plow is not shoveling out the snow left by the plow. It then hardens into a heavy and icy consistency that makes it a lot like shoveling partially-hardened concrete.

A neighbor had emergency abdominal surgery so I shoveled out from the plow on their side of the street, too; then shoveled out the curb cut and the storm drain. A year ago I couldn’t shovel at all. Now my abdominal wall needs some strengthening. Shoveling makes the perfect workout.

Maybe soon we can be freed of our obsession with the news; wondering what atrocity the president will say or do next. It’s no accident that my roundup of the year is not focused on the political events. I will say that I think all newly-elected members of congress who think the election was stolen are welcome to give up their stolen seats. I thought this song summed up the past four years as well as any:

As for the title: There was once a weekly TV show called “That was the week that was”. It was a satirical look at the news, with topical songs by Tom Lehrer in the US version – the original was a British show. He later assembled some of those songs into the album “That was the year that was”.

Today (Groundhog Day) begins my next tour of duty in the COVID-19 unit. My vaccines should be at full strength and the COVID census on Friday was ⅓ what it was during my last tour there. As for side effects: the first shot made me feel a little odd the next day – slight disequilibrium, but nothing that would have kept me out of work, had it been a work day. (We were required to get the injection when we had the following two days off, so if there were side effects we wouldn’t use sick leave.) My arm ached like from a flu shot. The second one came with no side effects – until after the 72 hours we were supposed to be watching for said effects. Then I had a headache for 10 days. It is gone now. Again, nothing to keep me from normal life; just an annoyance.

Welcome 2021!

Normally we see in the new year with a Lou and Peter Berryman concert. Last year they announced their retirement, so the pandemic did not require a cancellation.

Normally we have a potluck with friends, which includes a listing of everyone’s favorite books, movies, and TV shows for the year. This year was virtual, and we skipped it.

We did welcome the year with home made squash ravioli and closed out 2020 with a 2010 wine that we’d been saving. We’re not wine cellar types, but we do have a root cellar which works equally well for wine and we did lay this bottle down a few years ago with a plan to drink it this year.

Hoarfrost (fog when the temperature is below freezing) came for a visit. (Sorry, but all of the pictures appear darker in WordPress than they did before uploading. I have edited them a second time and re-uploaded them so I hope they look OK this time.)

We live in possibly the weirdest time ever. How many times have you asked yourself if this is really happening? How many times have you thought that this couldn’t be the plot of a novel because it’s too far-fetched to be believable? Here are some excerpts from the transcript of the call from our soon-to-be ex-president and the Georgia Secretary of State (Should we mention that it took 18 tries before they put him through? Maybe somebody knew this was going to go off the rails quickly):

Raffensperger: Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, they — people can say anything.

Trump: Oh this isn’t social media. This is Trump media. It’s not social media. It’s really not; it’s not social media. I don’t care about social media. I couldn’t care less. Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side, you know. I don’t even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election. And you’re a Republican. 

At first I was just going to pull those first two sentences: “This isn’t social media. This is Trump media.” I thought that was crazy enough. But it just kept getting loonier.

Germany: We’ve been going through each of those as well, and those numbers that we got, that Ms. Mitchell was just saying, they’re not accurate. Every one we’ve been through are people that lived in Georgia, moved to a different state, but then moved back to Georgia legitimately. And in many cases —

Trump: How may people do that? They moved out, and then they said, “Ah, to hell with it, I’ll move back.” You know, it doesn’t sound like a very normal . . . you mean, they moved out, and what, they missed it so much that they wanted to move back in? It’s crazy. 

Germany: They moved back in years ago. This was not like something just before the election. So there’s something about that data that, it’s just not accurate.

I moved out of Wisconsin in the 1980s. I moved back in the 1990s. I voted in Wisconsin in the 2020 election. Does that mean the soon-to-be ex-president thinks I committed fraud, too? Or just that I’m crazy? We’d better hope he never moves back to New York. (Actually, I do kinda hope he moves back there – to serve a prison term.)

He even disagrees with the lawyer he brought in on the call with him. “Disagree” is the polite way of saying that he is just plain wrong (which is a nice way of saying he is either lying or misinformed):

Germany: We chose Cobb County because that was the only county where there’s been any evidence submitted that the signature verification was not properly done.

Trump: No, but I told you. We’re not, we’re not saying that.

Mitchell: We did say that.

Then there’s the flat-out request for fraud to be committed:

Trump: …So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. 

Bike Maintenance

I’m in my fourth winter with a belt-drive bike (bought in spring of 2016). So far it has been a godsend. I replaced the belt once and I have a spare on hand. I would have been through a few chains by now and would probably be looking at other parts. The drivetrain has been getting noisy so I just replaced the chainring (or “front pulley” in belt drive parlance). “They don’t make ’em like they used to” does not always mean things are worse. The original pulley was “carbon-reinforced composite”, AKA plastic. The new one is aluminum. The following pictures should show you why I hope aluminum is the better choice. The rear pulley (“cog” in chain drive parlance) was always aluminum.

In case it is not obvious (you can zoom in if needed), the rounded tooth profile (lower pulley in each photo) has been worn down to a sharp edge on the old pulley and the “wings” that extend out to the sides are pretty much gone. In the bottom photo the old pulley is sitting on top of the new pulley. They are staggered so you can see the round vs sharp tooth profiles. The overall diameter is also smaller, as the plastic has worn away. I had to adjust belt tension after the change. Water, salt, and sand did not make that job easier.

I’m hoping for more than four winters from the new pulley.

Coup d’etat

Since the last post there has been an attempted armed coup. As you are all well aware, our deposed leader attempted to stay in office by overthrowing the legislative branch to prevent them from certifying the election result. How is that called a “protest” or “demonstration”? As videos show, they had the assistance of some of the Capitol Police, as well as the tacit assistance of the administration as evidenced by the paltry police presence and complete absence of National Guard presence compared with the presence during Black Lives Matter protests. (By the way, while media reports have referred to deaths from “medical emergencies” during the coup attempt, at least one of said emergencies has been documented as a trampling by the mob. The police officer killed was reported as dying from injuries while “physically engaging with protestors”. The Chicago Tribune reports he was murdered by being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.)

Our soon-to-be ex-president has been banned from Twitter after Twitter found credible evidence of a planned second coup attempt, spurred on by his posts. Attacks on Washington and state capitols are planned for next weekend and Inauguration Day. I am hoping for a much more robust response from police and troops. While Twitter is finally taking some responsibility, there are multiple other online fora actively promoting the coup.

COVID-19 and health

I just had the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. While several of my co-workers suffered miserably from side effects, I feel fine. Even my arm ache is less than the first go-round. My hope is that we will be back to public events in 2022 and I can go on a big ride with others again (Cycle America, here we come!). Death Ride 2021 is off the table for me, though it is still scheduled as of this writing.

It has been a year since my surgery (chronicled here) and 20 months since the original injury. Post-op pain has made me question the value of the surgery (pre-op it only hurt to walk; post-op it hurt to ride a bike and sometimes just to sit) and whether, if I had to do it over again, I would have lived with a hernia instead of having it “fixed”. After several rounds of acupuncture which helped for a while, I opted for a nerve block and corticosteroid injection (a mixture of an anesthetic for short-term relief and an anti-inflammatory for longer-term relief). The anesthetic worked great for a day. For the next two days it was like I’d never had the injection, then the following day the pain was reduced (not gone). So far, the injection seems like a winner. We’ll see how long it lasts. The way it works is a 3.5″ long needle is guided via ultrasound through the abdominal wall and to the nerves that are the source of the pain (two nerves, in this case). The injection surrounds the nerve with one medication (bupivacaine – trade name Marcaine) to block transmission of pain signals and a second medication (Kenalog, generic name triamcinolone acetonide) to reduce inflammation around the nerve. The plan is to calm the area down to reduce irritation to the nerve. With luck, this is curative. With less luck, it lasts a few months and then I face the question of more steroids or putting up with pain for the rest of my life. Not to mention the question of whether it is worth it to continue working, since that seems to exacerbate the pain. Since this is (allegedly) an on-the-job injury for which the job accepts no responsibility, retirement may be the best option if the injection doesn’t work long-term. I’d rather not retire until the pandemic is over, so I can have a party.