Stick ’em up! We’ve got you covid!

Yep, it was only a month ago that my last COVID post appeared. 20% of hospital beds have been occupied with COVID-19+ patients for that month, so my turn has come up again.

COVID is blasting through my department. My co-workers who are getting it are the parents of unvaccinated toddlers who are bringing it home from daycare. We old folks are doing fine.

The hospital COVID census is starting to come down. They are starting elective surgeries again. I hope folks don’t take this as meaning we’re out of the woods. I hope mask mandates don’t end. I hope bars don’t fill up. I hope the hospital doesn’t refill. That’s a lot of hope for one day. I’m not very hopeful. (Since I wrote that paragraph, our city and county public health department announced that the mandate that expires at the end of February will not be renewed.)

I would like to go out in public next summer. I would like to not carry a mask everywhere I go. I would like leaving the house to mean more than quick trips to the grocery store and library in addition to going to work or outdoor recreation alone or in small groups. I would like to eat inside of a restaurant again, not just on a patio after checking out table spacing.

I even have plans. In my mind I say “COVID willing” in relation to all of those plans.

The state legislature in WI passes a lot of stupid bills. The Republican Party is in control firmly of both houses, thanks to gerrymandering after the 2010 elections. Few of these bills become law, as they are vetoed by the Democratic Governor. Are they utterly stupid, or are they pandering to their base, knowing that their idiotic bills will not become law but look good on the campaign trail? Of note, this is the legislature that didn’t convene for the first year of the pandemic, as they had no clue what to do.

A package of bills passed today. They include the “Natural Immunity” bill, which states that having had COVID-19 precludes the need for vaccination or testing. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Mary Felzkowski, stated , “This is a vote very much based on science and recognizing the God-given ability to fight off infections that our creator gave us.” It should be noted that she has had COVID-19 twice so far, so god apparently didn’t give her a very good ability to fight off infections. Personally, I have trouble trusting my God-given ability to fight off tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, HIV, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, ebola, anthrax..or COVID-19.

Another bill allows you to draw unemployment if you quit your job because a vaccine is required. Yet another forbids any employer from requiring a vaccine. (Yes, it would be hard to quit your job because your employer required a vaccine if the law forbids your employer from requiring a vaccine.) And finally, if you are “injured” because your employer required you to get vaccinated, you are eligible for Worker’s Compensation.

So yes, I am back to the salt mines COVID units once again. The hospital COVID census dropped from 95 to 50, the mask mandate is about to expire, and all is right with the world. This downward trend has continued for a whole two weeks, so clearly we are out of the woods and can go back to crowding into bars and throwing up on each other again.

If 10% of hospital beds were occupied by people with the same disease (other than this one), we’d think it was a disaster. Now we call it good news. It did delay my COVID rotation by a week.

Since I wrote that paragraph, the census has dropped again. Today (February 28) the mask mandate ends and, instead of the parents of pre-school kids being the new sick population, it will be the parents of school-age kids. I’ll try not to say “I told you so.” (The good news is several school districts announced that they will continue to recommend masks. I think I can predict which suburbs and in town, which schools will continue masking.)

But COVID isn’t the only stupidity in the news. (Now former) Hudson, OH Mayor Greg Shubert has spoken out against ice fishing, warning of the slippery slope. If we allow ice fishing, then they’ll want shanties. If they get shanties, prostitution will follow. While this “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” reasoning is more than I can handle, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of sex workers in snowmobile suits, Sorel boots, and balaclavas going door-to-door among the ice fishing shanties. Maybe guys will put fake fur in the shanty windows and post a bumper sticker that says “If this shanty’s rockin’/Don’t bother knockin'”. Doesn’t the mayor know that would scare the fish? And if it were really a problem, wouldn’t STIs be rampant in Wisconsin in the winter?

But back to work. By now, everyone has heard that, statistically, the Omicron variant is pretty mild. My vaccinated and boosted co-workers who got it from their kids didn’t like it, but they weren’t sick all that long. But tell my patient who had the severe stroke that it is mild. Oh, wait, that won’t be helpful, as that person has aphasia and can’t understand what you’re saying. Or tell it to the person whose heart stopped twice and only restarted after surgeons cut open their chest and rhythmically squeezed their heart for a half hour to keep blood circulating until they could get it to pump on its own again…which was only temporary until they could implant a machine to help it along. Another patient didn’t need a machine once the defibrillator did its job and the cardiologists removed the clots from their coronary arteries, but they did complain to me about how much the broken ribs and sternum (from CPR) hurt.

Therapy with one of my patients consisted of working on breath control while we talked, so they could carry on a conversation without the non-rebreather mask in addition to the high-flow nasal cannula. They could speak in full sentences, a vast improvement over when it was one word at a time due to shortness of breath. But that was a couple of days ago. Now I’m not sure they will survive the weekend.

I know anecdotes aren’t statistics – but statistics aren’t people. These non-vaccinated folks are real people with real suffering. I hope they live to learn something from this.

Here are a few statistics for you. During a 6 week period in December 2021-January 2022, a large midwestern teaching hospital admitted 735 COVID-19 patients. Of those, 74% were unvaccinated, 3% were vaccinated and boosted. They admitted 120 of those patients to an ICU. Of those, 77% were unvaccinated and 3% boosted. (The number in between, 23% in the first instance and 20% in the second, were those vaccinated but not boosted.)

I’ve probably told you before that my daughter likes to collect, from obituaries, euphemisms for death. I have to say this is one of my favorites. In December, 2020, he posted this:

A bit over a year later, his brother posted this:

Note that he didn’t die of COVID-19, but of “post viral Covid symptoms”. He was cured of COVID by the “complete healing” of death. Oh, but it’s not death, because he “passed into life”. Not sure what he passed out of, but since he said “you spent an entire year of your life…”, I think he thought this was life even if his little brother doesn’t. I guess I can say that 3 years from that post I might be able to look back at that time I spent wearing a mask and staying home. He won’t be able to.

Some call it “cross training”

I call it “fun”. My complaining about the snow ruining my skating lasted for less time than it took to shovel it.

I realized that 5 inches of fresh power called for getting out the skis, not complaining about not skating. That same giant park that works for ice skates works for skis as well.

I retrieved the skis from the garage, brought them onto the porch to warm up, scraped off the old wax, added a coat of Special Green (for 14 to -4 degrees F or -10 to -20 degrees C), and walked down to the lake. My old wooden touring skis are perfect for cruising through fresh snow.

I soon found I was over-dressed, as the temperature was almost in double digits (-13 C). I started across the lake on roughly the same route I skated last week, then decided on a change and turned west to ski the length of the lake instead of across. I needed to zip up my jacket to head into the wind.

My ski tips were submarine periscopes poking up through the powder. I was in a pristine wilderness on untrammeled snow.
Pristine wilderness, or downtown? State Capitol at right edge of photo.

I skied downtown with a stop at the convention center, a Frank Lloyd Wright design that only took 50 years of discussion to build.

Monona Terrace, the FL Wright-designed convention center

There were several other skiers, a few snowshoers, a handful of fat bikers (not bikers who are fat, but people riding fat bikes), and a fisher or two. I stopped and asked one, and he told me the ice was 8-12 inches thick – almost enough to drive a car on, plenty thick for skis.

Water expands when it freezes. It has to go somewhere. This is where the extra goes — up.

Another few inches are on the way tonight. With the temperature holding steady at 8 degrees (-13 C) it will be powder again, possibly enough to obliterate today’s tracks and make the park pristine, ready for fresh tracks.

Monday, 24 January

Three inches of new powder overnight heralded the leading edge of an Alberta Clipper. The temperature is up to 18 (-8 C) but the windchill down to -1 (-18 C). The warmer temperature meant adding some blue wax (23 to 31 F, or -5 to -1 C) for traction – blue because I couldn’t find or am out of green for the 14 to 23 range. The snow doesn’t care about windchill, but my windward cheek does. The temperature will be below zero by the time I go to work tomorrow.

I skied to the library. It being Monday I had the lake to myself. The only sounds were the schussing of my skis through the snow and the scratching of my pole tips across the ice. The light was flat and grey. The lack of contrast made the wind-driven waves hard to see and harder to photograph, but the snow had the contours of water on a windy day at the right angle.

Another shoreline ice heave

I skied from our neighborhood park to the beach, then walked to the library.

[Aside to MAK: I can’t disagree with you but, working in healthcare, I have to work the way your source works. When I walk into a patient’s room much of their backstory becomes irrelevant. One of my favorite patients (worked hard to rehab, was appreciative and polite, seemed like an all-around nice person) was charged with manslaughter. I have treated murderers. I have treated people who were shot in drug deals. I have treated people who drove drunk and killed their best friend or their child in the passenger seat. Like their vaccination status, that can’t matter while I’m in the room with them. My brain compartmentalizes that for me. It doesn’t seem to be a conscious process. You, on the other hand, don’t have that responsibility, and I applaud your rant from my position at home in front of my computer. I know that rant is no longer accessible but, to those of us who subscribe via e-mail, it arrived in our inbox. Thank you for speaking honestly. And if you like rants, check out this one: ]

The Park is OPEN

The biggest area of local parkland is now open for the season. One catch – there is no land.

kite skating

It is a beautiful winter day…27 degrees (-3 C), a light breeze, and lots of sun. Since there is very little snow on the lake, no need for sunglasses. Sunday there was an iceboat regatta, dozens of skaters and ice fishers, a few people out walking, and one person riding a bike across the lake. A few skaters used hand-held sails (to which I was introduced by my uncle about 60 years ago) and several had kites or parasails.

ice boat about to set sail

The breeze was from the north, so I didn’t notice it walking to the lake, nor on the shore. Once out on the ice, it was a tailwind, so I didn’t notice it until I crossed the lake (about 1.5 miles plus a bit of meandering around snow patches) and turned around to skate home. On the other side, I stopped to take a picture of the boat above. Seconds later, the sailor appeared and set sail, as shown below.

Setting sail

According to the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club, some boats can achieve speeds of 5 times the wind velocity and Skeeter class boats have been known to exceed 100 mph (160 km/h). Water offers little resistance when it is frozen. We spoke of covering skin when biking in the winter – at 100 mph there is always a wind chill.

The second video (drone video of Sunday’s regatta) is by Deb Whitehorse, widow of Ho-Chunk artist and iceboat designer/builder Harry Whitehorse. We have mentioned him in these pages before.

Image from Sculpture by Harry Whitehorse

Out on the ice, it’s pretty quiet. The only motorized conveyances are the 6-wheeled ATVs the fishers use to haul their equipment onto the ice. No permanent shanties are allowed on this lake, so folks carry pop-up shanties along with an ice auger and something to sit on (plus fishing gear and food/beverage). Some walk and drag a sledge, others drive.

Otherwise, it’s the wind, the sounds of blades carving paths along the ice, and the echoing booms of the ice shifting. That sound takes a bit of getting used to, especially if it happens close by.

Skateable ice is a rarity. If the lake freezes on a cold, clear, still night, the ice is great. If it’s particularly cloudy/foggy, the ice won’t be as smooth. If it’s windy, the ice won’t be as smooth. If it snows the night it freezes, the ice mixes with snow to create a lousy surface. There may be great ice, but it’s cold enough for only the hardiest to want to go out. There may be great ice for a day or two, which is then buried under a snowfall. Freeze/thaw cycles will cause the snow to mix with the surface of the ice, ruining it for the rest of the season.

A day like this means get out while the getting is good. The last year with skateable ice that lasted, it was so clear and so cold that the ice was totally transparent. I could see the bottom. I could see fish. I had to hope to skate over a crack so I could see how thick the ice was. It was eerie, and I turned back before I got across the lake. This year, while the ice is dark, there are enough air bubbles to tell I’m on thick ice and not a thin film over water. It has more of the frosty appearance of ice cubes made in your home freezer and not the total transparency of store-bought ice.

Joni Mitchell, skating on our other lake, from the photo session for the album “Hejira”. Photo by Joel Bernstein

Joni Mitchell famously skated on Lake Mendota for a photoshoot for her album “Hejira”. The woods in the background are Picnic Point. This is the “other lake” from the one I skated today (1/17). If it’s still nice Sunday (1/23), I’ll skate there to watch the next regatta. Meanwhile I may make a trial skate to work (maybe a hundred yards out of the frame to the left above) to see how long it takes and maybe add another form of transportation to my commute.

On a prior album, she sang about skating:

On the album “Hejira” she sang “Furry Sings the Blues”. Rather than that song, I’ll leave you with Furry himself – Furry Lewis – nothing but Furry and his guitar. He has recorded this a few times, but this is the version that introduced me to his work.

Addendum: The regatta was postponed for a week due to drifting snow that hardened, making sailing dangerous. As of bedtime Saturday, it is snowing, and I just shoveled the first couple of inches. And with new snow falling, skating on the lake is probably over for the year. The regatta will likely be postponed again, if not canceled. We’re in a drought and about 15 inches behind on snow for the season, so that’s a good thing…but I was hoping to skate to work. I’ve commuted to this job by walking, skiing, biking, bussing, carpooling, and driving. Skating would have been a nice addition.

Why is it…

that the only people trying to steal the election are campaigning under the banner “Stop the steal”? Is it just me, or is that the ultimate in irony?

I did it. The first injection of the novel coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer went into my arm Saturday afternoon. My arm did not freeze and fall off. With a substance stored at -70 degrees C (-94 F) I was hoping they’d warm it up a bit. They did. Nothing like frostbite from the inside out. While there are supposed to be only mild side effects (like the pain at injection site you get with the flu vaccine), my employer isn’t taking any chances – I was required to get the vaccine at the end of my Saturday shift so, if I get sick, I’ll be sick on my own time and won’t miss work unless it lasts 3 days. Kinesiotape at the injection site works for the flu vaccine. We’ll see how it works for this.

Twenty four hours after injection I have an achy arm, a lot like after a flu shot. I have a vague sense of dis-ease – slight disequilibrium, subtle visual changes, very mild nausea, and a slight headache – nothing that would have kept me from working if today were a workday. In three weeks I’ll let you know how the second injection goes.

We received our new shipment of PAPRs (Powered Air-Purifying Respirators) so I can dispense with the N-95 mask and patients can see my face for the first time this year (except for a week or two in February when I worked maskless). I still need a mask for the non-COVID patients and when I am doing anything else at work, but that is just a simple mask, not an N-95. They can hear me better, too. (Photo: What the well-dressed therapist is wearing these days. Isolation gown not shown.)

I’m thinking a PAPR could come in handy for the Death Ride. Nothing like extra air delivered under pressure for the thin air at higher elevations while climbing mountains. Not to mention that I don’t expect to be ready to share air at close quarters with a couple thousand other people in July.

We added a new member to the family this week. He was a street dog from Oklahoma and came to us via a rescue organization and a foster home. He seems to like it here so far. He got a little close for this selfie but, lacking thumbs, he did pretty well I think. Especially since he was drifting off to sleep. When our daughter moves out, he goes too, so I can’t get too attached. Maybe he’ll come for sleepovers. (Then again, I got pretty attached to the kids but it was OK for them to move out on their own.)

We had our first real snow and the lake is starting to freeze. Time for the studded tires. For now, I try to avoid the icy spots and ride slowly when there is no choice.

Rumor has it people have started skating on the shallow bay – the first place to freeze and attract ice fishers, who are on the ice before any sane creature.

A couple of days after that last paragraph, it warmed up; and the newspaper included a story about the number of ice rescues performed that day. None were from that bay, but skating will wait, as it has been above freezing for >24 hours.

In our culture, this season is often associated with conspicuous consumption – the TV ads encouraging us to surprise each other with new cars, telling us the only way you can show your love is via diamonds, helping us convince ourselves that joy comes from stuff. Delbert McClinton and friends tell us otherwise:

Check the sky tonight – Jupiter and Saturn will appear very close together, and just in time for the solstice. They will appear in the southwest sky shortly after sunset as long as, in your home on the range, the skies are not cloudy all day.

Photo by Jim Peacock, Bayfield WI, 12/14/2020. From