All Work and No Quarantine

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve noticed some people with the illness trying to continue working as though there’s not a viral death sentence canvassing the globe. If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you’ve probably seen Chris Cuomo trying to continue his TV show while battling COVID-19 or UK prime minister Boris Johnson trying to run his government even while in the ICU.

As stupid as it sounds, it’s hard for me to fault people like this, people who try to go about their jobs and daily lives, unfazed by the reality of a deadly virus. It’s hard for me to fault them because, once upon a time, I did the same thing.

When I first got sick in 2010, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis and thought I could push through it. I thought I’d feel like shit for a few weeks but I could suck it up and carry on with my daily life, fulfilling my obligations while waiting until the virus passed. But I couldn’t. As time went on, I found that I couldn’t keep up with my normal routine. I certainly tried though. I taught group fitness classes (my job at the time) and attempted to finish my last semester of college. It didn’t go well.

At the peak of my stubbornness, I stayed in bed for two days straight, gathering my strength to teach one of my fitness classes. I was trying to maintain my appearance as a healthy fitness instructor, but I was failing, and in the process I was making myself sicker. The lengths I went to for a little bit of normalcy were not worth the consequences.

My condition got worse and soon I realized that I couldn’t live my normal life as long as I was sick. I couldn’t push my symptoms aside until the virus passed because, at the pace I was going, the healing process would only be stunted and my body would never fully recover.

Sure enough, a decade later, my body still hasn’t fully healed. Did working while I was sick make my illness worse? Probably. It definitely didn’t help. Now I’m mostly bedridden, I can’t walk, and I struggle to speak audibly.

But even with a lethal pandemic plaguing the world, I can’t say that I’ve completely learned my lesson. Thankfully I don’t have pressing obligations like Boris Johnson, Chris Cuomo, or even a regular citizen trying to stay afloat in a downed economy. I’m too sick to have much in terms of obligations, and perhaps that’s why it’s easy for me to sit here and tell people not to work during this pandemic. Though there is a difference between working while you’re sick and working while trying to avoid getting sick.

It goes without saying that if you have the coronavirus, you should quarantine yourself and not work for your sake and the sake of everyone you could potentially give it to.

It’s a bit more complicated, of course, for the vast majority of people, those who don’t have the virus but do need an income. I know what that’s like too, having to work and go to school in order to stay afloat with a mysterious virus swirling around. My virus wasn’t killing tens of thousands of people, but the weight of it combined with my obligations and stubbornness felt like having sand bags constantly strapped to my chest. I pushed myself too far, which seemed like a bad idea back then (and still does), but I didn’t know how to stop myself from working. I didn’t listen to my better judgment because I was in survival mode, and sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes to survive.

This is all to say that, whether you have the virus or you’re just trying to avoid getting it, it’s not a good idea to work. I understand the dilemma. It’s not an easy decision, but as I’ve learned the hard way, if you make the wrong choice and try to push through it, you’re body may override you. Then you’re screwed. So make the right choice and don’t push yourself too much. Whatever that means for you.

BEFORE YOU GO… 

1. Thanks for reading!

2. Some GOOD NEWS: My memoir, WHEN FORCE MEETS FATE, is now available for preorder on Amazon (Canada, Australia, etc.), B&N, and Booktopia. If you’ve already ordered it or plan to, the book will be published January 2021 and all copies will be delivered then. We’re currently working on a new cover for the book (that’s why there’s no thumbnail on the listing yet). I will be unveiling the cover before its published and I’m also working on the audiobook, which I’m excited about. I’ll have some big announcements in the weeks and months leading up to the release of the book. Stayed tuned!

This is What it’s Like for a Canadian to see a Doctor in the US

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One of the most memorable events in Serena’s life after she entered adulthood began by sliding down a set of stairs on a mattress. Children do this for fun, sure, but Serena was 18 — an adult — and by no means was she having fun. She was trying to see a doctor.

After getting the mattress downstairs with her nearly motionless body atop, Serena’s parents transferred her to a wheelchair. From there they wheeled her outside to an RV waiting to take the severely ill young woman from Vancouver, British Columbia to see a new doctor in California.

Following a referral from her general practitioner, Serena decided to make an appointment to see Dr. Steven Harris, a physician specializing in Lyme disease located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But first Serena had to, without walking, ascend the steps to get inside the RV. She sat on each small step and, with her parents lifting her at the waist, painfully ascended the steps one at a time, gingerly lifting her hips to the next step until she eventually made it to the hard floor of the RV, which Serena struggled to crawl along. She finally made it to the back of the RV and collapsed into the vehicle’s built-in bed.

Because Serena’s condition — a sinister concoction of Lyme disease, myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome), and other associated conditions — made her extremely photophobic and sensitive to sound, she was unable to travel by plane or regular automobile.

Knowing the delicacy of her condition, for months Serena thought of possible ways to travel to see the new doctor. Serena heard of a woman who was just as sick and lived not far from her In British Columbia. The woman had to be driven in an RV to a special Lyme disease clinic in Kansas.

Serena decided to attempt her own version of the woman’s journey and that traveling in an RV was her best shot. Seeing the doctor in person was, after all, the only way to get the treatment she needed.

“I just figured, this is what I need to do. This is what I want to do . . . And this is just how I’m gonna have to do it,” Serena confessed in a video she posted on YouTube several months after the trip.

Serena asked her parents to rent the RV, which cost $2,000, plus another $600 for gas. But the money was worth it; the spaciousness and amendities of the vehicle made traveling manageable for her. But still, the trip was far from a vacation.

Serena spent nearly the entire time in bed. She remained mostly horizontal because she suffered from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which makes standing or even sitting up extremely difficult.

Serena’s mom slept on the RV’s pull-out futon and her father in a small bed above the driver’s cab.

The RV may have had the essential amenities for a severely ill person to travel, but it was not conducive to good sleep, especially with three adults sleeping within a few feet of each other. If one of Serena’s parents woke up and moved around in the RV, its weight bounced around on its tires and shook everyone else awake.

Crossing The Golden Gate

The only time Serena left bed was when the RV crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. As the large vehicle crossed the historic landmark, Serena asked her father to pick her up out of bed and carry her to the front of the vehicle. There he positioned her on a wedge pillow so her upper body was at a 30-degree angle (the only elevation she could tolerate for any prolonged amount of time).

Other than taking in California’s majestic Golden Gate, Serena stayed in bed the whole trip. She didn’t even get up to go to the bathroom. She couldn’t. Instead she used a portable commode in her bed and washed her hands in a bucket of water.

Serena also maintained her hygiene by using baby wipes, more buckets of water, and hand sanitizer to keep clean and free of body odor.

Before making it to San Francisco, Serena and her parents crossed the US/Canada border in the RV without much delay, but this was in late-2015 when, although President Trump had yet to take office, his plans to tighten border security were floating around the political landscape. This concerned Serena. Regardless Serena remained undeterred in her mission to seek proper medical care.

After more than 1,000 miles navigating along the Pacific Coast, with a couple overnight stays in $100-a-night campgrounds along the way, the RV arrived at Harris’ office. Serena was eventually brought into a room. There she was laid on its examination table with two types of noise-canceling ear protection on. For her eyes she wore sunglasses and a hat to block out natural and artificial light.

Unable to see or hear, Serena had to trust that her parents would accurately describe her condition to Dr. Harris’ physician assistant. Her parents described her symptoms as extreme pain and fatigue, as well as dizziness, brain fog, and fitful sleep.

Serena’s doctor back in Vancouver had given Dr. Harris a heads up about how sick she was and how far she would be traveling so he decided to pop in and introduce himself — something he, nor most doctors with physician assistants typically do on a patient’s first appointment. But Serena would be returning home shortly after the appointment and it remained uncertain if she would be able to make such a lengthy and complicated trip again.

“We’re going to get you better. I promise,” the doctor told Serena.

What may have been a cliché coming from a doctor who likely said something similar to all his patients, was heartfelt to Serena.

“I felt he was genuine in his concern,” Serena said recalling her first meeting with the doctor.

Next Serena had her blood drawn for numerous lab tests. Then she was given an antibiotic injection, which her father watched closely because in the following months he would be tasked with giving her the injections back home in Vancouver.

Returning Home

After more than three hours in the doctor’s office, Serena made it back to the RV. She was done — both accomplished and exhausted. She didn’t speak more than a few whispers for the rest of the day, only to ask for food. Then she developed an intense migraine, which only worsened when her family stopped at a campsite for the night and the people next to them sent campfire smoke wafting into the RV.

Her migraine eventually went away and she finally returned home. She soon started the treatment protocol from Dr. Harris — a hodgepodge of traditional methods like antibiotics and alternative treatments like herbal tinctures.

Specifically, Serena was prescribed Nystatin and Diflucan, two antifungal medications. The antibiotics she was given were for her small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). She was also given anti-parasitic and anti-malarial medications to treat babesia, a parasite that showed up in her blood work. Most recently she requested a more holistic approach to her treatment focusing on using herbs and detoxing her body, although she is sticking with the anti-parasitic medication and has added low-dose naltrexone (LDN), a medication commonly used for drug and alcohol addiction in higher doses, but is also used in low doses as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat some chronic illnesses.

Now, nearly two years since her trip to California, Serena’s health has improved — she can walk again, albeit gingerly. But her condition continues to fluctuate. And while she is grateful for her improvements, she says they are less than her doctors expected and perhaps even promised her. This, as many chronically ill patients know, is the curse of any truly compassionate doctor — the promise of something improbable, if not entirely impossible, in order to lift the patient’s spirits.

While Serena would like to maintain her treatment from Dr. Harris, and she most likely will, she is unsure whether the gradual improvements to her health have been because of the doctor’s aggressive treatments or whether it was simply a matter of time before she felt better — her body eventually healing on its own.

Serena has no plans to make a return trip to California anytime soon. Serena is worried that the additional treatments Dr. Harris wants her to try will leave her too ill to return home. In such case she would be stuck as a tourist in a country that as of late hasn’t been kind to foreigners.

Mostly Serena and her family don’t want to make the trip because of the political tension in the United States — the protest-related violence and threat of nuclear war are major deterrents, and understandably so. For now, Serena is content with her improvements and the treatment protocol she continues to take with Dr. Harris’ prescriptions.

But just as there’s no way of knowing whether the treatments have worked, there’s no way of knowing what the passing of time will hold for Serena.

Serena (real first name) asked that I omit from this post her last name and any photos that might reveal her identity.

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Marching: From a Still Perspective 

Briefly, I want to do a round-up on the January 21st protests. I will, for the most part, keep my commentary to a minimum. However, I do want to say how proud I was to see such an enormous amount, and diverse group of people coming together, not just for the greater good of our country and humanity, but for the issues closest to their hearts. I saw people marching for science and climate change, for women’s rights, for disability rights, or for no other reason than we elected a man unfit to be president. It was such a beautiful thing. And from my physical vantage point it was almost shocking to see so many people congregate. When you’ve been stuck in a room, which at most holds five people, you forget how many people are actually out in the world. 

Throughout the day friends and family sent me photos of their respective protests. My lovely godmother sent me some great shots from Seattle, where nearly 200,000 people gathered to protest. 

My dad sent me photos from my hometown, Santa Cruz, California, where an estimated 10,000 people marched. 

 

Santa Rosa, California, near where I went to college, had more than 20,000 people assemble. 

To the south, 3,500 people formed a human chain across the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Then, of course, there were the random and absolutely hilarious signs that I saw online. Here are a few of my favorites:

Lastly, in all seriousness, I think it is important to note that if, on any given day, any one of the protests from last weekend occurred, it would surely have made national headlines or gone viral on the Internet. But there were literally hundreds of these protests around the world, which is truly remarkable, unprecedented, really. Never before have I seen such wide-spread, simultaneous, mass protesting. I mean, something in our country must be really messed up, right? When that many people gather, they must be trying to say something. And I don’t care who you are or what you believe, you better listen, or one day soon you’ll wish you had. 

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