“Jason, Jason, Are You Okay?” A Tale of March Illness

My last post prompted some back-channel questions about how I’m doing. Which is touching. So please permit a brief* follow-up post answering that question publicly.

* 1,600 words is “brief,” right?

A Wasted March

The first week in February, I thought I was coming down with a cold. However, by the time I took my buoyancy class on February 6, it cleared — and two days later, I jetted off for a week in sunny, spectacular Bonaire. And I didn’t feel at all sick on the island. However, one day on a dive, I think I might have given myself a mild over-expansion injury. I had a fast ascent (almost 60 feet in two minutes, which is the top end of the recommendation) while maintaining buoyancy solely through breathing and not by playing with my inflator or dumps. Later that evening, I experienced a bit of trouble breathing and some chest tightness, but by the next morning all was well. So I shrugged that experience off as a nod to the age-old diver warning to never hold your breath.

Our return trip routed through Miami International Airport on Saturday, February 15. At MIA, we packed cheek-by-jowl in a petri dish of humanity for two hours, in addition to back-to-back, full, three-hour flights in (alas) coach. 

About 10 days later, I got a cold, but it was an odd one. First, it was remarkably mild. And second, it stayed purely in the upper respiratory tract. No sore throat, no cough. That pattern was unusual; usually my colds always migrate to my lower respiratory tract with a sore throat and a cough. Instead, I just experienced two weeks of occasional sneezing and nose-blowing and mid-grade exhaustion. Not enough to be debilitating, but certainly enough to induce me to do just the minimum.

By the middle of the first week of March, the cold persisted, but the exhaustion got a bit worse. Again, not debilitating, but after I finished work, I was done for the day. No writing, just … existing, watching YouTube videos or staring blankly at my computer screen realizing I intended to write but couldn’t be bothered to move my fingers. And, oddly, I became significantly cold-sensitive. No fever, but just consistently chilled, which is odd because Michigan winter is my jam and my office this time of year typically clocks in somewhere between 52 and 56 degrees Fahrenheit. I actually turned up the furnace and kept a blanket on me and kept my feet on a hot pad.

Two weeks later, on March 18, things turned worse. For the next week, I alternated between feeling okay-ish and not. The pattern was consistent. Between 8p and 10p, a slight fever, somewhere between 99F and 99.6F oral (my baseline oral temp is around 97.5F) with intense chills set in. I’d go to bed and poor Murphy d’Cat couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop shivering violently despite four blankets. But by morning, I’d be sweaty yet the fever broke. Until the evening. I yo-yo’d like this for roughly a week. I also developed a very slight cough, never productive.

One night — Friday the 20th — I woke up at 3a unable to breathe. Tight chest, labored breathing. I was thiiiiis close to thinking about going to the ER until I remembered I had a pulse-ox monitor. So I took a few measures, saw my sats were 96 or 97 or 98 percent, and figured I was talking myself into a worst-case diagnosis, so I went back to bed. Didn’t sleep much, granted, but I went back to bed nonetheless.

On the 23rd, I called the doctor’s office. Turns out, I needed a new doctor; mine doesn’t accept my new insurance, although the nurse triage line was kind enough to tell me that I should self-quarantine and there was no need or capacity for COVID-19 testing. Later that day, I found a new primary care doc, but because of the COVID crisis, I couldn’t be formally enrolled with a new-patient visit for 90 days. So, I’ve got an appointment … in mid-May.

By the 29th, the cold-like symptoms and the fevers mostly stopped, but it wasn’t until April 1 that I actually felt decent.  

Tips for Staying Virus-Free

My assumption through the long, tired slog through March was that I had the cold and then the flu. However, neither the cold not the flu behaved like normal — the obvious assumption is that I had COVID-19, but even then, my symptom progression didn’t really match a typical COVID-19 case: I never experienced significant shortness of breath, my fevers were mild (and, strictly speaking, didn’t seem to cross the 100.4F mark), and I didn’t develop a persistent cough.

I’m a fan of the Dark Horse Podcast, hosted by Bret Weinstein. He and his wife, Heather Heying, have been “sheltering in place” in Oregon so they’ve been live-streaming on YouTube twice each week. They’re both evolutionary biologists, famous for the kerfuffle a few years ago at Evergreen State College. They’ve shared some fascinating information about COVID-19, including Heather’s likely experience with it much earlier than the general pandemic in the United States. They offered some great information about the disease and its origins in their first and second livestreams. Their third livestream kept up the theme (it covered bats, bio-weapon theories and the social implications of the pandemic). I had asked them a question and, in the separate Q&A livestream they conducted, Bret actually answered my question about masks (by name!), which left me kind of geeked.

After reviewing some CDC materials and seeing how Weinstein and Heying addressed the subject, I think the odds are well above average that I acquired COVID-19 but my case was mild enough that I avoided hospitalization. It’s improbable, giving timing, that I was infected in Miami, but it’s also possible that a sequence of unfortunate events — potential lung over-expansion plus a mild cold — left me a bit more open to a lower respiratory infection than I might otherwise have been. However, without a test, this hypothesis cannot be verified. And in Michigan right now, there’s no capacity for screening for people who aren’t seriously ill.

One interesting educational tidbit that I learned from Weinstein and Heying relates to more advanced infection prevention. Everyone, of course, should follow basic guidelines for minimizing infection risk:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with un-washed hands.
  • For the coronavirus, wear an appropriate mask when you’re in a public space, and practice social distancing of at least 2 meters from everyone else at all times.

Weinstein recommended a few other precautions, to which I’ve added a few of my own:

  • If you don’t own a supply of N95 masks, make due with a doubled-up bandanna. Wear it over your nose and mouth in public, as if you were some sort of Antifa thug. A bandanna (or, as I’ve been wearing, a cotton shemagh) is likely highly effective, if not as good as an N95 mask, given the vector of coronavirus infection. Wash it daily. Clinical evidence from a 2010 study published in Applied Biosafety suggests bandannas are 11 percent effective at blocking 1 micron particles. The coronavirus is 100 to 120 microns and travels in droplets, suggesting that a well-fitted bandanna face covering could be something above 90 percent effective or better in blocking the virus. As they say — good enough for government work. (Weinstein recommends the bandanna in the absence of N95 masks, and my question to him in the livestream addressed this journal article.)
  • When you get home from a trip, strip and shower immediately and do not re-wear clothes. Virus particles could land, e.g., on your hair and then transfer to your pillow or to your eyes/nose/mouth through inadvertent touching. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is believed to live just a few hours on fabric, but that’s all it takes. If you decontaminate yourself after you get home, you substantially cut this risk.
  • Men with epic beards — yeah. You do know that they’re massive infection vectors in any case, right?
  • If you can sanitize your cart handles or basket handles at the store, do so. Sanitize them before you actually use them.
  • Decontaminate your hands with soap or alcohol sanitizer before you enter the store and before you get into your car. It’s not necessary to wear gloves in the store given that coronavirus doesn’t lead to COVID-19 through direct skin contact.
  • After you put your groceries away at home, wash your hands. The coronavirus can live up to a week on hard non-porous surfaces, so assume all the packaging of your groceries are contaminated. As such, wash your hands after touching all this stuff, especially before/during/after meal prep.
  • Safety glasses or sunglasses with side protection limit viral exposure to the eyes.

Lots of people have suffered from COVID-19, but emerging anecdotal evidence suggests it might have passed through parts of the country, especially California, earlier than people assume. Given that those early mild-to-moderate cases were likely misdiagnosed, odds are good that many more people have contracted the virus and either proved asymptomatic or experienced non-acute symptoms that have kept them out of the denominator of public-health stats. Until serology tests hit the market, however, we have no way of knowing who might have encountered the virus but avoided COVID-19 infection, or who encountered it and experienced mild symptoms.

Did I have COVID-19? Hell if I know, but it’s more likely than not. Some of my symptoms are consistent, some aren’t. Then again, my “cold” and “flu” weren’t typical, either. All I know for sure is that I basically lost the entire month of March to a mild, yet real, malaise — one that didn’t break until April 1.

Jason’s Playlist VI

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a current “top rotation” playlist, but a recent thread in the Vice Lounge Online group on Facebook (thanks, Duane!) prompted a re-review of the theme.

So here goes:

Song Artist Album Year
45 (Acoustic) Shinedown Leave a Whisper 2003
Amnesia 5 Seconds of Summer 5 Seconds of Summer 2014
Angelia Richard Marx Repeat Offender 1989
Bother Stone Sour Stone Sour 2002
Call Me Shinedown The Sound of Madness 2008
Chandelier Sia Chandelier 2014
Closure Chevelle Wonder What’s Next 2002
Conquistador Thirty Seconds to Mars Love Lust Faith + Dreams 2013
Desperado Eagles Desperado 1973
Everytime Britney Spears In the Zone 2013
Failure Breaking Benjamin Dark Before Dawn 2015
From Yesterday Thirty Seconds to Mars A Beautiful Lie 2005
Heathens Twenty One Pilots Suicide Squad: The Album 2016
Hesitate Stone Sour Audio Secrecy 2010
I Will Come to You (a capella) Hanson Hanson 1997
In the End Linkin Park Hybrid Theory 2000
Iridescent Linkin Park A Thousand Suns 2010
Making Love Out of Nothing at All Air Supply Making Love 1983
One Thing Finger Eleven Now, Vol. 17 2004
Radioactive Imagine Dragons Radioactive 2012
Ride the Wind Poison Flesh & Blood 1990
Rosanna Toto Toto IV 1982
Savior Rise Against Appeal to Reason 2008
Stardust Lifehouse Out of the Wasteland 2015
Stay Thirty Seconds to Mars Stay 2014
The Reason Hoobastank [NL 40] 2004
What a Shame Shinedown The Studio Album Collection 2013
What Ya Gonna Do Hinder All American Nightmare 2010
When the Children Cry White Lion Pride 1987
Work from Home Fifth Harmony 27/7 2016

Let’s see what auditory delights 2017 brings …

Jason's Playlist VI

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a current “top rotation” playlist, but a recent thread in the Vice Lounge Online group on Facebook (thanks, Duane!) prompted a re-review of the theme.
So here goes:

Song Artist Album Year
45 (Acoustic) Shinedown Leave a Whisper 2003
Amnesia 5 Seconds of Summer 5 Seconds of Summer 2014
Angelia Richard Marx Repeat Offender 1989
Bother Stone Sour Stone Sour 2002
Call Me Shinedown The Sound of Madness 2008
Chandelier Sia Chandelier 2014
Closure Chevelle Wonder What’s Next 2002
Conquistador Thirty Seconds to Mars Love Lust Faith + Dreams 2013
Desperado Eagles Desperado 1973
Everytime Britney Spears In the Zone 2013
Failure Breaking Benjamin Dark Before Dawn 2015
From Yesterday Thirty Seconds to Mars A Beautiful Lie 2005
Heathens Twenty One Pilots Suicide Squad: The Album 2016
Hesitate Stone Sour Audio Secrecy 2010
I Will Come to You (a capella) Hanson Hanson 1997
In the End Linkin Park Hybrid Theory 2000
Iridescent Linkin Park A Thousand Suns 2010
Making Love Out of Nothing at All Air Supply Making Love 1983
One Thing Finger Eleven Now, Vol. 17 2004
Radioactive Imagine Dragons Radioactive 2012
Ride the Wind Poison Flesh & Blood 1990
Rosanna Toto Toto IV 1982
Savior Rise Against Appeal to Reason 2008
Stardust Lifehouse Out of the Wasteland 2015
Stay Thirty Seconds to Mars Stay 2014
The Reason Hoobastank [NL 40] 2004
What a Shame Shinedown The Studio Album Collection 2013
What Ya Gonna Do Hinder All American Nightmare 2010
When the Children Cry White Lion Pride 1987
Work from Home Fifth Harmony 27/7 2016

Let’s see what auditory delights 2017 brings …

Good Riddance, 2016!

Perhaps the ultimate slap-in-the-face parting gift 2016 bequeaths to us is the addition of a leap second. Yes, 2016 will be one second longer. Enjoy it. Enjoy a brief moment longer of a year decried by many in social media as a genuine annus horribilis.

From my point of view, 2016 was a “meh” year. Unremarkable on many fronts, but not awful. I’ll review the timeline, then dive into a few reflections before wrapping up with a few public new-year resolutions.

Year in Review

The TL;DR version is: busy but manageable. Out-of-state travel is indicated in bold, below; I was out of The Mitten at least once in nine of 12 months of the year. And yes, in January and August I traveled to Chicago twice that month.

January.

  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ board of directors meeting
  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ Recognition of the Profession commission meeting
  • Get Published! 2016 — writing-conference panelist

February.

  • Wisconsin Dells, WI — speaker at Wisconsin Association for Healthcare Quality conference

March.

  • Actually, not much of significance happened in March.

April.

  • Louisville, KY — Vice Lounge Online fifth-anniversary trip
  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ commission-coordination meetings

May.

June.

  • Annapolis, MD — speaker at the Maryland Association for Healthcare Quality conference
  • “Bat in the bedroom” incident
  • Ann Arbor Book Festival

July.

  • Atlanta, GA — NAHQ commission-coordination meetings
  • Kayaking on the Flat River

August.

  • Chicago, IL — Joint Statistical Meetings
  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ board of directors meeting
  • Team transitions at Priority Health

September.

  • 40th birthday
  • Kerrytown Book Festival
  • Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality conference

October.

  • Las Vegas, NV — Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic
  • Hammond, IN — Casino trip with Tony
  • Corey+Nicole wedding
  • Grand tour of Kalamazoo indie bookstores
  • Joined board of directors at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters
  • “A Moment of Clarity” (non-fiction essay) contracted through Wipf+Stock
  • Brewed Awakenings 2 and Grayson Rising released at Caffeinated Press

November.

  • Stood for election (unsuccessfully) for Kent County Commission, 17th district
  • National Novel Writing Month — didn’t hit 50k but did learn new skills about complex plotting
  • Began a contract-editing gig for About.com

December.

  • Orlando, FL — NAHQ board of directors meeting; Disney Institute tour
  • Re-elected as chairman of the board at the annual shareholders’ meeting of Caffeinated Press
  • My boss at Priority Health transitions to new role; I now report to our VP
  • Launched new writing group — the Grand River Writing Tribe
  • Two weeks’ vacation

Reflections

On the Balancing of Work versus Accessibility.

On Jan. 2, 2016, I wrote about a year of refusal. The short version was that I had grown weary of people expecting me to what they wanted, when they wanted it; at the time I wrote that post, I was over-extended, and the pressure of other people’s expectations — particularly about turnaround times on email responses — took a real toll on my mental and emotional health. No one likes getting yelled at by acquaintances, regardless of whether the complaint is justified or not.

Over 2016, I succeeded in learning how to stop feeling guilty about being busy and therefore having to make tough choices about what I do and on what timeline. My new attitude isn’t one of, “Screw you.” Rather, it’s a recognition that I have constraints and that I can’t be all things to all people, so therefore I must let go of the emotional baggage that makes me feel bad when I can’t give others what they want, when they want it.

The problem consistently distills to timeliness-of-response to messages. I have three main email accounts (Priority Health, Caffeinated Press, and my personal address) plus seven other less-trafficked accounts. In an average week, I’ll receive roughly 1,500 emails across all accounts, not including spam. Of those 1,500 legitimate messages, disposition falls into thirds: One-third are list emails I can read or delete without acting on them; one-third are CC/BCC notes from my teams that I need to review but rarely need to act upon; one-third are messages that require me to do something. Put in different terms, I have to respond to nearly 70 emails a day, every day, without fail, if I’m to keep up. I’ve timed this, actually (hey, I’m a quality-improvement professional). Turns out, I can keep up if I dedicate three full hours every day to email, recognizing that some messages might be brief kick-the-can-down-the-road one-liners, while others can take 30 minutes or more to craft a complete response.

The biggest point in all of this, I think, is that “responding to people” can take a significant slice of time that’s not spent on doing other value-added activities — in I.T. terms, it’s prioritizing maintenance over development. The fact that twice in 2016 I took a vacation day from Priority Health purely to get caught up on email says something. Add to the mix the extra overhead of multiple follow-ups and people trying other ways to get my attention (most irritatingly, through texting and Facebook), and the pile just grows deeper.

Of course, there are brief periods when I’m relatively current. Three times (if I remember correctly) in 2016 I had attained “inbox zero” across all email accounts. But whoa, was that a lot of work. It’s more often the case that I will read a message within the first three to five days after receipt, and respond to it usually in about six weeks or so unless it’s a fire drill from my boss or a quick reply to a close colleague. But it’s not unusual that if I have to do something that takes a while before I can respond, answers could wait for three months or longer.

Some folks prioritize “keeping up with communication” above all else. I’ve tried that, myself. Discovered that I can’t get nearly as much done — in fact, one reason that Brewed Awakenings 2 was so delayed this year was that I put ops/admin stuff at Caffeinated Press above editorial work in the first half of 2016. The net result? I managed to stay on top of routine things like messages (more or less) and blog posts and keeping-the-lights-on business activities, but my productivity as an editor was effectively nil.

So lately I’ve deliberately de-prioritized communication so that I can focus on value-added behaviors. I find that very many messages that “need a response” actually don’t need a response if you let them age long enough.

Cynical? Maybe. The point isn’t that other people aren’t worth my time, or that I’m more important than the people who are reaching out to me. I fully recognize and respect that people who message me, in general, deserve as timely of a response as I can manage. It’s not that I don’t care. The real problem is triage. I’m typically putting in 80- or 90-hour weeks, every week, across all my areas of accountability (Priority Health, Caffeinated Press, GLCL, Vice Lounge Online, freelance editing, NAHQ, etc.) and at some point, I have to make tough choices about what to do and when to do it.

That said, you learn a lot about people, particularly business contacts, by how they react to gaps in communication. Most people, when you tell them that responses can take a while, just roll with it. Others start to get panicky (“Oh, sorry for stalking you on Facebook but I was afraid you forgot about me!”) while a few people — fortunately for me, not many — get passive-aggressive, sending emotionally manipulative screeds intended to provoke a response.

My colleague John and I will sometimes disagree about how to handle the passive-aggressive types. He’s in favor of “taking the high road.” I’m in favor of not responding to manipulative behaviors and to confronting them directly when they arise. I see the virtue in his approach, but I do hate letting bullies win simply to avoid an argument.

I continue to try to streamline what I do and how I do it so I can be more responsive to messages, but with the amount of stuff on my plate, it’s a challenge sometimes. No bones about it. But it’s nothing personal, either. And I don’t feel guilty about it.

On the Foibles of Publishing for the Love of It.

I very much enjoy my time at Caffeinated Press. I love our literary journal, The 3288 Review. I enjoy meeting authors and working with our editorial team and helping to grow a literary community.

That said, publishing is a high-cost, low-margin business. The board members continue to pay for the company’s monthly expenses out-of-pocket. Plenty of folks want to work with us — but only if they get paid to do it. Part of the “being busy” part referenced above includes all the sundry activities we must do to market the company and to ensure that we get enough ancillary revenue to defray the costs of doing business. I don’t regret being CEO, but I do sometimes lament that operations overtakes editorial in terms of the most pressing need of the day.

To my astonishment, the literary community of the greater Grand Rapids area is effectively non-existent, which makes running the business a degree more difficult. The GLCL struggles to make inroads. So do we. Very insular. Very few indie bookstores in the metro area; fewer still accept new books. The literary community is fractured into tribes — the religious publishers, the “high literary” writers, the slam poets, the NaNoWriMo group, the Lakeshore, the university scenes — and these tribes have virtually no intersection or cross-pollination. The libraries are “meh” about supporting the literary arts, and the emphasis in Grand Rapids on “art” is really about visual art. It’s not an accident that literary talent isn’t showcased in ArtPrize or on the Avenue of the Arts.

In fact, I can’t even get friends and family or the people who pitch us submissions to buy our products. Seriously.

So we struggle. But — opportunity awaits. No one has really tapped the market yet in a coherent way. Perhaps an event like a “Beer City Book Con” will make a difference. Stay tuned.

On the Dialectic of Habit.

An observation: A habit, once formed, inculcates itself into the fabric of one’s life, pushing against other habits until several habits stand in conflict. In true Hegelian fashion, the thesis of Habit A and the antithesis of Habit B yield a middle-ish ground in the form of Behavior C. Even if Behavior C wasn’t necessarily expected or desired. And eventually Behavior C is confronted by Habit D, etc.

I notice this tendency in myself. I see an opportunity for improvement, I focus on it, I succeed. But that success affects other things in unplanned ways.

For example, for years I obsessively followed a particular Internet news/discussion forum, dedicating perhaps four of five Friday nights to binge-consuming the forum’s content and engaging with other users. It was a habit. Simultaneously, I had a different habit of spending at least one or two nights per week completing a 30-, 45- or 60-minute cycle on my exercise bike. Then, that forum started having hosting problems, and then it went away completely for a few months. So that Friday-night habit went away. I replaced it with the habit of reading news through RSS on my tablet, accompanied with a cigar and a cocktail. But the “Friday night forum” and the “RSS news reader” weren’t a one-to-one substitution — for starters, the number of RSS feeds I followed grew to be much larger than the content on the forum. So the news-consumption habit changed. But because there was so much news to read, the habit spread beyond Friday, until I stopped using the exercise bike altogether. So no cardio, plus cocktails and cigars. Not a great combo. But not a solution I would have architected de novo, either.

The moral of the story? That as we go into the new year with fresh resolutions, we cannot forget that our lives are not a series of task lists to be executed in parallel. Rather, we live messy lives with the warp and weft of different strings of habit weaving themselves continuously into a tapestry that, if poorly planned, will hang crookedly from the wall of your mausoleum. If you resolve to “lose 50 pounds,” you’re not just talking about one set of isolated behaviors. Rather, you’re touching on many different behavior patterns — and the effect of unplanned finagling doesn’t always turn out well.

Which brings me to ….

Resolutions

Every year since 2009, I’ve revisited a document I call the “Roadmap” that lays out, in broad form, my meaning-of-life reflections as well as a series of goals, targeted by season. I update it every year on Christmas Day and Independence Day. When I tweaked it last week, I removed my seasonal-goals list and substituted instead a series of focus areas by month, augmented by a “daily discipline” section templating a paradigmatic week.

Not all of my resolutions/goals are worth sharing, but a few are. I consider you, dear readers, to be accountability partners for me.

Here we go:

  1. Arrive at age 41 at roughly the same physical shape as I was at age 31. But, incorporate more significant strength training beginning in late spring. For single dudes of a certain age (lookin’ at you, mirror), the “muscle daddy” body design seems to be universally popular. Plus, health.
  2. Finish the book proposal for From Pencil to Print (a non-fic writers’ manual) and send it to at least one agent for review.
  3. Write the novel that’s been peeking through the gaps in my last few NaNoWriMo experiences.
  4. Finish and then release my poetry chapbook, Whiskey, Cats & Poems.
  5. Become a registered parliamentarian. (Why? Well, why not?)
  6. Learn more Python — to the point of standing up a Bokeh server and hosting data-viz solutions.
  7. Do at least one of each: Hiking trip, diving trip, kayaking trip. Somewhere around the Upper Midwest. Weekend excursions, nothing crazy.
  8. Do the Tony Snyder 40th Birthday of Power in The Happiest Place on Earth (Las Vegas).
  9. Earn “advanced open water” diver certification and upgrade to “general” class radio license.
  10. Complete a Wilderness First Responder course.
  11. Go skydiving.
  12. Return to the karate dojo this summer.

OK, folks — I’ve nattered on long enough. Let me wrap up by wishing each of you a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.