Tag Archives: health

Pandemic Chronicles #10: Taking stock of our lives

Is the coronavirus pandemic prompting you to take stock of your life? Are you spending some of the compelled time at home examining your past, present, and future? If so, you’re in good company. Put simply, facing one’s mortality and living under lockdown conditions has a way of encouraging big picture thinking.

In a recent piece for the Boston Globe (link here), journalist Beth Teitell examines this phenomenon:

If an entire region can have an existential crisis, we’re having one.

With COVID-19 cases mounting and the fear of death hovering, therapist Sam Nabil captured the question lurking barely beneath the surface:

“If I die now, have I lived the life I wanted to?”

For many, the answer is no. Spouses are being left, retirements pushed up, friends dropped. People are moving to rural spots and strengthening their faith, and those fortunate enough to have a choice are saying “no” to commuting.

At the core, so many of the individuals interviewed in Teitell’s piece refer to reassessing their values and priorities. It’s deep stuff, leading to decisions about how we want to live, what we want to do, and what people we want to hold close.

Perhaps this reassessment will not only lead us to better our own lives, but also individually and collectively move us toward creating a better society. Exploring this possibility for the New Yorker, author Lawrence Wright interviewed Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s Institute of the History of Medicine, about how the pandemic may shape our futures (link here). Dr. Pomata is an authority on, among other things, the history of the Black Plague of the Middle Ages.

Now living in Italy, one of the original hot zones for COVID-19 outbreaks, Pomata shared her historical perspective with Wright:

When we first talked, on Skype, she immediately compared covid-19 to the bubonic plague that struck Europe in the fourteenth century—“not in the number of dead but in terms of shaking up the way people think.” She went on, “The Black Death really marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of something else.” That something else was the Renaissance.

…“What happens after the Black Death, it’s like a wind—fresh air coming in, the fresh air of common sense.”

Although Pomata expressed shock over the resistance of so many Americans to follow basic public health precautions such as wearing masks, she sees the potential for a similar revitalizing response on a global level once we get through this pandemic:

“What I expect now is something as dramatic is going to happen, not so much in medicine but in economy and culture. Because of danger, there’s this wonderful human response, which is to think in a new way.”

So, I’m going to put on my law professor’s hat and say that the jury’s still out for me on whether our post-pandemic world will be a more enlightened one. After all, here in the U.S., we are witnesses to some of the most appalling ignorance and selfishness when it comes to undertaking preventive public health measures, and we have an alarming absence of competent leadership at the head of state.

Nevertheless, if humanity can come out of the utter carnage of the Black Plague to create the Renaissance, then we have the capacity to emerge from this pandemic with a vision for a much better world as well. That’s all the more reason to wear those masks, wash our hands, and stay socially distanced.

Pandemic Chronicles #2: Turning off the TV news coverage has made me better informed and less anxious

 

Television news coverage and commentary are designed to get an emotional rise out of us. They can inform but also inflame. That’s how they get and keep viewers and thus build their ratings. At the start of the coronavirus crisis, I found myself watching a lot of TV news programming. And with it rose my anxiety levels, without necessarily feeling better informed.

During the past week or so, however, I’ve cut my TV news viewing to a bare minimum. I’ve limited most of my television time to binge-viewing great television series. (For example, I’m delighted to recommend “Foyle’s War” — a crime drama set in WWII-era England — for its depiction of history, appealing characters, and rich story lines.)

I subscribe to a lot of newspapers, magazines, and periodicals, both online and in print. I also listen to radio news coverage. I’m a news junkie, and I like to be an informed citizen. Furthermore, my work as a law professor and legal scholar requires me to be well-informed.

Because of the coronavirus, however, my focus has become more intensely local. While I’m interested in the national and global aspects of the pandemic, I’m now closely drawn to what’s happening in Greater Boston specifically and Massachusetts generally. I find that three regional news sources, in particular, have become lifelines for helping me stay informed about, and feel connected to, my local scene during this challenging time: The Boston Globe (daily newspaper), WBUR-FM (public radio news station), and Universal Hub (online news site).

Of course, virtually any news coverage related to this public health crisis is going to push some emotional buttons, but I’ve found myself less anxious and better informed by turning away from TV news and toward sites like the Globe, WBUR, and Universal Hub. They have also given me an even deeper appreciation for the high-quality journalism that still exists in this city, despite the challenges facing the news business. We need these resources now more than ever.

 

Pandemic Chronicles #1: “Be careful what you wish for…”

Back in November 2018, I wrote here about my “dream vacation” (link here):

My current dream vacation doesn’t involve traveling to popular or exotic tourist sites. In fact, it may sound downright geeky and dull to a lot of folks: A few weeks with a box of selected books, DVDs, and magazines. Television with cable. Favorite music. Some tabletop sports games to play. Several good eateries within walking distance. Maybe a few tourist attractions or get-togethers with friends, but no demanding sightseeing or social calendar. I’d have my computer with an Internet connection to keep up on the news and do some writing, but work-related activities would be kept to a minimum, including e-mails.

. . . Maybe I can make this aspiration a reality. At the very least, I could plan it as an extended staycation. I wouldn’t need a list of sites to see, performances to attend, or beaches to visit. Just a comfortable space to read, binge watch, order pizza delivery, and think big and little thoughts.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. To the extent that 2020 delivers a “vacation” of any sort, it will likely resemble what I described in that blog post, only without the occasional restaurant and sightseeing visits that I imagined a couple of years ago.

Of course, this is looking at things from a positive angle. Truth is, this global pandemic has suddenly and deeply reached into our daily lives at the most granular levels. We are still in the early stages of understanding and responding to this coronavirus, which is hard to grasp given that the past few weeks have felt like, well, forever. This time is scary and heavy and unlike anything most of us have ever experienced.

Here in my Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, I’m hunkered down in my modest little condo, grateful to be able to do my academic job from home and to have the ability to order deliveries from my local grocery store and restaurants. I’m taking this public health threat very seriously. Massachusetts has entered a dangerous stage of this pandemic, so I’m mostly staying inside and wiping down package deliveries with disinfectant spray.

In terms of work, like countless other professors, I’m now teaching my classes via distance learning. The mass migration from face-to-face teaching to classes by videoconference has been a major adjustment for instructors and students alike. Still, I’m glad that we have the technology to continue the semester, and we’re making the best of the situation.

Which brings me back to my so-called vacation. It’s not going to happen, at least not in the carefree way I envisioned it. But in looking ahead to the summer, I hope I’ll be able to carve out a few days to dive into my personal library, for the pure pleasure of reading. In my home, I’m surrounded by good books, and perhaps a silver lining of this terrible situation will be an opportunity to spend more quality time with them.

***

I’ll be using this blog as a personal chronicle about this experience. During this time, I hope that I’ll be relatively healthy, physically and mentally, but I also know that difficult times are ahead. Like during the early stages of a war where your side is losing, the news seems relentlessly bad right now. Although I’m confident that effective therapeutic treatments and vaccines will be developed, the time between now and then will be very challenging. I hope that we can find ways to cope with the uncertainties, support one another, and find meaning in activities that bring us satisfaction and healthy distractions.

Dealing with colds: Brothers in the struggle

Woe is me.

Woe is me.

I’ve got a winter cold, and I’m feeling whiney about it. (In my last post I complained about the winter weather. At least I’m developing a theme.)

I remember when coming down sick meant staying home from school and watching reruns of bad sitcoms on TV. This is among the reasons why I can still sing the theme songs from shows such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres.”

Today, being an academic, I suppose I could stay home from school and watch more bad reruns, but in reality I simply have to deal with my cold and be mindful not to share it with others.

We have yet to develop a cure for the common cold, but research is showing that among the various “alternative” remedies, zinc-based products have shown the most promise for reducing a cold’s duration and severity. I have found this to be the case, and hence the free plug for Cold-Eeze above.

However, no cold remedy is a miracle worker, and so some degree of discomfort is inevitable. Despite the burdens of my malady, I shall go on.

Our heavy burden

And if I may add a dose of gendered controversy into this post, it’s worth noting that we men may suffer more than woman from the common cold. As Nigel Farndale wrote for The Telegraph two years ago:

This is because a cold is debilitating, for a man. Loss of concentration is merely the start of it. A man knows his cold has properly kicked in when his brain has become glued to his skull and he can no longer breathe, not in any meaningful sense of the word.

For a woman, a cold is of little consequence, which is why I resent the mockery men endure about “man flu”. Yes, yes, I think. Very funny. But men have long known, by a process of deduction, that the colds they get are much worse than the colds women get.

In fact, he added, there may be scientific evidence for this:

Researchers at the University of Queensland have proved that men suffer more from colds than women. They found that female volunteers had a “much stronger immune response” to rhinoviruses – the bugs that cause the common cold – than men.

So the next time you encounter a man with a cold who is acting like a plague victim, don’t be judgmental. He’s doing the best he can.

As for me, I shall persevere. There’s work to be done, and I must do it.

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