Archive for March, 2020

I’m actually afraid to write this post, even though I know very few people will see it. I fear misrepresentation of my words, or the mislabeling of me as some right-wing conspiracy nut, which is the exact opposite of who I am for anyone that knows me. Before you read this, please know that I have taken the pandemic very seriously; I follow the rules of my state (California) and don’t leave my house for non-essential business. I don’t congregate in groups. I wash my hands until they bleed. I have the “alerts” set up on my phone for both Los Angeles and Ventura counties, so that I know what the new rules are as soon as they are sent out to the public.

This morning, I read some headlines: “Facing a Month of Sickness and Death” is but one example, but there are so many I could quote, with words such as “global catastrophe”, “tsunami of death”, “unimaginable human tragedy”, “fatal epidemic”, “existential threat” and more. Then there are articles showing the sickly lungs of a Covid-19 sufferer, articles lamenting the deaths of our cherished elders, and photos of those who have lost their lives. Are these illnesses and deaths tragic? Of course they are. The fact that in Madrid a rest home was filled with abandoned, gravely ill people and corpses were left on beds is horrifying. Do I believe, back here in the States, that suddenly the media and the government care deeply about our elders and the most vulnerable members of our population? No. I do not believe that we have miraculously developed compassion for the people living in the shadows. In fact, I believe that the media and state governments are using fear and hysteria for their own ends. It is the most hypocritical display I have ever seen.

Allow me to back up a little. The fear level has been so high that some friends and family members have become physically ill from stress and worry. I have been sick to my stomach for weeks, reading the horror that daily floods the news, social media, texts from well-meaning friends and family, email, and any other form of media you can imagine. It’s always the worst-case scenario; the numbers are always panic-inspiring. For weeks now, we have been unable to purchase hand sanitizer, gloves, bleach, or anything else that might actually disinfect surfaces. People have hoarded rice and pasta, and only now are canned soups showing up again. Everyone is wary of everyone else; social distancing has become social distrust and wariness. The levels of fear have been stoked to such a level that I doubt people will easily return to ‘normal’ after we have been give the green light to socialize. This crisis has permanently altered the way we view each other and our behavior. If we were an ‘every man for himself’ culture before, we are going to be far more so afterwards. And yes, I acknowledge that there have been many instances of generosity of spirit and neighbors taking care of neighbors; but I wonder if that will become the new norm, or if fear and isolation will win out in the end.

Are we going to care as much when people who were already in poverty fall off the map into homelessness after months of unemployment? Are we going to breathlessly catalog each death that results from lost income and lack of access to quality health care? Will the media lament the deaths of our elders who pass away abandoned and alone, in miserable conditions because staff is too afraid to work there anymore or touch anyone? One could argue that all the draconian measures were necessary to prevent mass death; and perhaps that will ultimately be the conclusion to all of this. And, of course, if California ends up with far fewer fatalities from Covid-19 than was anticipated, this will be attributed to the stay-at-home orders–perhaps rightfully so.

There are, however, some facts that disturb me. After reading the March 28th edition of the Los Angeles Times–specifically, the article “Hospitals Facing a Cruel April” (and they undoubtedly are, in many cases–not disputing that our health care system is woefully and unethically unprepared for any major health care crisis–more on that below), I noticed that if you read the entire article, there are some predictions for California’s Covid-19 fatality rate near the end. Computer simulations are placing the death tolls anywhere from a low of 898 to a high of 13,650, with a likely number of 6,109 deaths from this illness. This IS TRAGIC. Let’s also take a look at the number of flu deaths in 2017-18: “only” 329 deaths, which appears to validate the strikingly higher fatality rate of Covid-19. However, if you look at californiahealthline.org, the number does not even COUNT people who died from the flu who are over 65. The state does not track flu deaths of people over 65, who account for the majority of fatalities.

Why do we not ‘count’ the deaths of those over 65 in the flu statistics? Where is the breathless death count for the ‘regular’ flues? Where is the coverage, the outrage, the sadness, the horror, the call for reform when flu deaths in those over 65 far outstrip the numbers for those that are younger? The state figure of 329 flu deaths, in reality, represents only 1 in 10 of the state’s mortality rate. That means that Covid-19 could be twice as deadly, but if you take into account that we have not tested but a tiny fraction of our population, and that this new illness has been circulating in the state for MONTHS now, the mortality rate for Covid-19 could be far lower than it is for seasonal flu. The fact that our health care system is overwhelmed by this new threat means that we have not prepared or prioritized health care for all in this country. That is no shock to anyone.

We do NOT care about the elderly, the low-income, the homeless, the addicted, the immigrant, or those challenged with chronic and disabling mental and physical conditions. We PRETEND we care now, because suddenly, it’s going to look bad when nurses are dressed in trash bags, wearing bandannas, and trying to figure out who to save and who to let die. There was a massive crisis in our health care system long before Covid-19 showed up, and that’s what we are truly, and finally freaking out about: one new virus, one that isn’t nearly as fatal as it might have been, as others surely will be, and all the ugly cracks in our national facade are blown wide open.

Does our government and our media really care so much about deaths due to Covid-19 that we all need to hide out in our homes, wracked with despair and terror? Do we suddenly and magically care about preexisting conditions and our senior citizens? I don’t think so; I think what terrifies the leaders of our states and nations are the ‘optics’ of hospitals leaking photos and videos of an overwhelmed system. It’s so much easier to blame the illness for all the chaos and sadness in our hospitals instead of the system itself; we wring our hands in despair over the effects of the new illness in the homeless camps or in immigrant communities, when the real problem are the homeless camps and detention centers themselves. We mourn the deaths of the old and vulnerable in the nursing homes, forgetting that the real shame is that they are there in the first place.

We were always on the edge of disaster in our health care system, and we didn’t collectively give a damn about the most vulnerable populations to pandemics, until suddenly “those people” might infect us or make us look uncaring and callous. Once we have vaccines and treatments, we will be able to hide our national shame behind closed doors again. One day, the poor, the crazy, the destitute immigrants, the junkies, and the elderly can go back to dying of ‘acceptable’ causes, causes which we can once again ignore or pretend not to see.

Fear sells; fear makes money. The stock market will recover, and some people will have made their fortunes from our misfortunes. “Normal” will resume; but for those whose lives suddenly mattered so much, we will turn a blind eye to all the deaths to come that were not related to a new and exotic disease. If opioids killed you, or you died from neglect in a ‘rest home’, or the desert sun brought you to your knees while trying to save your children from gangs in Honduras, or you simply died alone and forgotten in your home from a disease that should never have killed you, you might get a paragraph at the end of a newspaper article or you might be included in some database somewhere. But probably not.

Read Full Post »

I don’t need to talk about viruses, the Stock Market, the mortality rates, our general unpreparedness, the global recession, or the statistics regarding who is more likely to get infected, get sick, or die. You have all been inundated by virus news for days, and it will continue for weeks. I want to talk about something else: reality and our fear of the truth.

From the day we are born, the day we are conceived, we sign a contract with death. Everything that takes material form will die. We will all die, and all of our loved ones will die; it’s not a matter of if, but when, and how. When I choose to get up in the morning and drive on Los Angeles freeways, I take the risk that I may not make it to my destination or back home. After three car accidents in six months (one was my responsibility; the other two happened when the driver behind me was distracted by their phone and slammed into my stopped car), I am very aware–hyper aware–that every trip out might be my last.

I have survived multiple surgeries, countless infections, accidents, and random ‘conditions’. I am aware that I might not survive the Corona virus, and my parents might not, either. I understand that if we all survive this virus, another might come along that is far worse. Or, my father could be hit by a car while riding his bicycle down Edwards Hill. My mother might fall again, and this time not miss the curb by millimeters. Your life, your existence, is under threat every second of every day of your life.

It is our nature as human beings to do everything possible to stay alive. It is our imperative as species. I will take all the Coronovirus precautions, just as I wear my seat belt, drive the speed limit, and go to the doctor when my breathing is labored or a cut looks like it’s becoming infected. I walk on the side of the road and carry an electrified walking stick to ward off packs of coyotes and mountain lions in the hills by my house. I don’t climb trees anymore, and I always wash my hands. I don’t wear slippery shoes in the rain or climb rocks in sandals. When I saw a rattlesnake right in front of me a few weeks ago, I slowly backed away instead of trying to pick it up. And yet, for all these precautions, for all the ways in which I try to maximize my survival in the world, I know that the rattlesnake might strike; the car might be crumpled into a metal ball in spite of my seat belt and law-abiding speed; the mountain lion that crossed the road in front of me could decide, the next time, to grab my throat; the next infection might kill me if my body doesn’t react to the strongest of antibiotics; the fall could happen, even wearing my hiking boots. And, I might pick up Coronavirus and be one of the unlucky few whose respiratory system can’t fight it off. I might die on a respirator in a foreign hospital.

We don’t like to think about these basic truths, so we cover them up with distractions: social media, Internet browsing and information hoarding, shopping for things we don’t need, preparing for the Apocalypse, eating, searching out soulmates or sex partners, drinking, taking pills, or watching hours of mindless television. There are as many ways to distract ourselves as there are ways to die. Counting ways to die or calculating our personal risk of death from the latest virus is another distraction.

Our time on Earth is limited. Some of us have only hours or moments to live; others, many decades. The final destination is always the same, however, and most of us will not be ready for it. For all the focus on how we could die in this latest crisis–from the illness itself, or as a result of the economic collapse that is just as horrifyingly spectacular–we don’t talk about how we are supposed to live. And oh, how I wish that I could tell you how to live. But I cannot. I can only tell you how I try to live.

A professional in the mental health field noticed that I was someone out of place in terms of my culture, and that I have a rather interesting ability to forecast coming events of large, social significance. I have certain psychic abilities that are a direct result of a high level of sensitivity. My ‘problems’ might stem from seeing things differently and sensing realities that are not clear and obvious to others. The result is, I tend to live in places we call the ‘past’ and the ‘future’ even more than the average soul. And, there is precious little cultural or social support for someone like me, who lives with the anxiety of what is to come. I am either ridiculed or ignored when I attempt to share how I perceive reality. But I have learned a couple of things along the way that might be useful to others.

Even if you sense the future, you cannot live there. The more that you try to predict exactly what is going to happen, the worse you will feel. You can make informed decisions in the present moment; but the present moment is the only absolute reality. We can make predictions based on the best available information, and we can adjust our behavior accordingly. However: the essential fact is, we cannot live anywhere but where we are right now. The present moment is always, by its very nature, easier to manage than attempting to live in the future and control outcomes. Living in the present moment means accepting what you do not know and what you cannot control.

If that upsets you because you need to know now, you need to control the outcome now, and you must understand all the consequences of all possible actions right now, you will suffer.

That suffering is the enemy of health. It is unnecessary. Tracking daily deaths from the Coronavirus or any other pathogen lurking out there is pointless on an individual level; if you work at the CDC or are an infectious disease specialist, then yes, you need to know. For the rest of us, counting bodies and serious illnesses and watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average as it rises and falls (and falls, and falls) is a recipe for severe anxiety. Decisions that we make while under the influence of severe anxiety are not likely to be wise or caring.

Let me repeat that: decisions that you make while panicking will not be considered, wise, or compassionate. Knee-jerk reactions to fear will place a greater burden on your friends, family, and community. Worst case scenarios are fictions until they actually play out. Yes, go ahead, plan for the worst-case scenario, but don’t live there. Don’t behave as if we are there already. When the media started talking about a 500 year drought in California, I was sick over that possibility for months. That was a worst case scenario that did not happen. This time, of course, there is wisdom in preparing for the worst; however, watch out for your mental health if you act as if a hypothetical future were already here, happening to you right now.

Our minds can destroy us if we allow it; our sensitivities, whether they manifest as a ‘disorder’ or as an ability to see clearly what is coming, or to peer into other worlds or dimensions, can either be a gift or a curse. No matter what you think you know about the future of humanity, trust me, you can’t know everything. You can’t know what you can’t see or understand. Everyone has blind spots; I can often see the emotional fallout of a future event, but I don’t know how that event is going to unfold.

Our lives are marked and defined by uncertainty, chaos, unpredictability, and a lack of control. Effective action for ourselves and others depends on whether we see that as a curse or as offering us the limitless potential of absolute freedom. Freedom requires we lose the fear of death. Prepare to live, but do not fear death. This is where your beliefs, your understandings, will determine your mental health. Do you know that your material life is only part of the equation? Do you know that life continues in a different form? Or do you believe that this material existence, filled with dread and fear, is the best that we can hope for? Your answer to this will depend on your experiences. Or, perhaps your answer comes from faith.

One way or the other, make friends with Death. For that is the only doorway to another life, another understanding, another opportunity for renewal and redemption.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Read Full Post »