Friday, March 27, 2020

An Open Email For The New Normal

Hello everyone. (I’m sending this to many people BCC so as to keep email addresses private - forgive if you get duplicates.)

I am sending this message out to friends and family with the hope that you are all safe and well. 

Being a nearly life-long existentialist, I can’t help but to be philosophical and reflect on the situation we all find ourselves in. We are living, it seems, in a surreal world, one we couldn’t have imagined even a few months ago. 

I was taking an Italian refresher course with the idea that one of these days I might get to Italy again to explore the towns where my grandparents were born. Now, that seems unlikely. 

I watched the news of Italian hospitals and doctors and health workers and it was truly heartbreaking. I could feel my eyes get moist. And now we see the same happening here. Such brave and dedicated workers on the front line, taking care of the sick and dying with dwindling supplies and at risk of their own health and that of their families and loved ones. It is emotional beyond heartbreaking. 

And there are many others who we rarely or never see: the maintenance workers who have to clean bathrooms and mop floors, the food service workers, those who answer phones, the ambulance crews, and now those who must handle the bodies and bury or cremate them by the hundreds….and I’m sure, so many others like grocery store workers and pharmacy staff who are being called upon to be there for all of us.

Whenever I have visited a doctor or a clinic for a check-up, for a blood test or whatever, I always make it a point to say thank you to the provider and the staff. From now on, I/we should make certain to not forget to thank those who we entrust with our health and care. They are true heros in this age and deserve to know we appreciate their work.

I consider myself fortunate by comparison. Going grocery shopping and stopping for a bite to eat while in town was my weekly “entertainment” since we live in a tiny town about 35 miles from anywhere. I am a senior, so now I have a bit of trepidation about even going to the grocery store - certainly not a risky activity by comparison to going to work in a hospital, but this pandemic has made us all fear some of the ordinary activities of life - things we took for granted, just weeks ago. 

Here in New Mexico we have not yet gotten to a point of being overwhelmed. People (well most people) are doing what they need to, to keep themselves and others safe and healthy. 

Yet, we, like people everywhere, are feeling the anxiety, the sadness, the grief, the apprehension about the future. 

The old Greek myth of Pandora’s Box comes to mind. We have unleashed the pestilence and it may very well be here to stay. By we, I mean all of us, all of humankind. 

Science had predicted this and, well, we were all to busy raping the earth and amassing wealth and fighting one another and jetting around the world and looking out for our own selves and living with little regard for future generations. 

The universe, mother nature, or if you prefer, the almighty, has put us in our place. Alas, we are not supermen/women; we are not masters of the universe; we are not invincible. Our hubris has brought us to this reconing, to this place of frailty and humility. 

Grief is an appropriate word to use for what we are experiencing because we, life, the world, will never be the same again. And denial and anger, and bargaining, and more grieving. 

It is, in a way, a loss of innocence, a paradise lost, a loss of a way of life that we were used to and took for granted. Life may never be the same. We may certainly grieve the dead and we may grieve even more the loss of what was before.

But we also are blessed with medicine and science and great doctors and scientists who are dedicted to finding ways to tame, if not eliminate the evil that threatens us. Now is certainly not the time to ignore the wisdom of science and medicine. And do not be fooled by those who would use our fear for their own advantage. Don’t fall for unproven cures or treatments, for scammers who would take your last dollar for a bottle of snake oil. Or those who would take your confidence and laugh.

Please heed the warnings of trusted health experts and keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. I am hoping you are not too fearful and have those around you who can help and support you. I’m sure that this too will end. 

On a somewhat lighter note, I have always been frugal and buy quantities of whatever is “on sale” or those multi-packs of whatever at Costco. So we have enough food. Maybe too much. I have about 25 pounds of flour on the shelf! That will hold us for a while, I’m sure because I have been making my own Italian bread (and pizza and calzone), because there is NO GOOD ITALIAN BREAD IN NEW MEXICO! (However, I have not stockpiled TP and I’m sure I won’t be able to find any when we run out.)

My hubby, Leon, is still working. His regular place of business, Tent Rocks National Monument  is closed to the public but the staff have been doing maintenance and Leon has now been assigned to other Bureau of Land Management projects. Thankfully, he is not in much contact with the public, so he is relatively protected. 

Our dog Benni (short for Benedict - Latin for blessing), like dogs everywhere, is totally oblivious to what is going on. He still wants his daily hike in the hills with all his doggie friends, his meals with a helping of people food, his treats, his afternoon walk to the mail room, and snoozing a lot. He is truely a blessing!

We may not be in close proximity but we do think of you all. Life seems to get away from us and, well, making phone calls has never been my favorite pastime. Again, wishing you all a safe journey and safe passage. May we all get there unscathed. 


Frank and Leon

P.S. As my grandma DeFrancesco always said (adjust age as appropriate), “You don’t know-a nothing-a yet! And look-a me, I’m a 72 and I don’t know-a nothing-a yet!” She would then tell the story of the old, once very beautiful, woman who was dying, thanking God that she was dying without a blemish or broken bone, but then the pallbearers dropped her casket that went tumbling down the steep stone steps of the church, her body expelled and the casket landing on her now blemished and broken body. “You, see,” grandma would say, “Even after-a you-a dead, you still don’t-a know-a nothing-a yet!"

Sunday, March 22, 2020

OK, So I'm 72

Did I just post that? I keep thinking I’m 27.

Kind of celebrated yesterday with Leon and two neighbors Linda and Angie.

Of course I had to make dinner for everyone and bake my own birthday cake, too.

Everyone liked the cake even though the frosting was a little bit runny. I added just a little bit too much black coffee and didn’t have enough ingredients to adjust for the extra liquid.

That’s my aunt Stella‘s recipe which of course I didn’t follow exactly.  I just winged the amounts. Cocoa, butter, confectioner sugar, vanilla, black coffee.

She always added black coffee to her chocolate frosting. That’s what makes it so good. But I never tell anyone that, especially if they don't like coffee.

Here’s what’s left of the cake. We were all scooping up extra frosting and mixing it with the whipped cream topping.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Report From An Italian Doctor - and it is NOT about toilet paper

From World Economic Forum


'Every ventilator becomes like gold' - doctors give emotional warnings from Italy's Coronavirus outbreak

Last updated 10 March 2020.
  • Italian doctors are taking to social media to share what it's like to work at hospitals battling coronavirus.
  • One doctor warned against complacency in a country where more than 7,000 people have been infected by COVID-19.
  • The whole of Italy is now under quarantine measures to curb the spread of the virus.
As COVID-19, or the coronavirus, spreads across Europe, responses are mixed. While World Health Organization (WHO) guidance underscores the seriousness of the situation and some employers encourage people to work from home, for many people life simply continues as normal. 

But one doctor who is at the heart of the outbreak in Bergamo, northern Italy, has taken to social media to issue an emotional warning on the reality that could await elsewhere if complacency wins.
At the time of writing, the whole of Italy is under quarantine measures as it battles to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 7,000 people and killed at least 463 in the country. According to the WHO, one-fifth of people infected need hospital treatment - and this could be enough to overwhelm healthcare systems if the epidemic spreads.

coronavirus spread chart
The flattened curve shows how a reduced rate of coronavirus infection could reduce the strain on hospitals
Image: Ester Kim, Carl T. Bergstrom

Dr Daniele Macchini, an Intensive Care Unit physician in Bergamo, a city near Milan, shared his experience of working in a hospital where exhausted staff battle to save patients. His Facebook post was picked up in an Italian newspaper and translated on Twitter by Dr Silvia Stringhini, an epidemiologist and researcher based at the Geneva University's Institute of Global Health. 
Below is the text of the translation, which you can also read in the thread above. As context, 80% of people with coronavirus experience mild symptoms, but an acute form of the illness can lead to life-threatening pneumonia. The elderly are particularly vulnerable.
Dr Daniele Macchini's post, translated by Dr Silvia Stringhini
"After much thought about whether and what to write about what is happening to us, I felt that silence was not responsible.
"I will therefore try to convey to people far from our reality what we are living in Bergamo in these days of Covid-19 pandemic. I understand the need not to create panic, but when the message of the dangerousness of what is happening does not reach people I shudder.
"I myself watched with some amazement the reorganization of the entire hospital in the past week, when our current enemy was still in the shadows: the wards slowly 'emptied', elective activities were interrupted, intensive care were freed up to create as many beds as possible.
"All this rapid transformation brought an atmosphere of silence and surreal emptiness to the corridors of the hospital that we did not yet understand, waiting for a war that was yet to begin and that many (including me) were not so sure would ever come with such ferocity.
"I still remember my night call a week ago when I was waiting for the results of a swab. When I think about it, my anxiety over one possible case seems almost ridiculous and unjustified, now that I've seen what's happening. Well, the situation now is dramatic to say the least.
"The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted day and night. But now that need for beds has arrived in all its drama. One after the other the departments that had been emptied fill up at an impressive pace.
"The boards with the names of the patients, of different colours depending on the operating unit, are now all red and instead of surgery you see the diagnosis, which is always the damned same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia. 
"Now, explain to me which flu virus causes such a rapid drama. [post continues comparing Covid19 to flu, link here]. And while there are still people who boast of not being afraid by ignoring directions, protesting because their normal routine is 'temporarily' put in crisis, the epidemiological disaster is taking place. And there are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists, we are only doctors who suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us.
"Cases are multiplying, we arrive at a rate of 15-20 admissions per day all for the same reason. The results of the swabs now come one after the other: positive, positive, positive. Suddenly the E.R. is collapsing.
"Reasons for the access always the same: fever and breathing difficulties, fever and cough, respiratory failure. Radiology reports always the same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia. All to be hospitalized.
"Someone already to be intubated and go to intensive care. For others it's too late... Every ventilator becomes like gold: those in operating theatres that have now suspended their non-urgent activity become intensive care places that did not exist before.
"The staff is exhausted. I saw the tiredness on faces that didn't know what it was despite the already exhausting workloads they had. I saw a solidarity of all of us, who never failed to go to our internist colleagues to ask, 'What can I do for you now?'
"Doctors who move beds and transfer patients, who administer therapies instead of nurses. Nurses with tears in their eyes because we can't save everyone, and the vital parameters of several patients at the same time reveal an already marked destiny.
"There are no more shifts, no more hours. Social life is suspended for us. We no longer see our families for fear of infecting them. Some of us have already become infected despite the protocols. 
"Some of our colleagues who are infected also have infected relatives and some of their relatives are already struggling between life and death. So be patient, you can't go to the theatre, museums or the gym. Try to have pity on the myriad of old people you could exterminate.
"We just try to make ourselves useful. You should do the same: we influence the life and death of a few dozen people. You with yours, many more. Please share this message. We must spread the word to prevent what is happening here from happening all over Italy.
"I finish by saying that I really don't understand this war on panic. The only reason I see is mask shortages, but there's no mask on sale anymore. We don't have a lot of studies, but is it panic really worse than neglect and carelessness during an epidemic of this sort?"


AND ANOTHER THING (if you saw the mess of a news conference this afternoon:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Waters of the Desert

Hubby and I went for a two day vacation down state to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. (you can google that if you want to know why and when the town took its name from the old TV game show)

Truth or Consequences other claim to fame is its hot springs. There are several "resorts" or places that one can go to to take a good hot soak in hot, steamy mineral waters. Other than that, the town is a rather typical New Mexico town. A bit run down, a bit artsy, a bit touristy, a bit historic, a bit economically depressed.

The Hot Spring business seems to be the main economy. Lots of locals are employed and there are a few restaurants that probably depend on the hot spring tourists. The town is, like so many in New Mexico, "out there" so most people have a substantial drive to get there.

We went to Blackstone Hot Springs where we met up with some friends we knew from Connecticut who had moved to Las Cruces about a year ago. They are only about an hour and a half from T or C.

The rooms at Blackstone are all themed after old TV shows like Golden Girls, Superman, Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Jetsons and others.

Leon and I stayed in the Studio because it was the only dog-friendly room (and of course Benni came along). Our friends had the Wonder Woman room (see photos below).

Each room has its own soaking tub which is filled with hot spring water on demand and drained when you are finished. Seems like such an extravagant waste of water, but I'm assuming the supply is endless.
The resort supplies plenty of towels and bathrobes.

Wonder Woman's Tub

And the grounds as well as the rooms are beautifully done. The sun and shade does not make for good photos, but these are a few shots that are not too bad.

The pergola and deck and other wood work is really nicely done.

And the privacy walls are pretty creative and unique.

Less than three hours from where we live they rarely get a snowflake and there are PALM TREES. Nice change of climate and greenery.

There are also "communal" or private outdoor pools which can be rented by the hour. They will have fresh towels ready and the pool filled when your hour starts and the pool will begin draining when your time is up.

It was a nice get-away and we all had a relaxing stay. We would definitely come back again.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Rambling Thoughts and Loose Ends

I don't post here very often anymore. Perhaps it's because I don't have a lot to say about least nothing that anyone would find interesting.

Sure, I could post photos of every loaf of bread I bake or the the King Cake and jambalaya from Tuesday's dinner or the stuffed peppers and stuffed eggplant that I made two weeks ago or pics of Benni, the Dog doing dog things.

Our Mardi Gras was not as Elegant at Russ' and MP's
A View of Cochiti Lake
We took a day trip to Los Alamos (it's only 17 miles from Cochiti if you're a crow, but it's 68 miles (1 hour, 15 minutes) via Santa Fe or 110 miles (2 hour,s 20 minutes via Jemez Springs). The old route via an unimproved and slightly scary Dome Road, was 36 miles but took about 1 hour and 30  minutes).

In other words you can't get there from here (easily).

We stopped at the nearby Valles Caldera - the remnant of an ancient volcano. At over 11,000 feet it has it's own climate.

Moisture on the windshield caused the effect

In Los Alamos Smith's (Kroger's) Supermarket is on steroids. Competing with WalMart, but classier. It has a Pub with Beer on Tap if you aren't interested in shopping with the hubby.

And a whole section for clothing
Back in Santa Fe, near the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is a plaque commemorating those Japanese Americans who were interred in a camp there during World War II. Not many people know that Japanese-Americans were transported to this Santa Fe location and imprisoned for being of Japanese ancestry out of the fear and bigotry that grew out of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Italian class was going well, so long as we were focused on conversation...I did live in Rome for nine months when I was a Junior in college, a lifetime ago, so started this class with a little knowledge...but when we started to conjugate verbs I got so confused.

I can use the same verbs in various tenses in conversation, but when asked to just conjugate them out of context...that is an exercise in frustration. I'll have one more class next week and then I'll be on my own...unless there will be another "more advanced" class.

Had my annual physical recently and as usual it involved some referrals for updated bloodwork (my bad cholesterol is good and my good cholesterol isn't so good and my triglycerides are high which is status quo for me).

Also got a referral for a ultrasound of my bladder and prostrate (because I mentioned frequent bathroom trips at night).

One of the "nice things about getting older" is I am getting to visit the various medical facilities and clinics in Santa Fe!

Well, the "prep" involved drinking 32 ounces of water 1 hour before the test, which I did. I drove into town and walked into the testing facility unable to hold it any longer. I told the receptionist that I HAD to use the restroom.
"OK," she said, "but just go a little."
"Impossible," I said.

When I was done she gave me two more glasses of water and by the time I was called in for the ultrasound I was at the bursting point again.

Thankfully the "full bladder" test was over within minutes; After a a restroom break I got the "empty bladder" exam. (all the tests came back OK).

But what I got in the mail this week was enlightening. A bill/statement.

Amount charged $ 389.00
Adjustment           $ 342.30
Insurance Paid    $   26.17
Patient Balance     $   20.53

So this is with a Medicare Advantage Plan. The "adjustment" is what the plan has brokered with the provider to just deduct from the bill. So does the provider just eat the $342 or is the charge just an arbitrary, inflated number to make it look like I'm getting a bargain?

If the charge is legit, the service provider is losing a lot of money. People with no insurance presumably pay the full price...and they are subsidizing Medicare/Medicare Advantage.

And just an added level of complexity, there are maybe 10 different Medicare "Supplement" plans offered by each private insurance company that come with a monthly premium that is NOT cheap.

Just saying..."Medicare for All" may not be what it promises to be.


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