“April is the cruelest month.” (The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot, 1922)
Throughout March, a line from Hamilton kept playing in my mind: “The world turned upside down…” The Covid-19 pandemic is as disorienting and world-order changing as the Revolutionary War must have been during the Founding Father’s era. Our plans to spend a week in New York fell apart as March progressed. Horrifying news reports piled up, one on another, and one by one, all of the reasons we were to be New York were cancelled or postponed: museums closed, Broadway shuttered, Paris Photo New York show postponed.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
The plan for this day changed so much and so often over the past months, it was dizzying . Originally, we were to have flown nonstop from San Diego to JFK, arriving in time to see the controversial Ivo Van Hove-reworked West Side Story in the evening. Because of the grounding of the Max 737, American changed this plan on us, routing us onto 2 flights, not arriving into New York early enough to make the show. So I had rescheduled to a Friday night after work redeye . This first shuffling was months before the words pandemic and coronavirus became household lingo. In the meantime, Covid-19 so thoroughly overwhelmed New York that it quickly became unthinkable to go voluntarily. Broadway closed weeks ago. I rejiggered our plane itinerary again, this time to fly us to Phoenix, where we would pick up our car in Scottsdale and drive two hours to our house in Sedona. As the time for departure approached, even the idea of going to an airport or flying on a half empty plane seemed inadvisable. So we canceled altogether and decided to drive, like we used to before we bought Cindy and Gerry‘s Element.
The drive passed pleasantly enough. The landscape was enlivened by a bounty of wildflower blooms. What helped to pass the hours was listening to a gripping thriller, M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts, set in a post apocalyptic United Kingdom where an unusual breed of part human children is sequestered and studied in a locked down, jail-like facility on an army base.
The parallels with the current pandemic situation were uncanny.
Steve embellished his always delicious cubanos with a new ingredient. Greg had sent us so much D’artagnan fois gras that we had had to freeze most of it, so we brought some along and it made a nice addition to his delicious sandwiches.
We re-watched Parasite, which we had seen in New York back in November. This tale of two families spanning opposite ends of the economic spectrum seems prescient in light of the events unfolding week by week which tip more and more people into an abyss of financial uncertainty.
Sunday, March 29, 2020
The idiot in chief, who recently had suggested that perhaps the country could be reopened on Easter, April 12, finally made the necessary decision that physical distancing would need to be in place at least until the end of April.
We kept our distance from the rare people we encountered on our morning hike, to Wilson Canyon.
We got out early enough to find a parking place without difficulty, but it was nearly full when we returned. We passed only three other small groups of hikers, of two or three people, and used our buffs as masks.
We had lunch at the house, as Steve had made enough fois gras embellished cubanos the night before that we had leftovers.
In the afternoon, our friend Miles wrote that he had to sell some wine as he was running out of storage space, despite his cellar’s 5000 bottle capacity, so we went on a virtual shopping spree.
Dinner was delicious, a Blue Apron offering of tilapia with a Veracruz style spicy tomato and caper sauce.
In the evening, we watched an unusual and highly kinetic movie set in the Russian Jewish community of Milwaukee called Give Me Liberty, which our friend Mariana had recommended via Facebook as a film they had enjoyed at Sundance last year. A medical van driver played by the magnetic Chris Galust is under constant intense pressure from his family, clients and employer, as he races around the city picking up disabled riders needing transportation to work and appointments. Writer and director Kirill Mikhanpvsky based this character on his own experiences as a Russian emigree and medical transport driver.
Had we been in NY this evening, we were to have seen Endlings with Sarah, by Korean-Canadian playwright Celine Song, who with this play breaks with her prior “white” (non-Asian) work. The title refers to the haenyeo, the last of an elderly cohort of female Korean sea divers who fish and forage for a living. A playwright character, also Korean-Canadian, is working on a play about these women, while grappling with her own identity as a playwright wanting to address Asian themes in her work while working in a “white” world.
Monday, March 30, 2020
We picked up takeout sandwiches from our neighborhood favorite, Wildflower Bakery, to take with us as we drove up Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff, to find Heritage Square virtually empty. We called in an order to Diablo Burger, which was offering a reduced to go menu. This admirable organization is supplying healthcare workers and other essential workers with a free meal for every meal purchased.
We ate our cheeseburgers and french fries standing up in Heritage Square before heading to Walnut Canyon. Steve had mountain biked there before and wanted to show it to me. But arriving at the entrance, it was clearly closed due to the pandemic. Rebuffed, we regrouped and headed north of Flagstaff to Red Mountain, which is 20 miles or so north of Flagstaff and rarely has more than a handful of visitors.
There were a half dozen other cars in the parking area, and just a few visitors, easily avoided, in twos and threes.
We chatted with Greg on the phone while Steve cooked a delicious Blue Apron dinner, ginger shrimp with broccoli, snow peas and bok choy. Greg suggested the evening’s entertainment, which was a very dark and dystopic Spanish movie called The Platform (El Hoyo), an amazing, first time directorial Spanish language film by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia.
It takes place in a concrete, multistory, vertical prison down the center of which travels a moving platform which begins its journey laden with wine, gourmet dishes, fruit, lobster and every imaginable delicacy. Those on higher floors can indulge themselves as much as they want for a few minutes before the platform descends and those below them have their precious few minutes to feed on the leftovers. As the platform passes floor after floor, there is precious little left over for those below, even though the platform starts out laden with enough for all. It is a compelling and very dark allegory for our times in which the rich indulge themselves to the fullest, with little thought to those less fortunate.
Part of my recent daily ritual is checking the San Diego County coronavirus dashboard. Over this week, it seems that the doubling time for new cases has stretched out to six days, from five days the previous week and three days the week before that.
Had we been in NYC this evening, I had plans to attend a reading at Japan Society with Clarissa and Jason.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The morning was beautiful and sunny but we dillydallied too long to get out for a hike and decided to shower in the morning and hike in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, the afternoon was overcast and the light not very pretty.
We spent the early afternoon doing a not very stimulating prostate MRI course.
For our hike, we headed up picnic rocks (our name) and down Cibola Ridge Trail. Steve is doing remarkably well, just over three weeks since his spine surgery, walking more upright and more easily and without complaints of pain.
We finished the last of our Blue Apron meals, which was delicious as well, creamy pesto chicken and orzo with capers and currents. Tomorrow, we will have to get takeout or additional provisions.
We were in the mood for a comedy and thought we had never seen the Coen brothers film Burn After Reading. About 20 minutes in, we realized we actually had seen it. Francis McDormand and Brad Pitt were very amusing playing a pair of hapless gym employees trying to capitalize on the chance find of a CD in the locker room that they think has important state secrets on it. The CD contains information belonging to Osborne Cox, played by John Malkovich, a CIA employee who has just been fired. His relationship with his pediatrician wife, a steely Tilda Swinton, is tenuous.
Our indefinitely deferred evening’s entertainment, had we been able to be in NY, was Girl from the North Country, a musical built on Bob Dylan songs.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
We made it out of the house by 8:45 for our three hour hike, up Jordan Trail to Soldiers Pass to Brins Mesa and back via Jordan. We stopped at an overlook to chat with Sarah . The diffused light was pretty enough that I found myself stopping off enough for photographs that it actually took three hours and 45 minutes. On Jordan, we passed one larger group, of eight older hikers, walking in single file and keeping at least a 6 foot distance between each other. We passed them again up on Brins Mesa.
Steve made a tasty lunch of tomato salad, sautéed bok choy and sous vide eggs on toast.
In the afternoon, we tackled prostate MRI again, trying another course.
Gerardo’s eggplant parmesan made an excellent dinner, followed by a screening of Sam Mendes’ 1917. We were supposed to have seen the Lehman Trilogy in New York this same evening, also directed by Sam Mendes.
Steve built us a nice fire to read by, enabling me to progress on my book for book club on Sunday.
I was astonished to read that Grand Canyon National Park just closed today, the last of the national parks to close.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
After slogging through more prostate MRI, we made a late afternoon excursion via the Baldwin Trail to shoot Cathedral Rock reflected in Oak Creek.
We encountered something odd on the way. I heard a sudden buzzing and saw an unusual conclave of flies. A few steps later, I glanced back and realized there was a rough grave, marked by a crude stone, rope, and stick cross. Presumably, someone buried a dog there?
I finally got a chance to try my new Peak Design travel tripod. Unfortunately, the battery in my camera died.
At Steve’s request, we watched a movie we had enjoyed during the 2010 Sedona international Film Festival, a comedy from 2009 called Made in China.
Friday, April 3, 2020
Steve ventured out to Whole Foods. He didn’t quite make it out in time for the 7 AM senior opening, but found the store not too thronged.
He found the store completely devoid of paper products. Happily, later in the day he made a discovery in our own studio, a small cache of N-95 masks which he uses for yard work and home repairs, as well as a box of tissues!
We continued on with the prostate MRI course. In the late afternoon, when the light was beautiful and golden, we hike Mystic to Hog Heaven. We didn’t have too many people to share the trail with, a pair of girls and several lone male hikers. When we got around to the backside, we flew the drone.
A text which arrived during our hike from Dave said that they had to put their dog Arrow ( aka “Wags”) down, due to rapidly progressing lymphoma and adenocarcinoma., so we called on our drive home to chat with him. It was mildly encouraging to hear from him that the Seattle medical system has not yet been overwhelmed the way New York has. In fact, hospitalizations for Covid– 19 have plateaued over the past week.
In the evening, we tuned in to a video presentation from Oceanside Museum Of Art on notorious art thefts, by Robin Douglas. Art museums are pivoting and trying a panoply of virtual methods for keeping their patrons engaged. Had we been in NY as planned, yesterday and today were blocked off for the annual photography art show (formerly AIPAD, recently rebranded as Paris Photo New York).
Saturday, April 4, 2020
We had been debating driving home today versus Sunday. I woke up earlier than Steve. Initially, I felt fine. The quiet morning was abruptly disrupted by the sudden onset of intense right lower quadrant pain, which soon became absolutely unbearable.
It ramped up so quickly it was unbelievable. No change in position, sitting, standing, lying down, on the floor, I could not find any position to relieve the pain, which was mostly in my right lower quadrant, radiating toward the groin, and sometimes referred to my right back and flank. This had to be a kidney stone, although I had never had one before. The pain was so severe, I found myself dry heaving over the toilet, sweating bullets. Steve helped me to change out the long johns in which I had slept and somehow I made it into the backseat of the car where I thrashed as Steve drove toward Cottonwood to the Verde Valley Medical Center.
This was not really what a doctor wants to do, go to an emergency room in an unfamiliar hospital in another state during a pandemic, but there was no help for it. I had to confirm the diagnosis lest it recur on our long drive home. Just about the time we arrived in Cottonwood, the pain suddenly resolved, as quickly as it had started. I felt almost foolish being in the emergency room.
I had lab work, EKG, urinalysis and a noncontrast CT scan. The urine sample was tea colored and had “a lot of blood” in it. The CT scan showed mild dilation of my right renal collecting system, a sign consistent with recent stone passage.Thankfully, I did not see any stones remaining in either kidney, but there was a small bladder stone. In the ER, I filtered my urine and caught a small, 2 mm, irregularly shaped jagged stone.
(Over the ensuing months, I received an avalanche of astonishing bills, totaling just under ten thousand dollars for my morning in the ER. It turns out, the card I handed over that morning, thinking it was my insurance card (it said Scripps on it and the rest of the print is so tiny, it’s almost unreadable), turned out to be my dental insurance card. This goes some way toward explaining why at first it seemed I was on the hook for these hefty charges. Eventually, a call to the number on the card I handed over clued me in to the fact that that my medical insurance company had never been billed. My share of the bill: $150.)
We consider driving home in the afternoon but I was still feeling shaky. I hydrated and read in the afternoon, finishing two books. One was for my bookclub scheduled for the following evening, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anaparra. This wonderful work of fiction is written from the point of view of a young boy from an impoverished Indian family, who fantasizes about being a detective when first one and then another schoolmate disappears. They live in a neighborhood which is constantly under threat of being bulldozed, much like the families whose lives are so well depicted in the non-fiction Katherine Boo book our book club admired years back, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. These are the people who live so already on the margin of survival that the 21-day lock-down decreed by India’s Prime Minister on March 24 portends an economic catastrophe. Living in a one-room house with communal bathhouses means they are already at markedly increased risk of contracting Covid-19. Stay at home and not working means for many not eating, vs. venturing out to scrape together a living and risk contracting the disease; either way, it’s a disaster.
We had had plans in NYC to have dinner with Sarah and Aaron this evening before seeing our respective Broadway shows. We had arranged house seats for Sarah and Aaron to see our beloved Hadestown as a birthday gift. Hopefully, they will eventually be able to see it when and if theaters reopen, a future that is now hard to envision. We were to have seen Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-winning How I Learned to Drive with its original stars, David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker reprising their roles.
Monday, April 6, 2020
Unemployment claims continue to surge, breaking all records. Another 6.6 million people filed last week, the third week of the pandemic. Cumulatively, that’s 16.8 million or 10% of the workforce. In 3 weeks!
Before our week off, I had our nurse Tara show me where scrubs for interventional were kept. I used to have scrubs at home, but wore them so rarely I eventually turned them back in. I brought two pairs home with me and today was the first day I wore scrubs to work in a very, very long time. The last time I did was by accident. I rode my bike to work and forgot a critical piece of my outfit, namely pants.
I am now wearing a dedicated pair of gray athletic shoes which are left at work. I’m not wearing any jewelry, particularly bracelets, which have surfaces on which the virus could potentially accumulate or which would require cleaning. I’m wearing a necklace I haven’t worn in some years, a simple chain on which the diamond from my engagement ring is suspended. I had this necklace made up because I never wore the engagement ring because it was too much of a pain taking gloves on and off over the Tiffany style setting. I don’t go as far as my partner Rosa, who buys a washable waterproof case for her Apple watch.
I worked in nuclear medicine, so I was alone in my secured reading room.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
It’s been raining steadily since yesterday. I had to drive north, as I was working at our Cedar clinic. They were just a handful of diagnostics to keep me there until noon. I had a hankering for the Mexican soups of La Especial Norte, so I asked Steve to cover while I picked them up on my drive home. La Especial Norte did not open until 1 PM, so I had to wait a few minutes to order. When they did open up, the entrance was barred with a clear panel suspended from the ceiling.
Steve was off, one of two days he was furloughed this week. Half of his morning was devoted to a trip to Trader Joe’s, where he stood in line for 45 minutes to enter the store. The good news is that the store was taking social distancing quite seriously, limiting the number of shoppers inside and directing traffic in a one-way direction. More good news for us personally is that Steve was able to stand for 45 minutes, something that would’ve been very difficult for him to do prior to his spinal stenosis surgery.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
The rent check from Christina, our longtime tenant, was waiting in a much slimmed-down miniature pile of mail. Clarissa told me when we spoke in Sedona that she had not received any mail for 10 days and that was not unusual in the West Village now.
I read today that an astounding 1/3 of renters across the nation were not able to pay their rent this month. So far, our guest house tenant Christina seems to be furloughed but employed.
I was again working in nuclear medicine. This is our first week working with a combined work list with the former La Jolla Radiology group. Our volume is so reduced that we are often competing for cases. At least on nuclear medicine, I have a small pile of work that is just mine that no one else will try to read.
Today, the Broadway League made the expected announcement that theater closures have been extended to June 7. The theaters were shut down on March 12, the day New York’s Governor Cuomo banned gatherings of more than 500 people and had originally planned to reopen on April 13. The Tony Awards, originally scheduled for June 7, have been postponed indefinitely.
I made a strange coronavirus related observation. I still sometimes scroll through NYC real estate listings on StreetEasy when I have a few minutes. I notice the number of days a property has been on the market now says: Counting Suspended. I wonder when that started.
Thursday, April 9, 2020
I am the lone radiologist at our Rancho Bernardo site. Normally, we staff this facility with three radiologists.
As I prepare to leave, I see Bill, one of our longtime MRI technologists. He’s on his last case with no patients scheduled after 5 PM. He mentions that his hours were cut the prior week to two 4 hour shifts.
An article in the New York Times about the first eight deaths of healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom being immigrant doctors prompted me to send the article to my friend Susan and to ask about her primary care physician friend Michelle in northern England. She responded that her friend, who had been looking forward to her retirement at the end of April, is working seven days a week and that the National Health Service had not provided her with any protective gear. When I got home, I found a suitably sized box, an unused face shield, a surgical mask with an incorporated eye shield (unused from the breast biopsy I added on in the afternoon, since I had my own N– 95 mask from Steve’s workshop) and two N-95 masks from our precious stockpile and packaged it up to send to her. The following month, we received a personalized thank you calendar from Michelle, featuring her photographs of the local area and I had a chance to hear from her directly a happy coda to this story:
“In March as the pandemic progressed our working pattern suddenly changed overnight-all our face to face appointments were cancelled and we moved to telephone triaging everything, those deemed in need of a face to face consultation then came to the practice. Anybody with a history of symptoms suspect of Covid were meant to be dealt with separately by NHS 111, but we quickly found that many patients who had contact were directed back to ourselves, several with coughs or pyrexia but thought by 111 to be more likely to be due to other causes than covid.
We initially set up makeshift separate areas in our GP surgeries to see those patients wearing the recommended PPE for GPs then (the thinnest plastic aprons you can imagine, standard gloves and paper masks), there were also housecalls ( e.g care homes) to make for which we used similar PPE. Things moved on over the following 3 weeks and eventually any patients deemed to have any risk of covid but not ill enough to send directly to hospital were seen at a separate “red” zone (one of the GP surgeries in town which was manned by a rota shared by all GPs and their staff)- we also now have an amber site (another GP surgery in town where we all share the rota to staff it) for patients who, after triage , need a face to face consultation but are deemed not at risk of having covid and green sites (all the other GP surgeries in town) where telephone triaging continues along with any other practice admin tasks.
The red sites now have better PPE (better grade masks, eye protection and gowns) but it was rather slow in evolving to that stage (late april) -things are running more smoothly now but the sudden initial upheaval was the most stressful part with the official guidance changing on a daily basis, arriving in the form of e mails each with 8-12 long attachments all containing significant changes to our daily working practice and barely any time to read them in a working day.
The good news for me is that as of last week I have retired (41 years since I first set foot in medical school)-strange time to leave but the date was set long before Covid appeared on the scene and hopefully we have now passed the peak of the pandemic without a staffing crisis so with any luck I won’t be called back (our general medical council are contacting recently retired GPs only I missed the first wave of that recall as I wasn’t retired at that time)
There have been some stressful times during my career but I never would have thought that the final 8 weeks of it would be amongst them, it’s going to take some time to wind down.”
Friday, April 10, 2020
Steve is furloughed again today, two days out of five weekdays. It is pouring buckets and the guest bedroom is flooding, so it is lucky that he is actually home today. When I talk to him, he is exchanging wet towels for dry. He had already shipped the package for Susan‘s friend Michelle in the United Kingdom. $68 to expedite ship a small box weighing only 1 pound. It is supposed to arrive on April 14.
I am again on site, in my solitary, locked nuclear medicine reading room. This room has a coded entry, so people cannot just walk in without knowing the code.
Today we are staffing with six people at Green hospital and one person each at Carmel Valley and Rancho Bernardo. We normally have three radiologist at each of those two sites and 11 radiologists at the hospital. Seven people are working offsite. 15 radiologists are handling the work of 4 hospitals, where normally we staff one hospital with multiple outpatient sites with 18 radiologists.
In the evening, Steve made a new recipe that he heard on the radio, pasta with shrimp and leeks, tied together with a bit of sour cream. We indulge with more than one episode of Ozark in the evening.
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Yesterday’s rain was biblical in proportion, with greater than 7 inches in Encinitas, nearly 2/3 as much as we typically receive in a drought year.
Today is beautiful and sunny, the perfect temperature for a bike ride. We make it out by 9 AM. We take a route we rarely do, as there’s usually too much car traffic and the roads are narrow, through Rancho Santa Fe. It is gorgeous and sunny, with puffy white clouds and it feels great to be out and alive. Rancho Santa Fe’s estates are beautifully blooming, as spring is clearly here. Our route takes us down the hill toward Chino’s, so we decide en route to make a stop there. I have probably not been there in over a year.
I arrive just before a huge line, made even longer by 6 foot social distancing, forms. At first, Tom, Nina and Makoto do not recognize me, thanks to the bicycle helmet, my biking glasses and my double thickness buff pulled up over my nose and mouth as a mask. But after a few sentences they recognize me and are very welcoming.
On our return, as we make it to our block, we pass a group of three walkers, two of whom are John and Joan who live down the street from us. We last saw them at the Sedona Film Festival. I had heard from our mutual neighbor Bruce that their plans afterwards to go to the desert for a tennis tournament were canceled. We catch up, standing at least 6 feet from each other, all wearing masks of one sort or another.
In the afternoon, I help Steve to hang his latest art project in the upstairs entryway, a suite of four large transilluminated images of kelp stalks, taken on our Vision trip last August. It looks beautiful. This project has been in development for some months, requiring us to engage an electrician to install electrical boxes for each individual piece.
I also do a financial tally. I usually do this every six months or so, before we meet with our financial advisor and have steadfastly avoided even looking at our portfolio recently as the stock market has been roiled over the past month. I am pleasantly surprised to learn that our net worth is only down 2% compared to February, before the series of jolts in March, including multiple days in which trading was temporarily interrupted. The day before at work, we get more definite information about the expected drop in salary. Our workload has plunged 70% and so we’ve been expecting a significant decrease in pay. The medical group has decided to soften the blow by borrowing money and so a pay cut of 25% is planned beginning May 1.
Big clouds formed in the late afternoon and we jumped in the car to see if a pretty scene we had seen from the car at the entrance into Rancho Santa Fe would be worth shooting. It looked better from the car than on the ground, but it did take us past Rite Aid. I donned my mask and ventured inside because today was formerly my hair appointment. I have my hair done every 3 to 4 weeks and last had it done three weeks ago, two days after the governor’s stay at home order went out and definitely the 11:59th hour as far as professional hair care was concerned. The salon is closed for all of April and I am not optimistic that it will be open in May either. I learn in an email from my friend Mari in Tokyo that barbershops and hair salons are considered essential and were not closed in Tokyo.
In the evening, we watch a video version of San Diego Repertory Theatre‘s House of Joy, which had to be closed almost as soon as it opened in March. I was supposed to see it with Vivian, a plan that was derailed by the statewide stay at home orders and the theater closing. Steve starts it with me but soon wanders off to his office. I found the tale of 16th century female guards of the royal household in India quite an interesting girl power story.
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Today is Easter. It is rather cloudy and overcast, so I’m really happy we took advantage of our window of sun yesterday for a bicycle ride. I work out in the morning, jumping rope and doing weights, as I edge closer to the season finale of Ozark.
Afterwards, I engage Mr. Steve in an effort to disguise my gray roots. Toward this effort, I have a newly procured box from L’Oreal called Magic Root Rescue, in a medium brown number five shade. Afterwards, I give my nails some clumsy but much needed attention. I think back longingly to the last time I had a professional manicure and pedicure, now over four weeks ago.
What I didn’t find at the drugstore the previous day were wooden cuticle sticks. In fact, I found no cuticle tools or creams at all. I also looked for these at a drugstore in Sedona two weeks ago. I order them from Amazon.
Clarissa and Jason called while I was cleaning up from the meal of chorizo hamburgers and roasted potato fries that Steve made. They also missed a performance of Endlings which had to be shut down before they were scheduled to see it, the night before we were scheduled to see it in NY. They had watched the video version the night before. I enjoyed the first segment, devoted to the elderly trio of Korean pearl divers, but the red wine and the comfortable couch did me in for the end.
Another 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.
Monday, April 13, 2020
I was scheduled to present at the noontime thoracic oncology conference. Because of the crisis, we no longer meet in person but meet virtually through Skype, each person at whatever computer where ever they happen to be. I did my first conference last week. This one went more smoothly. Still too many clicks to transfer presentation pre-eminence from one person to another, but overall, it went well enough.
We continue to shuffle our work lists and reading assignments. Today was the first time I read PET scans from the Pavilion on the Scripps Memorial La Jolla campus. It is expected to close sometime in the coming months. There were only two studies. Our site had a full slate, as usual. Amazingly, I did not have any hearts.
Steve learns from Aaron, our brother-in-law who is a firefighter in the theater district of New York City, that 21 of 43 firefighters in his house are positive for COVID-19. Aaron tests negative, we learn the next week. Still later, we learn he was symptomatic, including loss of smell, before Sarah and his antibody test is positive.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
I am off today. This is my first full furlough day. In the morning, I do a weight training and jump roping workout and finish Ozark. Heading outside to jump rope, I head around the corner to an upper patio, outside the garage, where a young, very buff and chiseled, shirtless and barefoot 20 something-year-old man with wild, dirty blonde hair, appears about to start a workout with a forgotten, rusty, abandoned set of barbells that Steve left outside many years ago.
I confront him in my most authoritative voice:
“ I’m going.”
Steve was working from home until five. Afterwards, he wanted to work out and go to Trader Joe’s before our evening video get together with Miles and Tatiana.
Miles and Tatiana have been ordering sushi platters three times a week from Ken’s Sushi Workshop, their favorite in Carmel Valley. I decide to take a page from their book and call up earlier in the day to order two “Mile’s plates” for 7 PM.
Steve returns about 7:25 PM and says “Oh, you beat me home”. I had assumed that while he was out, he would pick up the food. So I had to make a mad last minute dash out to pick up the food.
The restaurant was empty except for one client taking his leave. Ken is there, as well as three sushi chefs and one hostess. Ken bows repeatedly, thanking me. For them to make it through this is going to be hard, I can tell. We start our virtual get together with Miles and Tatiana by 8 PM.
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
April 15 is usually tax day, but it has been postponed to July 15. My friend Susan‘s birthday is also April 15. I sent her a text the day before, saying “well at least this year, your birthday does not coincide with tax day”. She proposes a socially distanced walk but mentions that she is planning to photograph baby hummingbirds on the back patio of our mutual friend Meg‘s house. I have never seen baby hummingbirds, so this seems too good a photographic opportunity to pass up. The plan is for Meg to leave the side gate open. She is a UCSD radiologist and is working from home.
I am again scheduled on nuclear medicine, as I have been the last two weeks, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This suits me fine. Prior to all this, I did nuclear medicine regularly, once or twice a week, but not often three times a week. I bike to work and when I arrive, am completely alone in the gym locker room. The gym itself and the pool are closed, so there is no reason for the locker room regulars to be here.Thankfully, a few months before all this, the locker room door was changed to a numerical code entry, so I still have access to the showers and my locker.
I have a nearly full slate of PET oncology patients, but for perhaps the first time, I have no nuclear cardiology studies.
As I leave work, I see that Luisa, one of our ultrasound technologists, has been redeployed at the patient screening desk.
Kambiz, another one of our ultrasound technologists, was re-deployed in this position on Monday.
Thursday, April 16, 2020
This is my second full furlough day. Steve is working from home today, a 12 to 7 shift. My day starts early with a video appointment with Rama, a urologist whom I am seeing regarding my recent kidney stone.
While I am in the virtual waiting room waiting for Rama to join me, I thumb idyly through Facebook and am absolutely horrified by a post from a guide we know in Sedona. It shows him “social distancing” with at least 10 friends doing a remote canyon hike in Sedona. The remote location of their hike seems OK, but their proximity to each other does not. The pictures showed them crowded in Jim’s van together, not a one wearing a mask.
I snap and write a comment that unless all of the people in the picture live together, this is not social distancing. Quite a few of the other commentators agree with me. I block his posts and vow never to refer another friend to him again.
Susan and I meet in front of Meg‘s house in Carmel Valley at 10 am. I have a pandemic-special birthday present for her, one of our precious N95 masks. From a safe distance, I show her how to don it. Masked, we proceed through the open side gate into Meg‘s backyard.
It takes a minute of searching to locate the nest. Meg had mentioned that it was up in a chandelier. There’s only one chandelier. Despite that, we do not initially see it. The hummingbird has utilized the pulley from which the chandelier is suspended as the base on which to apply the nest materials.
We can see one hummingbird baby fluttering around inside of it. It takes another minute to realize that it has a brother or sister slumped over and still, apparently dead.
We have to stand on step stools to photograph the baby bird. While we’re doing this, the mother makes the first of multiple appearances. She flits around, landing on nearby branches and wire supports in a fairly predictable circuit. Every so often, especially when we back off from the nest, she swoops in to feed the baby.
Friday, April 17, 2020
The prediction of a 51% chance of rain at 8 AM was not enough to dissuade me from riding my bicycle to work. Steve is also working at the hospital, on fluoro, but decides to drive. I am again working in nuclear medicine. Like earlier in the week, I am completely alone in the locker room. I wonder if Teresa, the gym’s manager, is possibly furloughed.
Earlier in the week, I forgot to take my towels into the shower with me, but being completely alone in the locker room, it was no problem to walk out completely nude and wet to fetch my towels after my shower. I don’t make that mistake again.
Before walking into the outpatient pavilion, I stop at the coffee kiosk for my usual half decaffeinated latte. They no longer will make it directly into my thermos cup, which I understand. During the crisis, they first reduced the hours of the other branch in front of the hospital, and then closed it all together. I am happy this one is still open and I do my best to support it, buying a latte in the morning and going for a teabag and often a bag of almonds in the afternoon. I later learn from the owner that Scripps reduced her rent, enabling her to keep this shrunken enterprise going.
The Cat in the Hat sculpture, newly installed with the renaming of this facility as the Geisel Pavilion , has been dressed up for Easter this week with add-on accessories. It takes a couple of days before I catch on that a multi-layered, colorful object placed in the cat’s hand is not a hamburger, but a decoratively striped Easter egg.
Walking through the patient screening gauntlet on entering the building, I am greeted by Julie, one of our nuclear medicine technologists. She has been redeployed and will work six hours that day screening patients for symptoms. Her work as a technologist in nuclear medicine has been cut down to two days a week. As I leave the building at the end of the day, Edgar, another nuclear medicine tech, is now manning one of the two tables.
My work in nuclear medicine has been reorganized this week. Nuclear medicine itself is closed today, but beginning this week, we started reading the PET scans from Pavilion on the other La Jolla campus as well as from our site. They don’t do many, 2-3 a day.
In the evening, we have an exceptionally delicious meal. Steve made his famous Cubano sandwiches and I made a vegetable side dish of Chinese broccoli and fresh lima beans from Chino’s, enlivened with the anchovies I bought there.
The Sedona International Film Festival is now offering films for viewing at home, so we are finally able to see Balloon, one of the films we heard so much about during the film festival but missed. It was the Directors Choice for Best International Film and this taut tale is based on actual events surrounding the escape of two families from East Germany in a homemade hot air balloon.
Facebook reminds me that exactly one year ago, I was attending the Broadway opening with Clarissa of Hadestown. It was a triumphant evening. What a long time ago that seems. Broadway theaters closed on March 12.
Saturday, April 18, 2020
I doddle all morning, alternating reading one or another newspaper on the computer or my phone, and stretch out my jump roping and weight training workout until mid-day. I am almost finished re-watching the third season of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Steve is working today, from home, 8 to 5. I spend the afternoon finishing up my final blogpost from Raja Ampat from our trip in January and February this year.
On Facebook, I see a very disturbing development, namely protesters gathering in downtown San Diego, railing against the stay at home orders and restrictions on working. While I understand the economic pain, I don’t think they realize that the Covid-19 pot could boil over pretty easily. Stump seems to be actually fomenting and encouraging this kind of protest, with his incessant tweets, directed at states with Democratic governors, but I had thought these manifestations were largely confined to Midwestern states with Democratic governors. However, there apparently was a similar demonstration up the coast in Huntington Beach yesterday.
The US now has over 700,000 confirmed cases, with 37,000 dead. in San Diego county, the total of positive cases is 2213, with 537 hospitalizations, 187 people in intensive care and 71 deaths.
In the evening, we rent a film from the Mary Fisher Theater, a French film called The Perfect Nanny. The French do psychological horror exceedingly well. This story is based on an actual incident involving an Upper West Side NY family and their nanny.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
The horrifying numbers of applications for unemployment keep racking up-another 4.4 million for last week.
Steve has the day off and busies himself refurbishing our Bertoia bench in the guestroom, inspects Rob’s roof via drone and lubricates our bicycles, even changes my tires.
This is the first time in decades I have worked on a weekend or a Sunday. I have a short shift, from 12:30 to 5 pm. In the afternoon, my friend Barbara, who normally works three days a week as a radiologist at another group in town but is now down to one day a week, comes by briefly to deliver fabric masks, which she has been busily creating. It’s obvious these are going to be the newest necessary fashion accessory, so I buy four, two for Steve and two for me.
In the evening, I make a run to Tony’s Jacal for dinner. Steve has a chicken torta and I get my usual favorite combination of a green chicken enchilada and a carnitas taco. We continue our at home Sedona International Film Festival extension, watching another film we missed which garnered raves, The Etruscan Smile.
Monday, April 20, 2020
I am again working in nuclear medicine. It is cloudy. I bike to work, wearing one of my new fabric masks from Barbara. I manage to wear it all the way to work. It fits looser than a buff, which is actually good, accumulating less condensation. I have even less company than usual on the road. I think I was passed by one bicyclist.
Rosa is working for the first time at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in nuclear medicine. The reading room is still a mess, from a year ago, and she sends an amusing, strongly worded email. She also sent a rather graphic close-up video of the dust-coated keyboard.
At lunch, getting food from the cafeteria, I see one of our ER docs. I don’t recognize him until I hear his voice, as he is disguised in a surgical hat and mask. Chris says their volume is also dramatically down. “Where are the appys?” He mentions he has a sister who does anterior chamber ophthalmology and her surgical procedures are down 80%.
The cafeteria now offers a few paper items for sale, including toilet paper, paper towels and some basic groceries, like potatoes, avocados and bananas.
The death toll in the US has passed 40,000, with over 10,000 being in New York State.
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Steve is again working from home and I am biking solo to the clinic, where I again am the designated nuclear medicine person. There are two people doing nuclear medicine every day. We have shuffled responsibilities so that my primary responsibility will be PET, from both sites.
Yesterday, two of my nuclear medicine techs sent me emails advising that we had an 8 AM breast sentinel lymph node injection. This is their polite way of saying “Be on time.”
This morning, our breast ultrasonographer Thuy is there to greet me as she has been redeployed for today. The breast center is only open two days a week now.
I am on time. Despite wearing scrubs and being covered up by a buff over my N95 mask, the patient recognizes me as having done her biopsy diagnosing her breast cancer. It seems so long ago but in fact it was almost exactly one month ago.
Later in the morning, I have a second breast sentinel node injection. Paused at the door cleaning my hands with alcohol foam, I am surprisingly distressed to see that the patient is not wearing her mask. My technologist Julie probably read that in my eyes as she mentions that the patient had negative Covid testing the day before.
Late in the day, I noticed that the daily schedule said that Steve was working from 5 to 10 PM. I sent him a text. Poor Steve. He had read the schedule wrong and had been working steadily since 8 AM. Finally, at two in the afternoon, Jack called him and let him know that he wasn’t supposed to be reading until 5 PM. The new schedule is indeed confusing, combining as it does two large groups, with multiple subspecialties, working in four hospitals and multiple outpatient facilities, with evening and weekend work assignments as well.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Steve is again on the evening shift, from 5 PM till 10 PM, giving him the day off. He does a bicycle ride through Rancho Santa Fe and makes a run to Trader Joe’s for food.
I have to drive to work today. I am scheduled at Rancho Bernardo, where I will work in the breast reading room, doing one Magseed placement, a handful of diagnostics, and will help pick away at the big list. I am the only radiologist here, at a site that normally has three radiologists.
Thursday, April 23, 2020
This is a furlough day for me. The car has been telling me all week that it needs service and that the brake pads are worn. I take the car into Del Mar Car Care, which is only a couple of miles from work, and right on the coast. Because of the coronavirus threat, I have to fill out an envelope, put the key in it, and thread it into a slot in the wall previously used for night drop offs. They called later with an estimate.
I had loaded my bicycle into the car in order to ride home. I stopped on the way home to pick up some treats at the French Patisserie in Del Mar. Two of their delicious chocolate orange cakes in a single box fit easily into my backpack, as did a chocolate croissant. The long baguette was a little more challenging, but I secured it in a side mesh pocket of my backpack and it hit me in the head only a few times on the way home.
I spent most of the rest of the morning on the phone, helping my friend Susan polish her refurbished photography website.
Friday, April 24, 2020
Steve worked from home again today, the 12-7 PM shift. We are still having our housekeeper come on Fridays as usual.
I biked to work with very little company along the way. For a change, I did have some company in the locker room, Teresa, who works in the gym. She tells me that it has taken five weeks to get a pro account of Zoom, necessary to start virtual exercise classes, such as for Parkinson’s patients.
Entering the outpatient pavilion, the two screeners today are our nuclear medicine tech Edgar and Kambiz, one of our ultrasound techs. This week, a screener has also been stationed at the entrance to the sky bridge linking the outpatient pavilion to the hospital. Today, it is Julie, another nuclear medicine technologist.
There’s an email from Christina, our longtime tenant in the guest house in Sedona, saying her company has furloughed all their employees, hopefully only for three months and asking if we can give her a break on the rent. We’ve actually been surprised it has taken this long for this to happen, as she works for a wine distributor and her clients are restaurants.. We decide to cut her rent in half for three months.
The reading room itself is transformed by monstrous air conditioning units.
Steve votes for a lighter evening selection. We watch another offering from Sedona’s Mary D. Fisher Theater, a comedic, late bloomer coming of age story called Saint Frances. Frances is a beautiful, willful, precocious child who becomes the charge of 34 year old Bridget, who is still figuring out her life. Kelly O’Sullivan wrote the book and stars as the floundering Bridget. She has her hands full with Frances (Ramona Edith Williams ).
Saturday, April 25, 2020
I worked a full day from home, the first Saturday I’ve worked in decades. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. There are multiple other people working at the same time, so although we started out with a large list from overnight, that was quickly dealt with and we were mostly in steady state from then on. There were some interesting cases, including a new brain tumor, a knee dislocation and a new probable cholangiocarcinoma. Now that we are reading from the other Scripps Hospitals, we are also seeing cases from seamier slices of society, including a large thigh abscess in a drug addict, containing so much air I could easily see it on the scout views.
The film for the evening is a recommendation from Greg, who has a penchant for scary clowns, an offbeat documentary called Wrinkles the Clown.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
We bike ride through Rancho Santa Fe, adding an extension to Barbara’s house to buy more of her fabric masks, for us, for our housekeeper Berta and her family and for Clarissa and Jason in New York. Clarissa’a birthday is coming up. This is my new standard pandemic gift, masks. We inadvertently add mileage by missing the turnoff to Barbara’s. Steve has ridden here recently and claims he knows where it is and it is still coming up. It is a steep hard climb up to Barbara and Bay’s house. We visit at a distance with Bay outside, as he showed us his latest gardening projects. We left with four small tomato plants in an emergency backpack on Steve’s back. My Camelback backpack was full of produce from Chino’s and the side mesh pockets were filled out with avocados from Bay’s trees. Sadly, one of them bounced out on the ride home.
In the evening, we FaceTimed with Dave, who is out at his cabin in the Methow Valley. Steve made a lemon pasta and I sautéed fresh fava beans from Chino’s with kale, which we ate while watching The Whistlers, another offering from the Sedona Film Festival at home programming. One of the reviews billed it as “if the Coen brothers were Romanian, they might have made this film.” I don’t think it warranted that extravagant of praise, although it has an interesting premise. It is set in the Canary Islands. A policeman working both sides of a heist learns a unique whistling language to signal to his accomplices and elude the authorities.
Another 3.8 million people in the US applied for unemployment benefits last week.
Monday, April 27, 2020
I am again working in nuclear medicine. Thankfully, the monstrous ductwork installed last week is gone. Mid-morning, I decide to join a socially distanced line of masked Scripps employees to volunteer for a research project which will test us for active COVID-19. Both nasal passages are swabbed. It feels like when you accidentally swallow seawater. By the time the study concludes, of 12,000 asymptomatic San Diego health care workers tested, there are only 27 positives (about half antibodies).
My phone pings me to say that deaths in the US from COVID-19 have surpassed 50,000 (!).
Steve was furloughed today. When I arrive home, I find him in high spirits, having accomplished a long list of tasks, ranging from installing new light switches to successfully changing his bicycle’s brake pads, after learning from the bicycle store that there is a 10 day wait for service. They sold him the kit and a few Youtube views later, they were swapped out.
The evening’s entertainment is a Guy Ritchie film, which I loved, even more than Steve or Greg, who we chatted with while cleaning up from our Blue Apron burger and potato wedge dinner. The Gentlemen is a fast-paced comic crime caper, starring Matthew McConaughey as an American in Britain, a kingpin looking to sell his marijuana growing enterprises. The story revolves around his story, as narrated by Hugh Grant as a sleazy tabloid photojournalist looking to sell damaging information to the highest bidder.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
I have the day off. Steve is working from home. After jump-roping and weight training for exercise in the morning (while watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), I complete a submission to an online photography competition sponsored by The Photographer’s Eye Gallery, where I had my show earlier in the year (the show after mine was curtailed by the gallery shutting down in response to the pandemic). The show is titled Living and Photographing in the Time of Covid-19.
The US has reached a horrific milestone, surpassing 1 million cases of coronavirus infection, 1/3 of the cases worldwide.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Steve worked from home, while I had my first swing shift, 7 pm to midnight. Stellios pinged Jack and me around 11:30 pm and suggested we could go offline, as we are still overstaffed.
During the day, I finished a blog piece on the Sedona International Film Festival, which we attended (can it be?) 2 months ago.
We learned this week that screening mammography will restart next week. It won’t be as tightly scheduled as normal, to allow patients to be spaced from others and to clean the rooms between patients, but this is a step towards normalcy.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Today is Clarissa’s birthday. Over the weekend, I confirmed that she and Jason were still relying on buffs as barriers, in the absence of real masks. This is the 3rd gift-giving occasion during the pandemic that I have given masks as a present.
I had an 8 am virtual meeting with the team who will implement our upcoming breast MRI CAD swap to DynaCAD. Nik called toward the end of the meeting to offer to switch assignments so Steve and I can both work from home but I decline. Steve has the long evening shift, 7 pm to midnight. I will drive to the hospital for my 5-10 pm shift, partly to pick up wine which we’ve heard has arrived from Cain Five.
We spend the morning doing a leisurely exploratory walk in the Indian Head trail system. The wildflowers were blooming profusely.
Since we were both scheduled on evening shifts and only have a single home work station, I drove into the hospital for my 5-10 pm shift. Our friend Teri had alerted us to a pandemic special offer from Cain Five and the wine was waiting in the office. Teri has been friends with the winemaker’s wife since she was 5 years old. While I was reading a CT scan on a 96 year old man with a new diagnosis of colon cancer, I was called to check out a contrast extravasation in the department, so it was lucky someone was on site. Chatting with the patient, I was sure it was the same person whose study I had been reading. He was a retired physician who appeared 20 years younger than his actual age, but given what I saw on his study, I knew that wouldn’t be the case for long. It is relatively rare that we have a chance to connect the person having a study with the view we have of them as an intricate bundle of organs and systems.
This spring the red tide, with its glowing blue phosphorescence in the surf, has been so vivid it has been popping up regularly on social media and on the news. I went to work prepared to shoot, in case an opportunity presented itself. As I headed home going north on the coast highway, heading down the Torrey Pines hill, I was surprised to see a line of red tail lights arcing up Carmel Valley Road toward toward the ocean. There were multiple cars stopped in the bike lane and people crossing the road, since the parking on the ocean side of the road is all blocked off to prevent people from congregating. I found a space and parked, grabbed my camera and tripod and headed for the beach.
The road is higher than the sand, so I had to use my phone’s flashlight to carefully pick my way through the array of riprap boulders that bridge the height difference. There were people on the beach, but not so many that it was hard to keep an appropriate distance from each other. My nearest foreground opportunity was a lifeguard stand with a Beach Closed sign prominently displayed on it.
The amount of light and its color kept changing as cars passed, especially when a police car with flashing lights cruised by. After shooting down at the sand level, I carefully climbed back up the boulder barrier and shot from the road level, in the blocked off parking area, becoming much more visible than down on the dark beach. Most of the cars which had been parked in a line with mine had left. The police car came by again.
Through a bullhorn: “If I come by again and your car is still here on the other side of road, you’ll get a ticket.”
I broke down the tripod and headed home, where Steve was still going with his 7 pm-midnight shift.