The Ideal Nurse

Jan Allen

Yesterday, I got my first COVID vaccine from the ideal nurse. 

Was this nurse sweet and gentle? Far from it. She was fierce. 

When I pulled up to her station in a hospital parking lot, the nurse greeted me politely and asked me to open my car door. I made eye contact with her, but I avoided making small talk.  I have learned the hard way that you do not ask a nurse about her day or about her weekend before a procedure. Such simple questions can result in answers like…”This weekend, my little boy was hit by a car while he was out on his bike.” And can result in getting poked in the wrong place, getting poked several times, or being diagnosed with a fictional case of bad veins. 

Consider this observation a public service announcement for those of you who don’t get poked all that often. Now, back to our story. 

This nurse and I were off to a good start. We made eye contact. As requested, I  opened my car door. And then suddenly, our calm was shattered. The nurses’s brown eyes ignited and she was rising from her stool, shouting at some hapless co-worker in blue scrubs, who was approaching with armload of medical paraphernalia. “Don’t even THINK about passing those big needles off on me,” she yelled. “Nope! I won’t have them.” 

I have never seen a mask inflate and deflate as hard as hers did as she hollered at this co-worker. The nurse then turned to me, and said very sweetly, “You are getting a tiny needle. You have a tiny arm.” 

When she gave me my shot, I did not feel it. 

That’s my kind of nurse. 

In celebration of nurses, I’d like to share this short story by a member of my writing workshop, Jan Allen, a former nurse and a born writer who is as talented as she is unpretentious.

If you liked that story, you’ll like this one, too! I feel so lucky I get to read Jan’s work every week. 

http://www.sixfold.org/FicWinter19/Allen.html

Another long time workshopper, Andrea Rotterman, has spent years crafting  an incredibly moving memoir, Becoming an Only Child. Our workshop is now going over the final draft one last time. Here is link of a short piece she wrote to get a taste of her lyrical prose style: 

https://www.riverteethjournal.com/blog/2015/11/02/something-sweet

And a link to her layered editorial:

https://cin.ci/2zB7R1V


The most prolific writer in our workshop is the boundlessly imaginative Maria McKenzie; she’s currently circulating a screenplay while editing yet another novel. These are the books she’s published while in our workshop: 

The Governor’s Sons – Kindle edition by McKenzie, Maria. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Unchained (3 book series) Kindle Edition (amazon.com)

Deseré: A Love Story of the American South: McKenzie, Maria: 9781979663786: Amazon.com: Books

From Cad to Cadaver: A Black Ops Detective Agency Mystery – Kindle edition by McKenzie, Maria. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

You can find catch up with Maria at mariamckenziewrites.com or   readandwriteromance.blogspot.com.

As for me: I’m sorry you haven’t been seeing many blog posts!

I have been busy writing in my second language, 19th Century English. I am creating a version of Pride and Prejudice that examines the relationship between Lydia Bennet, the most maligned Bennet sister, and Chamberlayne, the only cross-dresser in the book. I am so grateful to the writers in my group for giving me the courage to take on this audacious project. One fine day I hope to use this blog to urge you to buy my book at your local independently owned bookstore. 

Postponed Post: All the Pee in China, Part 2

Here is the link to read, All the Pee in China, Part 1.

This is the blog post I didn’t want to write. The post about how I leaked pee. In public. During our 2019 trip to China. Because a man blocked me from using the restroom. 

I knew in advance that this incident would occur. I’d had a Terrible Vision. 

The Terrible Vision did not come to me through a dream. I don’t dream—I can’t dream—my overactive MS bladder wakes me, on average, five times a night. I never get a chance to reach a dream-inducing REM state, because I’m too busy jumping in and out of bed.

Since my Terrible Vison had no opportunity to reach me through a dream, it reached me through an app. The instant I opened my first Chinese lesson in Duolingo, I was confronted with a word that consisted of two figures: the figure on the left looked to me like a distressed lady crossing her legs because she has to pee, obviously—whereas the figure on the right looked to me like a man standing with his arms outstretched so he could block the lady’s way—to the restroom, obviously.  

Those figures together could only mean one thing, right? They had to form the Mandarin word for “bad.”

According to Duolingo, those two figures formed the Mandarin word for “good.”  

So much for my intuitive grasp of Chinese. 

Our son had warned us that bathrooms would be different in China: some bathrooms had squat toilets, some lacked toilet paper, some were dirty. On those last points, maybe Chinese restrooms wouldn’t be all that different than American public restrooms. My earliest memories of the restrooms at Marconi Beach gave me the useful life skill of always checking for toilet paper before sitting down. Would this life skill be sufficient preparation for the public restrooms in China? I was about to find out. But not before I crossed the hurdle of an all-night flight; as this trip to China was sort of last-minute, we had booked our flights too late to secure the aisle seat necessary for a passenger with my special needs. I projected I would repeatedly rouse all the sleepers in my row.

The one aspect of our impending air travel that I wasn’t worried about was the first leg of our flight, a ninety-minute hop to Toronto. As we boarded that first flight, I reminded myself that no one could tell I was wearing my first ever adult diaper underneath my dress. I’d reinforced my armor with an overnight pad. I was invulnerable! I stowed my sporty messenger bag underneath the seat in front of me. It contained: my wallet, my passport, three additional overnight pads, two spare adult diapers, one spare set of stockings, one spare dress. As I settled next to my husband, I realized we’d finally reached the point where there was nothing left for us to do. The next thing I knew, I was waking from a nap. I felt a little smug about the nap. Do anxious people nap? No, they do not. Do people have to pee after a 90 minute flight? Well, neither did I.  Which was lucky, because the fasten-seatbelt lights were blinking. The airplane was already in descent. I must have napped the whole flight to Toronto! 

The plane touched down, none too softly. The bumps didn’t make me leak. I was going to get away with this. I was traveling like a normal person. Kind of. Except. I must have packed my special air-travel curse, one I’d perfected in my years of flying monthly to clinical trial appointments at the NIH.  Instead of rolling to the gate, the plane just sat. We waited. And waited. It was announced that there were no free gates. 

I considered defying the blinking fasten-seatbelt lights, and making my way to the restroom while my bladder was still calm, just to be on the safe side, because my bladder can reach full-on urgency at any moment. But I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself if it wasn’t strictly necessary. After all, I’d had the good sense to use the airport bathroom before I’d boarded. Not like my MS bladder follows any rules or cares about my good sense.

Our plane finally started moving. As we rolled to our newly assigned gate, my husband sweetly volunteered to wait around outside for our suitcases, freeing me to spring off the plane and sprint directly to the airport restroom unencumbered.  I felt grateful to have such an understanding husband. To make life even easier for me, he volunteered to carry my bulky messenger bag while he waited for our bags. Gentle readers who travel internationally might foresee the flaw in our plan. We did not.

I descended the metal airplane staircase almost like a person who can balance, my fingertips grazing the bannister nonchalantly. The sun came out from beneath a cloud. Which was all it took to kick me out of the realm of the nonchalant. You see, Gentle Reader, MS has messed up my wiring. Overheating, or even the suggestion of overheating, is enough to trigger my MS symptoms. I thought of turning around, of going against the tide of departing passengers who had already been held up, so I could use the airplane restroom. A backward glance confirmed that wasn’t going to happen. I had to go forward, and fast, though not too fast, because…overheating. Most of the passengers stayed behind me by the plane, waiting for their suitcases. I followed the one person ahead of me, a person whose pace made a mockery of my own. Through the glass walls of an empty gate, I could see the sign for the restroom, a little silhouette of a woman in a dress, like me. I could see the restroom door. But the door to the gate itself was locked. Odd. I tried the door the fast passenger had disappeared through. It opened into a hall that ran alongside the empty gate. There was a door to the gate further down the hall. Also locked. Really? This was almost funny. As in, it would be funny later, after I emptied my MS bladder. The perk of having a blog about MS is that every challenge could make an interesting blog post. This post would be hilarious. Right?  

Did I say the gate was inaccessible? That was accurate. In fact, the entire terminal was inaccessible, which I learned as I walked down the hall, trying door after door. At one point, I made eye contact with a lone lady with a mop. I crossed my legs. Bounced meaningfully. Rattled the door. She shook her head. We waved goodbye to each other,  as I had no choice but to keep walking the hall down the length of the entire terminal. There was a window at the end of the hall. I glanced out over a vast stretch of tarmac to a terminal on the other side. Would I have to walk that far? I’d wondered if my husband was getting worried about me. We’d thought we’d only be separated a few minutes. That was when I felt my first little leak. I took a deep breath. It was going to be OK. More than OK. I’d prepared for this. Why else would I be wearing an overnight pad? Over a diaper. I walked along the twists and turns of the route I was on…chose an escalator over an elevator. Walked some more. Finally came upon a stewardess at the foot of a staircase. I asked where I could find a restroom. I said it was an emergency. I have no pride. She said I was close. I’d just have to go through customs first. She walked me up the stairs, to a uniformed gentleman who resembled Idris Elba. My lucky day? Not. 

Gentle readers, I had just met the man of my Terrible Vision. The stand-up man who would block my way to the restroom. And I hadn’t had to travel all the way to China to find him. 

The stewardess explained we had…a problem. I explained, I have MS. I have to pee. Now. And Idris Elba explained, we were in an International airport. I would have to go through customs, like every other international traveler. Then I could pee. 

Oh. 

Customs. 

My husband and I had forgotten about that. When he had kindly unburdened me of my messenger bag, he had inadvertently unburdened me of my passport. Which I was going to need. If I was to get to pee. He had also unburdened me of my back-up overnight pads. Which I was also going to be needing, if he didn’t get there soon. 

I asked Idris Elba if there was any way the nice stewardess could escort me to some bathroom between the airplane and customs. I had passed plenty on my way. 

Idris Elba asked, “Do you want me to lose my job?”

I said, “I do not.” 

And sat right down on the airport floor. Because I did not want to pee right there and then. I figured, sitting might help. 

It did help. 

The passengers from our plane started to arrive. Most of them didn’t cast a glance at my one-person sit-in demonstration against inaccessible airport bathrooms; they might have been in too much of a rush to get to the bathrooms, themselves. I watched them glide their passports across the customs kiosks, then glide through the metal detector. Then disappear. Like that helpful stewardess. 

Idris Elba kept looking over. I hoped and hoped and hoped I wasn’t going to be leaving him a puddle. 

My husband appeared, his face contorted with worry. It took what felt like forever for him to helpfully dig my passport out of my messenger bag, which was overstuffed with unmentionables. And then it took approximately forever and ever for me to figure out how to use the customs kiosk. Idris Elba finally processed my passport himself. As I passed through the metal detector, I could feel the beginnings of a big leak. The restroom was not as close as I wished it to be. But once I finally got there, I felt so lucky to find a free stall. Lucky. That’s how I felt, as I finally relieved myself. Lucky, as I threw out my first soaked diaper since 1969. As I threw out my underwear. And my stockings. Lucky, as I pulled out a fresh adult diaper, a fresh overnight pad, fresh underwear, fresh stockings. 

I was darn near ebullient as I left that restroom. My diaper purchase had paid off! This was a fresh start. 

Never have I seen my husband look as somber as he did when I joined him in the posh Toronto terminal. When he finally spoke, he said, “We haven’t even made it to China yet.” 

I wish I could have told him then what I can tell you now: I would be throwing out dry diapers and dry overnight pads in Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai. I wouldn’t be inconveniencing anybody on our overnight flights. 

But I couldn’t know this. And he couldn’t either. That man loves me more than all the pee in China. He is in it for the long haul. Whatever that might be. So we went on. When our son and his partner met us in Beijing, they asked us about our flight. Did we tell them this story? No. We said simply, everything went fine. I was trying to spare my husband’s feelings. He was trying to spare mine.

That was the only moment in the entire trip which truly felt like a defeat. 

Quote

All the Pee in China, part 1

02/07/21: Gentle Reader, I am reposting All the Pee in China, part 1 because I am finally getting the courage to post All the Pee in China, part 2.

I haven’t written any blog posts for a really long time. I’ve had a good excuse. I had to pee.

I mean it. I’ve really had to pee. Multiple sclerosis causes my bladder to be both overactive—so much so that I rarely go ninety minutes without rushing to the bathroom—and under-active—so much so I have to use a catheter to completely empty.

Unrelenting runs to the bathroom have been not so good for my sleep patterns, not so good for my clarity of thought, and not so good for my travel plans. But that didn’t stop me from making travel plans. My son lives and works with his girlfriend, MC, on the other side of the planet. When this adorable couple invited my husband and me to stay with them in Beijing, there was no way we wouldn’t go. I love my son more than all the pee in China.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, every time I announced, “I’m going to China,” I’d feel mildly surprised I wasn’t asked, “How the hell will you manage that?”

Twenty five years of living with MS has made me pretty good at bluffing good health, but even I can’t bluff my way through frequent bathroom runs.

Hadn’t my friends noticed I rarely can get through a whole movie without excusing myself to run to the bathroom? Hadn’t my workshop students noticed me having to take bathroom breaks in the middle of ninety-minute sessions?

My anxiety about my bladder permeated all of my travel preparations. When I switched my language of choice on my Duolingo app from Spanish to Chinese, the first word to pop up on the app consisted two figures: the figure on the left looked to me like a distressed lady crossing her legs because she has to pee, obviously—whereas the  figure on the right had its arms outstretched, blocking the distressed lady’s way. Yes, I have the magical power of turning a language app into an ink blot test.

The distressing ideogram was paired with a sound. My American ears heard the word: “how.”

How, indeed.

I wondered how I was ever going to travel through China—not to mention to China—when I always have to pee?

The flight to China would be an overnighter. On ordinary nights, I get up four to six times to pee. I kept picturing myself seated in the middle of a long row, squeezing past passenger after passenger after passenger, disturbing their sleep—“Excuse me, Excuse me, Excuse me”—every 90 minutes.

And that’s what I could expect if conditions were optimal. 

The sad truth is, I’ve been getting UTIs on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly basis. For those of you who have never had a UTI: congratulations. UTI stand for urinary tract infection, or Unrelenting Torturing Incontinence. To add agony to the inconvenience, every time you pee with a UTI,  it stings.

Chances of my getting a UTI during a two week trip? Between 50-100%.

Air travel with a UTI? Been there. Agony.

And even if I did make it through the overnight flight, how exactly would I make it through China? Our son wanted us to explore a few cities while we were there.

What would the public restrooms be like in China?

Our son warned us most public restrooms featured squat toilets. He advised us to practice squatting. I practiced. Our son mentioned most facilities were BYOTP—Bring Your Own Toilet Paper.

My husband had to talk me out of packing a roll.

I called my capable mother to air my anxieties. She has answers for everything. Worried about a UTI? Get antibiotics. Worried about having to pee? Get diapers. “They make diapers differently now,” she said. “More comfortable.” More comfortable than the ones she’d pinned on me in 1967? And possibly—ahem—larger?

Gentle reader, I got myself the antibiotics. When I ran out of time to procrastinate further, I drove out of town—out of state—to buy myself adult diapers. For double protection, I picked out overnight pads as well. I reminded myself that astronauts wore diapers. Who looks down on an astronaut? Nobody. Diapers could be seen as elite-wear for the long distance traveler. As I approached the check-out counter, I noticed I was the only customer. The cashier had no one to focus on but me, and those diapers, and those pads. My astronaut justification started to wobble. Wasn’t there some crazy astronaut lady who wore an adult diaper on a cross country drive to avenge a love spurned? Everybody looked down on that astronaut.  I silently reminded myself that I had a longer trip ahead of me, and a better motive: a mother’s love.

As I set the items on the belt, I forced myself to make eye contact as I returned the cashier’s greeting. I hoped the cashier didn’t see a middle aged nervous wreck with MS buying diapers and overnight pads for herself, but rather a high strung, healthy woman performing the duties of middle age—buying pads for herself and diapers for her fragile old mother—a fiction that could only hold with a cashier who has never met my mother, who is generally the most robust woman in any room. The cashier conveyed absolutely zero shock or pity, enabling me to maintain my dignity. So I got through that purchase. How would I get through China?

I’ll tell you. China was nothing like I thought it would be.  Let’s start with the meaning of that first character that popped up on my Duolingo app, the character that sounded like the English word H-O-W. It happened I would meet a friendly native speaker at a Beijing art gallery who would tell me the actual meaning of the word “Hāo.” As you may have guessed, the word has nothing to do with a distressed lady being blocked from accessing the bathroom by an obstinate man with outstretched arms. Hāo, she assured me, means “good.” Hão was also a part of her name.

Was my ink-blot interpretation of the figures in that ideogram something other than an instance of preternatural second sight?

Not so fast. Gentle readers, on my journey I would indeed meet an obstinate man who would physically block my way to the bathroom when I was in acute distress and had to pee. But I wouldn’t meet this imposing figure in China. I would meet him in the Toronto Airport.

  • to be continued

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The Greater Good

During a 2012 visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I met a very pleasant young intern who had recently abandoned a career in law to take up a career in medicine, all because he’d wanted to use his talents to make the world a better place. Apparently most of the lawyers he’d met in his former life had been miserable, self-centered creatures.

He hadn’t wanted to end up like them.

So far, the intern had found the people of the NIH to be far better company than the rapacious lawyers he’d fled from. The intern observed that everyone at the NIH was there for the public good, even the patients, people who were willing to undergo trials that may or may not directly benefit them, but which would most certainly benefit others. As the intern put it, the institution was filled with do-gooders, “from the bottom up.”

I did not resent the intern for classifying patients like me as being at “the bottom” of the NIH heap. I deserved that. I myself have made a similar observation about the outstanding qualities of the good people I meet at the NIH, although in my self-serving version, “the bottom” is occupied by the NIH cab drivers —a demographic consisting primarily of highly educated immigrants, like the driver who’d earned a medical degree in his former life back in a war-torn African nation.

I don’t take anyone’s status too seriously, including my own. Status is subject to abrupt change. Things can be going fine, and then along comes a war. Or a disease. There are many paths to the NIH, indeed.

I wanted the good intern to like me. I did not correct his assumption that my primary motivation for participating in the trial for DAC HYP was a selfless one. My actual motivation was anything but selfless. DAC HYP was the only drug I’ve taken that managed to stop the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). When I’d heard it was being taken off the North American market, I’d panicked. I’d made a few phone calls, and tracked down the doctor whom I’d initially begged to prescribe it off label.  Joining her study at the NIH was the only way I could continue to take a drug with a known benefit.

There hadn’t been any risk involved in joining the study that I hadn’t faced already. There wasn’t even a risk of my being placed in a control group and receiving a placebo. I wasn’t at the NIH to make the world a better place. I was at the NIH to continue to take a better drug.

From what I’ve overheard from other patients at “the bottom” of the NIH barrel, we are all there primarily for our own private good. Did we want our disease cured? Hell, yes. Getting to the NIH meant cutting to the head of the line. No one gets an NIH ID without having struggled for it, including those who arrive in a wheelchair.

Human beings are complex. As for those selfish lawyers the intern was fleeing? Maybe some of those miserable human beings do in fact inadvertently contribute to the greater good while in pursuit of those big fat paychecks. More power to them.

I’d like to imagine that should one of those fat cats one day get sick, and have to claw themselves to “the bottom” of the heap at the NIH, they would make their own contribution to the greater good through their rapacious pursuit of an elusive cure. The intern may think better of his former colleague should he meet that person as his patient. He may think that they have undergone some spirtual transformation. But they will be the same ambitious bastard they always were.

We all contribute to society in some way. Like the intern, I’d rather hang out with people whose positive contributions to the world are deliberate, and not inadvertent. Yet by now I’ve learned that no one’s motivations are as clear as we would like to think.

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Ballad of the Rejected Ballot Applicant

Absentee Ballot Application 1: 

Once it became clear that Covid was going to linger through primary election season, I was grateful to learn that I would not have to break my Covid quarantine to perform this most essential duty. The State of Ohio offers mail-in voting. Easy! Once I printed out my application, I urged my husband to apply as well. I nested our two applications in the same envelope, fully expecting to receive two ballots in return. This is what we received instead: My husband got a ballot. I got a rejection—a check mark in the box next to: no signature

My instant response was one of deep shame. Could I have forgotten to sign my name? I’d been so excited. Had I been too excited, so eager to mail the envelope that I didn’t  notice I hadn’t signed the form? It didn’t seem possible. But it didn’t seem entirely impossible, either. Who was I to call The Hamilton County Board of Elections a liar?  I make mistakes sometimes.

I considered sending a second application form to vote absentee in the primary. But at that point, I didn’t think it likely I’d receive a ballot in time. So I gave up on voting in the primary. 

My shame only increased as I saw footage of people braver than myself enduring long lines in the primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia. Surely some of those voters were also coping with multiple autoimmune diseases, yet they were out there, risking the possibility of Covid. What made me more special than them? Nothing. And what about all those voters before us who had risked their lives, even lost their lives, to exercise their right to vote? 

Missing the primary was bad, even if my preferred Democratic nominees had dropped out of the race by that point anyway. 

Missing the November election would be inexcusable.

Absentee Ballot Application 2: 

I downloaded the application for an absentee ballot for November’s election. This time, I was going to do it right. I made sure I signed the form. I made sure I took a picture of the form,  signature and all. 

And this time I got the same response as before—a check mark in the box next to: no signature

Gentle reader, you might be looking at my signature, and conceding that the Hamilton County Board of Elections may have a point. I know. I know. My husband describes my signature is “a bit whack.” When I was a teenager, folks used to look at that very same signature and tell me I would grow up to be a doctor. Would you take the right to vote away from a doctor? Then why take it away from her patient?


I left a possibly indignant message on the Hamilton County Board of Elections answering machine, and then I went ahead and printed out, filled out, and photographed…

Absentee Ballot Application 3: 

A few days after I mailed my third application for an absentee ballot from the Hamilton County Board of Elections, I received a phone call from a kind sounding lady, who was responding to my (possibly less than kind?) phone message. She dredged up my paperwork and the original signature they had on file, and described it to me as having a loop and a few small bumps, and then a big bump and then a line, as opposed to my most recent signature, which she described as having a bump, and then another bump, and then a tail. 

Gentle Readers, I played my disability card. I explained I have multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disabling disease. My signature was likely to have deteriorated over time. She recommended I send another application, and to add her initials to the outside of the envelope this time. 

The truth is, I remember the first time I signed my name to a vote in Hamilton County. It was many years—and perhaps as many brain lesions ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was a big deal to me. Voting is always a big deal to me. I remember I signed my name very slowly, and very deliberately, summoning up each and every letter as neatly as I could. I gave it all I got, gussied up my signature in high heels for the government. And I remember a flash of anxiety…would I ever be able to duplicate this signature? Had I made the wrong move? Gentle Reader, I had made the wrong move entirely.  

A few days later, I received an Authorization to Update Signature on Registration Record from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The form contained two more opportunities to affix my signature. I tried to keep the two signatures as similar to each other as possible, so as to keep them from cancelling each other out. 

When I mailed that form, I thought I’d made my case. I kind of figured I’d get a ballot back. No such luck. 

Last week, I felt a flutter of anxiety as I watched Michelle Obama lean toward the camera and exhort us to persist. 

“We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they’re received.”

Tonight, I downloaded: 

Absentee Ballot Application 4. 

I signed my ballot application. I took a picture of it. I put two stamps on the envelope for good measure. (And for the good of the postal service, which is in just as much peril as our right to vote.)

And then I wrote this blog post.  I asked my husband what he thought of it. He responded, “If you want to make your argument more forceful, I would say, do not include your signature.” 

“But this is my signature!” I protested. 

Here’s the problem: if I were to try to reproduce my signature in high heels, I would be likely to fail. Would I scrawl sensible heels one time, and nine inch heels the next? My natural signature is mildly inconsistent. I fear a fancified signature would be madly inconsistent. 

Besides, don’t you think my current signature goes nicely with the wavy logo on the Hamilton County Board of Elections? Could maybe, this time, we all just get along and go with the flow?

Maybe not. My current signature doesn’t look like my signature in Absentee Ballot Application 2! 

If someone is motivated to reject it, they will reject it. Maybe not now.

Maybe on Election Day. 

Should I just give up? Vote in person? I have never had my signature questioned in person. People are nicer in person, don’t you think?

Wish me luck. Wish the fate of our democracy luck.

Racism is an Auto-Immune Disease


Anti-racism advocate Jane Elliot says, “The number one freedom that white people have in America, is the freedom to remain totally ignorant about the injustice committed against those who are other than white.”

I can’t see how even most lily white reader can remain totally ignorant of police brutality in this country since the era of body cams and cell phones. And yet police brutality persists. Let’s take ignorance off the table. Something more intentional is going on.


Gentle Reader, since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, I have been unable to fill this space with the posts you’ve come to expect, in which Ms. Lab Rat finds a new way to confront some problem with her ever unruly immune system, shares her discovery, and exhorts you to stay well.


I don’t want this page to be a refuge from the news that’s coming in from protests all over the country, images of people who have had enough of police brutality, and images of the police responding with more brutality. (Have you noticed how no funds have been spared to boost our police force with a seemingly endless supply of body armor, rubber bullets and pepper spray? Wait… is this the same country that can’t afford to outfit our health care workers with PPEs or to provide them with hazard pay?)


Our tax dollars are clearly not for the preservation of human life, but for the preservation of white supremacy.


The police in my city have taken down the American flag, and replaced it with a Thin Blue Line flag. In my mind, that is an unpatriotic action. But maybe the America I believe in was a white-washed America, an America that didn’t much acknowledge it was built on genocide and slavery and exploitation and extraction and domination and never gave a damn about black lives, thank you very much.


Darn it, I’m doing exactly what I was hoping to not do. I’m reacting. Multiple Sclerosis is a harsh teacher; this disease has taught me the hard way that when I react to a negative stimulus, I hurt myself. I’ve been working to be less reactive… and more responsive. What does that mean, exactly? To be responsive is to look directly at negative stimulus, and step back. Identify it. Identify how it makes you feel.


I’ve stepped back. I’ll tell you how I feel; I feel sick. It’s a sick, sick country that prefers to handcuff hundreds of protestors than to handcuff four bad caps.


Over the years of taming my MS, I’ve learned to take the long view on a problem. Take the problem of anti-maskers demanding their rights to freely spread Covid wherever they feel like; I’ve managed to take the long view and not get so mad at the anti-maskers that I wish for them to suffer the consequence of their actions and contract Covid themselves. I’m fully aware that if my wish were to come true, the anti-maskers could spread it to undeserving people, such as those underfunded health care workers I was talking about. For a fable-quality twist of fate, the Covid could spread to the ill-wisher: me.

The bad news about Covid is also the good news; we are all interconnected.

I’d have to take an incredibly long view to see any end to racism, which isn’t going to go away at the end of this news cycle. Clearly, it has not gotten fixed; according to Professor Kehinde Andrews, it will never get fixed within the White Supremacist system, the only system any of us has ever known. Andrews says, “Because the symptoms of racism are deadly, we often focus on these symptoms. Just like with anything, if you treat the symptoms and you don’t treat the disease, you’re still going to be sick. The disease is capitalism.”


Gentle reader, stay safe. In these frightening times, do your best to live in power, and not in fear. Let’s all work for a society that is fair, just, equal, and loving. For those of you who are also seek to learn how to respond, rather than react, consult this excellent talk by Tara Brach. The more we all practice mindfulness meditation, the more we activate the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that operates on a basis of morality.

Be well! Be generous with the resources you have gained. We are all connected.

Covid-19 Comeuppance

A true friend in the Time of Covid-19 is the friend who keeps track of your Day 14’s. The friend who texts at 9:01 am to ask, “Is this the anniversary? Is everything OK?” 

Today was a Day 14 for me…y’all know what I’m mean about a Day 14? It’s the 14th day after an event that didn’t used to have the potential to kill you, but does now. Highlights from my Day 14 Calendar include March 5 (14 days after a party conversation with someone returning from Covid-struck Italy), March 17 (14 days after an unwanted kiss from a nursing home denizen), and March 20 (14 days after exposure to a medical receptionist bronzed from her recent cruise.) 

Gentle Reader, you may have noticed all my aforementioned Day 14’s took place in March; I was very much an early adopter to the whole stay-at-home physical distancing thing. Up until now, my blog could be read as a great big Covid-19 Told ‘Ya So!

That would be a false impression. 

Two weeks ago, I had a painful comeuppance. I’d been congratulating myself on making what can only be considered a drastic lifestyle change; I’d gone from visiting some form of medical facility on an average of 3.5 times per week to preparing to stay the heck away from physicians and hospitals for the foreseeable future. 

I had downloaded my telemedicine app, accumulated the maximum refills on all my prescriptions, ditched the MS medication that was compromising my immunity, ditched the daily catheterizations that were leading to relentless UTIs. I was so done with being a part-time patient. So what if I had three auto-immune diseases? I’d been learning to cope with disease through a magical combination of an autoimmune diet, yoga, qi gong, and tai chi. I was ready to go physician-free! 

It did not occur to me that I was continuing to engage in a reckless practice that had, in the last six months, landed me once in the optician’s office and once in the ER.

You know the saying: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me? There is no saying for fool me three times, because the thrice-fooled are dead fools. Except, apparently, fools like me.

On the morning of April 16, I was feeling Covid-19 savvy for actually opening a new set of daily contact lenses instead of reusing the ones I’d worn the day before. The last time I’d seen my optician, she’d insisted that daily lenses weren’t made of the same material as the little slips of plastic that used to last me over a year. She’d commiserated with me about all the darn packaging waste, but promised that if I returned the spent packaging to her office, her office would forward it to the manufacturer, which claimed to have an environmentally sensitive plan for re-use. I dropped what would be my last two empty contact lens cases into the cloth storage bag within my bedside dresser, and proceeded to go about my day. I didn’t get very far before the inciting incident occurred. I was back in the bathroom, about to brush my teeth, when my husband called out something funny from his study; I laughed, then rubbed my eye. Like you are not supposed to do during Covid-19, and this is yet another reason why—out popped one very jagged half of the daily contact lens I had recently inserted. 

I poked around for the other half. Washed my hands. Poked around some more. Washed some more. Squirted contact lens solution. Rolled my eyes in front of the mirror. Rolled my eyes in front of my “eye-phone”—taking the most grotesque selfies imaginable. I called a nurse for any tips. The nurse’s tip: stay away from the optician. Stay away from the ER. Covid-19 likes to travel on the eyes. I called my primary care physician. She advised me to recruit my husband’s help. 

My husband is an upright guy. The man would chew glass for me. And I tell you…he’d probably prefer to chew glass than to mess around with searching for a contact lens shard in my eye. It was just too—nasty. Nonetheless, he stoically entered a ghastly new discovery phase in our marriage as he positioned himself above my head and squirted a continuous stream of contact lens fluid into my eye. To no avail. Our romantic New Year’s Eve agreement had been that we stay away from the ER in 2020. And now this man was suggesting we go to the ER. I decided to give it another round on my own. 

By 3pm, I’d had enough. My eyeball felt ragged. I hated letting down my primary care doctor, and my nurse. I hated endangering my husband. I hated endangering myself. But if this contact lens shard wasn’t showing up, an eye infection would be on the way. I countered my husband’s offer to drive me to the ER with a proposal that he drive me to our local optician. He liked that idea much better. It would be safer and cheaper. There. I’d managed to make one good decision to partially redeem my irredeemable self.  When I called the optician’s office, I recognized the voice on the other end as a technician I rather liked. Suddenly I no longer felt as though I were entering a realm of certain death, because I didn’t want to imagine that likeable guy as being in danger. 

My husband got me to the building five minutes after I got off the call. The technician was standing at the door, wearing a mask and gloves. It was strange to walk into an empty waiting room. I was the only patient in the building. In less than five minutes, the doctor was able to extract the shard that had eluded me for hours. The darn thing had been tucked underneath my eye at approximately the 7pm position. The doctor recommended I stop using contact lenses for the duration of Covid-19. The experience was sufficiently traumatic, so I’m taking his advice. 

My new Covid-19 look is a mask…and fogged up glasses. 

Stay well, Gentle Reader. May you and your loved ones keep your Covid-19 Calendars clear!

Don’t Ask for Permission. Ask for Forgiveness. Update from the NIH on which MS medications are safe and which make you more vulnerable to Covid-19.

The email I was hoping to get three weeks ago has just arrived in my inbox. The researchers running the clinical trial I skipped last week have finally come to the conclusion that maybe non-essential visits to the NIH (National Institutes of Health) are not such a good idea, after all.

The letter then went on to confirm that the MS drug I’ve been taking makes me moderately more immune-compromised, and therefore more vulnerable to Covid-19. Fortunately, I hadn’t waited for notification from the NIH, or from my neurologist. My dear friend MD (not a doctor) had prompted me to do a risk benefit analysis of taking Tecfidera in the age of Covid-19. I already knew Tecfidera is fairly useless at this stage in my disease, so it didn’t have any benefit to balance even the faintest risk. I’ve been off Tecfidera for three weeks now, and only regret that I didn’t get off it sooner.

I did go through the motions and wrote to “ask” my neurologist if he thought discontinuing my MS medication would be a good idea.

“Hello. I was wondering what you would think about my dropping Tecfidera? At this point I am more scared of Covid-19 than of MS. If Tecfidera lowers my immunity to Covid-19 even slightly, that’s not worth it to me, especially since there is little evidence Tecfidera is very effective against late stage MS. My first priority is to stay alive. What would you do, if you were me?”

I’d been off Tecfidera for two days when I got his response, “Although Tecfidera has not drop your lymphocyte but I can not say for sure it does not weakened your immune system. I understand and agree with you on holding it for now.”

One of the perks of being a lab rat is that you get to learn wonderful information from the leading minds in the field. I’d like to share the passage in the email from the principal investigator of my NIH trial. The passage outlines the role various MS medications play in potentially heightening vulnerability to threats like Covid-19. Perhaps this assessment will inspire others on MS medications to “ask” their neurologist about continuing on their drug:

What to do if your private neurologist is prescribing you a multiple sclerosis (MS) drug.

Not all MS drugs are the same when it comes to their effect on immune system and specifically, on the part of immune system that is important for fighting viral infections such as the coronavirus.

Based on current knowledge, I believe that it is safe to start or continue any preparation of interferon beta (i.e., Avonex, Rebif, Betaseron, Extavia, Plegridy). In fact, even though we do not know if interferon beta preparations inhibit COVID19 virus, these drugs do inhibit similar viruses in a test tube and likely in humans. Therefore, there is theoretical possibility that these drugs may in fact be beneficial.

Similarly, glatiramer preparations (i.e., Copaxone, Glatopa, Glatiramer acetate) are unlikely to suppress your immunity against viruses and should be safe to start or continue.

MS patients on all other medications should be considered immunocompromised and therefore at greater risk of COVID19 infection. We have shown that when taking data from >28,000 MS patients who participated in clinical trials of these medications, the beneficial effects of all MS drugs decrease with the age of patients so that after age 53, these drugs do not slow progression of disability compared to sugar pill called placebo. This does not mean that current drugs should not be given to any person older than age 53. In fact, we do recommend these drugs to patients older than age 53 if they still experience MS relapses and if they make lot of new lesions on brain or spinal cord MRI. If you are older than age 53, have not had MS relapse for several years and your MRI is not showing new lesions, you may want to discuss with your private neurologist whether you should continue your MS drugs, especially during COVID19 threat. These drugs do lower your immunity and we have seen serious infections (with other pathogens than COVID19) in older people with MS. “

The letter also has a lovely section with advice for those of you gentle readers who do not have MS.

I am sharing that section as well:

What should everybody do to protect themselves from COVID19 infection

Everybody, whether they are young or old, have MS, other disease or are completely healthy, are receiving immunosuppressive treatments or not, should immediately take precautionary measures consisting of:

  • Social distancing: try to keep 6 feet away from other people. After closer social contact, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. The virus does not survive soap and water. You do not need to use other measures if you have soap and water available.
  • Hand hygiene: wash your hands with soap and water as described above several times per day and always after close contact with other human being, or when you are outside and have touched surfaces that were touched by other people. Because you are unlikely to have soap and water when you are outside of your house, use hand sanitizers.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, face, mouth.
  • If you get fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, malaise – call your doctor. Do not go to medical centers. Your doctor will determine whether you need COVID19 screening test and will arrange for you to get the test. You should go to medical center/call ambulance only if you have problems with breathing (shortness of breath: breathing heavily, frequently and having bluish lips) – then you should not wait to talk to your doctor.
  • It does not help you if you are doing everything right, but your family members are not: the same rules for social isolation and hand hygiene must apply to your family members and anybody who enters your house.
  • Worrying will not help you. Worrying increases hormones steroids, which suppress immune system. If you allow yourself to worry, you are effectively hurting yourself. Not everything is within our control: we need to do things that are within our control and let go of the rest. Meditate, listen to birds singing outside, read books, talk to loved ones on the phone, stay positive.”

Gentle Reader, be well! Be good. But don’t be meek. Don’t wait for permission to take care of yourself!

Update 05/06/2020

Today I read that there is some evidence that Ocrevus was actually helpful for an MS patient in Italy who contracted Covid-19. I’m so happy to learn people on Ocrevus may not necessarily have to choose between protecting themselves from Covid-19 and protecting themselves from MS!

Words of Wisdom from the New Rochelle Containment Zone

Long time readers may recall my littlest sister, PYT aka Pretty Young Thing. She doesn’t have MS, or any chronic illness. But in true little sister style, she’s managed to become the center of attention…

I am blogging as a guest of Ms. Lab Rat today. It’s always nice when my big sis invites me to share her toys.
I have lived my life blissfully outside the MS maze. Every year researchers send me their MS sibling study and I share my boringly perfect health. I take no medicine. I have no difficulties doing anything (that’s a lie of course- I have great difficulty remembering to re-apply lipstick, and I tend to be self-absorbed) but what the study is really interested in is my balance and vision, my memory and peeing.
I have achieved ‘guest lab rat’ status because of COVID-19. I may not be in an NIH study but I AM living in the center of the New Rochelle ‘containment zone’. As I write this, it is Day 3. All quiet on the Eastern front. The National Guard is here cleaning and handing out food but I haven’t seen them. I’ve been on my silent street, watching my husband successfully coax our kids off training wheels. The road has fewer cars and they can ride longer stretches without needing to stop.
I have learned how to spell quarantine from assuring concerned friends over text that we are not, in fact, trapped here. My neighbors however have been quietly self quarantined for 15 days or so. It was easy to miss the absence of their presence. I realized too late that I hadn’t been asking if they need anything from the store- they do not.
Those of us who still roam free, stand on our lawns and discuss how surreal it is to be in the middle of a pandemic we were clearly not prepared for. We speculate on the ripple effects, share how our kids are reacting, is this a new seasonal reality, what it will do to the economy…and then we stop because we don’t even know what next week looks like.
I take my son out for a drive around town- grateful that children seem to be hardy in the face of this virus. If it were otherwise, I would be losing my mind. I have 3 kids around the age where fingers go in their nose and mouth and who only wash their hands when they are caught. This experience is making much better hand washers of us all.
I’ve made a point of going to the grocery store (even tho we are well stocked) so they have some business in return for staying open. I need them to be open in a week or two.
My son wants to ride in the car attached to the front of the shopping cart- he is 6 and barely fits. I’ve never asked him to wipe down the interior before but today I do…I’ve become that mom who sees germs on all the surfaces. On the cart handle, on the check out screen, on the cash back that I request, on the enormous stack of monopoly promotion cards the cashier hands me because there are few other customers to give them to. If we don’t win a boat, vacation home and screening room the game is certainly rigged.
I stop at the ice cream store to get a celebratory “training wheels are off” cake but mostly to give the poor clerk who showed up to work today something to do. While I am there, another customer orders a large cake for the team he is coaching- he imagines they will be celebrating the end of a multi-year run. I imagine the cake collecting freezer burn …no one is showing up to celebrate with their team. But I like his determination that the milestone should not be missed.
I drive by our TaiKwonDo studio and am happy to see students in the window- only to receive an email at night saying they’ve decided to close for a while too. I worry about how small businesses will survive this My husband reminds me that we just paid 6 months of a membership for 3 kids in advance. I am okay with that- they may not be as hard hit as others. I make a mental note to go back to the local hair salon, the one I had broken up with over bad color. I’ll get the Pheobe Waller-Bridge cut.
My fear isn’t that I will get sick. As I said at the top, I am boringly healthy. My fear is that I will get someone else sick. That I carry invisible COVID creepies to someone- like our heroic lab rat -and knock them off kilter. Or worse.
I reached this conclusion a day before our local institutions. I’ve taken it more to heart, and curtailed my own commute. We were all too late to the realization that our freedom to move must change.
What opened my eyes was our mother. I had invited her to lunch, a few days earlier, in the city. She’d cancelled a trip to Spain with my father for fear of COVID-19 . She drove into NYC instead of taking the train to avoid any risk of COVID-19. And then she sat down at a table with my husband and I, having lunch with two people who were likely closer to COVID-19 than her Spanish Air B & B hosts. I had not known she would later stop by our house- a block from the Temple which was ground zero for the cluster of infections- to drop off clothing to my kids. She was diligently curtailing her life to avoid exposure to a virus and my invitation led her to come hold hands with the hotspot, give it a kiss and a hug and head home to Connecticut, to my dad, with a little threat of Coronavirus hanging around the car. Being a good mother- she has not mentioned to me the oblivious selfishness of my invitation.
So if I have any wisdom to share from inside the containment zone it is to be more aware than I had been when this virus comes to your town- and it will. To be aware of your neighbors and what they may need. To be aware of your community. To be mindful of what you may carry along with you, as you carry on about your day. There are lab rats out there and they need every single one of us to think of their safety, even when we are secure in our own.

Stories from the Future

My son and his beloved MC in Thailand

Once my son and his girlfriend MC moved to China, they literally joined the future. They have a 12 hour head start on each day. They have had a long head start on the Corona Virus. Here is what they have to say.

Last night on her Instagram story, MC described their journey this way: 


Something tells me MC was a little rattled. Her usual delivery is quite measured. I would never expect her to dismiss other people’s decisions as “stupid.” 3,000 deaths can rattle a person.

Since their vacation in Thailand, my son and MC have been hopscotching around the virus, flying to Indonesia and then to Malaysia. They’ve been able to visit at least 10 temples. They’ve been able to work from a variety of Internet cafes. They’ve been privileged to hold American and Canadian passports, respectively. They’ve been privileged in that they don’t look like they are based in China. But my son is Chinese. One quarter Chinese. From the story he posted on Instagram last night, he is well aware that this is a fraught time to be Chinese.

Every day, I field anxious questions about these two. Everyone here has been worried about them. At this point, this intrepid couple is more worried about us. They know that our freedom loving lifestyle won’t permit the kind of measures that have flattened the curve of infections in Asia. They feel returning here would not be as safe as returning to Beijing. 

Can we be responsible enough with our freedom to prove them wrong?

Be well!

Ms. Lab Rat says, wash yer paws.