My lying eyes…

I’ve worn glasses since I was in 7th grade – meaning I’ve had them now far longer than I ever lived without them. They feel like a natural extension of my face at this point. 

My prescription has changed over the years, but for the last decade or so has been fairly stable. That’s why it was painfully obvious early this year that I was struggling to keep the small print in focus. What’s worse, after long sessions with the book of the day, I’m regularly finding the words blurring together and my eyes just too tired to focus on anything that’s not halfway across the room.

It hasn’t been debilitating, but has been thoroughly annoying and disheartening from day-to-day as it sets limits on how many pages I can get through in a sitting. I don’t make a habit of living in fear, but if there’s anything in life that causes me an unreasonable amount of dread, it’s the idea of losing my vision. It’s precisely the kind of perverse plot twist the Olympians would devise for me. 

I took a few hours of sick leave this morning and schlepped over for my annual eye exam and diagnostic for this new issue. This appointment has been on the schedule for months and given the sum of other circumstances in this plague summer it’s one I would have probably cancelled… but since current situation is standing between me and fully enjoying the books, I’m 100% willing to risk painful, suffocating death to get it resolved.

As it turns out, Doc assures me I’m not, in fact, going blind… but it’s yet another instance of bodily succumbing to the ravages of middle age. My fancy new transition lenses should be here in about two weeks. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find some tennis balls to put on the legs of my walker.

Getting cleaned…

Google reminded me this morning that I have a dental cleaning appointment in two weeks. 

Through the sweep of the last four months living under plague conditions, I haven’t done anything that made me particularly nervous. Going for groceries didn’t bother me. Stopping off at Asian Garden for a carryout order of General Tso’s and some egg rolls didn’t feel particularly threatening. Even a quick pop into one of my favorite book shops, depopulated of customers, was fine. 

The idea of sitting calmly, unmasked, while someone hovers inches from my face while prodding, poking, scraping, and kicking up the dreaded aerosolized droplets, and “defenseless” against whatever the patient before me kicked up, leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Score one for my highly developed sense of self preservation, I guess.

I’m sure my dentist is following whatever protocols are required to make the experience reasonably safe… which does nothing to eliminate that nagging, and probably completely unreasonable thought that it feels like some kind of high-risk maneuver best avoided at the moment.

At the moment, I’m leaning soft no, but with two weeks to go you can count on me to spend an inordinate amount of time overthinking the situation and creating entire universes of arguments in favor and against. That gives me room to change my mind twenty or thirty times before it really matters.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Research.” The internet is crawling with people who think they have “done research” or “studied” all manner of troubles that have lain undiagnosed by any of the other eight billion or so people on the planet. I mean if there really was a legitimate thread by which vaccinations lead to all developmental problems in human, I have to suppose it would have been uncovered at some point by serious medicos who would be happy to make a name for themselves. We’ve been inoculating people against disease since the early 18th century… and yes there have always been adverse reactions, but since tens of thousands of people aren’t falling down dead from smallpox anymore I’m willing to take my chances because people smarter than me who are credentialed in medicine, biology, and chemistry tell me it’s a good idea. The same is true when the internet lights up with warnings that dinner plates made before 2005 contains toxic levels of lead that sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids – all turning on the “research” conducted by someone using their kitchen counter as a laboratory and going out of their way to avoid presenting actual data, methods, or independent verification. But hey, feel free to go ahead and base your “research” on the rantings of some uncredentialed, ill-informed, and mentally questionable rando on the internet. I’m sure their information is better than the sum total of the knowledge acquired by western medicine over the last thousand years.

2. Questions. I’ve heard it sad that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. If you really believe that I’ll just have to assume you’ve never actually met people. Ever. Take, for instance, one of the most popular questions I’ve seen swirling around the office this last week. It basically asks “I’m worried that COVID-19 can be transmitted by toilets. We can’t expect people to hold it all day so what’s being done to protect people from the potty?” I can only presume this was an actual question and not, in some way, sent as an effort to find the funny since it was asked at least twice almost verbatim in two different forums. The answer, in case you’re curious, is that restrooms will be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis (as they have been before and during the initial phases of the Great Plague). If you’re wearing your mask, washing your hands, and not touching every surface in the bathroom and then jamming your hands in your mouth, eyes, or nose, your chances of a toilet-related disaster are probably pretty low… although that feels like a pretty big ask for a lot of people.

3. The Great Plague. After three months we’re finally hitting a moment when I’m personally being inconvenienced by the Great Plague. You see, my favorite cut-rate discount used book warehouse is open again, the truly massive barn sale in southern Pennsylvania where I always seem to find some treasure or another is scheduled for this weekend, and I find myself about to be desperately in need of more shelving in the non-fiction section here at Fortress Jeff. Being the proud possessor of “underlying health conditions” and now seeing the ongoing increase in cases and hospitalizations being reported around the country heading out on the search for old and unusual or more books and places to put them is something of a roll of the dice. My local area currently has a respectably low positivity rate despite the increased number of tests being administered. Part of me wants to use the moment to get a few long-delayed items off the to do list before we cycle back towards another spike… while of course the other part wants to just stay comfortably home, avoid any unnecessary exposure, and watch the world burn itself down. 

What I learned this week…

What I learned this week in a lot of ways is just a confirmation of what I’ve known my entire adult life – and that’s that I have absolutely no interest in ever living in a city. Yes, I’m aware my disinterest in city living means I’m “missing out” on untold cultural opportunities, fine dining, education, and whatever else it is that attracts people to live in America’s dense urban centers. I’ve made my peace with being able to access those opportunities as needed from a distance if I ever really need to avail myself of them.

I’m not built for living in a place that prides itself on ginning up ever increasing population density or warehousing people stacked 20 floors deep with a thousand next door neighbors. I’m not a great outdoorsman, but I can’t fathom living somewhere my only outdoor space is ten feet of concrete sidewalk or the part six blocks away that can be closed at a moment’s notice by executive fiat. When I want access to green space, I like the option of walking across my own yard and being there – already with the forest at my doorstep.

As much as I like “home,” finding myself confined to a few hundred square feet indefinitely is the stuff of nightmares. I despised riding DC’s Metro a lifetime ago when I commuted into the District for work. The idea that it, filled with plague victims with no other options, would be my only reasonable means of transportation, sounds definitively awful. If nothing else, the Great Plague has reinforced my already deep belief in the value of elbow room between me and the next closest neighbor.

Cecil County is just far enough away that it won’t likely be a bedroom community for Baltimore or Philadelphia any time soon… but the growth of housing developments and apartment complexes along the county’s main routes undeniably means that people are finding their own reason to live here. I’ve been here long enough to notice the daily increase in traffic to and from the major outlying areas of employment. It’s already feeling just a little bit too crowded for my tastes.

I’m happy enough where I am for the time being. State land and large lots will do their part to prevent too much crowding. Once I don’t need to make residency decisions based on proximity to an employer, though, the gloves are coming off. If I’ve learned nothing else from watching the news unfold these last few weeks, it’s that I well and truly have no business living or working inside of one of America’s great Petri dishes. I’m sure it’s fine for some people, but it’ll be a hard pass for me.

On tracking the virus…

I’ve written before about the decline of personal privacy. We slap RFID tags on our vehicles to make paying tolls marginally less painful. We carry around a mobile tracking device in our pockets. Many of us live with home security cameras that can see all but the most private moments.

The tech industry’s move towards developing apps that use our phone’s onboard GPS to track proximity to potentially infected people may sound like an altruistic use of technology to improve public health. Outside of saying they’re working on this “neat new thing,” not much is being said about the implications that come along with using such a personal tracker. Without knowing what, if any, legal safeguards will be in place, details of what beyond proximity is being collected, how long it will be stored, who will have access to it, how it will be used, and what control I will have over what’s collected, I have to say it’ll be pass from me. 

I’ve signed over some degree of privacy to big tech already because I value the services they provide. At its heart, though, my cell phone is nothing more than a tool. I have no intention of taking life guidance from it – or from Apple or Google or any of the other firms racing into this space. 

I won’t be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I feel like sooner rather than later I’ll find my phone living in a Faraday bag except for moments when I need to use the damned thing.

Doubts…

Maryland’s governor started out a few weeks ago cautioning residents about the virus. Over the last several weeks, those advisories took on ever increasing urgency as it because clear that politely asking people to stay at home wasn’t working – as they continued to congregate at beaches, parks, and bars. Then he ordered those places shuttered… and people found other ways to gather. This morning he announced a wide reaching “stay at home” order, providing criminal penalties for for doing those things we were previously advised to avoid.

Aside from my own instinctive chafing at government so dramatically curtailing the scope of our collective liberty (even in the name of a good cause), I have serious doubts about the average citizen’s ability or willingness to comply with what are currently open ended orders to stay put. Americans have a long and storied history of going where the government of the day tells them not to go. It’s in no small part the story of our nation’s westward expansion… although I don’t think the desire to move the family west to homestead Nebraska is going to be the issue in the here and now.

I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life being utterly happy staying home. That’s not true for most people. It’s even less true when you can’t tell them how long they’ll be expected to stay put. Many of us are starting week 2 or 3 of this new normal and despite the gallows humor that suffuses social media, there’s a decided undercurrent of fear and worry out there too. How long my fellow citizens are willing to sit in their homes with those two companions remains to be seen. 

I’ve got my doubts that “indefinitely” is going to be an answer some, or even many, will accept as the weeks continue to stretch on, even if that means going about against the best medical advice and in violation of our newly instituted executive orders. 

Agreement…

I’ve had my current telework agreement in place for over three years. That represents about 150 weeks of working from home at least one day per week. There have been occasional technical issues, but I like to think my performance over those last 150 weeks hasn’t suffered. My yearly performance assessments under two different bosses seem to back up that theory.

The telework agreement I’m working under, and I’ll quote here, says in part, “Employees’ participating in the telework program enhances workplace flexibilities and it allows he Command to maintain Continuity of Operations (COOP) during any emergency situations, pandemic health crisis, or special event that causes disruption in the workplace.” I added a bit of emphasis there.

We are currently living through the exact reason why employees are issued laptops and encouraged to have telework agreements in place. I can perform 95% of my daily tasks right here in my sunroom without a problem. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has declared offices in DC “open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees.” The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that no gatherings of more than 50 people take place for the next eight weeks. The President of the United States lowered that to groups of no more than 10 during this afternoon’s coronavirus working group briefing. Every news outfit on the planet is preaching the gospel of social distancing. I spect sooner rather than later, many jurisdictions in the United States will find themselves with soft “lock downs” similar to what Italy is experiencing.

Letting people who can work from home go do that makes eminent sense. The fewer potential vectors wandering the halls the better for everyone. My particular part of the vast bureaucracy, though, has opted to remain utterly silent on the issue. I can only assume that means they think piling hundreds of people into a hermetically sealed building is somehow a more advantageous strategy to ensure the business of the organization continues to get done.

It’s a bad take… and it’s the very definition of an unnecessary risk to personnel. Maybe I’ll catch hell for saying that publicly… but of the things I could catch in a room where 30 people are packed in asshole to elbow breathing recirculated air and not seeing the sun, catching hell should probably be the least of my worries.

I’m lucky that I got to work from home today. Unless someone steps up with a little leadership before tomorrow morning, I’ll be expected in the office the rest of the week. Ultimately, though, I’m responsible for my own health and welfare. If I can’t depend on the powers that be to make good decisions for their employees, I’ll continue to conduct my own daily risk assessments and determine for myself when it’s time to hunker down until the worst blows over, regardless of whether that means working from home or burning off the mountain of leave I’ve banked over the last 18 years.

There be plague here…

There’s some kind of plague in the office that seems to be slowly afflicting everyone in the place. One of the people I interact with most on a current project has the good sense to stay home today. The other crawled from bed like a corpse hacking and wheezing its way through a day of meetings.

I’m feeling fine. But given the current prevailing circumstances I’m feeling confident this bug will take me down sooner or later. You won’t find mock heroics here. Hard life lessons have taught me that no one cares if you drag you’re near-dead carcass from your sickbed to make sure that one meeting gets covered.

Even if someone did care, the meeting and giant bureaucratic organization for which it stands, will roll along forever with or without you… So if it truly couldn’t matter less, you might as well stay in bed and make an effort to recover – or at least make the effort not to spread the plague to everyone who has to work with you.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here dipping my whole self in lysol.

Lumps and bumps…

Having an old dog means there’s really no end to the lumps and bumps you’re going to find on them today that weren’t there yesterday. I’m told fatty lipomas are particularly common in old Labrador’s – and Maggie has more than her share of those. As long as we confirm that they’re not malignant, I’m more or less happy to leave them be rather than subject her to an invasive surgery to correct something that’s basically cosmetic.

The story is a little different when it comes to the most recent tumor. This one is growing under her right eyelid and if left unchecked could cause damage to her eye. That falls well into the category of “not cosmetic.”

We schlepped over to the most local of the region’s specialty vet’s offices this morning to meet with the veterinary ophthalmologist for the first of what’s likely to be several consultative visits. They ran a few tests, poked and prodded, and looked deeply into her eyes… and confirmed that “yep, that’s a tumor and we should probably cut it off.” At least that part wasn’t a surprise.

Maggie’s overall prognosis is good. The procedure is fairly straightforward, so we’re not breaking new ground in veterinary medicine. That’s not to say the procedure is inexpensive, of course. It’s not the kind of vet’s office you ever walk into thinking that the visit is going to be budget friendly. It’s the price of progress. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

The only question now is whether I want to get another consult with the surgeons to see if taking off one of the large fatty masses on her shoulder is something we should think about adding in to the surgery. On a younger dog in my mind the decision would be a no brainer. With my girl pushing 12 now, I’m hesitant to take on anything invasive that isn’t strictly necessary.

At least I know what I’ll be spending the weekend pondering.