I won’t be home for Christmas…

For 42 uninterrupted years, I woke up on Christmas morning on the western fringes of Allegany County. The arrival of the Great Plague in 2020 changed that. As it stands now, I’ll have only been home for Christmas one out of the last three years.

It’s a combination of factors this year. There’s been non-Covid respiratory sickness for the last two weeks at the old homeplace. Maybe it’s reached the stage of not being contagious, but then maybe it hasn’t. I came back from Christmas last year carrying a bug that unloaded on me on about December 28th… and see no good reason to ask for a repeat performance. Better, I think, to just push the visit out into January or February once everyone involved is healthy.

The second precipitating factor is the appalling weather. At 9:00 this morning, the temperature here was 46 degrees. By 10:00 it had started plummeting towards it’s anticipated low of 9 degrees. It’s not forecast to creep back above freezing for the next four days. Being away from the house for days on end while nature threw some of her worst possible conditions at us, felt like tempting fate unnecessarily. Add in problematic travel conditions enroute and staying put feels like even more of a no brainer.

Finally, and perhaps the most compelling factor, is that a certain feline member of the household came back from the vet earlier this week being diagnosed with a double ear infection. We’re treating it with drops twice a day. He’s just barely tolerating my administration of the drops. I know his normal sitter would have given it the old college try, be she only comes in once a day and there’s no guarantee he’d have been cooperative. Sitting tight ensures he’s getting the full course of meds as scheduled. Even surrounded by the comforts of my childhood home, I’d have inevitably spent the entire visit fretting that I should be doing something more for him.

It’s a disappointment, of course, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not catastrophic. I’ve got a ham to bake and made a trip out yesterday to pick up a few missing ingredients to whip up the appropriate side dishes for a proper Christmas dinner. It’s decidedly “less than” the normal traditions of Christmas, but it still won’t suck. 

On involuntary expulsion and other treats…

I’ve started the last two weeks with some variety of sickness. I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty much over it. 

This morning, I woke up just shy of 3 AM with that undeniable salivating feeling that what had heretofore been in my stomach was about to make an unruly appearance. Working in my favor was that I eat Sunday dinner at the geriatric hour of 5 PM so there just wasn’t that much to work through. Still, twenty minutes later, with sweat beaded forehead, unwashoutable mouth, and a nose dripping blood, the worst of it was apparently over. The rest of the early morning hours passed uneventfully – if given over to a decidedly unsettled stomach. 

As long as I stay away from the heavy-duty peppers, I usually have a cast iron constitution when it comes to food. I have no idea what may have gotten into me yesterday to light this mess off. There was certainly no unusual or suspect food coming out of the kitchen. The culprit will most likely remain a mystery so long as there’s no encore performances. 

I’ve passed most of the day today feeling somewhere between tired and wiped out – not conventionally sick, which was nice – but dangerously close to toppling over the keyboard and sleeping for hours. Mercifully it was Telework Monday so I didn’t need to make the effort to look even marginally presentable but still managed to keep the bits and bobs running smoothly without slagging off the work on someone else… something that definitely wouldn’t have been the case if I had been expected to appear in cubicle hell personally this morning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling absolutely ravenous… and am probably going to tempt fate by eating something with more heft than three saltines. Wish me luck.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crud. Whatever standard issue crud I was run down by over the weekend continues to hang on grimly. I’m feeling mostly fine, but I’ve woken up every morning this week with a raw throat and very little voice. It’s not enough to really change anything I need or want to do, but it’s damned annoying. With as many shots as I’ve subjected myself to over the last three years, I feel like having one of them be the cure for the common cold really isn’t that big an ask.

2. Rumors. Having been moved away from my home town for going on 23 years, sometimes I forget how things work there. One thing that hasn’t changed is the rumor mill. Industries rise and fall, people come and go, but rumors fly as swiftly as they ever did. Here’s the thing… if you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right from a friend of a friend of a friend, maybe just pick up the phone or tap that message button and ask someone who would know. That way they can confirm, deny, or tell you to mind your own damned business. Though, I suppose that has significantly less entertainment value.

3. Still waiting. Here we are 7 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published seven weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

A low-grade crud…

I went from March 2020 to December 2021 without so much as a cough. I can trace my Christmas crud last year directly to the one time I strayed out from normal habits of avoiding people. Believe me when I tell you I was good at avoiding people before COVID. After COVID, I’ve become exceptional… of course that assumes a situation where I exert some level of control over most of the variables. 

I’m in no way surprised that six weeks after “return to the office” I already find myself dealing with a low-grade crud. You wouldn’t be surprised either if you heard the general amount of background hacking, sniffling, and general complaints that “it’s probably just a cold,” floating around the cube farm on any given day.

The good news is that as long as the handy little at home tests can be trusted, it’s probably a run of the mill cold and not the Great Plague. The bad news, of course, is the only reason I’ve got a head full of anything just now is because my corner of the great green machine continues to obstinately cling to the idea that work is a place rather than an activity despite two years of evidence to the contrary.

If you’re wondering when I’ll stop being salty about this world where asses in seats continues to be a more important metric than production, well, I won’t… and I don’t even need this periodic upper respiratory reminder to keep it in the forefront of my mind.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Protests. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember a sign waving, getting in the way of things protest that I’ve ever knowingly supported. The tactics most protesters employ seem almost perfectly designed to guarantee that I’ll either quietly oppose them or openly mock and deride them. The small “r” republican protestors who have been popping up in London this week aiming to disrupt the most solemn state occasion of the late Queen’s funeral are probably exactly the kind of friendless cranks you might expect to engage in that kind of ill-timed, boorish behavior. I’m not saying the Crown should necessarily haul them off to the tower, but if the rest of the populace got together and heaved them directly into the Thames, I’d likely look the other way and then have a good laugh about it.

2. Lindsey Graham. For the last six months every Republican who could find a TV camera earnestly declared that abortion was an issue that should rightly be resolved by the states. That the federal government has gotten too large and overreaching is a reasonable argument. The remedy, of course, isn’t to hand that misbegotten power to the states, but rather return it directly to the people, who are the font of power under the American system, and allow them each to decide based on their own particular light. But then here comes Lindsey Graham, boldly introducing a bill that not only flies in the face of small government orthodoxy, but which will be wildly unpopular with 60% or more of the electorate. It might buy him some votes from the Republican base in South Carolina, but otherwise it makes him look like a fucking moron.

3. Eyes. My eyes suck and have since I was a kid. Take away my glasses and I could probably squint my way through things at very close range, but forget about telling the difference between a car and a cow more than a couple of dozen yards away. I’m headed off to my annual eye exam tomorrow, where I plan to spend my hour griping and complaining that by 8PM, my eyes are shot. It’s a situation that’s beginning to interfere with my evening reading and that obviously can’t be allowed to stand. With the return of wasting hours of the week commuting to the office for reasons that defy logic, but make perfect sense to management on the near horizon, I can’t afford to lose another hour or two in the evening with my eyes running everything together into lines of black smudge. 

I’m pretty sure it’s a racket…

Tomorrow will start the first of a series of various doctor visits and lab appointments that I really had been hoping would somehow magically fall off my calendar. I’m sure they’re all very important and will reveal many interesting and entertaining things, but it’s a level of shit to do and sick leave I don’t want to burn off that’s just uninspiring.

A month or two ago I got myself an endocrinologist, who seems nice enough, but is determined to build her own history rather than just going on the eleven years of records I sent over from Johns Hopkins. So, over the next six to eight weeks, I’ve got multiple appointments lined up for basic blood work, thyroid testing, pituitary testing, a “nutrition assessment,” and one or two other things I’ve got noted as “Endo Appointment – UNK” on the calendar. I assume they’ll tell me what I’m there for. At this point, it only feels like I’m missing tests for color blindness and hearing.

The good news, I suppose, is as far as I know there’s nothing new actually “wrong” with me. The doc didn’t appear alarmed and used phrases like “establish a baseline.” Since I feel fine, my numbers are basically hanging around where they have been for a decade, and they didn’t immediately throw me in the hospital to conduct these tests, I’m proceeding from the assumption that this is either a) standard procedure for bringing a new patient into the practice or b) an unsophisticated scam to bleed me for copays while charging Blue Cross a small fortune. Either one feels entirely possible at this point – and both feel like some kind of a racket.

Now that the bathroom is in spitting distance of being done, I thought maybe this would be the time to get back to the series of dermatologist appointments I paused in the spring. Turns out that was wildly optimistic. Maybe I’ll see him again in November… assuming there isn’t some other ridiculous thing that comes up between now and then.

The open bay petri dish…

Since March 2020, I’ve taken the reasonably prescribed precautions against the Great Plague. The regular advice to avoid crowded spaces didn’t feel particularly onerous to me. After all, avoiding crowded places has been my stock in trade for most of my adult life. It’s the kind of crisis situation I was built for.

When the bosses prioritize asses in seats, though, there’s no way to avoid the office, which is how you get a poor schlub coming in when he’s not feeling 100% and only hours later popping hot on a rapid test. That, of course, leads to the rest of us sitting around wondering if that brief conversation we had in the early hours of the morning was enough to swing us from exposed to infected. There’s no way to tell until something does or doesn’t happen, so we all just keep on keeping on.

I miss the front half of the plague experience. A positive test like this would have triggered an immediate quarantine and deep cleaning of the physical space. Anyone in the room would have been declared “exposed” and sent home to quarantine for as long as 14 days. Now guidance from the top is “Well, we just have to tell you that you may have been exposed” and an accompanying shrug.

Having been vaccinated and boosted, it’s reasonable to assume the plague isn’t going to be my cause of death. That shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s an experience I particularly want to have. Given the couple of underlying conditions I enjoy that don’t necessarily play nicely with the plague, it’s in my best interest to avoid it. If I catch this bug after two and a half years only because someone at echelons higher than reality is mired in the misguided notion that there’s anything at all I can do sitting at my desk in cubicle hell that I can’t do from my desk in the sunroom at home, there’s a fair chance I’ll absolutely lose my shit the very next time someone mentions some absolute tripe like “synergy, collaboration, and innovation” and the importance of having all the warm bodies back in an open bay petri dish.

Not what I signed up for…

A few months ago, my doctor started hectoring me to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist. The guy cured some recurring foot pain I was having years ago with the power of positive thinking, so I’m usually game for anything he wants to try.

Let me start off by saying I could probably have gotten a cardiology appointment more quickly that I was able to get something scheduled with a local nutritionist. I made the appointment so long ago that I’d honestly forgotten about it. In fact, it wasn’t until my boss mentioned this morning that I was scheduled off this afternoon that I remembered it at all. That’s not the finest hour for my long-term memory, but I made it on time today so at least I have that going for me. 

I’m not sure what the doc expected me to learn. Eat less, exercise more, knock it off with the red meat and gin. I’m perfectly willing to admit intellectually that I should be exercising an hour a day or that I should be eating low-calorie, flavor-free foods. But the simple fact remains that a) That’s not how I want to allocate my limited free time and b) I like foods that don’t taste like someone smeared cottage cheese on cardboard. I’m well aware that I’m taking years off my life… but I’m not at all sure that the cost of adding years is worth what joys I’d be expected to give up.

This all would have been a fine use of an afternoon, except for the part where when I called requesting an appointment with a nutritionist, the nice people at Christiana instead made me an appointment with an endocrinologist. She was pleasant enough, I suppose, but far more interested in sending me off for a round of all the bloodwork than discussing how to make low-fat lasagna that doesn’t taste worse than the box in which the noodles arrive. I’m pretty sure that’s not what my doc or I really had in mind… but she said her office will be happy to refer me to a nutritionist, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and build a whole suite of medical professionals while I’m waiting on that to happen.

Sometimes it’s increasingly difficult to tell if I’m the sane one and the world has gone mad, or if the world is sane and I’ve lost my mind. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. My right foot. Last Thursday I noticed a little catch in my foot, especially if I were standing still for too long. By Tuesday I was walking with an undisguised limp. Here, now, on Thursday leaving my foot flat on the floor is an agony… and let’s just say I won’t be releasing film of me gimping my way around the house. I don’t mind being injured when I know what dumbass thing I’ve done to cause it. When it comes flying out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, though, well, that’s cause for severe agitation in addition to the baseline level of pain. Thanks to the internet, I know the general advice is to stay off the offending foot and give it plenty of rest. That’s probably a decent enough recommendation, but there’s critters to feed and a household to run, so the actual utility of that advice is marginal at best. It’ll either ease off or it won’t. If we’re still here this time next week, it’ll probably be time for professional intervention.

2. Hearings. In the summer of 1987, Congress held televised hearings about the Iran-Contra affair that featured then Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. I remember the hearings in part because they were a daily afternoon fixture on the television as I passed regularly from the pool to the kitchen at my aunt and uncle’s house in Fairhaven, where we were visiting at the time. It’s funny the things that stick in the mind of a nine-year-old. In any case, we’re about to be treated to another round of televised Congressional hearings. This time, they’ll focus on something far more insidious than anything LtCol North dreamed up. After eighteen months, much of the nation’s attention has shifted away from the insurrection and treason that took place on and leading up to January 6th, 2021. In my heart of hearts, I hope that these hearings are a forum to both shed light on and hand down consequences for those who engaged in, supported, or passively acquiesced to the attempted violent overthrow of the legislative branch. I fear, however, that it will all be used for hour after hour of prime-time grandstanding by everyone involved.

3. People. OK, admittedly, I’ve never been a fan. With rare exceptions I’ve found that people are more trouble than their worth. Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty reliable sense for those who make the extra effort worthwhile. That sense, as was proven this week, is not foolproof. In fact, that trust in my own intuition lulled me into a sense of complacency. In that complacency, I missed warning lights that should have been wildly obvious. From any other direction, when evaluating any other person, they would have been. It’s been a good long time since I’ve so badly misjudged someone… and I’ll be bloody well sure it’s even longer before another one slips past the goalie the same way.

I’ve been referred…

I went into the doctor’s office this morning expecting the normal checkup and regular drubbing for being too fat, too in love with salt, and hating all forms of exercise that aren’t yard work.

I got those things, of course, but I also got three unexpected referrals. The first involves an as yet undetermined amount of physical therapy for a back that never entirely quits hurting. The second is for a dermatologist to take a look at a stubborn bit or rash on my arms that the doc now thinks could be an acquired allergy to one of my medications. The last, well, that’s the one that just adds insult to injury.

The final referral is for a consultation with a nutritionist. Apparently, the idea of most of my collected recipes being directly from the 1950s and 60s is abhorrent and “not at all” recommended.

Yeah, well, they all taste good. Which is inevitably more than I’ll be able to say about whatever diet cardboard with lite vinegar sauce I’m about to have recommended for me. I’ll try to go in with an open mind, but the first time someone tells me cauliflower is an acceptable substitute for bread, pizza crust, or rice, you’ll be able to hear my eyes rolling from wherever you happen to be in the world.

I’m not convinced healthy people really live longer so much as it just feels longer because they’ve sucked every ounce of joy out of living. Anyway, it looks like I’ll be burning off shit tons of sick leave in the near future, so at least I have that to look forward to.