People Are Opting Out

People are opting out. Of life. I wonder why. Can we blame it all on Covid? No, I don’t think so. Yes, I think Covid threw a monkey wrench into life as we knew it. But if it hadn’t been Covid, I think it would have been something else.

For sure, the interruption to our social life is having an impact. Not feeling comfortable eating out in a busy, popular cafe is truly a downer. And I heard today that after a large, maskless meeting of CDC employees last week, 35 of them soon came down with Covid. So masking up in big groups or small rooms is tedious, but that hasn’t pushed me over the edge.

Everyone has a tipping point, and I felt like I reached mine last week. I was across the street for an eye exam and noticed that the very convenient, very helpful eye-ware shop was shuttered. Grrr, I thought. Decisions from much higher up, I was told. (Much higher up, in this case, means the bosses of the very large Catholic institution that now runs the show.)

But that wasn’t what did me in. Rather it was the discovery a few days later that the hospital gift shop was also being closed. WTF? Do the bishops disapprove of shopping? Do they not know that shopping is therapy? Do they not know that patients’ families need a distraction? Do they not know that we all need a treat or a magazine or a card for someone now and then? The gift shop was run by volunteers with about a half of a staff position or less doing oversight. WTF, indeed! 

Perhaps I could survive the loss of these two very handy businesses if they weren’t coming on top of the loss of Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Chico’s, the neighborhood branch of our bank, a bunch of retail at Pacific Place, the pharmacy next to Gelatiamo, and retailers that I never patronized, but other people did and they helped keep downtown alive. 

Supposedly, there are more people downtown this week because Amazon said to show up at the office or else. Perhaps that means something now that even the Amazons of the world are laying people off. Granted, the people who work at Amazon don’t exactly support my kind of retail, but somehow they help the world look alive, even in their nerdy zombie state. There was certainly more traffic today when I managed to run two errands during morning and evening rush hours by mistake. Note to self: avoid rush hours again!

I don’t think the lack of shopping options is the primary factor leading to the deep pessimism that I and others are feeling. It’s pretty easy to thump the table and grumble at the loss of a gift shop, but I’m confident that the pessimism derives from more serious problems. Such as the wildly dysfunctional national government, the wildly stupid extremes of the culture wars, the wildly ridiculous length of being on hold for answers to the simplest of questions. And construction, still going on everywhere! And the transit interruptions, and the absence of oatmeal in the Bistro, and  the impossible wait times for elevator repairs, and the endless timelines for  “corridor refurbishment,” and the incomplete remodel of our main meeting room such that the audio doesn’t work on one day and the lighting doesn’t work on another day, and no, the drapes are not here yet.

Nothing ever gets finished. The finish line might as well not exist: no one will ever get to it. 

Hence pessimism. For older folks such as myself, this is taking a toll. You know things are bad when people are opting to end their lives by VSED – that’s “Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking” to you youngsters out there. It is not an easy way to die. But guns are not allowed in my retirement community. Frankly, I’d buy a gun and break that rule before starving myself to death. Seriously, what are they going to do to me? Kick me out? Ha. That’s the whole point of the exercise. 

I actually am not at that degree of pessimism yet, but it is sad to see that others are. And I am well and truly frustrated with the state of the world. I’ve been well and truly frustrated for quite a while, but Ukraine just did me in, even more than the way we mucked up Covid. Could we please just enable Ukraine to win this war within my lifetime? Please! Just win it! 

Well, I live in Seattle, and our hockey team, the Kraken, are in the second round of the playoffs – in just their second year of existence. I see why some people tune out the news and tune in to sports. But then once the game is over, the corridors are still not finished, there is still no oatmeal in the Bistro, Madison Street is still a mess, and the AV system in Anderson Hall will likely never be complete. 

So we are heading out of town for a few days in eastern Washington. I don’t care if it rains or snows or we are blinded by the sun. We are outa here, folks. See ya later!

Your Neighbors Are Not Fine

A week ago, I was on my way home from an appointment with my psychologist. Yes, I need therapy. And, not your business. In any event, I took light rail to Westlake, then walked up the hill from there. I met a friend in Freeway Park, we chatted a bit, then I decided to be brave and ask her a question I rarely ask people. 

Her husband died last winter, but I’ve seen her out and about in our retirement community since then, and she looks “fine.” By this, I mean that she is dressed as smartly as ever, seems always to have a destination in mind, and simply looks as she always has. But frankly, I’m curious about how people deal with the death of a spouse, so I asked her how she is with life alone. Without hesitating, she said, “I hate it. I really hate it.” 

“Wow,” I said, “I’m glad I asked because you always look fine, but I don’t know how you could be.” “No,” she said, “I really miss him. I miss the things we used to do together. Everyday, I miss him. I don’t like this at all.” 

Not an hour later, I was leaving the laundry room on our floor and bumped into another friend. I say friend, but in neither case was this someone I would call on for help. Yet, we are friendly to each other, and we chat from time to time. Again, I asked this friend how she was. “I’m finally starting to feel more like myself again,” she said. The last time I’d seen her, it was near noon, and she’d just gotten dressed and left her apartment, still looking a bit disheveled. This time, she was brighter and told me she’d started taking an antidepressant. A closer friend than I had told her she really seemed depressed and needed to get help. Fortunately, she trusted this friend enough that she followed through and did find help. She said the pills were kicking in, and she was doing better.

Those two encounters made me wonder how many other people I pass in the halls or see in the dining room or lounge each day are not “fine” no matter what they say. I rarely tell people when I’m down in the dumps, and I’m sure most of us are pretty good at passing for fine. So how is it that we can not see that some of us need more than a “Hi, how are you?” in passing. 

Many of the 500 residents here had friends or relatives living here when they moved in. We did not. Neither did the friend who was depressed. And we did not find it easy to make new friends here. Yes, there are plenty of activities that we can join in. We have exercise classes, speakers and programs, committees galore. (That is we did until Covid. We’re just starting to get back to a semblance of normal.) I’ve volunteered for a few things, but I haven’t made close friends from those ventures. I have one good new friend here. One. How many others are in the same boat? 

I’m not sure if there’s a fix for this conundrum. But I think we should ponder it. Residents who moved to Seattle to be near children or grandchildren still need friends here. Unlike college, when we were all looking for friends, not everyone here needs new friends. But those of us who do, don’t have an easy way of advertising that fact. And people who’ve moved in to join an existing cadre of friends or family don’t need to reach out. 

At the very least, I will try to be more attentive when I ask how people are doing. Perhaps I’ll follow up with another question or two and give them an opportunity to open up a bit if they choose to do so. And maybe I’ll open up a bit. Truth be told, I don’t always share much during down times when I could really use a friend, and I’m guessing others don’t either. So I will need to experiment. I’ll report back.

Stop Fearing Covid?

Is it time to stop fearing Covid? Rip off our masks and get some hugs? No one is really getting sick anymore, so let’s get back to normal.

Wrong. If you’re double-vaxxed and double boosted, you’re not going to die of Covid. You’re unlikely to wind up in a hospital. If you’re fortunate like us, you’ll test negative a week from when you first tested positive. But even mild Covid cases can still bring lingering effects. These might not qualify as Long Covid, but even post-Covid hives (yes, that would be me) can be annoying enough to make me regret our lapse in judgement that led to our trip to the ER and subsequent treatments. 

Hives? Yup. When your immune system ramps up, your body can ramp up masses of red blotches here, there, and everywhere. Extra doses of antihistamines are helping to keep the annoying itching to a level I can live with. But I’m not sure this is my only after-effect. My legs are reluctant to walk; waiting for the elevator is more tiring than it used to be. I’m just not sure I’ve fully recovered. 

I’m old enough that I can never tell why these things are happening. Is my body embarking on the long, slow winding down process that happens when people near 80? Is my mild case of Covid going to speed up that process? Will I be fine in another week? Time will tell.

You’ll see a lot of references to Long Covid if you’re following sites that have been tracking Covid since 2020. But I’m not at all sure that “the economy” has incorporated Long Covid into its planning. I heard an interview with the CEO of United Airlines recently; he said they’ve added 5% to the number of crew members they need to have available to avoid cancelling flights. That increase is due to people taking days off for acute Covid. But what if Long Covid reduces the pool of people who are employable at any point in time? Raising wages won’t make them healthy enough to return to work.

And what about health care? Today I read that our local trauma center is turning away new patients because people who could be discharged to skilled nursing facilities can’t leave because there are not enough beds out there. Is this because of inadequate pay (yes) or Covid (yes) or Long Covid (yes). There are lots of “Help Wanted” signs around, and if you’ve called a clinic and been put on hold, you’ll know there are severe staffing challenges in some sectors. Of course we need to pay more for workers who care for ailing elders. These jobs are often held by immigrants, and immigration has not been opened up after Trump’s restrictions. Why is that? But with or without new immigrants, wages for these workers are simply a disgrace. 

My rant is winding down, but the answer is yes, we still need to avoid Covid. Good luck on that score.