Monday, May 18, 2020


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Saved by the Sangha

At Rainbow, I found the line outside short and moving along rapidly. Having enough space between me and the person in front of me is easy: I just leave enough space. The problem can be enough space behind, as that depends on someone else. Last week, the person behind me was careless about this. Irritation arose. Dirty looks were looked. Yesterday, the person behind me was careful; I was relieved and happy. I thanked her.

As always, it was nice to see all the workers in Rainbow and chat with a few of them. Still no toilet paper. There were small boxes of tissues, spaced far apart from each other: social distancing. This also makes the shelf look not so empty, and, as a worker told me, lessens the possibility that a customer will accidentally touch a package other than the one she is buying.

All good in the produce section except no garlic. A sign in the empty garlic bin advised that there were plastic bags of peeled cloves available. Needless to say, those were gone, as people no doubt bought way more than they needed. I understand. Garlic is essential. But how long is it going to keep? Dragonwell tea from the bulk department was available in little packages.

At the cash register, the cashier who likes Black Sabbath reweighed my containers of olives without protest. I had poured out the brine because I don’t need it and didn’t want a possible messy accident in my bike bags on the way home. At Whole Foods, they probably call the police if you pour out the brine. Actually, you probably couldn’t find a sink to pour brine into, whereas Rainbow has at least two sinks available for customers.

The cashier also put extra tape on my olive containers, just to be on the safe side, and put them in a compostable bag. I commended the outstanding job she was doing, and she hinted that my mentioning that at the customer service desk would not be taken amiss. I said I would do that online, and I did. After I got home, I sent an email expressing my admiration and thanks and then I noticed that a general feeling of benevolence had been restored: saved by the sangha yet again.

I had a nice afternoon chopping vegetables and having a weekly treat: an orange or a couple of tangerines chopped up and buried in roasted, salted cashews. My weekly treat used to be two croissants followed by two pieces of pepperoni and sausage pizza. My work pants are threatening to fall off. A neighbor gets a Community Supported Agriculture box and had a few extra small Finn potatoes. She passed those on to me, and I cooked them up yesterday evening in about half a cup of EVOO. Delicious.

By the evening, I’d reached that vaunted psychological state summarized by the word “whatever.” Whatever. I’m sure the kitchen will look better after being painted than it does right now, at least in regard to the expanses of drywall. If it doesn’t, so be it. Everything ends sooner or later. Every last thing has to be let go of before we die; might as well let go of a few of the easier ones when the opportunity arises.

I pasted my long list of grievances, complaints and demands into a new appendix in my home restoration document called Cavalcade O’ Gripes, and made a much simpler list for my next conversation with the building owner: I hope the paint boss is getting semi-gloss for the kitchen. I hope we can abort if he shows up with something else. I hope he may offer to redo the bathroom, but if not, fine; maybe later we can redo with the leftover semi-gloss from the kitchen. Or if he does offer to redo the bathroom, I hope he can use the leftover semi-gloss from the kitchen, because I’ve discovered I don’t really care for eggshell. And I have decided to have the hardwood refinished throughout the apartment rather than re-carpet.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


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Follow-Up on Pain Job

Paint job, that is.

On second thought, maybe that was not such a great phase one: I realized the day after the painters were here that they had used the wrong paint in both rooms. We asked them to use the same kind of paint as what was already on the wall: matte in the hallway, eggshell in the bathroom. They did the opposite. I gather matte paint is absolutely not the thing to use in a bathroom because of its lack of resistance to moisture and tendency to grow mildew or mold, and I can attest from personal experience that it looks dreadful, and is also unpleasant to the touch.

(The only horizontal surfaces in the bathroom where one might set down a toothbrush or a cup are the windowsill and a charming little fold-out shelf below the medicine cabinet; the latter is mainly where I have occasion to touch the new paint.)

I also now see areas where the primer wasn’t properly covered with paint, plus that the painters didn’t paint the windowsill at all. This is easy to notice since it’s a tiny bathroom and the windowsill is directly opposite the door.

In sum, I’m sure there must be even more ways a painting job could be screwed up, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. All right, here’s one: The painters refrained from pooping on the floor before they left. But they did make sure to drip paint on every single surface in the bathroom: the toilet, the tub, the sink and the floor.

When I told the building owner about the swapped paints, it was clear she didn’t want to have a fight with the painting boss about it. They say that no one but a sociopath actively enjoys conflict, but I will freely admit that I would not mind having a fight with this idiot about what was done in my place. In fact, I would like to, but I will not; I know that no good comes of venting anger and that a better question is: How can the desired results be achieved in a harmonious manner? Also, how can I collaborate with others?

And: How am I thinking about this? I must admit I am mentally rehashing my grievances over and over, such that the matter now looms very large, which shows that my life is, on the whole, fantastic.

I am pondering the next phase of this job, which is the kitchen, which right now has ancient, beautiful, semi-gloss paint on the walls and perhaps enamel or semi-gloss on the cabinets. The building owner mentioned that the paint boss said he “might not” be able to get our desired color in the paint I requested in the first place. (Possibly the most vexing part of this whole thing is that I asked for a certain paint, and the paint boss said “Sure” and then showed up with something else. Withholding facts makes it impossible for people to provide informed consent and to exercise true autonomy. It is an ethical lapse.)

I am not sure why this person “might not” be able to get the right color, since ECOS does custom color matching. I think it is more that he “didn’t feel like it.” I am pretty much positive that on kitchen painting day, he will show up with the wrong color in the wrong type of paint: eggshell, perhaps.

I’m trying to decide how to proceed. I really don’t like the idea of my entire kitchen being wrecked. Maybe it would be better to have just half of it painted, or even just the areas where there is drywall. Honestly, maybe it would be better to live for the rest of my life with the unpainted drywall. It hasn’t bothered me much at all for the past year. I can probably live peacefully with it forever. Would whatever the painters do be an improvement, in that it wouldn’t be visible drywall, or would it be a disimprovement, in that it would make my beautiful, ancient paint disappear? (Not to mention the dings they would no doubt make in my newish refrigerator and stove.)

What if I were to get a call from my doctor with the bad news that I have metastatic cancer? What would I say about the kitchen then? The answer is: Who cares? Do whatever you want. Ditto if I learned that something had happened to one of my parents or one of my sisters. It is also often instructive to think about how Tom would react to something. (He has offered to help me patch the holes in the wall that the painters didn’t bother to patch before painting.) He would never even notice most of what I’m fuming about, and because of that, he enjoys many more moments of peace and happiness than I do.

So, two other good questions: Is there anything I can upgrade from a demand to a preference? Is there anything I can compromise on? I imagine there is.

However, I’m going to try asking the building owner if we can please engage a different painter to do the kitchen and the living room; we can pay the current painter for the paint he already ordered.

At work recently, I was with a patient when she had a seizure, a first for me. We were chatting away when all of a sudden her face twisted and her eyes opened wide and her body began to jerk. Her face looked like something out of a horror movie. The main things I felt were confusion and astonishment. Just at that exact moment, her bedside nurse walked in and called a Rapid Response. I asked her later what I should have done if she hadn’t come in just then. She said that stepping out of the room and yelling “Help!” is generally very effective, and she also pointed out the purple Rapid Response button on the wall behind the patient’s bed. This can be used if there is distress short of cessation of breathing. For that, use the Code Blue button.

The seizure lasted just a minute or so. The patient opened her eyes and appeared calm, but when asked to look to her right or left, or to blink her eyes, she didn’t or couldn’t; she stared steadily into my eyes during most of this time, but I don’t know if she was really seeing me. One of the responders said that certain antibiotics lower the threshold for having a seizure, and that quite often, it is never known why a seizure occurred.

On my bike ride home, I noticed many more people out on the street, the majority maskless, I would say. In front of my building, I had to wait while several people walked barefaced up and down the sidewalk before I could open our front gate. Something had changed, but I wasn’t sure what. I knew that “opening” was underway, but this seemed to be more of a do-whatever-you-feel-like thing; a loud and obviously large party was underway somewhere nearby. This is worrisome. It appears that those who really don’t want to get sick will have to limit themselves to essential outings indefinitely. A friend who falls into that category and who normally travels all the time, many trips per year, said she thinks it would be crazy to go anywhere at all before year’s end. How do I feel about all of this? Angry, of course.

Thursday, May 14, 2020


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Eco Dreck

I am forcing myself to visit patients who speak Spanish only, and slowly by slowly, I am becoming more fluent. Reading El Tecolote helps. Each story is in both languages. Usually I can understand reasonably well what has been written in Spanish, but if I had to convey the same thing from scratch verbally, I would not be able to. I have started reading the Spanish aloud, being sure of what it means, and then looking away from the paper while I repeat a sentence or a half-sentence aloud. I think that is really helping. Now I can say, “¡No me digas!” (“Don’t say that!”)

I was able to speak fairly easily with the painters this morning. One of them later complimented my Spanish and asked if I’d studied it in school. (Yes, for years and years.) When the time came, I was able to say, “¡Emergencia de baño!” They thought that was funny. As the hours went on, they chatted more and more freely between themselves; I hope they felt relaxed and welcome in my place.

I was pleased to note that, when they had finished painting the hallway, I smelled nothing. Later I observed that they had not patched pinholes in the hallway, where snapshots had formerly been affixed. Some had disappeared, some were quite obscured, and some were still black little holes in the wall. Probably the only person who will notice this is me, and now I can be sure such holes get patched when they do the kitchen and living room. The eggshell paint in the bathroom has a bit more of a kick than the flat paint used in the hallway, but it’s not terrible.

What was slightly terrible was discovering that they did not use the paint I requested! I requested ECOS paint and ECOS Air Purifying Primer. They used Benjamin Moore Eco Spec paint and primer. Or at least, Eco Spec paint. I don’t see the primer can. The blog I’ve been consulting gives another Benjamin Moore paint, Natura, high marks, but observes that it does contain mildewcide, which is not ideal. I called Benjamin Moore to see if the Eco Spec contains mildewcide and learned that the primer does not, which is good, though I’m not even sure if that’s the primer that was used here today. The guy said the paint probably didn’t, either, because usually interior paint doesn’t, but it turned out that it does. The most commonly used mildewcide is not good for living bodies.

The living room was sealed off from the work area with plastic, but every last thing in the kitchen got coated with a very fine dust. Good thing I had thought to put plastic over the Squeezebox Boom and my other boombox. Everything else could be dusted, vacuumed, wiped or mopped off, which took an hour or so.

I found a review online where someone said the Benjamin Moore Eco Spec eggshell paint gave off horrible fumes that were still plaguing him three months later, so now of course my head is aching and I feel dizzy, but I’m reminding myself that there may be millions of other people who love this paint. Even my blogger recommends it, if you don’t mind mildewcide.
This was a good phase one. I am going to ask the owner of the painting company to get the exact stuff I want for the rest of the apartment, and on painting day, I will examine the cans to make sure it’s the right stuff.


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Yesterday, I made a trek to the Castro to visit the bank, drop the too-large Birkenstocks off for shipping, and go to Walgreens and Cliff’s. The woman who owns my apartment building was lately extolling the effectiveness of Mucinex tablets for relieving chest congestion. I’ve been compiling a little list of things to do in case of mild to medium chest congestion, or severe chest congestion in the event that medical care is not available. My list includes breathing in eucalyptus steam, or just plain steam; drinking plenty of fluids, including hot tea; pursed lip breathing; and “proning.” (I often have seen the palliative care interdisciplinary team at County Hospital do the latter, or semi-proning, to assist a dying person who has a lot of fluids gurgling in his or her throat.)

I added Mucinex to my list. At Walgreens, I discovered that there are approximately one million Mucinex products. The one I wanted was tablets containing guaifenesin only. Just for the heck of it, I got the extra-strength version, whose only active ingredient is 1200 mg of guaifenesin. Even the Walgreens version was kind of expensive, and you have to take one every 12 hours. Hopefully I will never need to take any, but I now have 28 of them, just in case.

At Cliff’s I got elastic for sewing some masks, and for shoring up a sagging pair of pajama bottoms.

My bathroom sink hot water tap had been dripping for eight or nine months, which I had mentioned every few months to the building owner and building manager. A couple of days ago, the building owner said it would be fine to have this fixed, and to ask the building manager to call the plumber. The building manager said she was reluctant to pay for a house call for such a small need; I grudgingly agreed to wait until there was at least one other need in the building, but later that day, I checked to see just how much water was going down the drain (not to mention making a really annoying noise), and found that it amounted to 13.5 gallons per day, at worst. (Usually the drip stopped during the night.)

I let the building owner and manager know that, and was advised that I could go ahead and schedule the plumber myself. The plumber came right after I got back from the Castro yesterday and ended up having to replace the hot and cold taps and the spigot, or whatever you call it. The charming, old-fashioned fixtures are gone, but the new ones look lovely, and it is now one hundred percent silent.

I heard or read somewhere that the COVID-19 stimulus was just an advance on a future tax refund, but quickly confirmed online that that is not so, and it is also not taxable. Speaking of tax refunds, I have been wondering for some weeks where mine is, and finally discovered that because so many IRS workers are not in the office, they are not able to process taxes filed via paper at the moment; they’ll get to these returns when they can.

Today painters turned up to paint my little front hallway and bathroom. Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the flood. I wanted to do the painting in stages so I could see how tolerable the paint smell was. The same painters, in March, painted all the common areas of the building with “odorless” paint that reeked for weeks and weeks. Tom even commented on it, as I think I mentioned here. I did some research and asked if we could use ECOS paint for my place, and ECOS Air Purifying Primer.

I had a couple of conversations with the owner of the painting company, who has an extremely deep voice and deadpan manner. At the end of one conversation, I said, “Have a good rest of the day.”

He said, “Thanks. What day is it?”

“They all kind of seem the same, don’t they?” I agreed. (Even mine do, despite going to work two days a week, for which I am so grateful: My income has not yet been interrupted, and I get to see people.)

The owner turned up along with the painters this morning and pointed out some plaster in the kitchen that was about to fall, on the side of the ceiling not affected by the flood. I asked if we had to have the drywall guys back to fix this before his crew could paint, but he said, “Nah, we’ll fix it.” He also said they would regrout around the tub, removing the old stuff first.

So I feel very excited! If the primer and paint don’t smell awful, then we can go ahead with the kitchen, and once that is done, I can move stuff as needed into the kitchen and/or the apartment across the hall, and we can paint the living room and replace all the carpet with astronomically expensive wool carpeting, which I will no doubt pay for. And then once the SPCA opens, I can go looking for a kitten.

I decided I will probably not move to the apartment across the hall. My current place has been home for 22 years, and I will have new paint and carpet soon. I also have quite a new stove and refrigerator, and brand-new bathroom sink fixtures. Also, after the flood, my bathroom was re-plumbed with copper. I’m pretty sure that the other apartment has not been re-plumbed, meaning it will need to happen in the future, most likely after a horrible catastrophe, which I have already gone through in this apartment. Finally, my apartment has more light, and at least one additional way to get out in case of fire, because my kitchen has a door to the outside, which the kitchen of the apartment across the hall does not.

I have cash on hand to pay for wool carpeting in part because I did not put Hammett through chemotherapy, which would have cost probably $10K, and maybe more like $15K.

When Thelonious died, I had to keep telling myself the story of her end, to help it sink in why she wasn’t here. While Hammett was with me, I sometimes told him the story of the day I met him; I think he enjoyed hearing it. I am now telling myself the story of his end: He was diagnosed with cancer. We did not have any choice about this; Mother Nature made this decision. The choice I had was in regard to how much physical, emotional and financial suffering he and I would endure, and I chose that these would be limited as much as possible: I chose hospice. For seven weeks, he thrived on prednisone, and then the end, inevitably, came. His last day had many moments of peace and even pleasure, I believe. As far as I could tell, he was not suffering unduly. He was loved, cherished and carefully tended his whole life, and he was on his mother’s lap when he died. I still miss him terribly, enough to cry every couple of days or so. He was the sweetest cat ever. My beautiful cat, now in heaven. (Did you ever see a photo of him?)


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Drunk Text Me Later

The title of this post was overheard at work, one RN speaking to another.

One of my fellow chaplains (one of the CPE students) shares a first initial with me. We are two years apart in age, we both have short grey hair, and we both often wear a French blue button-down shirt. It even so happens that the first three letters of her last name are the same as the first three letters of my middle name. Because we share two units, another coincidence, we are frequently confused for each other.

As I walked through the ED last week, someone called to me, “Thanks for the rock!”

I said, “Huh? Oh! You’re welcome.” For Nurses’ Week, we had handed out coin envelopes, each containing a polished stone and a piece of paper instructing the recipient to carry the stone in her pocket and to let it remind her that she is valued. I would have explained that the stone had not come from me, but I know that no one in the ED has time to chat about a thing like that.

Fortunately, my colleague is a very good chaplain, judging from the fact that patients say, “Nice to see you again,” rather than, “Get lost! I told you last time!” I can also tell my co-worker is a good chaplain from her chart notes. I have been explaining to such patients that they are seeing me for the first time, but I might not do that every time in the future; my colleague said she doesn’t bother if it seems it will merely create confusion.

I lately had an encounter that caused me to think something about chaplaincy that had never consciously occurred to me before. I visited a patient in his 50s who had been perfectly healthy until he came down with the flu. This initiated a catastrophic sequence of events, and the patient was now very seriously ill. On the wall were several large photographs of his young family; the patient said he liked having them there so that his care team “can see I’m not just a specimen.”

In the course of our talk, the patient observed that he was enjoying talking to a chaplain because what would happen was not “predetermined.” He also said, “I’m lying here and maybe someone comes in, and maybe they don’t.” He seemed to be feeling that he was at the mercy of others, and also that he had been stripped of agency.

For this patient, a visit with a chaplain was a chance to experience something open and alive that could go in any direction, and of which he was equally an author and creator.


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An Appreciation of the Mother of Bugwalk

My Birkenstocks arrived and proved to be comically large. I should have used the measuring guide supplied online rather than the chart that attempts to match one’s United States shoe size with the European size. (The guide printed inside the top of the shoebox also would have afforded the correct size.) Determined to emerge from this pandemic a Birkenstocks wearer or to die trying, I ordered another pair, one European size smaller.

A week or so ago, I spoke with the owner of my apartment building about getting going with the remainder of the flood-related repairs in my place (so I can get a kitten!). She said that the person who lives across the hallway from me is moving out, so I could potentially move there while the painting and carpeting in my place are completed. I asked if I could just stay there permanently, and she said that was certainly a possibility.

One of the best kinds of flooring for persons with chemical sensitivity is hardwood, but only if it was refinished well in the past. There is low-VOC stuff you can use for refinishing hardwood, but apparently it’s not very good; four coats might be needed. The apartment across the hall has hardwood that was refinished long ago.

Also, the person who is moving out of that apartment could be an interior decorator if she wanted. When I have now and then caught a glimpse of the place, it is gorgeous, whereas my approach to home décor is one hundred percent functional: I have placed my breakfast on this plastic-topped folding table and it has not yet fallen on the floor, so I guess this will make a good kitchen table.

That apartment is also farther from Mr. Phlegm-O-Rama (at least a little) and completely sealed off from Mr. Hoarder, with his endless projects and the sickening smell of his dryer sheets; his dryer vents into the shared space outside my kitchen window. However, I’m sure it is also closer to something I would dislike just as much, so maybe it’s better to stick with my familiar set of gripes.

On Mother’s Day, I called to thank my mother for her many excellent acts of parenthood, including but not limited to not braining me with a brick when I was a helpless infant. Also our idyllic garden in which she labored for so many years, the vegetables she grew that we actually ate, the bread she baked, the delicious meals she cooked (including chop suey and kniffles). 

How she taught me the commutative property of some mathematical operations before I even went to kindergarten, and started teaching me to read when I was three. She taught me shapes by pointing them out as we walked around the neighborhood; I remember her pointing out the ellipse-shaped window in a door. She also sent me to the YWCA to learn to read music before I was in kindergarten.

She filled our home with music and NPR. In the evenings starting when I was maybe 10 or so, we played chamber music in the evenings. My mother played the piano, my sister played the violin, and I played the cello. It was lovely. I remember we played trios by Frank Bridge.

She made sure we had music and swimming lessons, and classes and lessons in all kinds of other things at the Y, and she drove her three children back and forth to all of these engagements.

She expressed enthusiasm for a huge number of things (bugs, meteorology, chemistry, rocks, history … ) and demonstrated competence in many areas, including painting, fixing the dryer, making wicker baskets, re-caning chairs, and hanging wallpaper. She was not afraid to teach herself how to do new things. She modeled a love of nature and all living creatures, even including the mice who lived in our attic, for whom she put out dried corn. “Spiders are our friends and sisters,” she told us. She was unperturbed by my most alarming choices, or at least acted like she was unperturbed.

In the past decade, she convinced me to avoid refined carbs, and that I should overhaul my omega 3:6 ratio, which I think has had marked health and mood benefits. 

Maybe best of all, my mother is one of the funniest people I've ever known. She has made me laugh thousands of times; coming upon my scribbled notes makes me laugh again.

I love you so much, Mom. You are everything to me.

Not wanting my father, also a very loved and very appreciated parent, to feel left out, I wished him a happy Mother’s Day, too, and thanked him for carrying me in his womb for nine months. (That was him, wasn’t it?) He assured me that I was welcome.

I feel connected to my parents when I smell a fresh breeze, or see lovely greenery or flowers or trees, and when I eat my gorgeous salad each morning, with its vivid colors and fresh flavors.

Thursday, May 07, 2020


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Mostly Just Crying

Two Mondays ago, right after I posted my last post, still feeling uplifted by the online training I had attended with Roshi Joan Halifax and Frank Ostaseski, I learned that one of the members of my family had died suddenly and terribly. It was emotional equivalent of being walloped with a two-by-four: shock, followed by bottomless sorrow. My relative, only in his 50s, had just completed several years of education so that he could embark on a new career, one motivated by the desire to be of service; he began his first job in his new field just several months ago. Seeing a photo of him dressed for his new endeavor—in a suit jacket, complete with jaunty tie—brought nearly unbearable anguish.

One bright spot later that week was learning that there has been some easing of the virus-related restrictions—it looks like maybe we can go ahead with the rest of the repairs in my place any time. I had gloomily been contemplating that bringing home Hammett’s half-sibling was months away, but maybe it will be a lot sooner than that. I walked over to his vet to pick up a card from his sitter. It had this quote in it: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Another piece of good news: I called one of the airlines to see if I could argue them into giving me back the change fee they had subtracted from a credit and found that they had already done it. All I had to do was to thank them. Also, the credit does not expire until the end of next year. I’ll probably go somewhere by then.

After several days, the anguish about my relative had abated a bit, meaning that I could stop feeling crappy about that untimely death all the time and get back to feeling crappy about Hammett. (I have a friend who also recently lost a cat and a close relative; she said her new cat thinks that humans “mostly just cry.” That made me laugh.)

By today, I was feeling good enough that I had the emotional energy to feel a little disgruntled when the owner of the laundromat I frequent said I cannot bring my lightweight folding chair into the laundromat because it is “stationary.” That didn’t initially make sense: it’s just as easy to move the chair as it is to move my own body, or even easier, given that I’d be well rested from sitting in the chair. After I stand around for 90 minutes, I might be too exhausted to move two inches in any direction. “Bogus,” a friend agreed. But later I had to concede that I would actually be more likely to move when I saw someone coming if I didn’t also have to rise to a standing position and pick up my chair, so, after some 38 years, the era of sitting on a chair in the laundromat is over. Will I ever sit down in a laundromat again? Seems like it could be at least a couple of years. However, that is literally my worst problem at the moment.