Growing up as a kid the holidays were known to be a time for family to come together and celebrate the season, and of course each other. It was “supposed” to be a special time of the year, filled with hope and happiness, where ideally, being “together” was valued highest among all other things. Of course life happens, parents get divorced or separated, relatives and good friends leave this Earth, and the dream is sometimes crushed… often with a lot of pain associated with it. Then one year, sometimes after a lengthy pause, the season becomes special again and we celebrate with great joy. Somewhere during my upbringing, the knowledge of my sexuality threw a new variable into the equation and instead of feeling like I was a part of something, I began to feel alone… even though I was surrounded by people. Not having someone to connect with… someone to share with, while the awareness of couples and family was everywhere, was a bitter pill to swallow. Since most LGBTQ+ people experience some degree of intense isolation and fear during their lifetimes while becoming aware of their sexuality, the holidays can be a nasty reminder of darker times, especially when there’s no one special to call your own.
Thanksgiving is just days away, and although I’m in a happy longterm relationship of almost eight years with my partner Eric, the memories of being gay and single during the holidays are still fresh in my mind. I thought it would be helpful to write about this from my current perspective, not only to let others know they aren’t alone, but to validate that life is constantly evolving. Your relationship situation will most likely change eventually, but even if it doesn’t, we can focus on ways to make the holidays special for person number one… yourself. I’m almost certain that my painful desire to feel unconditionally loved and to “belong” while I was discovering who I was, makes this part of the year extra difficult at times.
“Since most LGBTQ+ people experience some degree of intense isolation and fear during their lifetimes while becoming aware of their sexuality, the holidays can be a nasty reminder of darker times, especially when there’s no one special to call your own.”
I can still remember the first New Years I spent alone after ending a relationship of almost ten years. The year before I was standing on a dance floor alone at Midnight, while my partner tried unsuccessfully to acquire champagne from a bartender. The lines for drinks were super long, and I came to the realization that while his intentions were admirable, he didn’t understand how much his presence by my side meant to me, and that the champagne could have waited until after the stroke of 12. I knew our time together was wrapping up, and the following year I found myself on the couch with my dogs, bringing in 2013 alone.
You might be visualizing this scene as tragic and dark in your head, with light of the television being the only source of illumination in the room, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Every light in the place was on, I had a bottle of champagne with a cheese plate to snack on, and I was treating myself like the king… or queen, I knew I was. I made the conscious choice to celebrate the occasion as an opportunity for new hope, opportunities and abundance, and not to wallow in self defeat. I was loving myself %100 and it felt amazing, and most importantly, empowering.
Now I would be lying if I said I never experienced a dark and lonely holiday, alone in my living room with an empty wine bottle next to me… with the only light in the room coming from the television, because I have. So I get it, I know what despair feels like… all too well. But we can also choose not to let it overpower us and bring us to our knees… because I have made that choice myself and I speak from experience. Even when things seem utterly hopeless, we can choose actions that don’t reflect what we are feeling inside, as a way to keep us afloat. This applies to any holiday you may be dreading… make the choice to do something contrary to your emotions, no matter how hard it may seem.
While I’m hoping the person reading this never has to go at the holidays alone, if you are, know that others have walked this path before… more than once. As dark as things may be, as painful as they may feel, times will eventually get better and you’ll experience joy again. Nothing in life is permanent, the Universe sees to it that everything is constantly in motion. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, just because you can’t see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. If at all possible, summon up the strength to throw yourself a gala of one, or at the very least, draw courage from happiness you will most certainly enjoy in the not so distant future.
Anybody there? Just really wanted to write this morning, so excuse any grammatical errors, I’m not looking to spend hours on this post like I normally do. I was just sitting here in my home office / guest room after walking the dogs, and wanted to say hello to the world. Yeah I could have gone to Facebook and posted something, but there’s a different kind of feeling here… this part of cyberspace belongs to me, it’s my blog.
I first had the idea for this blog many years ago… I purchased the domain name and it sat forever, just being an idea. I even configured the site once and it was ready to go, only to procrastinate once again, when I lost the piece of scrap paper that contained usernames and password of all things related to the site. I guess it was the Universe’s way of telling me it wasn’t time yet. I once read that when a writer wants to write, it will consume them until they do. I have to say that writing when I absolutely want to is pure joy, and I love just sitting at the computer and watching my thoughts evolve with each sentence. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed watching Send And The City so much, because the lead character was a writer and the thought of sitting in my own Brownstone in NYC or even better, a Victorian style home in San Francisco overlooking the Castro, seemed like it would be such an amazing life. I still do at times, although I here San Francisco is nothing like it was when I was introduced to it almost 20 years ago.
Well that’s it for now, I just wanted to post something and not make it formal, just me… and my Sunday morning thoughts. 🙂
Last week I was placed in an unexpected situation that put me in a horrible mood for days. I’m still feeling the emotional hangover associated with all the different feelings I was experiencing… confusion, sadness, anger and even bewilderment. What caused such an emotional roller coaster? It wasn’t what you might have expected from such a broad range of human experience… it was a visit to my primary care physician. I guess it wouldn’t have sucked as much if I thought she wasn’t a good doctor, or if she was a bitch… on the contrary, she has amazing energy, is beautiful, and brilliant. She isn’t anything like the doctor I stopped seeing almost a decade ago, whom I never saw again after she loudly screamed “I don’t give a fuck what you think…”(someone even noted the screaming session in YELP). No this doctor is super kind, professional, and made me feel well looked after when I had COVID last year, when I met her during a tele-health appointment. So what made me feel the way I did? Like I didn’t feel seen? Like a statistic? Like a text book exam? Like huge assumptions were being made based on the way I look?
I’ve fought a battle with depression almost all my life. I can remember being depressed as a young child, and certainly very depressed when confronting my own sexuality in my late teens. As an adult, I had learned many coping mechanisms to deal with depression, and one of them was medication during a period of my life when I certainly needed it. I thought I was about to experience another one of those situations in 2013, when depression had gained a foothold in my life and I was being prescribed different meds… and being yelled at, by a doctor that was clearly wrestling with her own demons at the time. That was when a friend of mine suggested I get my testosterone levels checked, and sure enough, they were really low for someone my age. I found a urologist and was put on a Hormone Replacement Therapy regimen, or HRT, and it changed my life in a matter of days. Suddenly it felt like a fog was lifted, and I was seeing colors I’ve never seen before…. life was amazing. I was incredibly surprised since being pretty muscular, I thought my testosterone was just fine. I didn’t realize you could be jacked, and have messed up hormones at the same time.
Almost ten years has gone by since that day, and I continue utilizing HRT as a part of my daily life. I get blood work done every six months to make sure I’m addressing any of the inherent risk factors associated with HRT, and so far so good. Which is why it came as a complete shock to me that my primary care doctor suggested I stop HRT, abandon all the associated benefits with it (people with low testosterone can experience a variety of health issues), and go on anti-depressants. Seriously? I mean what the fuck? I was shocked because she even suggested in running my testosterone blood work again last the time I saw her, when I said I was often experiencing fatigue… also a sign of low testosterone. After my blood work results came back with a number of 125 (with not taking my medication for two days), which is well below the testosterone scale starting point of 300 for men according to the American Urological Association, I thought she would consider consider possibly changing the transport method of the medication. Nope. Instead she explained that I was getting older, and I needed to consider the possible side effects of such a medicine. Oh wow… yeah she said it… “you’re getting older.” Even more oh wow because she just prescribed me Crestor, which has death among an entire list of potentially serious side-effects… like a shit load of them. Holy shit I felt like I was being put out to pasture… I’m 50 now and there’s no reason I need testosterone… here’s some big pharma drug with its own issues… I might as well be put on happy pills with additional side effects, because it doesn’t matter that what you’re doing now is actually working for you. Yeah, it’s actually fucking working for me. I wasn’t even sure why she ordered the labs in the first place if she wasn’t going to do anything about it.
“I’m just tired of feeling like I need to stuck up for myself every time I see a doctor… it shouldn’t feel like a war, it should like they’re on your side. You should be a part of the team that’s evaluating you, not feel like someone being looked at through aquarium glass and being told what’s best for you.”
I was just blown away and in the worst mood for days. I felt old, I felt endocrinology insulted, I felt like as a man, someone was trying to take away my penis… seriously it fucked me up. Then my partner Eric brought something up to me that made a lot of sense, he wondered if she thought I was abusing the drug because I am a pretty muscular guy… and that made complete sense. Okay so news flash PCP, I’m the size of a fucking hobbit… I’m like Mike of the Miami Shire… in other words, I’m short as hell. It’s soooooooo easy to build muscle when you’re short, and I’ve been accused of taking roids for decades now. My first urologist ever even plead with me to come clean about steroid use because he said the insurance company wont pay for the test if my blood work comes back high. When I told him I didn’t take steroids, he told me again and again, so you see, that’s how I’ve always looked. Of course I’m gay too, so that doesn’t help… because many gay men take roids in order to look just like their super hero crushes when they were young. The entire thing just pissed me off and I realized part of the reason I was so pissed, is that I’m tired of having to advocate for my health so fucking often. Where are the doctors that actually have your back?
I have the worst luck with medical providers… there’s fellow hobbit angry lady (at least I didn’t have to look up at her), homophobic Christian Coalition former military doctor that said I have an STD, puts me on Herpes meds and then tells me “…sorry they’re just common fever blisters in your mouth…” after test results return, a pill pushing psychiatrist that was angered I wasn’t filling my Xanax scripts, a dental assistant that grabbed my arm and squeezed it painfully while scolding me and saying “Don’t scream, you raise your hand, there are other patients here!” (she actually ended up fracturing the tooth and it had to be pulled, she thought it was a crown and didn’t check the xrays), homophobic doctor at Baptist Hospital ER that didn’t want to treat an accidental HIV exposure (a lab tech even whispered instructions to me and emphasized the need for treatment), and then my last doctor…. who was so fucking amazing she got promoted and now I can’t see her anymore (she looked fabulous with her hair blown out… like Dr. Torres in Grey’s Anatomy). I’m just tired of feeling like I need to stick up for myself every time I see a doctor… it shouldn’t feel like a war, it should feel like they’re on your side. You should be a part of the team that’s evaluating you, not feel like someone being looked at through aquarium glass and being told what’s best for you.
So now I have a dilemma… should I keep my current doctor and explain my feelings and somehow invest in a medical relationship built on trust? Or do I look for someone else, like a male doctor that knows how to treat a prostate infection (angry hobbit did not). Do male patients need male doctors? In such a time of gender fluidity, is that even a real concern anymore? The problem being is that as a gay man, I’m not comfortable with many male doctors, having the experience I did with church going navy doc in my early 20’s. I just want someone like…. Dr. Beverly Crusher!!!! OMG Where the fuck is the present day equivalent of Beverly Crusher?!?! Seriously do I have to wait 400 more years? It’s getting harder and harder to find virgin males as it is. I just don’t have a clue of what to do next… I’m very open to advice in the comments please.
“One to transport Jordi, I need a full medical diagnostic please.“
I was walking my dog the other morning, and by chance, ran into my friend Alex while he was also walking his dog. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Alex, and his little Yorkie was doing what little dogs do… barking at my two dogs with a combined weight of 140lbs. Alex’s Yorkie is the second dog he’s had in the 16 plus years since I first met him, right after our neighboring condominiums had just completed construction. We seldom get to spend the time we’d like with each other, and as countless times before, made a commitment to visit with one another soon. Although this promise seemed somewhat different this time… it had much more energy and sincerity behind it. Before we parted our ways and pulled our very curious dogs away from each other, I told Alex that if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need to stay in touch. Heading back home I realized that while there was much truth in my statement, the larger awareness came with my 50th birthday seven months ago, and wondering where the time had gone. Suddenly career opportunities have turned into retirement seminars and workshops, and the friends that used to date like they were renting cars, are now grandparents. The awareness of my age is everywhere, and I’m trying to make some sense of it.
I think one of the first things that’s really starting to kick in at 50, is how cool my life has been. While I had my own version of a mid-life crisis, it didn’t seem to last all that long. Yeah, it was very real and significant to me, and I felt like I was seriously running out of time, but it also seemed to end as fast as it started. Just yesterday I was thinking of starting my acting career up again, and how I would feel totally comfortable being 80, and accepting an academy award… it was like suddenly it was time for Life 2.0. This concept of “re-booting” my reality isn’t new to me, I’ve felt it before and not that long ago, however this time it feels completely different. There’s much more momentum in these daydreams than ever before, and how cool is it that I can even make a statement like that? How totally cool is it that I’ve been on movie sets, I know what it’s like to audition for film and television, I know what it’s like to have an agent…. fuck that’s totally cool!! And while acting has been a really wonderful and educational experience for me, it’s just one of many that I feel incredibly blessed to have lived. Why stop now? I’m gonna age regardless of what happens, so I might as well be doing something fun while the time goes by.
“…the only thing I’m absolutely certain about, is that I don’t have all the answers.”
Mike Robert – A totally cool dude.
I’ve noticed recently that turning 50 has made me appreciate art in ways that I haven’t ever before. All kinds of art, from poetry to painting, to sculpture to videography… I’m so much more aware of the effort and process involved in creating, even though I’ve personally tried them all. It just seems like there’s this heightened sense of the pureness in one’s art, and I’m totally digging it. It’s like discovering that fries dipped in a Wendy’s Frosty are pretty damn amazing, and all your friends are like “you just figured this out?” This past June I volunteered to videotape a poetry reading, and I was pretty amazed during the editing process, how much I enjoyed the material itself… the poems, the soul of the work, and the perspective of the author. Today, just hours ago, I had another poetry experience while listening to NPR in the car. I was totally into it and felt the once familiar sensation of visiting San Francisco, and being immersed in a city that seemed to appreciate all aspects of creating. Listening to the show was inspirational, and the reason I decided to finish this blog post I started earlier in the week. Because you know, like the poet I was listening to, I’m also a writer and couldn’t resist to feel like one once again. How cool is that? I’m a writer!
The biggest change in my awareness has to be what I already alluded to in the beginning of this post…. the importance of friends and family, and acknowledging the contributions they have made to my life. I have always been a people person, but it’s so completely different now. I find myself thinking about how blessed I am to have had a singular conversation with a person at one point in time, and how much that interaction meant to me. It doesn’t matter if they were a close friend, a mere acquaintance or someone I barely knew, I just find it so important to tell them that I appreciate the awareness of them in my life. Of course for people that I have regular communication with, I have had to hold back for fear of smothering them… at times I just want to shout out loud “Thank you for being in my life!!!” And that would be completely awkward to say the least. Still, the desire to acknowledge others continues to grow within me, and I am finding creative ways to let people know they are amazing, or that I love them, in one way or another. However, this newfound appreciation for elevated communication also seems to include speaking my truth, so I’m not opposed to telling others “fuck off, you’re an asshole” when it’s absolutely deserved.
Spirituality plays a huge part of my 50 awareness, as I’ve become increasingly comfortable about letting other’s know that I am an intuitive. Yeah, I’m basically a psychic and I’m not ashamed to discuss or talk about it any longer… and I’m pretty darn good at it too. Through my adult life I’ve been blessed to have attended talks hosted by spiritual leaders, and mostly by chance. Very little planning if any went into these chance occurrences, many of them were as simple as answering an invite, as if to see a movie. I’ve been blessed to have seen the Dalai Llama, Eckart Tolle and even shared the stage with Abraham Hicks. In fact my entire life seems like it’s been one spiritual journey after another… I explored being a Mormon as a pre-teen, and then chose to Baptized as a Southern Baptist when I was 14. I started reading Angel Cards over 20 years ago, and now consider myself a mixture of almost every religion, but identify mostly as Neo Pagan. So going to Church for me is a visit to the Florida Everglades, and I’m incredibly aware and sensitive to lunar and solar cycles. I have never felt more connected to the Universe than I do today, and at times my world is a never ending conversation with energies through signs and interactions with fellow intuitive peoples. Each and every day is a new experience and I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride. People often come to me with lots of questions, but the only thing I’m absolutely certain about, is that I don’t have all the answers.
I guess turning 50 was a pretty fabulous thing, I’m suddenly thinking about what to do with the next phase of my life, and that’s pretty exciting. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to amass so many different and unique experiences up until now, and I’m confident that I will enjoy what’s to come with even greater enthusiasm. I’m living more in “the now” than ever before, so I’m finding delight in little things like the way the sun hits the branches of Oak Trees as I’m walking the dogs in the morning. The smile of a stranger walking by brings joy to my day, and I’m looking for increasingly more things to appreciate on a daily basis. I’m also still working on the aspects of myself I’m not too proud of, so the good news is, arrogance hasn’t found its way into my heart… I hope it never does. My life long struggle against depression is still very real, and I hope these words give me strength when I need them, knowing someday I most certainly will. In the mean time I’m just trying to live my best life, help others when possible, and looking forward to the days and the weeks ahead. As my former boss and now dear friend once said to me, “Happiness is a choice…” and that has never resonated more with me than it does today. I know it sounds cliché, and I may have referenced it before, but it’s the honest truth and yet another aspect of growth that I’m enjoying immensely.
It’s been almost twenty years since my first visit to San Francisco, a city that has always felt like a second home to me. I was in my early 30’s and eager to start exploring and traveling, something I had seldom done. I had just moved out on my own, got a promotion and started a new relationship… everything was fresh and the air was filled with possibility. Not only was San Francisco an amazing city because of the wonderful energy and history of the place, I discovered very quickly a welcoming community which today, is slowly and literally dying out… old school gay men.
So what are old school gay men? It’s basically a tight knit community who’s members witnessed and experienced the trials of the gay community, back when being gay was considered some kind of mental disorder by many. It’s the men that marched in parades and risked being beaten by police waiting at the end of the route, clubs already in hand. They are the men that attended attended funerals almost on a daily basis, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. They have seen so much progress and are deservedly very proud of it… because they made it happen.
Old school gay men are quick to engage in conversation, a skill they learned when just finding other men that were gay was in of itself a challenge. Decades ago they didn’t have the luxury of being picky, and as such, learned what people were like on the inside… sitting down, listening, and learning your story was something they did on a regular basis. There weren’t any mobile phones with apps to swipe left, or ways to alter your image with digitized abdominals, Humanity was the most attractive attribute a person could have… just being you. They understood that sticking together, and being kind to one another, is very important if you’re going to effect positive change on a global scale.
I’ll never forget walking into a barber shop in San Francisco, and being warmly welcomed by everyone there, absent of the awkwardness I typically experienced when entering an unfamiliar place. I was instantly a family member just because I was gay and it was San Francisco. Waiting was a relaxing and safe experience, feeling like I was surrounded and respected by others just like me. My actual haircut also took significantly longer than it ever did in Miami, because my barber was totally engaged in conversation, telling me all about his current life circumstances. Turns out that’s what you do when you live in a true community, that’s what you do when you care… you share and you listen.
It’s 2021 now and the gay community is changing faster than ever, fueled by a more accepting and open-minded public. Gay marriage is legal, Glee was a thing, and we are even in everyday tv commercials… yet while the country is starting to open its arms, we are turning our backs on each other. There’s a new generation of “it’s okay to be gay” young adults, and they really never knew a world where their friends were disappearing on a weekly or even daily basis. While I’m thankful that our community is now living with HIV instead of dying from it, it’s hurtful to see how the legacy of community is fading away. Division among ourselves is now quickly becoming the norm, since we no longer have a common threat or even an enemy to keep us aligned.
When I look back at all the experiences I had almost two decades ago, I feel grateful that I was able to at least sample the leftovers of what used to be a cohesive family with incredibly strong bonds. Thankfully, you can still find bits and pieces of it here and there… gay chorus events are a wonderful venue for that vestigial sense of community, and there are some battles yet to be won. Still, the numbers are dwindling and what I experienced not so long ago will one day just be a memory. As sexual preference becomes less of an issue for Americans, so will our desire to spend time with those of our kind, and share the memories of how we got there.
It’s been six months since my experience with COVID began, but it has definitely not ended. Yes I’m back in the gym, I’m gaining more lean muscle, and my hair has grown back, yet every day seems to be another struggle to get my life back to normal. I share in the desperation of most on the planet, wanting so very bad to go back to the days of large group gatherings, movie theatres and crowded restaurants, but I also share the experience of having COVID myself… and watching so many still trying to invalidate the very cause of my experience. It’s extremely difficult seeing such a large portion of the population vocally attempt to dismiss your suffering or that of others. The simple experience of seeing an unmasked person in a small ice-cream stores says to me “I don’t care what you went through or how close you came to dying, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do.” Every day there are countless examples of people that couldn’t care less about my survival, or that they want to help see this end. Every day there are real word interactions with human beings that are self-centered and just plain ugly on the inside.
I read earlier this week that a British study found that survivors of COVID were more at risk for developing all kinds of brain related health issues such as strokes, dementia, anxiety and depression. This actually made me feel good, since scientifically, someone is attempting to explain and validate what I’m going through. Someone is trying to say “We hear and feel you, it’s important enough for us to take a closer look… you matter.” That’s a significant statement since over 70 million individuals made their stance clear during the last election and subsequent events… “We don’t care about what you went through, our personal freedoms are more important than the lives of hundreds of thousands that have died.” And of course it doesn’t help when members of that camp say things like “I’ve had COVID, it isn’t as bad as they say it is…” instead of professing how lucky they were to survive with minimal impacts to their health. Hearing those kinds of words from people you care about is even worse… it’s crushing.
Like I mentioned earlier I’m back at the gym and I’m exercising, trying to focus on something healthy and positive. I quit going to LA Fitness since they were a constant reminder and a prime example of a business that couldn’t care less if you died. The management there being incredibly passive with patrons that decided not to wear a mask, possibly infecting others in a very warm, moist and poorly ventilated facility. Now I at least feel somewhat looked after when an employee at YouFit tells people they need to wear a mask, and are sometimes met with shouting and bursts of anger. Still, these daily displays and self proclamations of “go fuck yourself” hurt deeply. Sometimes I find it difficult to function… after all, if people have stopped caring about human lives, why even bother?
When I was a kid, radio stations across our entire country simultaneously played the song We Are The World in an attempt to raise awareness about a food crisis in Africa. Millions of people sang together, millions of voices collectively saying “We care and we want to help.” Being exposed to that kind of outpouring of support during my formative years made a huge impact, and seems completely contradictory to what we’ve seen here with over a half million people dead in our country alone. People are actively trying to hurt others, in a effort to display their right to do so. And this kind of “Just wait and see how bad I can fuck you over…” has spilled into open displays of racism, xenophobia and homophobia. Where did all the kindness go that I experienced as a kid growing up? Was I just not seeing what was really out there? It also seems like even the movies of the time were about discovering who you were as a person, or self empowerment… not about constant death and destruction.
“Everyone that has refused to wear a mask, voted for a man that did nothing but deny this disease… and propagated his rhetoric, shares a exponential karmic debt for what they stole from me. I curse them in all directions of time and space, and wish nothing but the total despair and grief they have helped spread. They don’t deserve anything less.”
I lost my mom not even a year ago and she was my biggest fan… an actor’s way of saying my best friend. The TV I purchased for her on mother’s day of 2019 now sits in our home, I still remember the movie we watched together in admiration of the incredible picture. We sat and ate greasy burgers, a love we both shared and enjoyed. It would be the last mother’s day we spent together, COVID robbed me of the experience of doing it again in 2020. Eric suggested we make large signs and do a drive by, but she wasn’t strong enough to come to the window and see them. Everyone that has refused to wear a mask, voted for a man that did nothing but deny this disease… and propagated his rhetoric, shares a exponential karmic debt for what they stole from me. I curse them in all directions of time and space, and wish nothing but the total despair and grief they have helped spread. They don’t deserve anything less.
So yeah, this is me after COVID. I’m tired of seeing all the hate, I’m tired of seeing all the stupidity… I’m just tired. I’m tired that the world doesn’t care enough, that humans have trekked backwards in evolution. I’m tired of feeling tired most of the time, trying desperately to feel the sense of energy I had before all of this. My only hope is that a global awareness will help change things in the end, and that my body and brain will repair itself to not view things in such a dismal and dark point of view. It seems like even my spiritual practice has taken a hit, and I’m not as positive or filled with faith as I used to be. I have glimpses of enormous clarity, which can sometimes last weeks… but in the end, it all fizzles away and reveals a planet that doesn’t care much about anything… except the right to do harm to others.
Local governments often tout technology as a way of making life easier for their residents, offering services such as electronic complaints, property database information, crime statistics, etc. Many of these services save the everyday citizen lots of money, reduce the carbon footprint related to travel, and help bring government into the amazing world of the digital age. Automation also helps save taxpayer dollars in regards to staffing, storage of physical records, time in research and others aspects of citizen services that used to require face to face interactions. While many of us marvel at these new and exciting methods of e-government, there are situations where your leaders count on your ignorance of technology and your familiarity with “the old ways” in order to make more money than they could ever do previously. Ignorance may be bliss, but it can be expensive as hell.
If you’ve ever had to pay for parking at a meter, you’ve no doubt encountered the situation where you’ve run out of change and scramble to find a miracle under the seat, or in the ashtray of your vehicle. The ancient sounds of quarters, dimes, and nickels falling into a meter, along with the familiar “zip” of the knob, is something current generations will probably never experience outside of a museum. In the past ten years, we’ve gone from very manual parking systems, meters with digital displays, vending style parking machines, to mobile device applications which take of everything necessary for you to park and get on with your business or beach day. However, much of the actual business process and transaction remains unchanged… you pay for the time you need to park, and if you under pay, you risk being issued an expensive citation. People have been accustomed to this method for decades and decades, and no one seems to question it… except me.
When ever one converts a business process to a digital format, there’s perhaps one rule you should always follow… you don’t re-create the same routine with a computer, you make it better, and you make it more efficient. You take the opportunity to look at the process holistically, and take advantage of the technology to do things that couldn’t be done before. That’s why it’s often referred to as a new “solution.” Otherwise you’re just wasting software to automate something that’s completely outdated, which doesn’t improve the process as much as it could be, or even not at all. It’s like if you made a program to create a digital sun dial, but didn’t include the option to set an alarm, have a calendar, or maybe even tell you audibly what time it was. I know this because I’ve been an information technology professional for over thirty years, and I know a thing or do about deploying new systems, solutions and processes. Yet our parking systems do exactly that, and are counting on your ignorance of technology and everyday citizens simply being used to the tradition of feeding a meter. You think it’s better because it’s on your phone and you don’t need physical coins, but what you don’t realize is that it could be modernized… but that would mean more money in your pocket, and less for those running the meters.
Yesterday I was parking in Miami-Beach and while using a phone based app, I tapped on my car’s license plate ID instead of that of my partner Eric’s car. I paid over ten dollars to park in a spot and then realized we were in his car, not mine. When I looked at the app, I noticed there wasn’t an option to change the vehicle I was using so I entered a customer service chat. Immediately a notice is displayed basically saying if you paid for parking and you made a mistake, you need to pay again. To add insult to injury, the representative on the live chat just validated what I just read. So parking last night ended up costing us twenty dollars for something that should have been half as much. But why didn’t the technology on my phone allow me to change the vehicle? It would certainly be a simple database update on active session, but then the city would lose out on some free cash. In essence, it’s the same as paying the wrong meter when you park, and Miami-Beach is counting on your accustomed feeling of permanency and featureless interactions when parking. They don’t want you to even think of the technological ability to fix such an error.
This becomes more apparent when you overpay for parking. In the old days, if you overpaid a meter, you paid it forward with sure delight as the next person parking discovers the meter paid, and their stay is free thanks to you. This tiny gesture surely had the ability to change your day for the better! However thanks to the digital age, if you paid for parking for thirty minutes, and you left after five, the city keeps the remaining funds and the next car starts from scratch. So why isn’t the system designed for you to end a parking session when you leave? Why should you pay for more time than you’re actually using the spot? Are you being penalized for not accurately timing the event accurately for which you parked for? Yup, you are. Of course people are so used to this kind of transaction, they don’t question it in the least. They are oblivious to what technology can offer them, and have been conditioned through the years to accept the loss. Meanwhile, parking operators are laughing all the way to the bank.
Probably the worse example of this kind of digital thievery occurs when you leave one spot, and drive to another location and park again. Now your mobile device displays two active parking sessions, when you’re only parked in one spot. What gives anyone the authority to bill you for something not being used? This is double dipping in the most literal of ways… you are being billed simply for thinking you needed to park somewhere longer than you needed to. Again, the population perfectly accepts this because they’re completely ignorant of the technological ability to convert the old process into a new and more efficient solution. A fool and their money are easily parted, so goes the famous saying… and it’s obviously true.
A parking system designed by me would have the option to create a bank of money within the parking application. You could put $20 in the bank per say, and then use it as needed… similar to the way electronic tolls are billed. When you use a spot, you would start the parking session, but when you left, you would end it. Sessions could be adjusted for time as they are now, but they could also be edited for a different vehicle in case you paid for the wrong one… or even to pay for a friend. This would inherently give you the option of transferring a current session to another spot. The entire point of metered parking is to pay for the spot, so who cares where it comes from, as long as the spot is payed for. This eliminates double dipping… “yeah okay” says the public official reading this. The city or parking company could still make lots of money on interest, holding onto all the money that’s just sitting there waiting to be used, but the consumer wouldn’t pay a single penny more than they had to. It’s a win win.
I had posted this idea in a community forum and I can’t tell how many persons scolded me for it. They were also thinking in terms of the past, completely dismissing technology, and accusing me of being irresponsible with my estimate of time. Seriously? That makes as much sense as denying someone state of the art cancer treatment because ten years ago it was considered a death sentence. If the technology can make something better, shouldn’t we hold our elected officials responsible for making it so? Why should they intentionally re-create the same process, just because citizens are used to it, and then reap the benefits of automation and efficiency? Shouldn’t the cost savings be passed onto the consumer? Apparently not.
I challenge you all to think of ways technology could obviously save you money, but it’s better for business and government to keep you familiar and accustomed to old ways of doing things because it makes them much more money. I’ll give you a head start… a bank charges you extra money for bouncing a check, and then transferring money from your savings account to cover it. You had the money there, it was available, however historically a person had to manually make the adjustment and that took time. Now it’s merely a line of code… an “if then” statement, completely automated and costs nothing. So why are we still be charged so much for the milliseconds it took for software to accomplish this? Think outside the box, people may hate you for it, but you’ll be a lot more the wiser… and possibly more frustrated than ever… like me.
I was looking through my Facebook feed the other day, and I saw a comment from one of my online friends, Mikey Mayweather. He always has something nice to say whenever I post, always filled with love and humor. Mikey lives across the country in California, is a DJ and an artist… filled with amazing energy. He’s also a black man. We have quite different interests and backgrounds, but my life is enriched by his presence, there’s no doubt about that. We both “love” love, so in that alone, there’s enough in common to forge this virtual bond of sorts. I do not know if we’ll ever meet in person, but it’s amazing what he’s taught me without even using words. One recent morning I saw his response to one of my posts, and I thought about how blessed I am that the color of our skin doesn’t separate us in anyway at all… if anything it brings us closer together. I know that he’s got my back and I have his so to speak, and perhaps that’s what we’re actually saying in the few phrases and salutations we do exchange online. The events of January 6th made me realize that so many individuals in our country are missing out on some amazing human beings and the lessons they have to teach us… all because of race. This brought me great sadness, however at the same time, brought to light that my life is truly enriched by embracing diversity… and we all could be.
“Still, there’s a wonderful world waiting for us that dare to acknowledge our inner workings… interactions with a rainbow of peoples and cultures, each and everyone waiting to pass along information that will only enrich our experience on this planet. “
I don’t want to sound self righteous here, that’s not the place this post is coming from. It’s coming from a very happy and joyous awareness, a type of excitement from knowing that the human experience is fully open to me, free to learn as much as I can during my lifetime. I’m also not going to be naïve, I know there are elements in my psyche that still contain racism, we have to acknowledge them in order to work against them. But my openness to explore and address what these feelings have to say, only makes my acceptance of others even greater. I learned that lesson while reading a book called White Fragility, introduced to me by another amazing online friend, Annmarie Slater. Being raised as white permanently programs us in ways that we can’t fully comprehend, especially since there’s so much we’ll never experience, primarily because we’re living as white people in a nation that favors us. Still, there’s a wonderful world waiting for us that dare to acknowledge our inner workings… interactions with a rainbow of peoples and cultures, each and everyone waiting to pass along information that will only enrich our experience on this planet. As someone that lives my life as an up-lifter, I just wish others could share this kind of love with me.
I have photos on my wall in my home office, of people that have inspired me all my life. Most of them are African American woman, as their personal struggles and battles they’ve fought have given me strength to move forward on days where I’ve felt like giving up. Each with their own story, none of which I would have known if I had closed the doors of inclusiveness into my life. As I’m writing this post, I’m looking at the photo of the latest framed addition, that of Ma Rainey. Known as the Mother of Blues, she wasn’t just a strong-minded person, she was ahead of her time as a woman… not just as a person of color. Ma Rainey was also open about her sexuality, and sung about her same sex experiences with her lovers. The positioning of her photo makes it appear as though she’s smiling down at me, separate from the other photographs in the room, just the way she was separate from so many of her time in history. I had seen the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix just the other weekend, and the awareness of her has enriched my life even further. For some reason, her energy fully resonates with me, almost as if I knew her back in the day. Her voice fills the room as I’m writing, her words available to me through the technology of Amazon’s Echo devices. Almost a hundred years after her songs were recorded, they continue to move, inspire… and enrich.
This Christmas will be the first one I celebrate without the awareness that my mom is just a phone call away. I remember last year, when she called me to have Eric and I go to her home, so she could give us the gifts she purchased online. She was always addicted to watching QVC, and the last Christmas gift we would ever receive from her would end up being a food storage container, one each for Eric and myself. We still use them today, I can almost hear my mom explaining how they go straight from the refrigerator to the microwave and how covenant they are. From watching QVC so much, she had learned to sell a product just as well as the hosts she loved watching for hours on end. She would even go as far as to record QVC on her DVR… a very dedicated fan for sure.
“There’s no room to complain this Christmas, we are truly fortunate despite everything and fully aware of what others are experiencing, and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that level of awareness.”
I also remember how difficult it was for my mom to breathe last Christmas, and how living life day to day become a constant struggle. After she passed away, I had a dream where she came to me and told me how incredibly happy she was, that the body she was in had become so very heavy, and it was weighing her spirit down to the point where didn’t want it anymore. She was so thrilled to be light and floaty, enjoying her new found freedom to the fullest. It was such a happy dream, and it continues to offer great comfort to me. I truly miss my mom, but in no way do I miss her suffering and seeing her spiral into steep decline during the last months of her life.
This Christmas has been one of gratitude, as Eric and I are extremely aware of our blessings and have shared them as much as possible. We have worked with a program called Neighbors4Neighbors, to help families in need, and this has brought home the meaning of Christmas probably more than anything else. There’s also much to be thankful for, as we both experienced COVID19 infections and lived on to talk about it and offer advice when needed. We have amazing jobs and know how so many are without one during this dark time, so we never take for granted the necessity of waking up in the morning to get ready for work. There’s no room to complain this Christmas, we are truly fortunate despite everything and fully aware of what others are experiencing, and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that level of awareness.
I hope that everyone reading this post receives a blessing… or even a Christmas miracle if that’s the path you follow. In truth, the only thing we have in life is each other, and it’s important to stick together regardless of the issues which kept us apart in the past. We need to help one another whenever possible, and always keep the spirit of unconditional love in our hearts, no matter what spiritual practice we follow. This Christmas I hope that people realize the true concept of the holiday, and look way past the artificial lines of division society places on us… in the end we all have love and humanity in common.
May you be blessed by your creator in ways you never dreamed possible. Blessed be. XOXO
Note: The beginning of this post was written while being treated in the hospital for COVID-19 and subsequently finished back at home.
I’ve never been in a hospital longer than an emergency room visit or outpatient procedure, so my current hospitalization while writing this post is a completely unique experience for me. I’m definitely not used to the isolation, the unanswered questions, the not knowing when I’ll be allowed to go back home. Although the level of care I’m receiving is outstanding, insecurities and uncertainties are doing their best to invade my psyche and chip away at my sense of positivity, something that so many identify with my personality and who I am as a person. I decided to share these feelings and my experience with COVID-19, since at the moment I have plenty of time on my hands while sitting in my hospital bed, and the days and nights are bleeding into one another like some amorphous expression of consciousnesses. Left alone to my thoughts, maybe there’s something constructive I can do with this journey, maybe someone can benefit from my story. With over seven million infections to date in our country, maybe someone out there will get the boost they need knowing there’s someone else out there that feels exactly the way they do.
My partner Eric and I always took great pride in doing the right thing during this pandemic, following instructions regarding masks, social distancing and not hanging out at large events. We didn’t want to be part of the problem and it was working. While part of the nation decided it would refuse to wear masks as some ultimate display of loyalty towards our president and a symbolic gesture of freedom, Eric and I wanted to make sure we were saving lives and helping to prevent the spread of this disease. Especially since my mother was gravely ill with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis when COVID-19 first made headlines, and infection would surely mean a death sentence for her. So we followed the rules and did our thing, finding tiny ways to make life employable while the world seemed to be shutting down and shifting into what seemed at times, utter chaos. We were trying to be the good guys for sure, and it seemed to be working.
On September 26th, Eric received the news that a co-worker of his had tested positive for the virus, and although initially concerned, I wasn’t super worried because everyone at his job was great about social distancing and following COVID-19 protocols. Eric would of course need to get tested the next day, and he proceeded to do so on Thursday. Out of an abundance of caution, his work site closed up shop until they had more answers. Since Eric works in the financial sector with a steady stream of customers throughout the day, they didn’t want to run the risk of further exposure to others. The process of initially locating a rapid testing site was a bit confusing, as there are are many locations, some of which are commercial, and everyone offers different kinds of tests. Eric settled on a MDNow location for his initial test, and then drove to a public testing site for rapid results screening. While there, Eric decided he just might as well do all the tests they offered just to be sure about his results. Not too long afterwards, Eric received notification that his rapid test was negative and we were very happy with the news, almost celebratory even. A nice take out meal would be in order to enjoy the evening together and take in the sense of relief.
While Eric and I were enjoying our dinner in our cozy living room, he received a call from the MDNow clinic, the caller id displaying part of the full name, MDNowUrgent, almost as if to warn about the impending news. Eric nervously answered the phone and after his information was verified, Eric discovered his rapid test was actually a false negative, and that he was actually positive with COVID-19. The surreal nature of the moment wasn’t lost to me, but it was somewhat anticlimactic at the same time. We knew so many people could test positive without serious symptoms, and only time would tell what course the disease would take with Eric. We at least had statistics on our side, and that offered some uneasy comfort to us both. I would also have to get tested, but again the level of concern wasn’t huge, just guarded as it were. Even when Eric started to feel run-down later that evening, we were wondering if his symptoms were actually from COVID-19, or possibly an overreaction to the news we received.
The next morning it was clear Eric wasn’t getting any better and his health obviously started to decline. I went to get tested myself at MDNow, and decided to make some chicken soup in anticipation of Eric’s ordeal. I have never made home made chicken soup in my life, but I took on a kind of instant pride of being Eric’s caretaker, and I was going to heal him the old fashioned way… with lots of love and lots of spoiling. I channeled my mother’s spirit for the ingredients to her soup recipe, and even heard “you forgot flat leaf parsley” while thinking of what the ingredients might be. Everything seemed to be falling into place, and I figured this would end up being just a nasty bug for Eric. I was in the zone for sure and we were gonna make it through this will little effort, if any.
Eric symptoms gradually got worse and he was miserable. I was waking him up on a regular basis, reminding him to take in fluids and serving him broth from what ended up being the most delicious organic chicken soup, if I must say so myself. Eric basically slept all day and I was happily playing nurse and loving the opportunity to help him during his time of need. I’m a giver and a caretaker at heart, so this experience was pushing all the right emotional buttons, reminding me of my mom and how she’d take care of me while I was sick as a child… and even not so too long ago after surgery in 2013. My COVID19 test came had come back negative, and although it surprised me, I figured this was the Universe letting me know I’d be taking care of Eric for the long haul, and that’s how it would simply play out. So far, so good, balance and harmony at work in the energetic fabric of time and space.
The following Monday I started not feeling so great and Eric seemed like he was starting to recover, the worse of his symptoms lasting only several days at best. I decided it was in everyone’s best interest to get tested again, so I made an appointment at a public testing facility. Initially my symptoms were mostly feeling like I was coming down with a nasty cold, similar to what Eric felt, and I was also feeling tingling in the gums, a sensation that always precedes some kind of illness with me. I think driving up at the public testing site was the first out of many of times, that I would notice an awareness in some people that they were doing something very important, and took pride in knowing they were possibly saving lives. Their energy and courtesy instantly made me feel great, and went through the several lines in my car with ease.
As the day went by I began to feel increasingly under the weather. My sense of taste began to diminish, and then disappeared entirely. I felt like I had a fever but my temperature was low, actually below normal. I didn’t feel like eating, and even drinking water or juice was a pain. I began to lose interest in basically everything, but what I also noticed was really starting to concern me. Everyone in my family knew Eric and was sick and they were constantly reaching out to me to find out how he was feeling. Of course this sense of family and caring being extended to my partner meant the world to me, not too many gay men can claim they’ve experienced that. However, I could tell that my family didn’t think I was sick at all, and that my recent negative test was proof of that, and most likely I was literally “making up” the symptoms subconsciously. It was subtle at first but then I noticed my sister texting things like “So you’ll live in other words…” and that really felt horrible as my symptoms progressed. I was being asked over and over by my siblings “Do you have a fever?” and when my answer was no, this just reinforced their hypothesis that my condition was “sympathetic” at best to Eric’s diagnosis.
Nighttime had become extremely difficult and on one instance I found myself shivering as if I was dying of fever. At times the shaking was so intense, it felt like a seizure, and I was wondering to myself “When do I call 911?” With no fever still, I was feeling extremely concerned, thinking that perhaps I even had sepsis from cutting myself while shaving. These increasingly bizarre thoughts and insecurities would be common place as I would soon learn during my infection. Through the recommendation of a co-worker the next day, I decided to use a tele-health service offered by our local hospital, and that changed everything. I didn’t feel like some little kid who’s family thought he just wanted attention, no…. I was sick and this was textbook COVID-19. The doctor validated my concerns about my testing scenario and said I would probably test positive later that day, but some people take much longer to convert. She also said the fever would come and now was the time to prepare my body by taking in fluids, vitamins and resting… much in the same way I did for Eric when he resembled a bedded zombie.
As the days continued to progress, and I was on about day five of my symptoms, Eric began to show great strides in his own recovery. He was full-on taking care of the dogs and I had become the zombie. I started to experience nausea and had started throwing up what little food or liquids I could handle. My fever hovered around 100.1, something that my prompted my sister to respond with “Is that even considered a fever?” Her Trump leanings are sometimes very evident, and it was sad that even during this time and seeing what was happening to me, her skepticism, however small, was making little trips to the surface for air. I had now tested positive for COVID-19, but the general attitude in the family was that it would be a four day sickness, something that didn’t gel with the general feeling of foreboding I had in my gut. By the weekend my cough worsened and there was blood in my sputum. I was in great pain that shot through my body, and the pulse-oximeter I purchased was showing my blood oxygen levels in the low 90’s. Something wasn’t headed in the right direction.
I think it was Saturday when my friend from work texted me to see how I was doing. Karla found out I was sick through the grapevine… we are a very tight knit department, so when I tested positive the news spread rapidly, not to mention I had visited our office only days before Eric’s test results. Since March, most of the department has worked from home as a safety precaution, however I needed to get my laptop upgraded and that meant dropping it off to a technician in our building. My positive test meant sending anyone I interacted with home (verified through security video footage) and conducting some very thorough sterilization procedures. As I was texting with Karla, I told her about the blood in my sputum and she immediately responded with “No!!! Call your doctor. Coughing blood is not normal.”
Thankfully I decided to take Karla’s advice and contacted my primary care doctor first thing Monday morning. The blood in my sputum had increased, and my O2 level wasn’t the best, hovering around 91 and 92 percent saturation. They scheduled an appointment for Tuesday morning and I was good with waiting one more day, even though the coughing was getting so much worse, sometimes extending into fits which made me like I was going to pass out. Needless to say I was looking forward to getting some much needed attention for my symptoms, COVID-19 has this way of making you feel very disconnected and of course the added confusion I was experiencing wasn’t helping much either. I was really in a scary place, feeling as though my health was in a rapid decline, and also feeling like few in my family were taking me seriously. Talk about feeling completely alone and not having all your faculties together.
The morning of my video appointment with my primary care was tough. I was coughing up more blood in my sputum, a nice bright red which meant it was pretty fresh, and I was feeling like total shit. When I finally connected with my doctor, it didn’t take him long to tell me I needed to visit the emergency room, that he was concerned I could have a pulmonary embolism. Holy shit, those were some tough words to hear, I knew I was getting worse, but I didn’t realize it was that bad. My doctor told me he would forward orders for a CT Scan and chest x-ray, and I needed to go as soon as possible. I got up from the computer and I walked over to Eric, still trying to process everything the doctor told me. When I explained to him that I could have an embolism, the look of fear quickly washed over his face. I wanted to take a shower but he recommended we leave right then, and so we did.
Walking into an emergency room with full blown COVID-19 is a very strange experience. You’re not only feeling extremely ill, but you feel as though everyone is staring at you, like they know already you’re carrying a contagious disease which has killed over a million people. As I walked through the automatic doors of Baptist Hospital’s emergency room, a triage nurse was stationed right there to make sure people like me didn’t walk around everywhere looking for assistance. I immediately told her I was COVID positive, and that my doctor sent me here for diagnostic testing. I was somewhat comforted by her response to me, clearly she had dealt with others in the same situation, and as such, was very calm, relaxed and extremely professional. I was directed to have a seat in the very large waiting area, where chairs were widely spaced… what seemed like at least ten feet apart.
I don’t think I sat there for more than a few minutes before I was put into a wheel chair and taken to a bed within the ER. Interestingly enough, my memory of what happened next is sort of fragmented, which makes complete sense because my oxygen saturation levels were quickly declining. I know I was almost immediately put into a gown and placed on oxygen. They placed electrodes on my chest and then not long afterwards, I started into a coughing fit. My perception of the following events is somewhat different than Eric’s. While I was coughing and gasping for air, it seemed like an eternity before someone showed up… turns out not being able to breathe makes time move pretty slow. On the other hand, Eric was super impressed with not only how fast they came to assist me, but that the decision was made almost instantly to move me to a negative pressure room where I would be given a breathing treatment of albuterol. It goes without saying that this would be one of the many times during my stay at Baptist Hospital, that I would be blown away by their preparedness to handle COVID-19 patients even though it was a relatively new disease.
Albuterol is a drug that opens your airways, my mom used to take it daily to treat her pulmonary fibrosis. It’s administered in an ultra-fine mist that you breathe in… and also exhale the excess. Because the mist is so fine and it’s been in your lungs with your new best friend Mr. 19, it can infect others in the room as it floats around. A negative pressure room is basically a designated room in the ER with a door, and a large floor to ceiling machine with white duct work. It has a very bio-hazard look to it, and it’s loud while it sucks out all the air from the area along with any contaminated albuterol mist from my lungs. Once the treatment begins, everyone has to leave the room as a safety precaution, and that alone is pretty unnerving. I think maybe it had been 30 minutes since I walked through the doors of the ER and I was already in this strange looking area, all by myself, getting a treatment so I could actually breathe.
After I had finished with the albuterol, I would be wheeled back into my original room in the ER feeling much more alert than before. It’s amazing what a little O2 can do for your brain. A nurse walked in an introduced herself, she was so very kind and funny, even telling me some pretty cool factoids about her scrubs to lift my spirits. Being a former docent at a zoo, I loved this kind of information and it really put my mind at ease. Turns out her scrubs, glossy pink in color, were made from the same material as air bags so they would be more anti-microbial than the traditional cloth ones we’re used to seeing. Of course, the scrubs weren’t the only thing different about people that came to interact with me. They also wore black rubber masks with purple respirators… like a gas mask that didn’t cover the eyes. Speaking of eyes, they wore protection that looked much like the goggles you wore in chemistry class in high school. Clearly the safety of the staff tending to me was also a huge priority for the hospital. The only problem was that almost everyone looked the same to me, and it was hard to tell the difference between the many amazing nurses that took care of me during my stay, so I started notating their names on my phone.
A couple of hours had passed since I arrived at the emergency room and by then I had a chest x-ray, CT-Scan and lots of labs including a blood gas. The gentlemen that performed the test was an expert, and I honestly didn’t feel a thing despite a needle being stuck deep into my wrist with a needle. He had given me some lidocaine first, which really helped make the procedure completely painless. Not too long afterwards I was given a small lunch, told I was being admitted and that my room was nearly ready and waiting for me. I was really blown away at the speed which everything seemed to be happening, and I sensed this was partly due to my diagnosis and condition. I would be brought to the COVID-19 area of this hospital… called 4 Tower, something I was familiar with since I volunteered there for a couple of years as a teenager. Before I knew it I was being wheeled into my room, a little scared and wondering how long I would be there. It was then that a nurse looked at me and said “Oh look, it’s my new patient!”
You’re not allowed to have visitors when you have COVID-19, the only people you see are heavily masked, gloved and covered up with fancy scrubs. It’s hard sometimes to understand their words because of the personal protective equipment (PPE) they’re wearing, but I noticed something almost immediately… these layers of rubber and synthetic materials didn’t affect their desire, disposition or level of care I received. This made all the difference since I would have felt like a lab rat with all the needles, hoses, injections, IV bags and machines around me. There was so much I didn’t know or understand… I felt instantly cut off from my friends and family, feeling almost as if I was there against my will. I started thinking of the show Orange Is The New Black and suddenly felt the need to hold back tears. I didn’t want to lose it and cry, these people were here to help me and I needed to focus on the intention, not the perception of the information my senses were picking up. I would later call this feeling of fear and confusion “COVID on the brain. “
I slept a lot the first day I was in the hospital, the cozy and comforting kind of naps you associate with your couch and rainy days. I was exhausted from what I had been going through at home, and my body totally needed the rest. As I began to wake up I coughed a little, and then some more… and then more after that. I had entered a full blown coughing fit and it hurt like hell. I could barely catch a breath between coughs, so I picked up my hospital bed control thingy to call the nurses station. It’s the weirdest sensation knowing all you have to do is press that button, but the instruction to cough is queued up in your head multiple times. It’s like you have to wait for those commands to be processed until your finger finally presses the button… and then you wait for someone to respond. Fortunately a nurse answered quickly and I had to summon the strength to get the words “I can’t stop coughing!” out of my mouth. When the nurse arrived to my room, she saw the situation I was in and immediately ordered more cough medicine with codeine in it. Relief came eventually, but not fast enough… I started to develop anxiety just thinking about the next coughing fit, which of course would come.
Nighttime came and the loneliness really starts to set in. There’s some comfort when dinner arrives, Baptist Hospital is known for their great food and they lived up to their reputation. Eric called me via FaceTime and it was great to see him, but it also saddened me. I could see how scared he was and I didn’t want him to be afraid. I wanted to be there to comfort him and I couldn’t be. He had left the emergency room after I was taken for my CT-Scan… we have three dogs at home that needed walking and he wasn’t allowed to come up to my room… so he drove home, called his parents on the way… and cried. Eric laughed about it during our FaceTime chat, but I could tell he was still very concerned about my well being… and so was I.
“These strangers also got sick with COVID-19 and decided to use their experience to possibly save the life of another… my life.”
Sleeping in a hospital is never easy. I had done it before while staying with my mom and even once my dad. However as a patient it’s completely different and I would soon learn that you’re basically woken every couple of hours to make sure you’re alive, to draw blood, take your blood pressure or inject you with something. If a human doesn’t wake up you, a machine will, as it complains in a digital fashion with a variety of beeps. Having slept most of the day, I found it really difficult to sleep at night. I was anxious and started to feel agitated about everything from the phone that was tucked by my side, to the oxygen tube running up my nose, and even the noises coming from other rooms. I didn’t know it then, but I would soon discover that much of my emotions were being heightened by the steroid dexamthasone I was being administered on a daily basis. It also would make it nearly impossible for me to sleep during most of my stay.
The next few days would bring about a variety of revelations, one of which was kind of a surprise to me. No one really tells you how long they’re going to keep you in the hospital when you have COVID-19, and being that insurance companies are involved, I thought this would be kept to an absolutely minimum. I was pretty taken back when I think on the third day I asked how long I would be there, and was basically told they couldn’t even think about that until my oxygen saturation improved. I was on three liters of oxygen at the time, and often couldn’t maintain a saturation above 92/93 percent. That news pretty much solidified for me that I was in pretty bad shape, and had I not gone to the hospital when I did, I would have not survived. This was made even more evident when I was told that donor plasma was being ordered for me, and I was being given one of the same experimental medications the President was being treated with, remdesivir. Basically they weren’t taking any chances with me… I wasn’t a mild case, I needed all the help I could get.
One thing I was totally not prepared for, would change me in ways I’m still trying to figure out. I experienced an immense outpouring of love and support from friends, family, co-workers, FaceBook friends and people I have never met. My phone was blowing up with text messages and emails from so many individuals, some of which I have always respected and admired, but had no clue the feeling was mutual. Part of my duties at work involved Zoom video support of a local LGBTQ Advisory Board, and I was touched deeply when their Program Director and Chairwoman were texting me daily. Then to top if off, my extremely loving co-worker Ana tells me the entire board said a prayer together for me… heart chakra explosion… tears… just amazing. If that weren’t enough, the online spiritual groups I belong to just went all out with announcements, prayers, energy healings… you name it. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle anymore expressions of love, care packages began to arrive from my sister and several very dear friends of mine, crowding my small hospital room. If you’ve listened to my podcast, you might have heard my co-worker Pauline speak about her experience as an African-American woman in information technology. However, during this entire ordeal, she was like a mom to me, calling twice a day to ask how I was feeling. I can’t describe how much this meant, and I will never forget this expression of love and kindness.
Even with all this love being directed at me, the days began to gradually bleed into one another, day and night having no real meaning. I became so used to the routine of getting blood drawn at 4 AM, getting my anti-coagulant injection in the stomach, and having my blood pressure taken every three hours, that I could literally sleep my way through it. The exception was one late evening, when my donor plasma arrived shortly before midnight. They have to check up on you constantly while it’s being transfused, going as far as to sit outside your door the first 30 minutes to make sure you’re not having an allergic reaction. Once again the commitment to care I received was absolutely incredible, and the nurse performing this procedure was not only amazing, she was making me laugh. The floor was extremely busy that night and there was lots going on, but she chatted with me about how her evening was going and what she needed to do with the plasma. I actually felt like my care was more of a partnership at that point, she wasn’t just treating a sick patient, she was involving me and it was awesome.
While the plasma slowly emptied from the bag and into my body, I couldn’t help but to look up at in and get lost in what was happening. I looked at the clear brownish liquid and took a moment to thank the person or persons it came from. Here I was, sick in the hospital receiving treatment to save my life, and it was in the form of a complete desire to help others and nothing more. These strangers also got sick with COVID-19 and decided to use their experience to possibly save the life of another… my life. As I’m thinking about this completely selfless act, another thought enters my mind, the awareness of people that won’t perform the simple task of wearing a mask which could also save a life… or even end one should they decide not to. No needles in the arm, no traveling to a location to have someone collect your blood… just a simple piece of fabric over your face, that could have the same end result as this huge bag of plasma. These thoughts continued to ruminate in my head… amazing people donating their time and life supporting fluids, compared to those that make the choice to possibly infect others in order to show allegiance to some political party or ideology. Seriously how did this extreme duality even come about in the first place? Was our society always this way? Or has it manifested itself through current leadership? Whatever the answer is, I was completely terrified by this realization. Finally the large bag of plasma finally emptied around 2:30 in the morning, which happened to be my nurses’ lunch break. She stopped eating her meal and came in to ask me how I was doing and silenced the IV machine which was loudly complaining. After disconnecting the empty vinyl pouch from my line, she said goodnight to me and I drifted off to sleep wondering why some people could be so kind and caring, and others could be so careless and cruel.
Examples of kindness continued to make themselves known as each day went by and I started to fight the urge to fall into a depression. The staff of Baptist Hospital kept me going each day, their dedication giving me the will to deal with yet another day of crappy cable television, coughing fits and mostly sleepless nights. One nurse in particular, treated me as though I was her son during her shift. Her motherly energy radiated outward, and this reminded me of my own mother whom I lost only several months earlier. Here was someone up in the middle of the night instead of at home, covered in bulky PPE equipment, taking care of a complete stranger with a contagious and potentially deadly disease, and she did it with a level of compassion and understanding that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. To top if off, she was an older African American woman, and had no doubt experienced the exact opposite from white men like me during the course of her lifetime. This awareness of her humanity moved me tremendously, and I was saddened to see her go in the morning when her shift ended.
It was day five of my stay that I was told that I would be doing a six minute ‘O2 Walk” through the hallways of the floor. This would be done without the aid of oxygen and would help determine not only if I was going to go home soon, but if I would qualify for portable O2 at home. Memories of my mom and her oxygen machine flooded my head, and I become somewhat emotionally distressed at the prospect of having my own unit, as if somehow our fates would be the same. Not too long afterwards, a nurse entered my room with my very own airbag scrub outfit, and I got to see how it was to actually wear something that looked so uncomfortable. Turns out, they weren’t all that bad… at least for the six minutes that I was walking. The verdict was that my oxygen stayed between 92 and 94 while I was walking, and that wasn’t bad at all for someone being treated for a nasty case of COVID-19 pneumonia. I became very excited when the nurse mentioned the possibility of me actually going home the next day, which would end up being the sixth and final day of my hospitalization.
“COVID-19 was a blessing of sorts to me, the perspectives I have gained have been truly life changing, and I want to make sure I don’t lose site of them.”
The day finally came when I would be discharged and sent back home. As Eric was driving me back to our condo, I couldn’t believe it had been six days since I was admitted. It all seemed like a blur, like it was just one of those dreams you have that seem to last all night and make you extremely restless. I was so happy to be going home, but at the same time, felt somewhat disconnected. I don’t know how to describe it really… perhaps part of it had to do with the various steroids and other medications that were in my system. Our dogs didn’t even seem that excited I was home, almost less excitement than usual. I took a much needed nap back in the guestroom where I continue to sleep, over a month since being tested positive. Even though Eric was the source of my infection, I didn’t want to risk re-infecting him, something that was recommended to me by the various doctors that treated me and continue to do so. Hopefully by Tuesday of next week I will be cleared to be a part of the general population, and Eric and I can enjoy dinners outdoors on Lincoln Road once again.
The strangest and most spectacular thing happened to me the next morning, something that I wasn’t even expecting. I woke up for the first time at home in almost a week, and everything was completely different. Every single aspect of my awareness was a blessing… the sun coming in through the window, the person talking about wood carving on public television, greeting Eric after he woke up, a glass of milk… it all seemed to radiate like magic. Every single moment… every second of every minute, was something to be celebrated. I was alive and that was everything. I felt as though I knew why we were all here, what our purpose was, and I fully understood it. It wasn’t complicated at all, it was to enjoy the very essence of being on this planet and to live it to the fullest. It was almost as though I wondered why everyone wasn’t celebrating all the time. This feeling didn’t go away rapidly either, it stayed for hours and hours until gradually subsiding. It was truly a spiritual experience, and I journaled about it in great detail so I would be able to hang onto this sense of appreciation for as long as possible, for the rest of my life even. I never wanted to forget this feeling of gratitude and appreciation, not just for my life, but for everyone else around me and their contributions to my life.
While my awareness of my continued blessings seem to lift me to cloud nine, and familiar kind of anger creeped back in. Just as I did while hospitalized, I became hyper aware of those persons on this planet trying to do good, and those who blatantly refuse in order to prove a point. It was a stark contrast to the people I had seen in the hospital, everyone trying with great effort to treat those infected with COVID-19, while a quick look out my window at home revealed those who couldn’t care less. And there was lots of them. I wanted scream at people without masks from my balcony, and let them know this wasn’t fake, it was completely real. In fact, my first FaceBook post, while overwhelmingly filled with positive, loving and much appreciated feedback, yielded a response from someone that said they were glad I was better, from “whatever it was I had.” This stung big time… there’s nothing worse than someone trying to take away ownership of your pain, and on top of that, making it about themselves. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. Twitter offered much of the same in even greater frequency, people with a completely warped sense of reality, countering my attempts to raise awareness. At first I thought about blocking them or taking my post down, but then I realized it’s important that others see how dangerous an unchecked political ideology can be. Science goes out the window, and the words of a bankrupt reality star become gospel. Scary times we live in.
So this is me now. I am almost fully recovered, still coughing but that will remain for some time I’m told. I monitor my oxygen saturation levels on a daily basis, and I do lung exercises to help improve my breathing. Every now and then I get out of breath, and I have to use a rescue inhaler. I also have an extremely low tolerance for anyone that doesn’t want to make this world a better place. Simple as that. If you don’t want to help others, uplift them, make them feel great about themselves, lend a hand when they need it, go the extra mile for your fellow human… then I don’t want to know you. It’s not my job to make you feel better about yourself, because clearly you are one miserable person. If you can’t wear a mask because you think it violates your rights, then you must think you have a right to needlessly endanger and possibly kill others. If you are assaulted by another person you go to jail, microbial assault is no different. The human thing to do is to prevent this from spreading, not to encourage others to cause harm through your words and actions. I just don’t have the time to deal with people like this, because the energy it takes to do so must be directed at the good human beings of this world that truly need our help. That’s where my resources are going from now on, supporting those that support others. COVID-19 was a blessing of sorts to me, the perspectives I have gained have been truly life changing, and I want to make sure I don’t lose site of them. With everything going on right now in our country, things may seem like a total shit show, but there are still good and wonderful souls out there, trying to making a difference and succeeding… just like they did for me.