Sheltering… Masks? Hell, yes.

The mask protects the vulnerable and in settings where one can’t social distance, masks should be mandatory. They are a little uncomfortable. For me, it was a bit like hiding under the covers in bed and breathing in your own moist exhalations and sweat.

Me.

The advantages? Take a look at the picture. The mask hides so many ‘imperfections.’ Wrinkles?? A few by the eyes and on the forehead but hey, I could just be serious. Jowls? Surely you jest, none in sight. Don’t look at the neck. The glasses help disguise laugh lines (so much gentler than calling them crow’s feet.)

The masks don’t have to be plain, disposable surgical masks like the one I’m sporting. For the fashion maven, they are the new accessory. Companies and individuals have leapt into the void and you can order cloth masks in any colour and with a variety of prints, pictures, or personal cartoons. I believe some clothing companies have matching masks for popular outfits.

I haven’t been much of a clothes horse for quite a number of years. Too many structures, ‘go south.’ You have to pair age of face with outfits that aren’t too avant garde and comfort is more important than it once was. But if wearing a mask protects others and makes me look good, win-win. Stay safe, stay home, but if you’re out and about, wear a mask.

Sheltering- Now I’m Angry

The last thing I wanted to do in this blog was complain and whine. This isn’t that. I am worried because of my age….and because I know immunosuppressed people and people with co-morbidities. I am incensed that a lot of people have been designated as more or less expendable by the premier.

Sorry – this is a little rude.


Kenney said: “We cannot continue indefinitely to impair the social and economic as well as the mental health and physiological health of the broader population for potentially a year for an influenza that does not generally threaten life apart from the most elderly, the immunocompromised and those with co-morbidities.” This is a quote and there was more. I understand the need to get the economy back into some kind of balance but only when it’s safe.

This is callous and the diseases is not an influenza, COVID-19 is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is a novel virus meaning this is its first time in humans. We don’t know about its effects (if any, in survivors), how it affects children with MIS-C, multi-system inflammatory syndrome. (There have been 3 deaths in the US and it is linked to corona virus.) We do know that young people can die from COVID-19. This is a partial list to be aware of when we think of who is at risk of severe outcomes from the virus- about 1 in 20 diabetic Albertans, about 12% of Albertans are asthmatic, about 20,000 new cases of cancer may be diagnosed this year, anyone receiving chemotherapy, anyone with a transplanted organ, arthritics who have to take drugs which are immunosupressants, kids who get MIS-C.

I will not rant on. My point it that corona virus infections are not just dangerous to the elderly. Alberta has been cautious and there hasn’t been a lot of community spread. A great deal has been in the meat packing plants and in seniors’ care homes. The virus is still here, though, and if there is increased community spread, we will see people of all ages with severe outcomes. Sorry to be Debbie Downer on such a beautiful day. Stay home, stay safe, and keep others safe, just a little longer.

Sheltering- Gardening for the Pandemic

Gardening is not for the faint of heart or the weak, This morning (and I apologize to those who know me) my buttocks were stiff and sore. Yes, even though, according to my kids, my butt fell off about 20 years ago, the Gluteus Maximus (or is it Maximi) hurt. My saggy old arms are stiff and a little sore. And I have to be careful not to pull my back, a family weak spot. This litany of aches and pains is not to complain; it’s to report.

What garden activities have I taken part in? Let me count the ways-taking soil out of planters so I can put in fresh, loading bags of manure and potting soil into the truck, digging up a flower bed and working in some fertilizer, raking the garden, planting kale, beets, carrots, beans, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. I have bought and loaded my bedding plants (everything in one trip, I hope. The most dangerous place I’ve been? The greenhouse. Old gals like me get quite excited.) I have watered haskaps and a few perennials that I hope come back. And there are sweet peas along a fence that has never seen planting.

Waiting for the weather…

The containers are yet to be filled with soil and flowers but the weather in the next week doesn’t look nice. I have one more flower bed to dig up and fertilize and the window box under the front room window to get ready. Then there will be hoeing, weeding and watering. The garden and flowers suffer most summers when we go camping. A great neighbour waters, but we can hardly expect him to weed and fuss like we might ourselves. This year we’ve decided camping is out. There are a lot of restrictions and we can’t travel to Gary’s favourite spots in Saskatchewan.

Then there is the supply chain. Perhaps if, instead of being lazy, I can preserve more produce. It’s healthier and you know exactly where it came from. So not camping, canning? I sent a picture to my granddaughter of the little lake where we usually camp together.

“Ah,” she said, “It makes me sad. We can’t camp this year.”

I said, “We will visit eventually and we’ll camp next year.”

She said, “CURSE THE PANDEMIC!”

Gardening is something to occupy time outside and there is the reward of the produce. My garden this year should be “spectacular.” Still I’d rather be camping.

Echoing my granddaughter, I cry, “CURSE THE PANDEMIC.”

Sheltering- In Public??

Stay home. Self isolate. Go out only if necessary. Only one person per household should shop if possible. I heard all the warnings and so haven’t been in a retail or business establishment since toward the end of March. Gary, the husband, likes picking things “we need” up so he was the designated shopper and for groceries, we are lucky to have delivery service from our local Coop.

This is the week my prescriptions had to be refilled and it turns out renewed. My by-phone doctor’s appointment was simple and since I was picking up prescriptions, I returned library books in the outdoor slot, paid taxes at the bank, and deposited a cheque. I picked up an order for blood work from the doctor’s office.

Driving down to our town’s “business” section felt strange. At the bank, there is a reminder to stay outside until the ATM is free. The staff have masks and gloves. At the doctor’s I used the hand sanitizer they’d provided before I got my lab requisition. Masks and gloves again and the receptionist protected behind a plexiglass shield. The pharmacy provided hand sanitizer with a reminder to use it. My prescriptions are filled. I got a couple of other things (over the counter meds for allergies) and scored a small bottle of hand sanitizer. I was home in less than an hour.

I have to say people were courteous and maintained the 6’ separation. This was my trip until next month when I’ll have to refill prescriptions. I’m back home and I admit there was the temptation to check out the stores for other things I “need.’ Except they weren’t on my list, and I have necessities (even a bag of Cheezies), to get me through till my next ‘essential’ runs out.

So stay home. Get Exercise and now that the weather is nicer, for me, the dog walks are something to look forward to. Gardening becomes close to a passion. Let one person do most of the restricted shopping. I’d like to be around a little longer. Stay safe.

Sheltering at Home III-Covid Birthday

No firetrucks paraded past my house, no friends showed up to dance on my lawn (social distancing, of course), and there was no cake. Had there been, the blaze from the candles might have attracted the fire department. Yesterday was my ahemmm, swallow, ahemmm, birthday. Suffice to say I’m old.

In the new pandemic reality, I was very lucky. It was a busy day and it started with a drive into the country. I had my camera and could have had pictures of a fox, a coyote, and turkey vultures. There was no card in the camera; it was at home in the laptop. The dogs had a run along a deserted road. It’s hard to believe how exciting they found an unpaved road and snowdrifts to be.

I made covid bread while answering phone calls and trying to set up an app Houseparty for later evening festivities. I talked with the grandkids on-line and I may have forgotten a cup of flour. Nevertheless, the bread did turn out. While it rose the first time, I took the dogs for their regular walk. It was brutal. The wind gusts were enough to make me appreciate how they and their leashes anchored me. It was a half distance walk but the Jack Russell chased the gopher she’s been looking for all week. It was out on the snow, likely wondering why it hadn’t stayed underground.

After supper, a friend, my son, and my daughter logged in to play Houseparty. It is quite lame but good for laughs and as it seems with online meetings, this one had its glitch, too. My daughter had to leave because she couldn’t hear or see us. It wasn’t a party like face to face but it was a good substitute.

So no firetruck parade, no family gathering, no blazing candles, yet it was a fine time and a chance to reflect on how lucky I am. My birthday wish is that in a year, this pandemic will be a memory. One that we learned lessons from, but only a memory, not an experience to be repeated.

That One Resolution

              Break bad habits, start new routines, evolve a new, improved you. For some reason, the turn of the calendar to a New Year inspires change; an inspiration which soon proves burdensome in its realization. I have made too many resolutions to count and I was determined to keep them but did I?

               The answer is yes, I kept one. Forty-three years ago, I decided to give up smoking. Cigarettes and I had developed a strange relationship and an expensive one. I was married for a year and my husband didn’t smoke and never had. His brief experiments with tobacco were laughable; he didn’t even know how to hold a cigarette. I had been a smoker for about nine years, starting when I couldn’t even blame adolescent curiosity for trying it out. The thing was, I lit a lot of cigarettes, took a couple of puffs and then snubbed them out. Not all, of course, but there were enough barely started smokes sitting in ashtrays to let me know it was time. Time to quit.

               I grew up with smokers. Mum and Dad both smoked in the house, the car, and for my Dad, on the tractor. It was normal and there were warnings about lung cancer seemed bogus. No one we knew was afflicted so the enjoyable habit continued. It was normal.

               December 31st, 1974 arrived and when the clock struck midnight I was done with cigarettes. It wasn’t easy and my ‘withdrawal’ was exacerbated by the supportive husband strolling by, cigarette in hand, blowing smoke in my direction. He claims it was to make me angry enough to keep my resolution. I have my doubts.

               I didn’t smoke again. At first, I not only missed the nicotine hit, but the social aspect of the habit. One girlfriend and I, in particular, shared cigarettes and smoked together. It was like a part of relationship was gone…how ridiculous.

               In 1975, my daughter was born. She developed asthma and when we first consulted a specialist, his questions were, “Was she breast-fed and who in the house smokes?” When I answered, yes and no one, 50% of his treatment was gone. The doctor was almost dejected that he couldn’t deliver the rest of his speech which would have added guilt to the stress. How glad I was that I no longer smoked.

               Years later the health effects of smoking were revealed. Big tobacco’s campaign of false science was debunked and independent research revealed the use of tobacco in its various forms was implicated not just in lung cancer but in a variety of illnesses. Heart disease and stroke, hypertension, bladder cancer, emphysema (now known as COPD), and more chronic conditions were linked to tobacco.  Birth weights were lower in the babies of smokers and there could be further complications, after all, the nicotine and other components of tobacco smoke entered the blood stream and crossed into the placenta.

               My brother, a type one diabetic, smoked. The tightening of blood vessels, in part caused by smoking, contributed to the peripheral artery disease that led to amputations of both his l9egs. A heavy price for cigarettes. He once said, “You’d think the choice, a leg or smokes would be easy.” It wasn’t and like millions of others, he couldn’t quit.

               I am so glad I kept my one New Year’s Resolution and it did break a bad habit, start a different routine and did improve my health. For these reasons, I just might make resolutions, again this year. Maybe this will be the year I keep another one. Happy New Year.

When Antibiotics Fail

Modern medicine is losing its battle against bacteria. The original penicillin is ineffective. In hospitals and around the world superbugs have developed that are not touched by any of our antibiotics. When this happens, patients are left to fight off the invaders with only their own immune systems. Often, they succumb. The appearance of superbugs is a huge threat to our health and the days of popping an antibiotic and feeling better in a couple of days are numbered. How did we get to this point? Antibiotics are over-prescribed, patients demand them, and when they feel better, don’t finish the course. Any resistant bacteria are left to reproduce and pass along their resistance.

An old therapy which was abandoned when antibiotics proved so effective may provide a new weapon in our fight against bacteria. Bacteriophages, shown below, are viruses with a protein head and in the case of the ones shown, a “landing” tail which is specific to a species of bacteria and is used by the phage to inject its genetic material (DNA or RNA) into the cell. Once in the bacteria, its machinery is taken over and it produces more and more phages, until it bursts, is destroyed, and releases new phages. The new phages seek out more bacteria cells, inject, infect, and kill them. Cells of a human or animal are not harmed by the phages.

The purple “lunar landers” are phages on the surface of a bacterial cell.

It sounds wonderful. The best part is that phages are everywhere, the ocean, in sewage, soil; wherever bacteria are found, phages are, too. It’s not so wonderful when the actual problem of identifying a phage to attack a specific multi-drug resistant superbug, isolating it, and preparing it for human use is involved. Research is ongoing and this forgotten therapy may hold the key for the next advance against bacteria. Without a new treatment, infections will be our next health menace and millions of us may die. Before antibiotics, a simple infection was life threatening provides it.

I have included a short Youtube video that explains how bacteriophages kill bacteria. If you are interested further, ABC’s 2020 and CTV’s W5 have documentaries exploring the future of phage therapy. In the meantime, we should all limit our antibiotic use as much as we can.