Cicada Hordes & Lots of Spicy Nuggets

Standard

As I type this post, a massive horde of cicada insects in the Eastern US are preparing to re-emerge into the world after a loooong 17-years underground. Cicadas are masters of the “long-engagement” and you know that old phrase, “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” Well, whoever wrote that clearly knew a lot about cicada romance. After waiting years for this day, when the cicadas of Brood X emerge in the coming weeks, they will convene the largest orgy known to mankind.

Cicadas will be everywhere. After breeding on a tree, they will fly a little way, and then breed again on a shrub. And then again on the roof of a corner liquor store. And then again in the parking lot.

I can’t help but feel there’s something metaphoric about this. That after a long year underground, humans are also primed to explode into the world in a rabid frenzy of unprotected sex and really bad decisions.

But, please, have some restraint, people. We are supposed to be more evolved than cicadas. Our brains are bigger. Our wings are smaller. So, we should have the ability to control ourselves.

Right?

Even though I’ve been vaccinated, as a person with a high-risk disability, COVID19 could still pose a danger to me. So, I will continue to observe health protocols in public until more folks are vaccinated. In consultation with my doctors, I’m also still navigating which activities are safe/not-safe for me to pursue. This list will probably evolve & grow over time— like a Chia Pet.

To be honest, from an emotional standpoint, it’s also hard for me to quickly re-calibrate after 15 months of quarantine. I’ve been living like a bearded hermit. The kind that stores root vegetables in the cellar and makes whiskey out of old Corn Nuts. So, unsurprisingly, it’s gonna take a LONG time before I’m partying at Coachella. Or sharing a triple-order of Taco Bell nachos with 9 fun strangers I met outside a public toilet.

I don’t have the ability to shift gears quickly. It’s just not in my nature. I’m not a cicada. So, I am taking this one step at a time.

Earlier this week, I went for my 16th injection of Spinraza. These vital treatments for my Spinal Muscular Atrophy have been the only times I’ve ventured out since the beginning of this pandemic. These procedures are challenging because it’s tricky to navigate a 5-inch needle into my spinal fluid. Especially since I’ve got a twisty torso and two metal bars fused to my vertebra. So, these injections can be difficult and arduous.

Given Stanford is a teaching facility, I never quite know which neuroradiology fellow will be performing my procedure. It’s like having tickets to a really great Broadway musical, but you’re not sure if you’re gonna see Idina Menzel or her understudy. While you hope it’s Idina, there’s really no guarantee… especially if she ate some bad falafel the night before.

As I lay on the gurney before the procedure, waiting to be taken back, the on-duty neuroradiology fellow will come to introduce themselves to me. Often, this is the first time I’ve EVER met them. So, as you can imagine, this is the moment where I begin to silently judge this person. Do they seem trustworthy & competent? Do they have enough experience? Can they sing a high E6 while wearing green makeup?

In the nearly 4 years that I’ve been on Spinraza, I’ve met a parade of neuroradiologists. And I’ve judged each and every one of them. There have been quiet ones, cocky ones, ones that remind me of Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy, and ones that were rooting around in my spine for SO damn long that I wanted to charge them rent. Fair-market rent, of course, but I’m worth at least the same as Marvin Gardens with a hotel.

This week, when I met the neuroradiologist, I instantly got a really good feeling. You see, I have a radar for these things. And not to brag, but, I could probably sniff out a good neuroradiologist faster than it would take a police dog to find cocaine in Matt Gaetz’s nightstand.

And my intuition was correct this time, too. This 2nd-year fellow was competent and confident (without being cocky!) and he had that needle in position so quickly I almost didn’t even notice the nerve ‘zing’ that shoots down my leg when the needle has properly entered the intrathecal sac— which is the desired bullseye in the game of Pin-The-Tail-On-Elizabette.

Before I knew it, my Spinraza infusion was in, I was back in my wheelchair and on my way home. To celebrate the smooth procedure, I did something that I haven’t done in over a year. Something that felt like a huge step forward.

I went to a drive-through & ordered chicken nuggets.

Spontaneously.

I decided I wanted nuggets, and I got nuggets— all in the span of about 5.7 minutes.

This might seem ordinary. This might seem mundane.

But, this was a big deal for me. You see, I have not been eating food prepared outside of my home. I have not had fast food, or a chicken nugget, in nearly a year and a half. While some people may have gained weight during this pandemic, I actually lost weight. It’s amazing what just eating home-cooked meals and the on-going stress of fearing for your very life can do to a person.

So, instead of getting the 4-piece nuggets, I sprung for the 6-piece. My bony ass needed the extra calories. And those spicy nuggies were even better than I remembered.

As this summer begins, I plan to take more steps forward— maybe a trip to Target, or out for a smoothie with friends, or to an in-person book club meeting that’s not on Zoom. But, my ability to keep moving forward is conditioned on all of you doing your part, too.

So, be safe, be wise, and watch out for those cicadas.

One Year In.

Standard

Hi. It’s been months since I’ve written here and, frankly, I didn’t intend to let this much time go by. But, the days go by faster than you’d think when you’re a high-risk disabled person trying to survive a deadly pandemic. My days fill up with tasks that I’ve never had to do with such sustained, long-term diligence before. Daily, I find myself musing…

  • Do I have enough PPE, masks, hand-soap, and hand sanitizer for me and for my home care assistants for the rest of the month? (Or will the masks be snatched up by the assholes in Idaho using them for kindling on the steps of the state capitol?)
  • When was the last time we wiped that doorknob?
  • Did I remember to include everything I’ll need for the next two weeks in my grocery order?

And, the most frequent thought of all…

  • Dear God, please don’t let one of my caregivers get COVID.

These questions, and hundreds just like them, have swirled relentlessly in my head for months on end. As I’ve written here before, this pandemic was a doomsday scenario that many of us with high-risk disabilities have, unfortunately, been preparing for our entire lives. So, the skills we’ve been forced to cultivate have come in handy in the last year. But, that doesn’t make it all any less exhausting or scary.

To give you an idea of what it has felt like: imagine you’re scurrying about, living your life, trying to get everything done, when suddenly, a giant ACME Looney Tunes hatchet materializes and suspends itself over your head. And begins following you around for 12 months— the sharp blade gleaming in the sunlight.

That’s what this pandemic has felt like to me… and to countless other disabled and high-risk individuals.

I’ve been told “it’s wrong to live in fear” — a narrative spouted most especially by those that are able-bodied and think the virus poses no risk to them… folks that are looking for a reason to dismiss the risk, to continue doing whatever they want, and to flip a metaphorical middle-finger at anyone telling them differently. But, this virus doesn’t discriminate— and I’m sorry, but I take little credence from folks that don’t know what it feels like to be on a ventilator, to have a suction tube shoved down their trachea, or the terrifying feeling when fluid builds in your lungs and you struggle and struggle to cough it out. People that don’t know what that feels like have no business telling other people what they should, or shouldn’t, fear.

The brilliant and eloquent disability advocate Imani Barbarin recently wrote of the pandemic:

I knew people were comfortable watching disabled and elderly people die, but I was wholly unprepared with the joy with which people would leap into harm’s way under the belief that only the vulnerable would die.

Despite the very real danger the virus poses to us, and the fact we have been sheltering longer than any other group, the disabled are still not prioritized for the COVID vaccine in many, many places. This needs to change. Several weeks ago, I was extremely fortunate to receive the COVID vaccine. This wasn’t because I was officially prioritized (I wasn’t!) it was solely due to the fact that I was lucky enough to have caring medical professionals that fought really hard for me once a vaccine shipment arrived in my area. This happenstance, this luck, this privilege, should not be the way that a disabled person, like me, gets the vaccine. For &%$@’s sake, I have a hard time coughing out a loogie, I should not be forced to get a leftover dose of COVID vaccine out the backdoor of a clinic at 7pm on a cold night. That’s how El Chapo makes a deal for 89 kilos of cocaine— not how a crippled girl with 42% lung capacity should be getting a COVID vaccination.

And what about the countless other disabled people (especially disabled people of color) that don’t have ready-access to a doctor or medical professional with the time or ability to help them navigate these very real hurdles? I was fortunate & privileged to get the vaccine when I did—  many, many other disabled people aren’t so lucky.

That said, I’m glad, though, to see vaccinations are expanding to essential groups, like agriculture & food workers, school staff, and other essential personnel. This progress is vital for us all— the only way for our society (and the world!) to get a handle on this virus is for as many people to get vaccinated as possible.

And that includes you.

I don’t care if you saw a “really scientific” blog posted by your friend Cassie on Facebook claiming that the vaccine will turn your reproductive organs into lemon-flavored jellybeans.

I don’t care if you think COVID is “no big deal.”

I don’t care that your gym trainer saw a “super believable” TikTok that said the vaccine will mutate your DNA as if a radioactive probe had been placed up your anus.

When the vaccine is available to you— get it!!

And don’t forget one more thing: never before in medical history have we seen scientists from around the world coming together for one purpose. There has been unprecedented, historic cooperation on these COVID vaccines. So, it’s important that we don’t falsely compare the timeline on these to other vaccines of the past. Other vaccines have taken longer to produce because they haven’t had the sheer number of scientists working on them. They haven’t had the resources to devote to it. To test it. To evaluate it. Other scientists of the past have had to balance other experiments, and research, at the same time. This wasn’t the case now.

To use an analogy: Two carpenters decide to build a hotel with 50 rooms. They have to build it all on their own because no one else will help and they have to be as cost-effective as possible because their boss offers minimal support and funds. Plus, they have other part-time construction jobs, too. So, it takes them 3 years to build the hotel all on their own.

Compare that to 25 carpenters that get together and decide to build a hotel with 50 rooms. Their boss gives them oodles of support, resources, half-finished blueprints, and extra staff. Working full-time, they build the hotel in 3 months.

How can someone say that the second hotel was built “too fast” when the builders had so much more help, time, and resources to devote to it?

In truth, you simply can’t compare them.

Lastly, I hate to be the one to break it to you… but COVID is not going away. The virus won’t just pack up and move to Costa Rica like your kooky neighbor Larry because he thought America was turning into a Dr. Seuss-hating, communist shithole.

It’s here to stay.

So, the more immunity we all collectively build against this virus, the slower the spread, and the less mutating it will do. For those of you that have had COVID, or don’t think the virus will do you long-term harm, you should know that getting sick with COVID results in far fewer immune antibodies than is produced by the vaccine. So, being unvaccinated, you will get COVID again sooner, potentially more severely, and likely shed more virus particles to those around you— like a drunk 22-year-old flinging contaminated beads at Mardi Gras.

And there are many people out there, like me, who are counting on you to not to be a sloppy, inebriated frat boy.

So, don’t be.