April 13, 2020

Me and Steve – Mexico – Fall 1997

And on the other side of yet another socially isolated weekend, it’s time for the next installment in the accidental plague diaries. The date today bookends the date at the start of the weekend. Friday, the 10th was Tommy’s birthday and today, the 13th was Steve’s. If Steve had lived, he would be 72 years old today. I have a hard time envisioning a septuagenarian Steve and I don’t think he would have enjoyed that age much. Perhaps it’s best he left the party a bit early. If someone had told my younger self that by the age of 55 I would be widowed twice and living in Birmingham, Alabama I would inquire just what drugs they were ingesting at the time. Funny how life turns out sometimes.

The Corona Virus caseload locally continues to remain relatively steady meaning that the health system has been able to absorb it and cope with the needs of the ill. From what I can tell, even the more rural areas are starting to understand that they are not immune and are beginning to take social distancing more seriously and doing such things as drive up church where everyone stays in their cars in the parking lot with the pastor on the porch with a PA system. Whatever it takes. When you’re in the more rural parts of the state, there’s not a lot of wi-fi and zoom conferencing available. A decade or so ago, when I was working with the mine workers in rural West Virginia and one of the nurses was having data base problems, she called into tech support (in Minneapolis if I recall correctly) and the tech just wanted her to go down to the local Starbucks and hop on the wi-fi. She had to educate him as to just how rural the hollers of West Virginia actually are and Starbucks would be a three hour trip to Charleston.

I now have a proper video conferencing station set up at my UAB clinic office so I can connect face to face with patients and families with smart phones. It’s not the same as being in the same room, but it’s better than trying to hazard guesses about certain things over the telephone. Now I just have to get the over 80 set to trust smart phone capabilities. Most of them are still tied to their land lines. I’ve considered finally leaving my land line behind when I move to the condo. The problem is that it’s the only thing loud enough to wake me up at night when I’m on call. The cell phone just doesn’t do it. Perhaps if I find a nice klaxon ring tone for it. Tommy was always an early adopter of new technology. He got an iPhone about a year before I made the switch. He would get the latest and the greatest, I would watch him use it for a while, then he would trade up and I would get his old one having finally figured it out. It worked as a system.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. The Deep South was wracked with thunderstorms and tornadoes and it was a very good day to stay indoors under a blanket with a book and the Xbox. Birmingham proper was fine, just a lot of noise, flash and torrential rains that led to some spot flooding (including the basement of the theater where I do most of my work). There were some tornadoes in more outlying areas but, at last report, no one in Alabama was killed. Mississippi wasn’t so lucky. More storms are due to come through tonight. I was in need of some comfort food and in digging through the freezer, I found a bag of Tommy’s famous chili left over from out last big holiday open house. I thawed it out and had it for Easter dinner – it had lost none of its heat for being in the freezer for a couple of years and, per usual, I had to cut it with a bunch of sour cream in order to be able to eat it. Tommy cared immensely for people. He didn’t always show it and could be a little rough around the edges but he did and the way he showed it best was in cooking for them. He always took great pride in our parties where he basically made everything on the table himself from scratch.

As I’ve been haunted by the ghosts of husbands past this weekend and it has coincided with Easter, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering of life and death. You can’t open social media without seeing a story of some promising life cut short by Covid 19 and we’re all trapped in a miasma of worry wondering whether we or those we love will be next. What do I think about death? I’ve been around long enough and seen enough people die to not be frightened of it. I don’t have any intentions of dying myself in the near future as I don’t think I’m done yet and I’ve barely scratched the surface of my bucket list but, if my number comes up I won’t be able to complain too much. I’ve had an interesting life and accomplished a lot more than most with the time I have been allotted so far. If I do get carried off by Covid 19, I have one request. Whomever puts my obituary together is to call out a certain US president and a certain Alabama governor by name and suggest that my premature demise was unnecessary and directly linked to their inability to follow proper public health protocols in a timely fashion.

Matter is essentially indestructible, just transformable. The matter that makes up our bodies was forged in stars billions of years ago and billions of miles away. We are, literally, made of stardust. We’re allowed to borrow it for a time and then we return it back to the universe where it is recycled in unknowable cosmic plans. What happens to our self, our consciousness, our soul? Frankly, I have no idea, only that whatever it is it’s the same for everyone. The dichotomous afterlife so popular in certain religious traditions makes no sense to me. Each new baby brings light and hope and salvation and, no matter what circumstance or bad choices may bring, that original promise remains buried within so as we all enter the world in the same way, I think we must leave in the same way as well. I do hope to see both Steve and Tommy again after. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve made of each other and what they’ll think of what I’ve done with the remainder of my life.

Stay well. Stay home. Wash your hands.

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