April 13, 2021

Steve and I circa 1993 – not in the birthday shirt

It’s the other side of the weekend. That means it’s Steve’s birthday today. He’d be 73 were he still here, likely running around making art and stirring up trouble wherever he could. That means it was twenty years ago this evening that we had his last birthday party. He loved birthday parties as much as he hated actually growing older. We invited over the few friends we had managed to make since moving to Birmingham – mainly church people as a combination of culture shock and his illness had somewhat limited our socializing over the previous few years. He wore our birthday shirt. It was a shirt he had bought me for my birthday some ten years before. He gave it to me, then decided he really liked it and declared he was taking it back. I wrapped it up and gave it to him for Christmas, he wrapped it and gave it to me for my next birthday and so on. I think it was wrapped and unwrapped more than a dozen times over the years and was a standing joke between us until the end.

That’s the hardest thing about losing your partner. You lose the person with whom you’ve built a history of hundreds of private jokes and pet moments. You want to say ‘do you remember when…’ but the only person that could possibly answer that with a yes is just no longer there. I suppose, in part, that’s one of the things that’s spurred me into writing these pieces over the last few years. I want to keep remembering when and this is one way to get those stories out to a new audience that might appreciate a few of them. Most of my Birmingham friends never met Steve. He became ill about a year after we arrived and before we had had a chance to create much of a social circle and he was gone before I returned to the world of the performing arts that I had left for medicine so many years prior.

I suppose the second week of April is always going to be a bit of a difficult time, as long as I live, due to the proximity of Steve and Tommy’s birthdays. Note to self. Try not to plan anything too emotionally involving for that week going forward. Fortunately The Pirates of Penzance is not Ibsen or Arthur Miller. And it is now over, to be replaced eventually with whatever the next theatrical project shall be. There’s nothing on the horizon yet; I’m not worried. Something’s bound to come along for the summer as things continue to open up. Perhaps this is the summer to revive Shakespeare in the Park. I’ve only done that once and, as much as I enjoyed it, outdoor theater in Birmingham in August is not overly pleasant for either cast or audience due to certain climate peculiarities.

I still have great hopes for summer, despite today’s not so good news about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. A couple of things everyone should keep in mind. 1) Correlation is not causation. Just because two things happen together in time does not mean that they are linked. 2) The number of reported cases of clotting is very small (six out of seven million doses of vaccine administered). All the case reports involved women between 18 and 48 and the background incidence of significant clots in women of that age isn’t all that different. Women are more prone to clots than men as estrogens are thrombotic in nature. About 0.3% of users of oral contraceptives develop clots because of this. Other risk factors include smoking and being sedentary and we know nothing about how any of these may play into this cluster of cases.

If you’ve received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, don’t panic, even if you’re a woman under fifty. The chance of you having a problem is about the same as being struck by lightning this next year. If you were scheduled to get it and your appointment has been canceled, don’t panic. There’s plenty of Pfizer and Moderna in the pipeline to make up the short fall and the system has figured out how to get vaccine into people in record numbers over the last month with between four and five million shots happening daily. My biggest fear in all of this is that the media, who long ago abandoned in depth reportage and nuance for sensationalism and click bait, will write a lot of misleading headlines that will push people on the fence away from vaccination and, if we’re going to return to a sense of normalcy, we need as many people immune as possible, whether from immunization or from having had the disease (something I wouldn’t wish on anyone – even mild cases seem to have significant issues with cardiac and nervous system inflammation that have unknown long term consequences).

Alabama may have abandoned its mask mandate, but the city of Birmingham has not. We were doing really well the last few weeks with one of the lowest levels of transmission in the country (only Arkansas had better numbers) and it will be interesting to see if the dropping of the mask mandate by the state will start leading to an increase around the end of the month. I’m still wearing mine. I’ve gotten used to the thing, other than when trying to march and sing at the same time. The British variant has, as predicted, now become the predominant strain in this country which is a problem given that it’s significantly more transmissable than the original strains. The patterns in high transmission states such as Michigan show that it is spreading rapidly in young, unvaccinated populations. The majority of those folk, being healthy, will weather the storm but there are more and more thirty and forty somethings being admitted to hospitals in dire straights with no prior significant health history. These are people who don’t need to die if we will continue to toe the line just a while longer.

Wear your mask in public, even if no one else does. It sets a good example. Keep your hands washed. Get your vaccine.

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