June 23, 2021

Today is apparently International Widow(er)s Day. The things you learn from social media. It hasn’t quite become a Hallmark holiday. Even Hallmark would likely have difficulty selling greeting cards emblazoned with some variation of Happy Widowhood! on them. It’s not something one really feels like celebrating. It’s just an uncomfortable fact of life that when you have a partnership, if it ends through natural rather than accidental causes, as most do, one is going to survive the other. It’s a state I can’t really recommend. The hardest part about it is no longer having the one other person who knows all your secrets and stories and shared memories no longer there. You can build a new life and new patterns but the keeper of the flame of the old one is gone and the light is out in the temple and later you start to wonder what was real and what was nostalgia as that partnership recedes in the mists of time with no one to help you with a reality check. Steve will have been gone twenty years six weeks from now. So much of our time together is now almost dreamlike as we spent nearly all of it in another state from where we now live and I don’t have a lot of contact with people who knew him on a regular basis. Tommy, having been gone only three years, is much more real and there is a lot of life and people around who knew and loved us as a unit but I know even that will eventually change.

I’m thinking about the hundreds of thousands of new widows and widowers created over the last fifteen months by the pandemic. At least mine happened during relatively normal times when I could be surrounded by people, have proper wake/memorials, take the time I needed to travel and do the things I know that help heal myself. Too many people this year lost a partner to a plague they knew was allowed to spread through governmental inaction, could not be present for the death, could not hold a proper memorial, and then had to retire immediately to the place of their memories as there was no where else for them to go. Just one more piece in the giant pile of mental health issues that COVID-19 is leaving in its wake. As the pandemic wanes and patterns return, those of us in health care are seeing sharp upticks in behavioral issues, depression, anxiety, maladaptive coping mechanisms and all the other frustrating and agonizing parts of the human condition. It’s going to be a long few years and it’s going to take a lot more than prescriptions for Zoloft and Ativan.

We’re at about 603,000 dead as of today. The bodies are no longer piling up by the thousands, only by the tens and twenties, but its still too many as at this point, because with successful vaccines, COVID-19 is essentially a preventable disease. Almost nobody has to die going forward but with about 35% of the population unvaccinated nationwide (closer to 60% in Alabama), the casualties will continue to mount. There are now reports of the Delta variant in numerous places and hot spots are developing in various communities with low vaccination rates. Rural Missouri appears to be spiking currently. With its increased transmissibility, increased virulence, and rapid spread among young and healthy people, there are going to be a lot more young widows and widowers in the coming weeks. Someone is going to have to explain to me why ‘freedom’ is more important than ‘life’ in the minds of those who are of a more conservative bent than I am. I just don’t understand.

I have the long weekend off and I thought perhaps a trip to the beach might be nice. Then I checked the lodging prices. When Motel 6 is over $400 a night, I stay home. I’m assuming that the owners of lodging establishments are attempting to cash in on everyone’s need for busting out of their cocoons of the last year and a half but I’m not sure predatory capitalism is the solution for society’s current ailments. I foresee a lot of people running up some significant debt as they splurge and then having to try and service that debt in an uncertain time. The 1918-19 pandemic helped fire off the Roaring 20s a century ago and we all know how that ultimately turned out for everyone in 1929.

I am not practicing predatory capitalism myself. The book, when it becomes available next month, will be priced at $14.95. I’m not trying to make money off it. I’m just trying to get it out there. If you want to be on my list of people to send teasers and other information to and you don’t think I have your email address, send it to me by DM. I will have a signing event or two in Birmingham for those who really want my terrible handwriting scrawled across the title page.

I haven’t told a story for a bit. Here’s one from a few years ago. Those of you who know me well know I have a bit of a weird GI system (thanks for those genes, Dad) which can act up from time to time. Generally it’s under reasonable control with medication but if it decides to go crazy, not much I can do about it. One of the things it can do is go into acutely painful intestinal spasm. I’ve gotten used to it – given that it’s been happening since I was a teenager – but my autonomic nervous system never has. When it really gets going, is sends my parasympathetic nerves into overdrive which do various things, especially drop my blood pressure causing me to roll up my eyes and faint. During medical school, I once did this in a room with forty medical students and eight attendings. There was a great deal of clamor and I got a free tour of the emergency department on a stretcher. The last time I had a severe attack, I was out shopping for supplies for one of Tommy and my famous cast parties. I had made the rounds – Winn Dixie, Sam’s Club, and, as a last stop, the liquor store. As I headed up to the cashier with my bottles of Cointreau and Amaretto, it hit and, while waiting to pay my bill, down I went in an ashen heap much to the consternation of the cashier and the other patrons. I came too enough to finish my transaction and stumble out the door. I just needed to get to the safety of my car. And down I went again in the rain in the middle of the parking lot. (Fortunately the bottles did not break). This time, I did not come to quickly and the ABC store clerk called the police about a drunk and disorderly. I was woken up by a nice policeman, came to enough to explain that I was a doctor, I was not drunk, I was not stoned, and I knew exactly what was happening. He took me at my word but flatly stated that he wasn’t going to let me drive anywhere. I returned home in the back of the squad car. I got home, took a nap, and then had to explain to Tommy, once he got home, just why we had to go back to the liquor store to pick up my car. He was highly amused. Every time we went to the liquor store together after that, he would inquire innocently if he should catch me as we approached the register. It’s missing the little jokes like that which can make widowhood difficult.

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