March 3, 2022

War Damage in Ukraine

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Covid continues to recede both locally and nationally so let’s have a land war in central Europe and start shelling a nuclear reactor. I really have to stop reading my news feeds. They’re enough to drive anyone slightly batty. Fortunately, spring is in the air, the day has been lovely with the daffodils all coming up, the Japanese magnolias in full bloom, and the forsythia starting to come out. We’ll be in full pastel season in about another three or four weeks. It’s happening earlier than it used to. When I moved to Birmingham nearly a quarter century ago, the spring bloom tended to peak around the second week of April. Now it’s often the third or fourth week of March – global warming I presume. I may spend my dotage in a beachfront condo with a subtropical clime without having to actually move should the more dire predictions hold true.

The lovely spring weather and the reduction in Covid cases and reporting on Covid have led to a wholesale shedding of masks and activity restrictions in a lot of places. Is the pandemic over? I don’t think so. The coronavirus likely has a couple of nasty surprises left that are going to clobber us just when we think all is over and done. I’m expecting at least one more significant variant with either heightened transmissibility or heightened virulence sometime in the next few months. There’s too large a reservoir of unvaccinated individuals out there, and not just in the US, for something else not to rear its ugly head. There’s also the potential for some mixing and matching with other viruses in animal hosts and something entirely new arising somewhere. In the meantime, I’m planning on taking advantage of some of the weather over the weekend with some outdoor activity. It’s time for a visit to the botanical gardens and maybe even the zoo.

Crowd at Pro Truck Rally

As war in Ukraine pushes Covid off of everyone’s news feed, I worry a bit about some new wrinkle not getting the public attention it will need when it arises and additional people getting sick and dying that need not because of a combination of ignorance and indifference. On the positive side, war has also pushed a lot of the antivaccination nonsense off of the public radar as well. Attempts to gather truck conveys to replicate the siege in Ottowa that dominated the news cycle last month have been an abysmal failure. Lack of attention plus a sudden spike in gas prices have put paid to those shenanigans. I saw photos somewhere of a rally in support where fewer than two dozen people turned up. It was rather sad, sort of like the birthday party that none of the invitees bothered to attend.

I received notification this week that the book is a finalist for a couple of other awards. I’ll know in a few weeks if it actually won any of them. It’s nice to know that one’s efforts are appreciated but the whole thing still feels a little surreal. When it comes to my writing, the impostor syndrome continues to loom large and I have a hard time believing that anyone is truly interested. Interested or not, I have begun work on a second volume of The Accidental Plague Diaries covering 2021. I have a goal of having some supplemental material written by the end of the month. As I don’t have anything theatrical in the hopper, that should be possible. I need to write some passaged that my editor and I refer to as ‘explainer’ topics – the rants where I set forth the history and workings of various aspects of the health care system. If anyone has a favorite thing that I haven’t tackled and it’s in my wheelhouse, drop me a line and I’ll add it to my list of things to prep.

I haven’t told any good stories lately. Probably because in the nearly four years I’ve been writing these entries, I’ve used up all my best stories at some point. Sorry about that. I’ve had some interesting things happen in my life, but it hasn’t been an unending well of incident. The news out of Eastern Europe has me thinking back over my experience of war. I, like most Americans, have been relatively untouched by the cataclysms of combat. The last major conflict on American soil was 160 years ago and I don’t think we realize how lucky we are that our infrastructure and cities has remained intact for well over a century. As I’ve been seeing stories of bombing in Ukraine, it seems incomprehensible and I imagine that’s how it felt to my grandparents when they saw newsreels of Germany invading Poland or the Japanese invading China in the late 1930s, before the US was drawn into the conflict. Some of my first memories of national politics are of war. I was born shortly before the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam was in full swing during my young childhood. I think my first memory of Vietnam and what it meant was seeing the famous photo of the ‘napalm girl’ on the front page of the Seattle Times. Kim Phuc and I are roughly the same age and seeing a child of my age naked and screaming in pain as she ran down the road to escape the flames still haunts me. I remember my mother trying to explain how this could happen to children and being pretty much at a loss for words. For those of you who knew my mother, you know that was a rare occurrence indeed.

My childhood understanding of Vietnam, which included seing the huge antiwar demonstrations, were enough to turn me off of the military. I was the first year that had to register for selective service on turning 18. I did it using my college PO Box as my address figuring that would take the powers that be some time to find me and I studiously avoided anything that smacked of the military through my young adult life. Of course, some of that also had to do with my closeted gay self in a time even before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ when gay people were routinely drummed out of the military simply for being themselves.

My first adult experience of war was the Gulf War of 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US went in to restore the status quo. It didn’t affect me much as a third year medical resident other than, once again, not really having the psychic tools with which to process my feelings. Steve and I had been together a couple of years at that time and he helped me with that as he had been an adult in the Vietnam era. As an out gay man from the age of fourteen, he was not wanted by the military in the sixties and had never had to serve. His older brother had gone and returned with significant psychological damage. Some of my fellow residents, who had used military scholarships to pay for their medical education, were shocked to find themselves plucked out of their residency programs and bundled off to the Middle East. I had little sympathy. You take their money, you play by their rules.

Decades later, having seen Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and lots of other conflicts, major and minor, I no longer get personally upset by images of death and destruction. It’s old hat and part of the human condition and has been going on since time immemorial. We’ve just traded in broadswords and javelins for howitzers and hyperbaric bombs. I can’t do anything about it. I can just support the younger generation who are processing what I had to process at that age, make appropriate donations for war and refugee relief, and put my energy on the side of moral right.

Хай Живе Вільна Україна

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