Corona-rama Diaries: Week 2

Friday, March 20: Trump Slump

The financial market “Trump Bump” is gone. The DJIA closed at 19,174 an implosion of 35% from its all-time high last month and erasing all the market gains since he took office. Yesterday I read that some economists expect a 12 percent decline Q2 (which would be the biggest quarterly contraction on record), yet today Goldman Sachs estimate a 24 percent drop in Q2. It’s becoming clear this will devastate the economy.

And even worse, the Trump Bump-on-a-Log is not gone. Yesterday he asked states not to report exact jobless claim figures since they are expected to be crushingly high. Goldman Sachs predicts unemployment filings to rise to 2.25 million next week. While the “Fake News” president tries to suppress the facts, no one will be able to hide from those if true.

Congress still is scrambling to cobble together a $1 trillion economic stabilization package. Already the federal aid is well over $2 trillion. By comparison, Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus package was $787 billion ($948 billion in today’s dollars). Not a single Republican in the House voted for it and only three in the Senate. That’s not Fake News.

And it was the Republican’s reckless stewardship that led to the Great Recession. The Recovery Act then was major catalyst for the fiscally conservative (and socially nutty) Tea Party movement and the retaking of the House in 2010 after winning 63 Republican seats, the largest mid-term loss of any party since 1938. The 2020 election is right around the corner and right now it’s anybody’s guess how that will turn out but I’d be sweating if I were a Republican.

We started the day with 10,000 confirmed cases in the United States, and at bedtime it’s well over 19,000. Nearly doubled in a day. Today more states issued “stay at home” orders (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois) which affects about 1 in 4 Americans.

Meanwhile on the home front (i.e. my apartment), we’re settling into the routines of confinement. I doing YouTube yoga almost daily and most lunch hours I get outside for either a run or bike ride, which is not only allowed but encouraged.

Today I rode around Mount Soledad on the Rose Canyon bike path, through UC San Diego campus (pretty vacant) and along the La Jolla coast. 18 miles at nearly 18 m.p.h. I worked up a good sweat, cleared my mind and relished the outdoors. And absolutely beautiful weather with sunshine dancing upon the wavy Pacific Ocean.

I was surprised to see so many cars out on the roads since most of the stores and offices are closed; I suspect many are just tired of being cooped up at home and need to go for a drive. And a good number of cyclists and runners, too. We’re Southern Californians so fitness is part of our DNA. Yet everyone seems to be taking social distancing seriously with wide berth as we pass on sidewalks and fairly empty beaches.

It’s alarming how different it is in Florida with reports of large beach gatherings and packed bars for Spring Break. Paul’s mom Liz says that life has been normal all week — the pool is full of kids on break, her friends are playing cards daily, and yesterday 30 went to a restaurant for a “Ladies Luncheon”. Paul has been trying to talk serious sense into her and stay home unless absolutely necessary (she’s 84). He did the math and estimates that 75 people in her park could die from this based on current trends.

I’ve been trying to get a good night’s sleep but lately I’ve been more restless as this continues to weigh mentally. We’re eating healthfully, with lots of home-cooked meals, vegetables and natural snack foods. I’m definitely eating better than before the virus (I’m doing a weekly weigh-in to see how my weight trends during the pandemic). Yet our large dinner salads may end soon as it’s getting riskier to go out and buy fresh produce.

Gallo pinto con huevo y picante… que sabrosura!

At work we finished our week with a virtual happy hour — four of us on a video conference, beers, and no office talk. A poor substitute to actually being together in a bar but a start. It’s good we did this, and we’ll need to make more efforts in coming weeks.

Saturday, March 21:

I woke up with a sore throat. Yikes. But there’s no fever but I do feel fairly washed today. I think it’s allergies, Paul says the pollen count is high and I do feel the effects each year.

I can’t believe how quickly this day passed. I woke up early, learned how to make the Perfect Pourover coffee (thanks to Barista Paul!), did a 33-mile bicycle ride, 30-minute yoga and cooked an easy split-pea soup for dinner. And voilà… the day is done!

More oven-hot cookies to enjoy after my spin

Starbucks has closed all its cafes across the USA. This could be the first recession that starts in the service sector (historically these are first felt in manufacturing). Another novelty of this novel coronavirus.

Paul’s Perfect Pour Over:
1. Rinse filter with boiling water
2. Fill with two scoops ground coffee
3. Bloom the grounds then pour in slow circles
4. Fill cup with delicious brew and enjoy!

The border to Mexico and Canada was closed to all but essential travel this weekend. Today we were to travel to Valle de Guadalupe (Baja California’s wine country) with our Aussie friend Michael, but alas this is now postponed until August (fingers crossed).

CLOSED: Mount Soledad and Cabrillo National Monument

The sun is setting now, we’re on the balcony. There’s a sailboat slowing heading north. Aaaahh to be buoyant and breezy on a sailboat now, veggie soup cooking in the galley, a neat rum in hand and this whole coronavirus a mainland mess, out of sight and out of mind…

Safe social distancing at Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach

Sunday, March 22:

I woke early around 4:30 AM with restless thoughts. Today it hit me a bit more than usual, this will be difficult to bear in the coming weeks and months even if Paul and I stay healthy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now in self quarantine; Senator Rand Paul tested positive today, joining two Congressmen confirmed positive last week. I know no one yet impacted directly by COVID-19. But I know I will, probably soon.

The death count is increasing. San Diego county reported its first fatality today; there are 205 cases — which seems low but yesterday it was 135 (and 65% of cases are for people younger than me!). I’ve heard the COVID-19 death rate is roughly 10x that of the common flu and globally 3.4% of reported cases were fatal. Yet I look at Italy which right now has 59,138 confirmed cases and 5,476 deaths — a 9.3% fatality rate. Closer to home, the United States has 33,000+ cases (just two days ago the national total surpassed 10,000). This spike is due to a marked increase in testing which shows how rapidly the virus is spreading. New York state has 15,000 cases (half the USA total) and is now considered an epicenter for the virus with 5% of the world’s total.

Which is where Paul is scheduled to fly on Tuesday: LAX–JFK, right into America’s current “red zone”. There are only 4 booked on his flight, a 2-1 crew-to-passenger ratio. His safety is a top concern (and by extension me in our apartment) and it amazes me that his company is still flying all scheduled flights with basically empty airplanes — putting employees at risk, wasting jet fuel and unnecessarily polluting the environment. More craziness in already crazy times.

We meta Tina and Paul (our British expat friends) for a leisurely bike ride along the Mission Beach bike path and were amazed how many people were out. Yesterday on my ride to Cabrillo National Monument and through Ocean Beach I was impressed how people seemed to be taking the Governor’s “stay at home” order.

Fairly empty Robb Field Skate Park and near Ocean Beach Pier — normally packed places on a Saturday afternoon

But in Pacific Beach today we tried to maintain the safe “social distancing” recommendations of 6-feet but it was impossible on the congested boardwalk. In a sense it’s great that people are enjoying the outdoors and as fitness enthusiasts I would expect this of Southern Californians, but today it seemed senseless given the state order to avoid crowds.

Safely six feet apart!

The four of us were resting and chatting (at a safe distance from one another) at Mission Point Park when a police vehicle appeared and announced via bullhorn for the parking lot to be emptied. At first we though there was a new order to close parks and restrict outdoor access further (similar to what is happening in Italy) but thankfully just vehicular access to beaches and parks are restricted due to concern for crowding.

If everyone just responsibly spread out (and not congregate in the “logical” places like beaches and parks) everyone will be safe and no one will have to be confined to their homes. Yet I fully expect more limitations as this crisis deepens. It will be particularly hard on me since so much of my mental health depends on outdoor physical activity.

I won’t be going back to the Mission Beach area anytime soon. I’ll stick to the side streets of Pacific Beach and La Jolla from now on.

Verboten! Tourmaline Beach, a surfer mecca, outside my apartment closed for gatherings of any size

It felt great to see friends in person underscoring the need to maintain social interactions however possible. But it seemed all we talked about was coronavirus, coronavirus and more coronavirus. It’s on all our minds now, so much that’s uncertain, so much that’s scary and so much that’s unknown. It’s all there is on the news, it’s all anyone talks about out on the streets, it’s what’s discussed in email, texts and work video conferences. Which is why today it hit me. Maybe this is the first weekend that has been really impacted; no real plans, no weekend visits to Mom, activities curtailed, even the normal places we go like cafes for morning coffee or Oscar’s Tacos for the best baja-style fish tacos ever — are no longer options. Our routine has hit a wall.

Of course, this is also an opportunity to go “back to basics” and in some ways we’re cooking at home more (actually always) and prioritizing sleep and things like reading and writing this blog. But there are other things I want to spend more time on like playing the piano and ukulele, learn to skateboard better, even sit on the beach (safely!) a couple of times a week. But it’s hard breaking into a new routine since I feel so consumed by this pandemic’s progress: the counts, the news, the politics, the economics. I am starting to crave some normalcy amidst these unprecedentedly abnormal times, and I am hopeful that with each passing week this will make more sense and I’ll adjust bit by bit

Coronavirus Chow Hall: Dining in the age of COVID-19

Monday, March 23:

We both slept like crap last night. I was restless with coronavirus dreams: social distancing while jogging, freezer stuffed with food, disinfectant wipes on knobs and handles… Most days I wake pre-dawn and thankfully the Kindle eases me back to sleep.

Many predict this is the week the pandemic will kick into high gear in the US. New York city is already a world epicenter. There’s concern of critical medical supply shortages. Trump signals in tweets that he wants to ease restrictions.

Yet the world is doubling down. The Spanish government announced that 12 percent of those testing positive for the virus were health care workers and there’s widespread concern the health system will be overrun, if not collapse due to continued exponential growth of new infections. There are viral videos on social media of Spanish doctors in tears telling older patients that they need to take them off ventilators to save the lives of younger patients.

In Germany, fines up to €25,000 have been introduced for people who break the rules. In the United Kingdom, the previously blasé Prime Minister Johnson has now issued enforceable restrictions effectively shuttering businesses, schools, public gatherings of more than two. “You must stay at home” he told the nation. In Italy, the number of cases is creeping precariously close to China’s total with no end in sight.

It’s hard not to feel distressed by all this alarming news. Yet there’s little else to distract us while we’re stuck in our homes, discouraged from visiting friends and loved ones, adjusting to new routines like wiping down door handles, regularly checking my temperature and changing into “outdoor clothes” when venturing outside.

The New York Times had a practical article today, 10 Ways to Ease Your Coronavirus Anxiety, with coping mechanisms to help us remain centered during these turbulent times:

  • Know the facts
  • Put the pandemic in perspective
  • Identify the source(s) of your anxiety
  • Refrain from shaming and blaming
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Don’t procrastinate about preparing for the worst
  • Connect, connect, connect
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Don’t skip the self-care
  • Don’t let fear and anxiety become pandemics, too

And I’ll add a simple new rule for me which I believe will greatly help: no mobile phone or computer browsing after 8 PM.

After my first full work week and weekend of home isolation, I am feeling how much harder this is going to be.

But there’s much to be thankful for:

  • I love the healthy home-cooked meals that make my tummy happy.
  • I love our balcony which affords expansive ocean views, lively hummingbirds and flourishing herbs.
  • I love the time I can walk, run and cycle in the sunshine and fresh air. I love the YouTube yoga I do most late afternoons with the sun pouring through the apartment windows.
  • I love the escape of good books on my Kindle (I just finished Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and engaging television (we’re currently engrossed with The Crown on Netflix).
  • And most importantly, I’m love that Paul and I are together through this and so far we’re getting along well and supporting each other, as we have for the past 23 years.
Even in the wind and rain, the back view is beauteous.

Tuesday, March 24:

Susan (Bulkley) Deveaux

January 31, 1943 — March 23, 2020

Wednesday, March 25:

Mom passed away late Monday night. I had just finished the last of my work and while Paul was making dinner, I called her house to check in. Ray answered the phone and sounded flustered. He told me that mom was just rushed to Eisenhower Medical Center in an ambulance. About half an hour earlier she complained of a sudden headache and collapsed on the sofa. Ray tried to steady her but she quickly went unconscious.

It sounded serious. Ray left to follow her to the hospital. After an emotional hug from Paul, I started packing. Ray called from the ER and told me to come immediately. The doctors said the CT scan revealed severe bleeding in most of her brain. She would likely not recover.

As Paul drove, I called the ER nurse and she confirmed the gravity of Mom’s condition. She wouldn’t make it through the night and was being kept on life support until our arrival. I made it clear that I didn’t want her life prolonged on my sake if there were a chance she would suffer in any way. The nurse assured me she was not in pain and that they had started her on a fentanyl drip to sedate her further.

It was a long 2.5 hours to reach Palm Desert. On the road I called Erik and shared the news and he seemed to take it reasonably well. All so sudden, a shock for us all. I promised Erik I would call again when I was with Mom at the hospital.

The emergency room was on lockdown due to the pandemic. The attendant at the screening station outside the building knew we were coming so escorted us into the building but we were still stopped by a police officer but when I said “end of life situation” we were immediately cleared to enter.

Mom was alive but not conscious with a ventilator keeping her breathing, Ray looking depleted beside her but holding up. We talked to Mom, I touched her hair and held her hand. With tenderness, the attending doctor told me the prognosis and that when we were ready they would remove the ventilator and let my mother recede on her own. The nurse gently explained that some patients go fairly quickly and some may take several hours to pass.

We spent some more time with her. I phoned Erik and explained what was happening and how she looked. I told Mom Erik was here and relayed his love to her. Erik shared some more with Mom. And we sat together as a family one last time with our beloved wife and mother.

The ER staff removed the ventilator and left us alone. We surrounded Mom with our love. Ray and I held her hands, they were warm and real. She breathed, her pulse still strong. We held her in silence, I kissed her on the cheek, told her I loved her so much and will continue to for all my days. We gave Ray space to say his farewell.

Mom slowly and quietly let go, exiting this life at 11:47 PM on March 23, 2020. She was held by those she most loved and I felt her presence and love flowing through us until the very end.

Today I wrote to family and friends to share the sad news:

Subject: Susan Deveaux (1943-2020)

Dear family and friends,

I’m very sorry to share that our dear mom, Susan Deveaux, passed away peacefully late Monday night at the age of 77. She suffered a severe stroke after dinner and fortunately she felt no pain. At the hospital she was surrounded by family love — her husband Ray, my partner Paul and I with my brother Erik on the phone from Minneapolis. It was a beautiful moment; we held her warm hands, smiled and said farewell. She slipped away as sweetly and lightly as she lived her life, a final blessing from her to all of us.

Mom struggled with stage 4 breast cancer for nearly a year and a half and despite her difficulties she remained herself: calm, uncomplaining and always cheerful. Her health declined noticeably in recent months with less time for friends, fewer walks outside, less energy during the day. There were more trips to urgent care, changes in medicine and increased pain. Yet she enjoyed life in her beautiful desert home with blooming flowers in the backyard and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Ray was always by her side and provided tremendous support to ensure that she was comfortable and loved in every moment.

We are all doing okay but the suddenness is still a shock. I am deeply saddened yet relieved that Mom is no longer in pain. She touched all of us in her lifelong journey from Dubuque to Boston to Minneapolis to Mexico and finally to California. I am so thankful that up to the moment of her passing Mom was happy, engaged in the world and in her books and crosswords, always ready with a smile and kiss on the cheek. I miss her greatly but we’re blessed with many wonderful memories to carry us forward.

With love, —Peter.

Thursday, March 26:

A strange, sad week. Both the “real” world and my personal world have turned upside down. I was sad all day, probably because there wasn’t a lost of things to do and take care of and I was still off work. Which meant more time to miss Mom.

Just a whirlwind of coronavirus developments. The US now has the most confirmed cases in the world. Our nation is now the epicenter of the pandemic. In New York City, cases double every three days and there are reports of severe medical supplies and ventilator sharing among the ill. A third of the world’s population lives under coronavirus-related restrictions — India is on full lockdown.

New York state requested federal assistance in acquiring 30,000 ventilators to manage the exponential spike in new cases. Trump publicly questions the need for this, Governor Cuomo slams his reaction as “ignorant” and “uninformed.” On Tuesday Trump said he wants the United States “opened up and raring to go by Easter.” If the virus spread is not stopped, many economists now say the country could enter a depression. And of course many more lives will be lost.

Trump is dangerous and a threat to the world. He is irresponsible, not fit for office and must be stopped. He combats national leaders and recklessly shuns scientific counsel. He blames everyone but himself. For two months he denied that coronavirus was a serious problem and, among his many lies, he claimed that the number of cases was falling. His inaction will result in the unnecessary death of thousands (if not millions) of Americans. Get rid of him now and let the health experts and scientists run this.

His poll numbers are up 2% — astounding. America gets what it deserves.

Today the Department of Labor announced 3.3 million unemployment claims were filed in the US in the past week, the highest number in history. Yet the stock market closed up on hopes of passing of the $2 trillion federal stimulus bill — it’s recovered 20% since Monday.

It’s been hard to keep up all the latest details given the shock of my mom’s sudden passing. And that’s fine — no need to heap more sorrow on me right now.

Today I felt a fuller sadness over Mom. I wasn’t motivated to exercise, I had planned to to spend my first “free” day on a long, coastal bicycle ride which I love so much. But I was just felt benumbed and low energy and I could muster strength for a walk along the La Jolla coast.

Which immediately had me remembering a great walk Mom and I took together in 2016 on the same ocean-front streets. She was in San Diego to follow up on her heart tests with a Mexican cardiologist that showed coronary artery disease. So I was on a tear to get her exercising: got her a Fitbit to count her steps, took brisk walks which included high-intensity interval training, even ankle/wrist weights to build strength.

Tourmaline Beach 2016

I must have been persistent in pushing her along those daily walks, but in retrospect it was good time together. I remember on the first La Jolla walk we reached Hermosa Park past Bird Rock which was 1.5 miles from my house and she was delighted by the distance. It was a beautiful day with sunshine, cute cottage homes and gardens galore. We laughed when a friendly cat walked right up to me and when I stooped to pet her she jumped right on my shoulders, purring away.

It was a an ordinary visit, just the two of us together — no conflict, good times and plenty of warmth in everything we did. But extraordinary also because throughout my adulthood we remained exceptionally close: we were in regular contact, we saw each other often and we shared all of the important things — good and bad. At a certain point in my life, and I’m not exactly sure when, Mom stopped being a parent and became a best friend.

Tourmaline Beach 2020

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