This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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The Boy Who Gives Out Toys

Recently a friend of mine posted this video on her Facebook page. It is of a little boy who has lost both his parents, and one day he decided he was sick and tired of seeing everyone around him sad. So he bought a lot of tiny little toys, and started giving them out to random adults. The reactions range from smiles to hugs to tears. It’s a really moving bit of footage. What an amazing kid.

This video brought tears to my eyes, but not for the reason one might expect. It reminded me of a story that my late boyfriend once told me. He said his mother suffered from depression, and as the oldest child living at home, he felt a responsibility to try to do something about it. But he was just a little boy. So he decided to try to make her happy in the way that things made him happy at the time. Whenever he got allowance money, he’d go out and buy a little toy, a trinket, really, and he would give it to her. A little puzzle. A plastic car. Anything, anything, to make her smile.

God, that story still makes me cry. The thought of this powerless little boy trying so hard to make things better for his mom makes me want to travel back in time and hug him. I want to take all his worries away.

It might be a coincidence, but it doesn’t surprise me much that my boyfriend developed severe and debilitating asthma the same year his parents got divorced. He struggled to breathe for the rest of his life, and in the end, that’s what killed him. There was nothing I could have done to stop it as much as I desperately wish I could have, so I sort of understand how that helpless little boy felt.

On the first of his birthdays that we celebrated as a couple, one of the things I got him was a little toy. I wanted to make up for some of the toys he gave away as a child. I think that meant a lot to him.

Rest in Peace, Chuck. You can breathe easy now.

[image credit: wellesleyparade.com]
[image credit: wellesleyparade.com]

The Right to Breathe

When I was about 11 years old, a guy that had a crush on my sister went swimming with us. He was about 18, and his hormones were such that I’m sure he viewed me as a nuisance, just another obstacle blocking his path to the Promised Land. At one point my sister went off to get a snack or take a bathroom break or something, and this boy, who was sitting on the edge of the pool as I was clinging to the side in the deep end, put his hand on top of my head and pushed me under the water and locked his elbow.

I still remember this vividly– watching all my air bubble past my face, feeling my lungs spasm, hearing myself making primal animal-like noises underwater as I struggled and kicked and thrashed and panicked and clawed at his hand  and desperately tried to get to the surface. I got tunnel vision, and the tunnel kept getting darker and darker and smaller and smaller. It felt like it lasted for an eternity. I have never been so terrified or felt so helpless in my entire life. I still have nightmares based on that experience.

Finally he let go of my head because my sister was coming back. I burst to the surface, coughing and gasping and crying hysterically. He laughed. Given his reaction, and her assumption that I tended toward the dramatic, my sister didn’t take the situation at all seriously. I went home crying, and my mother didn’t take it seriously either. But looking back at it from an adult perspective, I’m quite certain that little weasel could have killed me that day. Thank God my sister came back when she did or things could have been quite different. He laughed.

There is nothing worse than not being able to breathe. Nothing. The fact that my boyfriend died all alone while most likely struggling to breathe is something I’ll never get over. I used to help him through his asthma attacks, and the worst part about it was the panic in his eyes. But that last, most critical time, I wasn’t there. He died alone in his truck, clutching his rescue inhaler.

So when I hear Republicans say that waterboarding isn’t torture, or that it’s justified torture, I take it kind of personally. Everyone should have the right to breathe. I don’t think these people understand the waterboarding concept at all. It’s simulated drowning. It’s the same as being held under water. Your air passages fill with water. And when you try to struggle toward the “surface”, that surface is covered in wet cloth.

I once saw an episode of Strangers in Danger where one of the hosts volunteered to be waterboarded to see what it was like. He lasted about 3 seconds, and when he sat up, he looked terrified. He said it was much worse than he thought.

I think every politician who says waterboarding isn’t torture should have to experience it, right in the middle of the rotunda of the House of Representatives. Call it a practical experiment. I strongly suspect that they’d change their minds about the practice right then and there. End of freakin’ debate.

According to The Guardian, a winner of the Pulitzer prize, the recently released Senate report on the torture committed by the CIA includes this description:

“At times Abu Zubaydah was described as ‘hysterical’ and ‘distressed to the level that he was unable effectively to communicate’. Waterboarding sessions ‘resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms’ and ‘hysterical pleas’. In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth’ … Abu Zubaydah remained unresponsive until medical intervention, when he regained consciousness and ‘expelled copious amounts of liquid’.”

The Guardian further stated: The CIA doctor overseeing the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said that the prisoner was ingesting so much water that he or she was no longer concerned that regurgitated gastric acid was likely to damage his oesophagus. But, the doctor warned, the CIA should start using saline, because his electrolytes were becoming too diluted.

My first thought is, what kind of a doctor would participate in that sort of treatment? Whatever happened to “first, do no harm”? And he or she was being paid with our tax dollars.

That there is even a question in any civilized human being’s mind that this treatment is torture makes me weep for humanity. And that’s but one of the grisly tales in that report. Standing on broken limbs, rectal rehydration, sleep deprivation, beatings, detainment in coffin-sized boxes, and hypothermia are only the tip of the iceberg. If this is what we are capable of as a society, then all is truly lost. I’m sickened.

But I’m hardly one to talk. What happened to that 18 year old boy who tried to drown me? He stopped coming around for some reason. It probably had something to do with the fact that he stopped by to visit my sister one day when I was the only one home, and I kicked him so hard in the stomach that I actually felt my toes going underneath his rib cage. As he stood doubled over, gasping for air, I quietly shut the door. I never saw him again.

water-boarding

[Image credit: fitsnews.com]

How the Republicans Helped Kill my Boyfriend

Today would have been my boyfriend’s 59th birthday. He had tons of health issues. In the year before his death I had either called 911 or driven him to the emergency room on 5 occasions. Most nights we didn’t sleep fully because he couldn’t breathe. In fact he had to fight for nearly every breath he took. It was heartbreaking to witness.

When the Affordable Care Act came along I heaved a huge sigh of relief because I thought that finally he would have the health insurance he so desperately needed, and perhaps get some continuity of care for a change instead of these spot checks by harried emergency room doctors and yet another bill to add to the 90,000 dollars’ worth of medical debt that he had racked up and would never be able to repay.

Unfortunately, due to his declining health his income had declined as well. Because of his low income, he didn’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act insurance. In a just and decent world, he would have then been able to get Medicaid. But no. We were in a red state, Florida, and that meant that Rick Scott, the evil republican governor, refused to accept the federal funding that would allow the Medicaid program to expand enough to accept people like my boyfriend who fell between the cracks. In fact it widened the crack considerably.

This meant that my boyfriend was in the awkward position of being too poor for Affordable Care and too rich for Medicaid. So he continued to have no insurance at all. Until that fateful day when it was no longer needed.

They found his body in his truck in front of the pharmacy just a few blocks from home. He was clutching his rescue asthma inhaler. What a horrible, lonely, terrifying way to go.

I will never know what happened that day, but I will always think that if he had been able to get adequate medical care, if his asthma and his heart issues could have been brought under control, the love of my life would still be alive. And the only thing that stood between him and that medical care was a republican governor who was trying to make a political point. And the final bitter irony is that my boyfriend was many things, but a democrat was not one of them.

Make no mistake: any political party that is willing to risk peoples’ lives just so they can try to make a president’s initiative look bad and therefore garner more votes for their party is evil. Republicans do not care whether you live or die. They just care about manipulating your vote. People are dying in red states. Fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, sisters, and daughters. They’re dying because they can’t get the insurance that would easily be available to them if these republican governors accepted the available federal funding. And they’ve left behind loved ones who can vote.

So please vote tomorrow. Please. Do it for my boyfriend and for the many other people like him.

RickScott

Rick Scott, you creepy, lizard-like man with no conscience, j’accuse.

Why I Will Always Shop at CVS Pharmacy

I’m not someone who sets great store in brand or company loyalty. I don’t even buy American necessarily. Nor do I subscribe to the concept that large conglomerations care about the consumer. The only thing they care about is that our money continues to flow in their direction.

But something happened recently that will make me loyal to CVS Pharmacy for the rest of my life. They decided that they will stop selling tobacco products as of October 1 of this year. This is the second largest pharmacy chain in the United States, and they anticipate losing 2 billion dollars a year in revenue by making this move, but they’re doing it anyway. They felt it wasn’t in keeping with their image of being purveyors of health and wellness.

I can’t remember the last time I heard of a corporation doing the right thing. And this right thing took a lot of chutzpah. Granted, 2 billion dollars constitutes less than 2 percent of their annual sales, but to risk alienating all of their smoking customers? That’s unprecedented, and I couldn’t be more impressed.

Whether you are a smoker or like me you are someone who has had to stand by helplessly while someone you love participates in that slow but inevitable death, I’m sure you have a story about how tobacco has negatively impacted your life. I suspect CVS is banking on the fact that a lot of consumers will be like me and support them with our loyalty, but that’s quite a leap of faith when most businesses would much rather err on the side of caution.

My mother had emphysema and died of cancer. One of my earliest memories of her was of her morning smoker’s hack. That made me never smoke. I’ve seen many people die over the years due to their tobacco use, and it frustrates me no end. I’ve watched the cigarette companies target the most vulnerable among us: young people, minorities, and people in third world countries. I’ve seen people with asthma suffer just from the proximity of smoke. I’ve seen arguments ensue over where smoking is acceptable, and I’ve seen disgusting cigarette butts in every imaginable place.

I realize that smokers will simply go elsewhere to buy their cigarettes now, but if even one person is delayed from smoking for just an hour, it’s worth it. If one sneaky smoking kid is inconvenienced because the CVS is the only thing within walking distance, hip hip hooray!

Whether CVS’ motivations are pure matters to me not at all. What I love most about this is that an influential nationwide company is sending a message that cigarettes are bad for your health and they aren’t going to participate in providing them to the public anymore. That’s a message that everyone should be sending.

My only question for CVS is, why wait until October 1? Yank them off the shelves now!!!

CVS

[Image credit: onenewspage.us]