Monthly Archives: April 2020

Number Six

When he awoke, his head hurt. The drizzly fog of sleep thinned and parted. Rays of reality sliced through the departing clouds of his mind, and he gradually regained the ability to think clearly. But his head still hurt. Felt like a fever.

A realization stung him like a slap in the face. This could be number six! He shuddered. But he knew it would come one day. How could anyone escape number six?

He tried to think positive. Maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t it. Perhaps it was only a head cold. He stumbled into the bathroom and examined his eyes in the mirror of the medicine cabinet. They were bloodshot. Not a good sign.

Below the quartz countertop of the vanity was a drawer, which he slid open with his left hand, while steadying himself with his right, next to the sink. Shaky fingers extracted a thermometer that had been in his wife’s mouth and his own mouth many times before. “May God rest her soul,” his lips murmured.

A minute later he pulled it out and read 99. Not too bad. Probably just a head cold. He returned it to its home and slowly slid the drawer closed.

He walked to work, a grocery store, a mere two blocks from his home. Before this all started he’d been a waiter. But after all the restaurants were shut down, he’d spent two years unemployed, on government assistance.

His restaurant never reopened, but a job did, at the grocery store, and he was next in line. Employment was practically mandatory, because the offer of a job always meant the end of one’s assistance check, whether the job was accepted or not. He needed money, so he accepted the job.

That was a year ago. Covid-19 had been ravaging his world for three full years now. It was stumping science. After three years, the experts were still scratching their heads. What few experts remained. They knew a lot more about it now than they did when the pandemic began, but they weren’t anywhere close to a cure or effective vaccine.

He rubbed his forehead as a maskless pedestrian passed closely by, brushing his shoulder. Masks had been proven unhelpful at preventing transmission, and most people had stopped using them. Social distancing rules were still in effect, but more and more people ignored them these days, with a fatalistic “what’s the use?” attitude.

The morning sky was so blue it stunned him, and managed to stimulate his mood to a slightly lighter side from the persistent heavy sadness of his heart. He noticed more birds flying around than he’d ever seen before in the city. And the overgrown yards of the homes where nobody lived anymore, hinted of a revivifying forest.

He passed through the parting doors of the supermarket, headed for the back, and within minutes was assigned his first task of the day. Canned beans were running low, and someone had to restock them.

“Hey Terrance!” a man tapped his shoulder as he was settling three cans onto a shelf. He turned and faced Lamont, a former co-worker at the restaurant. “Finally got beans in, huh? I’ll take a few.” Lamont leaned over Terrance’s kneeling figure and pulled the same three cans off, and dropped them in his cart.

“How you been, Lamont?”

“Fine, fine, how about you?”

“Oh, alright.” He didn’t want to admit to his headache and 99 degree fever. That sort of news sometimes freaked people out.

Lamont held up four fingers. “Four times, man, four times I’ve had it. How about you?”

“Five, I think.”

“Five?! Oh shit man, watch out. Hey, if you get it a sixth time, I hope you break a record,” Lamont said with both pity and hope.

One of the few things scientists had discovered about the coronavirus was that nobody survived more than five known infections. The sixth time, for those who managed to make it to a sixth time, was always fatal.

“Thanks. See ya around, Lamont.” He turned back to his box of beans and resumed restocking, not wanting his eyes to betray the fear of death.

Returning home that evening, Terrance thought he heard a wolf howl far off in the darkling twilight, and quickened his step. There’d been rumors of wolf sightings, but it seemed unbelievable to have such large, wild predators prowling the city. Mother Nature couldn’t be recovering that quickly, he reasoned. Impossible.

He shut the door behind him. Safe now, from wolves or whatever was out there. Safe. Safe from all but the invisible enemy. He rubbed the palms of his hands on his burning forehead. He felt tired. His body ached all over. More so than it should.

Into the bathroom he trudged, to the drawer that held the thermometer that had portended his wife’s death. And she after only three times! Why had he lasted through five? Who knew? No one knew.

What scientists did know, was that each infection was followed by antibodies. But those antibodies only protected people for about four to twelve months. And each reinfection weakened the body more and more, like a cannonade cracking the ramparts of a castle. Infections left survivors with permanently damaged lungs, hearts, kidneys, and other organs, creating within them underlying conditions.

Those who already had underlying conditions often died from their first infection. For healthier victims, it usually took two, three, four, five, and rarely six. Nobody had ever been known to survive six infections. Number six always broke the castle walls down.

He shook the mercury to the bottom with a few flicks of his wrist, then stuck the thermometer under his tongue. He studied his ridiculous reflection in the mirror, with the glass stick jutting out from between his lips. He pulled it out and examined the result.

101 degrees.

Terrance didn’t bother putting the glass stick away. He just left it sitting in a puddle of his saliva, on the quartz countertop.

His body was warm, but he felt cold. In fact, he felt like he was freezing. And he was so tired. He wanted nothing more than to snuggle into his bed, under some deep, warm covers, and rest his aching muscles.

Hunger had fled his stomach. He only wanted rest. And so, within minutes, Terrance found himself crawling between sheets and sinking into the comfort of his mattress. He’d neglected to draw the curtains of his bedroom window, but felt too tired and achy to care.

Glancing out the window as he adjusted blankets around his shivering body and head, Terrance caught the vestigial red glow of a recently submerged sunset. He finished adjusting and stopped moving, readying himself for sleep. He coughed a few times.

His tussive fit died down, and a silence enswathed him like heavy cloth. Outside, no city sounds seeped through his window. Just an eldritch quiet, that perfused every molecule of the universe.

Except that somewhere, way off in the dark, between starlight and a wilderness of trees and vacant homes, there drifted a faint howling.

Trump’s Agenda

Carolyn, at joyroses13.wordpress.com, has submitted a Unicorn Beam. Thank you Carolyn, I need all the help I can get. Carolyn has sent us the agenda for our president’s daily COVID-19 press conferences.

Although this agenda seems accurate, it may also be outdated. It seems that after Trump’s last press conference, where he suggested that we drink disinfectant, The Orange One has decided to lay low and discontinue his little standups. For how long, who knows? Hopefully forever.

But in case he returns, and you need some guidance to follow along and understand the confusion, here’s the agenda:

The Good & The Bad, as of 4/25/20

Bad news about Covid-19 seems to spread as fast as the virus itself. But there’s also been good news. So I’ve combined the latest good and bad news, to help us keep a balanced perspective:

Good News:
On April 23rd, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the pandemic is fast turning into a human rights crisis, and he warned that any emergency measures must be “legal, proportionate, necessary, and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.” At last, we finally have a world leader advocating for human rights!

Bad News:
Everyone seems to have ignored the U.N. Secretary General, in my view, except Sweden and the state of South Dakota. Also, the weather is damned cold in Sweden and South Dakota. If you lived there, you’d want to stay at home anyways.


Bad News:
A test of antibodies in residents of New York City indicates that 21% of the population have had the coronavirus. Apparently, it’s been spreading all over the place.

Good News:
The virus spreading all over the place could very well increase herd immunity, reducing the likelihood of a major second wave of infections.

Also, the population of New York City is over 8 million. If 21% of NYC residents have had the coronavirus, that equates to about 1,680,000 infected residents. As of this writing, NYC’s death toll from the virus is about 10,000. This equates to 1 death for every 168 infections, or a death rate of about 0.6%. This is far lower than many alarming death rates that have been reported, such as 2.1% or 6%.

And given that those age 50 or older are dying at about 27 times the rate of those under 50, it would appear that young, healthy people have little to fear from the coronavirus. Yes, there are news stories of young people dying, but these cases seem to be rare exceptions.


Bad News:
President Trump recently suggested that injecting disinfectant into the body might kill the coronavirus.

Good News:
According to subscribers of the theory of Social Darwinism, this suggestion by Trump could result in the culling of millions of idiots from our country’s population. This will improve the overall intelligence of our nation, and ensure Trump’s defeat in November.

Memento Mori:
I’m not a doctor nor the president, but I have this medical advice for those inclined to regard our president as a doctor: Do NOT ingest or inject yourself with disinfectant! It will kill you! No matter how much you may love the president, please acknowledge that at least occasionally he can be wrong. It will kill you! I repeat, it will kill you! 💀💀💀

Bluetooth Contact Tracing

Imagine your cellphone contacting all the cellphones in your near vicinity, without your knowledge. Actually this happens all the time. The Bluetooth chips in our cellphones constantly send out query signals for other Bluetooth-enabled devices. This is how a cellphone pairs with ear buds, or with a car’s entertainment system, or with another cellphone.

If your phone doesn’t recognize a cellphone that it’s queried, it quickly deletes that phone from its memory. No one is the wiser, and everyone’s privacy is preserved.

But this may soon change. Companies such as Apple, Google, and MIT are developing technology that will cause our cellphones to remember all the nearby phones they’ve queried. This is similar to technology currently being used in Asia.

The purpose is contact tracing. Contact tracing is a tool the CDC wants to use, to combat the coronavirus. When someone tests positive, their cellphone will be examined to determine which cellphones that person has come near, over the prior 14 days. Then all the owners of those cellphones will be called and informed that they have recently been near someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. They will be advised, or perhaps ordered, to be tested, self-isolate, or take some other action.

The technology to do this kind of contact tracing could be rolled out in mid-May, with widespread implementation this summer. Apple and Google are working together on a way to embed the tracing software into their operating systems, so that downloading an app won’t be necessary. But MIT’s brainchild would require the download of an app called PrivateKit.

So far, authorities are saying that participation in Bluetooth contact tracing will be voluntary. However in order for it to work effectively, most of the population will have to opt-in. Thus, it’s possible that it could become mandatory. But they assure us that all data will be anonymized through special encryption codes.

Hacking, through deanonymizing techniques, is always a risk with this kind of dataveillance. In spite of the best efforts by developers, our privacy could still be compromised.

If you don’t mind the risk, and want to opt-in, you must make sure you have enabled Bluetooth on your smartphone. It’s normally enabled by default, but there’s a chance it could have been turned off. It’s easy to turn it back on. The way I do this on my Android phone is to press the “Settings” icon (it looks like a gear).

Settings takes me to a menu. One of the items on the menu is “Connected devices.” This takes me to a new menu, with “Bluetooth” at the top. It may say “Connected” or “Not connected.” Just because it says “Not connected”, it doesn’t mean it can’t query other phones. A nearby switch determines if Bluetooth is activated and can do queries.

If the switch is moved left, Bluetooth will be deactivated and a message will say something like “Not visible to other devices.” Moving the switch to the right will activate it.

A few weeks ago I got experimental and decided to deactivate Bluetooth. And then I decided to turn off Location services on all my apps. To do this, I went to Settings again, and then selected “Apps & notifications”. I then selected “App info”. This allowed me to select each app on my phone and, one-by-one, disable permission to track my location.

While I was doing this, I noticed something called “Body sensors”. This seemed a little creepy to me, so I disabled all permissions I came across that apparently sense my body.

With Bluetooth, Location, and Body Sensors disabled, I wanted to see how well my cellphone would work. Well I’m happy to say that after two weeks of this ongoing experiment, everything has been working fine and dandy.

Every day I receive an onslaught of robocalls, as usual, so at least this tells me that my phone can still receive calls. Also, I went hiking where the lockdown police wouldn’t catch me, and way out in the middle of nowhere I tried calling my house. It worked like a charm. So I can also make outgoing calls.

But I can’t use Google Maps unless I activate Location permissions for that particular app. That’s fine, I hardly ever use that app anyway. And I can always turn Location back off, after I finish with the app.

Another thing, my phone doesn’t automatically pair with my car’s entertainment system anymore. If I want it to pair I have to re-activate Bluetooth.

Also, I occasionally get a message from Google Play, begging me to activate Body Sensors. Eww, get your hands off me, Google Play. I just hit “Cancel” when I get this message, and so far nothing bad has happened.

When contact tracing is rolled out, I can easily opt-in by going back into Settings and activating Bluetooth. That’s a decision I’ll make when the time comes. I like the idea that this program will probably be voluntary. I find it refreshing that in a free country, we may still have some freedom left.

Here’s a short youtube video you might be interested in, that provides more details about the contact tracing system coming soon to our phones:

Improving Our Bird Brains, Part 5: Osprey

Some of the biggest and most beautiful birds my wife and I witnessed while in Florida were ospreys.

Nobody knows what ospreys really are, but scientists call them Pandion haliateus. They’re considered by ornithologists to be one of the most unique birds on the planet. In fact they’re so unique, they belong to their own scientific family (Pandionidae), and genus (Pandion). But no, they’re not related to pandas.

Some scientists claim there are three or four subspecies of osprey. But these subspecies are so similar that other scientists argue they are all the same. Scientists just love to disagree, don’t they? I think they can easily resolve this controversy. A duel with derringers at 20 paces ought to do it.

Ospreys are found on all the continents of the world except Antarctica, where it’s too fucking cold. It’s considered unusual for a single species of animal to have such a widespread distribution, which is one of the things that makes these birds so unique.

Another thing that makes them unique is that they’re piscivorous, having a diet consisting almost entirely of fish. Other raptors feast on a wide variety of prey, but not ospreys. They like fish, they want fish, and they won’t eat anything but fish, unless they’re forced by starvation. Hence, your cats and small dogs are safe in osprey territory.

This means that if you’re looking for ospreys, you must go where the fish are. And that is near large bodies of water, such as the ocean. But they can also be found thousands of miles inland, by lakes and rivers.

An osprey hovering over the Firehole River, at Yellowstone National Park, preparing to dive down and catch a fish.

Another name for ospreys is seahawks. Aside from their talent for fishing, seahawks are regarded for their skills at punting, passing, receiving, and running. But so far they’ve only won one Super Bowl.

Ospreys are huge sons-of-bitches, with wingspans reaching up to six feet. And they have sharper eyesight than your average eagle. They can see through glare on the surface of water, and thus find fish in many different light conditions. There’s no hiding from an osprey.

They’ll fly 30 to over 100 feet above water, briefly hover as they spot an unsuspecting fish near the surface, then plunge feet first into the water and grab the poor bastard. When they hit the water, a nictating membrane closes over their eyes, and valves in their nostrils seal shut. Meanwhile, their well-oiled feathers waterproof them, and keep them from sinking.

An osprey patrolling the waters of the Bahia Honda Channel, in the Florida keys.

Their hooked toes pierce the body of the fish. Each foot has a reversible toe, similar to a human thumb, that works to more tightly grasp the slippery piscine and keep it from slithering away. This is a near-unique feature of ospreys, as no other bird of prey has such reversible toes, except owls.

Their massive wings enable them to hoist fish out of the water that weigh 10% to 50% of their own weight. Most of the fish they catch weigh only about a pound, but some can weigh over four pounds.

Ospreys across the world eat a wide variety of fish, but an individual osprey tends to be a picky eater, concentrating on the two or three types that are most prevalent where it hunts.

After an osprey catches a fish, it carries it so that the fish’s head faces forward, as it transports it to its nest. Bald eagles sometimes mug them enroute, by chasing them down and forcing them to drop their catch.

Ospreys prefer to nest at the tops of trees such as this, at Bahia Honda State Park, Florida.

Ospreys like to nest at the tops of trees and poles. At first they’ll throw a few sticks together, then line them with smaller, finer material. They keep the same nest year-after-year, gradually building it bigger and bigger. By the time they reach old age, which is somewhere around 10 years old, they will have built quite a large dream home for their retirement.

They mate for life and produce one brood of two to four eggs per year. The male goes off and catches fish while his wife babysits. He brings his catch back to her. Then she does all the cooking and feeds the fish to her young. Apparently, ospreys haven’t graduated from the traditional nuclear family structure of the 1950s.

This fledgling osprey seems to be going out on a limb, at Bahia Honda State Park, Florida.

DDT made ospreys an endangered species 50 to 60 years ago, but they’ve made a big comeback since then. So the next time you’re near the ocean, or some other large body of water, keep your eye on the sky and you just might be lucky enough spot one of these unique birds of prey.

Lockdown Rules

Cranky Pants has submitted another unicorn beam to Chasing Unicorns. Thank you, CP. By the way, anyone can submit a unicorn beam, by emailing me at TippyGnu@gmx.com. If it seems like a unicorn to me, based upon my criteria, I’ll post it.

Cranky Pants lives in the hyperborean reaches of northern Alberta. This is a land that is far, far away, eternally covered in ice, and under about a thousand feet of snow, where the wind constantly blows a hundred kilometers per hour (not miles per hour, because this is Canada), and where the temperature never exceeds 0 degrees C (the C stands for Canadian).

You’d think they wouldn’t have to worry about the coronavirus in such a far-off land, but no it’s there also. And so are bumbling bureaucrats. And even there, one never knows what to fear most, the virus or the health department.

Cranky Pants is sharing with us the bizarre, confusing lockdown rules she and her fellow Albertians must follow. As if we weren’t familiar with them already. But living so far away in such a distant land, how could she know it’s the same where we’re at, as where she’s at?

These universal lockdown rules reflect the comedy/tragedy of humankind’s response to the coronavirus. Thank you, Cranky Pants, for the following submission:

Lockdown Rules

Well this is both funny/not funny and true.
The Rules:
1. Basically, you can’t leave the house for any reason, but if you have to, then you can.
2. Masks are useless, but maybe you have to wear one, it can save you, it is useless, but maybe it is mandatory as well.
3. Stores are closed, except those that are open.
4. You should not go to hospitals unless you have to go there. Same applies to doctors, you should only go there in case of emergency, provided you are not too sick.
5. This virus is deadly but still not too scary, except that sometimes it actually leads to a global disaster.
6. Gloves won’t help, but they can still help.
7. Everyone needs to stay HOME, but it’s important to GO OUT.
8. There is no shortage of groceries in the supermarket, but there are many things missing when you go there in the evening, but not in the morning. Sometimes.
9. The virus has no effect on children except those it affects.
10. Animals are not affected, but there is still a cat that tested positive in Belgium in February when no one had been tested, plus a few tigers here and there…
11. You will have many symptoms when you are sick, but you can also get sick without symptoms, have symptoms without being sick, or be contagious without having symptoms. Oh, my..
12. In order not to get sick, you have to eat well and exercise, but eat whatever you have on hand and it’s better not to go out, well, but no…
13. It’s better to get some fresh air, but you get looked at very wrong when you get some fresh air, and most importantly, you don’t go to parks or walk. But don’t sit down, except that you can do that now if you are old, but not for too long or if you are pregnant (but not too old).
14. You can’t go to retirement homes, but you have to take care of the elderly and bring food and medication.
15. If you are sick, you can’t go out, but you can go to the pharmacy.
16. You can get restaurant food delivered to the house, which may have been prepared by people who didn’t wear masks or gloves. But you have to have your groceries decontaminated outside for 3 hours. Pizza too?
17. Every disturbing article or disturbing interview starts with “I don’t want to trigger panic, but…”
18. You can’t see your older mother or grandmother, but you can take a taxi and meet an older taxi driver.
19. You can walk around with a friend but not with your family if they don’t live under the same roof.
20. You are safe if you maintain the appropriate social distance, but you can’t go out with friends or strangers at the safe social distance.
21. The virus remains active on different surfaces for two hours, no, four, no, six, no, we didn’t say hours, maybe days? But it takes a damp environment. Oh no, not necessarily.
22. The virus stays in the air – well no, or yes, maybe, especially in a closed room, in one hour a sick person can infect ten, so if it falls, all our children were already infected at school before it was closed. But remember, if you stay at the recommended social distance, however in certain circumstances you should maintain a greater distance, which, studies show, the virus can travel further, maybe.
23. We count the number of deaths but we don’t know how many people are infected as we have only tested so far those who were “almost dead” to find out if that’s what they will die of…
24. We have no treatment, except that there may be one that apparently is not dangerous unless you take too much (which is the case with all medications). Orange man bad.
25. We should stay locked up until the virus disappears, but it will only disappear if we achieve collective immunity, so when it circulates… but we must no longer be locked up for that?

Why I’m Against The Lockdowns That I’m For

Protests against lockdowns are springing up all across our country. I’m glad of this, because for awhile it looked like groupthink was ruling the day. But now we have a lively debate going, over the wisdom of locking human beans down, and stopping the economy.

I sympathize with the protesters, because I’m against these lockdowns, that I’m also for. Yes, I’m both against them and for them. Here are some reasons:

I’m against the lockdowns, because they may cause a great depression, with millions dying from the effects of poverty. But I’m for them because they may prevent millions of deaths from the coronavirus.

I’m against the lockdowns, because I value freedom and civil rights. But I’m for them, because I value my health.

I’m against them, because the experts on TV keep contradicting each other. But I’m for them, because maybe some of those experts know what they’re talking about.

I’m against them, because my wife hardly ever leaves the house anymore, and she’s driving me crazy. But I’m for them, because when she’s bored she waits on me hand and foot, and I like being pampered.

I’m against them, because hospitalizations are down. But I’m for them, because I want hospitalizations to stay down.

I’m against them, because by now there must be quite a lot of herd immunity out there. But I’m for them, because maybe the lockdowns have been so effective there’s hardly any herd immunity out there.

I’m against them, because we’ll never have adequate testing, so we may as well give up on that idea. But I’m for them, because we don’t have adequate testing yet.

I’m against them, because I’d rather not wait for a contact tracing system. Contact tracing might involve huge invasions of privacy, with Big Brother watching us as never before. But I’m for the lockdowns, because we need to have thorough contact tracing in place before we end lockdowns, with everyone who is anyone being tracked everywhere we go.

I’m against them, because I prefer the America we had before the coronavirus broke out. But I’m for them, because I’m strangely growing accustomed to living under martial law and dictatorship.

I hope the reasons I’ve provided have given you food for thought, and helped you to decide where to stand on the issue of lockdowns.

If you’re anti-lockdown and would like to join a protest rally near you, check out this website, and then get out there with your picket sign.

But if you’re pro-lockdown, you’re out of luck. All you can do is hunker down at home, rather than get out and join a counterprotest. For the pro-lockdown movement, by its very nature, cannot go outside and demonstrate.

A Dozen Reasons to Be a Moderate

A moderate is like a rainbow, with views that include the entire spectrum of politics.

I’m not sure if I’m a liberal, conservative, or moderate. But my best guess is that I’m a moderate. My political views run the spectrum from left to right, but they tend to settle in the middle.

For instance, I’m for all the government programs anyone could ever want (liberal). But only as long as the budget is balanced (moderate). And I’m for all the tax cuts anyone could ever want (conservative). But again, only as long as the budget is balanced (moderate).

I’m for legalizing almost everything, including all the vices, such as prostitution, drugs, and gambling (liberal). But I’m also for a strong police force, to enforce those laws where those other than oneself could be harmed (conservative).

Those on the left and right like to put down us moderates. They claim we don’t stand for anything, we’re fence-sitters, and cowards. And they tell us we’re dull and uninspiring.

But I think they just want us to take a position on their side.

I’ll admit we may be all the things extremists accuse us of being. But I like being moderate. It’s like being a rose between two thorns. I vote moderate, and encourage others to do the same, because just like extremists, I try to convert people over to my side. Which is in-between both sides. So what follows are a dozen good reasons to be a moderate.

If you’re an extremist, or thinking of becoming one, please consider carefully the following benefits of being a moderate, then climb down off that limb you’re sitting on, and join me under this safe tree.

Twelve Good Reasons to Be a Moderate

  1. It’s fun to be a contrarian, rather than like everyone else, who is either on the left or the right.
  2. It avoids arguments, because nobody cares about your wishy-washy opinion.
  3. It’s safer for those of us who have a heart condition.
  4. It’s easy to answer pushy pollsters, by just telling them you’re undecided.
  5. You can avoid having the nutty neighbors that those on the left and right have to endure.
  6. According to the Buddha, the Middle Way is the way to Nirvana.
  7. You’re free to examine both sides of any issue.
  8. You can change your mind a lot.
  9. You can curse liberals one day, while praising conservatives, then curse conservatives the next day, while praising liberals.
  10. You can sell your vote to the highest bidder.
  11. You’re capable of compromise.
  12. You generally get what you want. Which is more of the same.
  13. You can choose candidates by flipping a coin. Which seems to work as well as anything else.

I know, I know, that was 13 reasons, not 12. But there was one that I couldn’t decide whether to include or throw out. Sigh, I’m such a moderate.

Justification

Nothing pleases a hypochondriac more than a diagnosis. It’s justification for all those years of medical research and vague complaints. And the more serious the diagnosis, the greater is that satisfying feeling of justification.

I just got my diagnosis, and it’s very serious. Hooray! I’m proud to announce that I have Atrial Fibrillation, otherwise known as AFib. I won’t go into all the details, except to say it could kill me. And that’s a prognosis any hypochondriac can sport with pride.

I spent a few nights in emergency rooms last month, where they told me I probably had AFib. But last week a nice, kind cardiologist confirmed that diagnosis and made it official.

It appears I’ve had AFib most of my life. Basically, this is a disease that makes your heart lose rhythm and race like an IndyCar with a flat tire. Usually this disease starts in middle age or old age, but not for me. I’m one of the rare few who started to have AFib attacks in my teen years.

I just didn’t realize what they were. And that’s because they’ve always been short-lived, sort of like Whitman’s Sampler AFib attacks. Or previews of coming attractions for my old age. They’ve usually lasted only a few seconds, and never longer than a minute. But last month they must have gone on steroids, because they started lasting for hours.

When an attack comes on, my heart suddenly starts pumping wildly, without any warning. There’s also a fluttering or churning sensation in the middle of my chest, as if it’s full of butterflies, or as if there’s a garden hose turned to full blast. It’s a weird sensation, and actually kind of fun to experience as long as it only lasts a few seconds. It’s like getting a rush from drugs without actually shooting up.

I never thought much of these attacks, due to their short duration, and never told a doctor. It’s a good thing too, or I might have been misdiagnosed with panic attacks and sent to a shrink. Hell, I could be living in a rubber room by now.

This has happened to some AFibbers. They get misdiagnosed with mental illness. It’s true that anxiety can sometimes trigger an AFib attack, but usually they come out of nowhere. They’re bolts from the blue, with no rhyme, reason, or pattern to them.

They happen to me at odd times. I could be busy with a chore, or shopping in a store. I could be cleaning my email of spam, or I could be eating a plate of green eggs and ham. I just never know when AFib will strike.

However, a study of AFib patients in 2015 showed that yoga can reduce the attacks by up to 40 percent. So maybe I really am crazy and need to spend some time in a rubber room. Or at least a yoga studio.

EKG trace of AFib, with no P waves (the normal hump before the high spike), and a heart rate of 150. Provided by James Heilman, MD. CC BY-SA 3.0.

AFib is impossible to diagnose, except by EKG while you’re in the process of having an attack. This is why I’ve gone so much of my life without a diagnosis. Some AFibbers, like me, may go many years having short-lived, undiagnosed minor attacks. But others begin their AFib with a major attack that is immediately diagnosed. Lucky bastards.

Those of us with short-lived attacks eventually have our day of reckoning. One day an attack occurs that doesn’t quickly go away. And that’s when we head to the emergency room, get hooked up to an EKG, and get our elusive diagnosis. From that day on we are vulnerable to having more of these long-lasting, major attacks. It’s the major attacks that can kill.

My cardiologist said there was no known reason for me to have AFib, as I have an otherwise strong heart, and am in overall good health. This is a terrible thing to say to a hypochondriac. No hypochondriac wants to hear that they’re in good health.

However, what he meant was that in many AFib patients the cause can be traced to an underlying condition, such as hypertension, a damaged heart, or obesity. But in patients like me the cause is a mystery. We’re an anomaly, and are sometimes termed Lone AFibbers. And I’m not lying about that.

My diagnosis of AFib has come as a surprise to me. It’s a pleasant surprise in one regard, as I now have the justification all hypochondriacs seek for the complaints we make. But it’s unpleasant when I consider the ramifications of having such a serious heart condition.

One of the unpleasant ramifications is having to pop pills several times a day. These mutherfucking pills have side effects, such as dizziness, depression, memory loss, lazy eye, swivel neck, molting of skin, chrysalis, and spontaneous limb detachment. I’m adjusting to them though, so I should be getting back to my regular routine soon. Which includes lots of naps.

The drugs don’t guarantee I’ll never have another major attack. In fact my cardiologist indicated that I probably will have another major attack. He indicated this by nervously having me sign a waiver promising not to sue him. Apparently, the drugs only postpone the inevitable. The best I can hope is that they’ll keep me out of the emergency room for a very long time.

I also hope the drugs will help me to live longer than Mother Nature says I should live. I know it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but I don’t like the alternative. But if one day, in spite of the pharmaceuticals, I succumb to AFib, don’t worry. I’ll be very happy on the Other Side.

For then I will possess the fullest justification any hypochondriac could ever own.

Improving Our Bird Brains, Part 4: Ibis

Thoth, with his ibis-shaped head. Art by Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Lodging is expensive in Florida, and when my wife and I were vacationing there, we always had a big bill. This put us in good company with the ibis, which also has a big bill.

In fact, it’s a big, long, curved bill, and the most distinctive feature of an ibis, other than its strange name. Hey Jason Frels, just try to make a pun out of “ibis”. I challenge you.

The ibis uses its curved bill to probe around the bottom of shallow waters, hunting for crayfish. And its bill is sensitive, which allows it to hunt by feel, as it cannot see those little mudbugs skittering around in the murky waters. This is a highly effective way to hunt, for these birds , although I imagine it must lead to a few surprises now and then.

Even though the ibis prefers crawdads, it’s also willing to eat just about anything, including fish, crabs, and insects. It tends to locate fish in willow ponds, and crabs in mangrove forests.

There are many species of ibis found throughout the world, in both temperate and tropical climates. The African sacred ibis was worshiped by ancient Egyptians, and was associated with the deity Thoth.

Thoth is depicted as a man with an ibis’ head, including that weird, curved bill. This god was thought to have created writing, mathematics, time, the moon, and magic. And so you see, having a bird brain can actually make you smart.

Legend has it that the Northern bald ibis was one of the first birds to be released by Noah, from his ark. I can understand why, as Noah probably got tired of looking at this ugly-assed bird. What a scary sight!

The Northern bald ibis. Yeah, if I was Noah, this would be the first bird I’d eject from my ark to go search for land. And probably on day 1 rather than 41. Photo by Richard Bartz, aka Makro Freak, CC BY-SA 2.5.

The ibis found in the United States is known as the American white ibis, and it’s much better looking than Noah’s ibis. Its most common habitat is in Florida, but it can also be found in coastal areas as far north as Virginia, and as far south as Texas. Outside the U.S., its range extends even further south, through Mexico, and as far down as Ecuador.

A male white ibis can weigh nearly three pounds, while females tend to be much smaller, at less than two pounds. Ibis get up to 28 inches long, with a wingspan of up to 41 inches.

They’re known as the “white” ibis, but this is false advertising, as they’re not pure white. They actually have black wingtips. However, they tuck these wingtips out of sight while on the ground, so you can’t see them unless they’re in flight.

Is the plural “ibis” or “ibises”? I think you can use either, though I prefer “ibiseseseseses.” This is a flock of ibiseseseseses in flight above the Everglades, showing off their black wingtips.

Also, some young ibis are not white, but can be gray or brown, while slowly transforming to white as they molt, over the first two years of their life.

Two juvenile “white” ibis apparently hunting for crabs in a mangrove forest on Long Key, Florida. The one on the left has lost most of its brown feathers, while the one on the right has a ways to go before it can start looking like a grownup.

Ibis tend to reproduce more during droughts than during wet years. That’s because droughts make bodies of water more shallow, which increases the availability of their favorite food, the crayfish. I guess like with people, good food can lead to good sex.

But it’s tricky business, becoming a new ibis. Up to 75% of their eggs are robbed by crows, gulls, raccoon, and rat snakes, and half the chicks that manage to hatch are killed by additional predation. But if one is lucky enough to reach adulthood, it can expect to live up to 16 years or more in the wild. Unless an alligator gets it.

The pollutant methylmercury affects the mating behavior of ibis, turning many of them homosexual, and causing parents to abandon their nests. It doesn’t kill them, but it does lead to less reproduction and reduced populations of this bird.

But so far the American white ibis is not considered to be a threatened species. Therefore, thankfully, we can expect to enjoy this beautiful bird with its big, curved bill, for many years to come.

An ibis in Key West, tempted by food and using its math skills to calculate its chances of avoiding capture.

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