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Reckonings

For a minute and a half when I wake up in the morning, my chest feels normal and I can almost take a normal breath. The minute I sit up and try to take in anything resembling a deep breath, however, sharp pains in my chest cut it short, reminding me that plenty of gunk is still lodged firmly in my lungs. I’ve walked this path a few times before – – for some reason, despite having never smoked, my lungs are prone to pneumonia—but Friday was the first time I ever felt unnerved by the landscape.

Friday morning was spent mostly resting as any physical exertion left me wiped out and gulping at the air. I rested on the couch until it was time for a family walk around the house and, after our daily ZeroK, was wiped out for the rest of the afternoon. By the late afternoon, it was increasingly harder to breathe in, and I considered calling the doctor to see if there was anything I do should do in the face of worsening symptoms.

But I didn’t call him.

I took my pills and drank my tea and remembered my research of this illness. Dr. Google and actual doctors had told me that worsening symptoms might indicate a need for hospitalization, oxygen, or IV antibiotics.

Any other week, I would’ve called him, but this is not any other week.

This week I know that, nationwide, hospitals are struggling to find beds and masks and things to help people with a much more serious illness breathe. This week I know that calling for help might make me one more drain on a system that’s already overtaxed at the beginning of what appears will be a challenging spring. I don’t want to be in the healthcare system, but, even more I don’t want to be one more stressor on it.

So now it’s Saturday morning, and I’m still gulping as I write or talk, still trying to decide if I should call or wait until my next appointment on Monday to let the medication have more time to work.

Most of the time when I’m sick, I won’t call the doctor. I’m a doctor’s kid and grew up hearing admonitions to not worry about most aches and pains or even fevers. I know, however, that pneumonia can become quite serious, even in 2020.

What’s also serious, is the reckoning that the entire country is having with managing scarcity in an emergency and with our healthcare system. No one who has been in a grocery store in the last two weeks can have avoided the sight of empty shelves, sometimes rows of them. Panic has spurred some people to buy more toilet paper and pasta than could be consumed in a lifetime, leaving others to search for substitutes or simply go without.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of people pointing out that a pandemic highlights the need for a strong system that is more equitable and accessible. Having lived in Germany and experienced their robust public healthcare system, I tend to agree. This week, however, I’m also reckoning with the role individual choices may have in making our current system in Bennington, Vermont less accessible to others simply by using increasingly scarce resources.

I don’t know that this is a bad conversation to have.

For years I have worked at a company with excellent health insurance and, especially where the kids were concerned, had no reservations about calling and getting that appointment or heading to the emergency room or urgent care. This week is not just about what we can afford for our family. It, like the choice to buy all the boxes of pasta or a just one or two for our family, is about what my choice may take from someone else. It’s about making sure that making that call is truly necessary.

For now, for better or worse, it’s keeping me from picking up phone.

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Get Closer

Thing1 texted today that is spring break return this weekend will be the beginning of an extended stay as his schoolmoves to dance learning to respond to this virus that the world health organization now calls a pandemic. The University, like so many other organizations, is recommending “social distancing“. I often think we have too much social distancing in this country already.

While I texted back-and-forth with Thing1 about the logistics of getting his stuff home for an extended stay, I I clicked on Facebook a few times. A fellow artist in town announced that it was plein-air season and she was looking for people to go paint nature. I had too many meetings after work to go paint today, but as she posted another open invitation to any would be painters, I begin mentally assembling my travel kit and checking the weather for the next few days.

Painting outside, for me, means painting alone most the time, but is anything but lonely. Painting outside means communing with bugs and birds. it means meditating on setting Suns or the dozens of colors of green. It means becoming part of the scenery so that you can feel it and try to keep that feeling in your work. It is solitary, but it is never lonely.

A few years ago I used to run. My favorite places to run were our mountain roads, flanked by trees and teeming with life. Like Plein air painting, running was solitary but never lonely. It was feeling morning do on your skin mixing a sweat. It was hearing your feet setting on dirt and dead leaves crackling underneath. It was listening to birds and smaller creatures wrestling in the woods next to The road or path. It was The opposite of distancing. It was getting closer to nature end to life.

So even though I know temporary recommendations for social isolation are probably wise in light of the impact of Corona in other countries with excellent health care access. I do think there is a an antidote do the Loneliness (and fear) it may bring. The answer is to move closer, Not farther, to life. Reconnecting with the natural world seems like one of the better ways to do that.

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Ladies (and Gentlemen) of the Club

We lost an hour of sleep on Saturday night. I couldn’t fall asleep until after midnight on Sunday night, and I had to be up by 4:30 on Monday to drive to a teachers’ workshop in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

I was excited, but, for once, I wasn’t nervous.

When I worked in IT, I had a few professional development opportunities that sent me to fun locales, but the courses were usually more competitive than collaborative. There was always an unspoken challenge to prove you were the smartest person in the room (I am rarely smartest person in the room — Except when Jim Bob the orange tabby is here. Then I am the smartest person in the room).

Today was different. I’d done my homework. I had just finished a course at University of Wisconsin on today’s exact subject, and I knew it would be fun and useful.

I was bleary-eyed when the alarm went off, and I hit the snooze button once. Then I remembered what day it was and snapped right out of bed, hobbled in and out of the shower and donned my favorite scarf, a Maria Wulf creation that had been waiting for a perfect occasion on a perfect spring day. I was out the door and over the mountains before the sun was fully up.

When I got to the workshop/conference, the room was filled with a few dozen other Special Educators who hooking up their WiFi’s and getting acquainted. The news on the way up had told me I should be terrified to be in a crowd this size, but as we shared jokes about the rhymes we are all using this week to get our students to wash their hands better, I decided this day was worth any risk.

We talked about programs. We talked about helping kids with trauma and disability. We talked about our kids and our “kids,” and I suddenly got a feeling I’d never had at any professional conference before.

I sell art at art shows and craft fairs in the summer, but I always feel like an imposter, secretly certain that everyone can see how much better all the other artists are (I rarely worry much about writing since I need to do it badly enough that I don’t care if it’s bad or good). I was in IT in one role or another for over 20 years and, even when I knew I knew my job, I never felt like I really belonged.

Today was like being a ballplayer who had been moved up from the minor league to the “show.” Talking with people who care passionately about helping children and who were as nerdily excited as I was about the best techniques amplified the feeling.

It was a club, but, instead of competing with each other to be the smartest in the room, the members were sharing ideas about how we could help each other to our common goal.

I realized I felt like a real teacher today — like a professional. And, for the first time in any career, I felt like I belonged there.

And it’s a good club.

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Better than Before

The girl had received bad news for the umpteenth time in the last few months. Her sobs of despair reverberated down the hall as she asked the powers that be, “What’s the point?”

“You’re the point!“ The cosmos answered in the form of a lanky young man charged with keeping order the school. “People like you are the point, “ he repeated. “Don’t you know that you all make us better?“

I smiled as I leaned my head towards the doorway to listen from my classroom. I was on standby for hugs and comfort, but my young coworker was already working his magic. And, as he elaborated on the ways our students make us better, I thought about how Thing1 and Thing2 have done that for me every day over the last 19 years.

Just before Thing1 was born, I still didn’t have a handle on my bipolar disorder. My depressive episodes sporadically threatened jobs, and manic phases spurred spending sprees and other self-destructive behavior.

But then Thing1 happened, and I knew I had to be better.

“Every day I go home after work and think about how to be better,“ my coworker said to the girl who was now listening quietly. “You do that for all of us.“

I thought of all the ways I have tried to be better for Thing1 and Thing2 over the years. I thought of the therapy I’ve sought and the examples I’ve tried to set.

Then I thought of all the ways our students spur me to be more organized, to learn more, to be better for them. It made me smile as I thought of how no matter what we will ever do for our own kids or for the ones we take care of during the day, we will always owe them far more for every day making us a little bit better than we were the day before.