Author Archives: jimphelps

About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison

If your first step is up to your ankle…

Ena and I watched a show called Map Man with Nicholas Crane some years ago. Nicholas would take historical maps of the UK and try to follow them in modern times. In one show, Nicholas was in a high, exposed area that was low rolling hills and bogs.

The area is used a military training ground and Nicholas was talking with the commander of the training grounds about the area he was about to cross. The land is high and exposed. The weather can change quickly. There are few notable landmarks to navigate by, and it is boggy. Overall, it is a very dangerous and difficult landscape.

Nicholas asked if the commander had any last words of advice. The commander answered, “If your first step is up to your ankle, and the next is up to your knee, your third step should be backwards.”*

Nicholas Crane

This is one of my favorite phrases that I gained from watching the BBC and it is so applicable in many different places of life. Like COVID-19. Which seems to be exploding this Summer here in the USA. COVID-19 not going into a summer hiatus as many hoped. And yet, SOME Governors and leaders seem to want to keep plowing along even though we are well above our knees in COVID-19.

It is a dangerous and difficult landscape to navigate. But seriously, if you are above your knees, it is time to rethink your actions and to back up before we all drown.

* If anyone out there knows which episode, training area, etc. please let me know. I would love to put the details in but my 15 minutes of googling about didn’t find the answers.

A different epidemic

Ena and I watched the BBC documentary: Keith Haring: Street Art Boy last night which was quite good. When Keith moved to New York and joined the late 1970s gay scene I thought, “He is going to die from AIDS” which brought back a flood of memories of that epidemic.

I was dating Chris Decaria. We were both in college at the University of Utah. Chris worked as a blood gas tech at the hospital in the evenings. I would go up and visit her during her shifts and walk the hallways with her as she went to draw blood from various patients. I remember when we started to see signs on doors of hospital rooms that said, “Virus of Unknown Origin”. This was code for patients who had HIV/AIDS. They had to use code because of the backlash against AIDS patients. People were saying that AIDS patients were being punished by God, that it served them right, that they should be shunned and sent out of society, etc.

AIDS Quilt on display on the Mall in DC

The AIDS Quilt on display in Washington DC. More than 50,000 panels make up the quilt of lives-lost.

In 1978 the assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were stunning events to the gay community and to many others. The HIV/AIDS epidemic and the social response by some was yet another.

Chris and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 to chase jobs in the medical products industry (the Bio Tech of then). AIDS was moving across the nation and AIDS activism was growing. The AIDS quilt project had been on display in the National Mall a couple of years earlier and it was now on tour around the nation.

I remember Chris and I going into San Francisco to the Castro district. We were walking around on a bright and sunny day (must not have been July) and enjoying ourselves as a young couple out in the big city. I caught the eyes of a man, dressed in loose white summer clothing. He was thin and pale and he had skin lesions – Kaposi’s sarcoma – on his face. I remember Chris looking at him and saying, “Kaposi’s sarcoma” sadly. What I most remember was the look on his face and in his eyes, a look of fear and aloneness and as if the world was judging him. Our eyes met briefly and I tried to say to him with my look, “I’m so sorry for you. You are not alone.” Now, I wish I had stopped to say something, though what, I don’t know.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco was one of the few churches that opened its doors to people with HIV / AIDS. It did not judge but it offered support, comfort, and refuge. For the longest time, they had a sanctuary full of racks for candles for people to light in remembrance to loved ones lost to AIDS. A section of the AIDS quilt hung on the wall. I would go and visit and sit within that sanctuary and think about the epidemic and all the people who were upended and lost. It was and is stunning that Grace Cathedral’s response filled with compassion was the exception to human suffering. So much of America was filled with fear of and loathing for those who had gotten sick – by an unknown disease through an unknown way.

Keith Haring altarpiece at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

The Keith Haring altarpiece in the Grace Cathedral AIDS Chapel.

All of this came back to me watching the Keith Haring story. How little we have changed over the past 30 years. It is sad that we, as a nation, haven’t learned the lessons of compassion for others.

Keith Haring established a foundation upon his death that makes sure his artwork is accessible to everyone, that provides grants to children in need and the supports those suffering from HIV/AIDS. There is a lot we could learn from this gay artist about giving without judgement and caring for others.

I miss spontaneity

Ena I went out for walk/run yesterday. I run, she walks. We went over to the Burke-Gilman trail that runs along Lake Washington. I ran 5 miles and she walked 3 (I would guess). She went north towards Bothell. I went south towards Magnussen Park. We met back up along the trail near the car.

On the drive home I thought, “this is the kind of night where I would say, ‘Let’s go to Ray’s Boathouse tonight'”. Ena would have said, ‘That sounds marvelous'”. But I didn’t say that because we are still staying very safe. Instead, we came home and made dinner for the umpteenth time. We talked about how this is the kind of night when we would have gone out. We talked about how we weren’t going out then though.

Ray’s Boathouse sign

The 41 Bus was ahead of us. This is the bus that we would walk to for a quick hop downtown on the weekend or durning the day on a weekday vacation. It is a great bus. It goes south of us about a mile and half then it gets on I5 and heads straight downtown. But we aren’t riding busses or going downtown.

There are more jets overhead now. It was eerily quiet in March and April without jets or seaplanes. But now, we hear a few seaplanes and hear more jets. We were planning on a long weekend by seaplane up to Victoria, BC. However, that trip is out, as is travel by plane for probably 9 more months.

All those things that we did spontaneously – “Let’s go out tonight!”, “Let’s go downtown today”, “Let’s go to San Francisco” – are now outside our stay-safe options. Instead, meals are planned out well in advance to minimize shopping trips. Where we walk and run is limited to the places where we know we can easily social-distance during our outings. We do, occasionally get take-out from a restaurant, but that is rare.

Everything is planned and controlled to reduce our chances of catching COVID-19. There really is very little that is spontaneous in our lives anymore. I really miss the spontaneous outings, the people watching, and the travel. I have grown tired of the small safe circle we have drawn in order to stay safe. I truly do not want to catch COVID-19 and I really don’t want Ena to catch it. So, we stay inside our safe routine.

Someday, we will be spontaneous again, I hope.

Same as it ever was… same as it ever was…

Ena asked, “What do you want to do for your birthday?” My first thought was, “What can we do for my birthday that we aren’t already doing?” Neither of us think going to a restaurant is a good idea even though Seattle just opened up to Level 2 allowing restaurants to open at reduced capacity.

Same as it ever was David Byrne arm chop graphic.

I’m tired of not being surprised for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I do most of the meal planning and cooking. I’m a good cook so we are eating well. I’m also good at planning out a week or two ahead and stocking the fridge. This means that everything we do and eat; we think about, plan and cook. We cook new recipes all the time. New York Times Cooking has great recipes and most are good. But, it is all me reading and discovering, planning and shopping.

I miss going to a restaurant and being delightfully surprised by something on the menu that sounds lovely but isn’t something I was thinking about when I came in the door.

I miss going to The Dahlia Lounge (our favorite / was our favorite I guess… sigh) and seeing salmon or tuna on the menu but done in a really wonderful Asian fusion style or with some creative dish made from vegetables grown at Prosser Farms.

I miss unplanned trips downtown on the bus where we will “grab lunch someplace and maybe go to the museum or go for walk along the Sound”. Everything now is very carefully planned to minimize our risk of getting COVID-19.

What to do for my birthday that we aren’t already doing? We already go for walks in the off-peak times around here. We can’t take a lovely trip to San Francisco or back to Madison. We dare not, with Ena being high risk, go out to eat or to crowded spaces.

This is doubly true when you learn about the Long-Haulers syndrome that is a part of COVID-19. People have recurring symptoms for months. Some are completely debilitated by these recurring episodes. It sounds terrible and it is not uncommon. So far, the cause isn’t known. As The Atlantic put it, “The disease’s long-haulers have endured relentless waves of debilitating symptoms…”

Dr. Janina Ramirez commented on Twitter just recently about her recurring symptoms and many people replied that they too have been having recurring symptoms – some every two weeks.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

So, what to do for my birthday? I’m guessing the same things we have been doing for the past 3 ½ months – being cautious, staying away from people, and cooking at home. Same as it ever was… at least during COVID-19.

Maybe more than a year

I find myself thinking, “a year from now this will be over”. I have been thinking this since March when I first started working from home. This made me wonder, “is it now 9 months from now, or, is it a year from now because nothing has really changed?” “When do I actually start the clock for counting down back to normalcy?” “Do I wait until there is a vaccine and until then just keep incrementing the year-from-now clock?” We will return to the new normal (Nn) in T+365days where T=Today.

Figure 1: Nn = T + 365days

“How long until T gets defined”, I wonder.

Then this comes across the internet: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/life-return-to-normal-covid-19/

I see that the answer is “it depends on which part of normal you are talking about”. Is that a bit clarifying? I guess so but I don’t think I can go around thinking, “I will attend a sporting event, concert, or play in maybe more than a year from now. I will travel by airplane maybe a year from now… etc.”

I think I’ll go back to “a year from now” and my original formal (see Figure 1) or maybe “maybe a year or more from now” (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Nn ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ T + 365days

Seven… Seventeen…

mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈme-lən-ˌkä-lē  \plural melancholies. 1a: depression of spirits

 Yesterday was another dark day. A let down from the happy days with Ena going 13 days without angina and thinking we had a handle on her cardiac issues. Instead, she had an attack Saturday night at bedtime, Sunday (milder) at bedtime, and yesterday on a walk (mild) and again at bedtime (once again mild). A far cry from none.

I was suddenly hit with the thought that seven was a good year. I was in second grade. I had a Peanuts lunch box that I loved though I broke the lining to thermos many many times. About this time I grabbed a great big sheet of butcher’s paper and I drew all the Peanuts characters on it. Dad said, “You traced them!” ‘No. I didn’t! I drew them!”, I said. I stuck Googly Eyes on Charley Brown.

One of my favorite books was “Little Black Puppy and Other Animal Stories“*. In it are pieces by Richard Scary including making a mask out of a paper bag. I would do that sometimes. I colored a lot and did watercolors.

I then thought that seventeen was a good year too. Playing in Band, Orchestra, Pep Band and Jazz band and Skyline High School. Going to football games, basketball championships and traveling for band trips. Playing endless D&D with Brian Durney (my best friend since I was 4 or 5 years old), John Millsaps, Chris Crocker, Craig Kurumada and others. Dating and dances. Watching the Marx Brothers on the Late Night Movie with Brian, Craig and James Hansen.

And all the years in between were good too. All those years of childhood when adult problems (like the race riots, inflation, the Vietnam War) were all removed well beyond the childhood Somebody Else’s Problem Field.

Yesterday was filled with nostalgia for the past and simpler times.

It doesn’t help that we are having Junuary weather here in Seattle. Gray and rain and temps in the 50s. When the Sun comes out, I try to go out get some exercise. That helps. It also helps that the yard is coming in and the meadow is in full bloom. (Don’t let me over sell you on the meadow – it really is just a grassy area where grass didn’t grow so well so we said, “Skip it, let’s grow flowers and grass that we only mow once a month or so”. But it is peaceful and lovely).

It is hard to not get lost in those idyllic memories of times long gone. It is hard to not have my mind filled with contrast between the darkness of now and the lightness of then. One day at a time.

*funny story about the Little Black Puppy. I looked for years to find a copy (before the internet) in used bookstores and second hand shops. I remember the book being yellow, about 12″ high and about 1″ thick – maybe a bit thicker and taller even. Then the internet arrives and online shopping and I find it online! Oh Joy! I order a copy and I wait for it to arrive! It finally comes! Tear open the package – and boy am I surprised! The book is about 8″ tall and a quarter inch thick. “Huh!” I thought. Then I realized that when I was about 3 feet tall, the book would have seemed about the size that I was imagining it. It would have seemed tall and thick in my small little hands. After I opened the package, I piled into Ena’s lap and had her read The Little Black Puppy to me.

Damn! Or Good! I can’t tell…

Ena had another angina attack last night while watching TV. This was the first one in 13 days. Part of me is thinking, “Damn! I thought we had this under control!” Another part of me is thinking, “Good! At least this happened while she still has her EKG monitor.” I thought we would be sending the EKG unit back (Borg Ena) and the Doctors would be saying to us that they didn’t see anything.

So Damn! Or Good! Or a bit of both? One good thing is that she responds to a single nitroglycerin tablet and that the attacks last 3 minutes or less. A bad thing is that she seems very uncomfortable during them. My role? I start a stop watch and I give her 30 second increment time counts. This gives her a sense of when it should be over. But, every attack does start a bit of the “if this doesn’t go away with the second pill, we call 911” countdown.

It is hard to believe that the whole COVID-19 and Ena’s angina thing has been going on for 14 weeks now. I have been home from work since the second week of March. That is a whole season. But then, time is a strange thing. Monday through Friday can crawl along at a snail’s pace. But some how, 22 years have gone by in flash. This is Ena and me on a hike in the Oregon Cascades in 1998. Look at how young and cute we were.

That moment seems like forever ago and also yesterday.

As The Doctor says, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff”

Uneventful… and that’s good

I mean, there are lots of events going on. Don’t get me wrong. We now have the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) where protesters have taken over the East Seattle PD Precinct office so Capital Hill is now a police free zone. They, the protesters, are watching movies on the sides of buildings at night.

Park toy with police tape.

Uneventful for Ena is what I’m talking about. It has been 10 days since our trip to Urgent Care for her last cardiac discomfort. She has new drugs and she hasn’t had another event. We have started walking together again and she is going farther and faster every time. She is also recovering from being on crutches for 10 weeks. So, 2 mile rather sparky walks are a good sign.

It is nice to have my refurbished wife back up and running again. I call her Borg Ena because they gave her a 24 hour EKG to wear for 2 weeks. She has these blinking lights and wires and pads and she now takes batteries. There is a mobile app too!

COVID-19 is quieting down a bit here in Seattle so we are at Stage 1.5 which is kind of funny because I didn’t know that Stages came with interim releases. Stage 1.5 means that restaurants can open as can salons among other things. Next week, Stage 1.5.1 which means you can sit at your favorite table at a restaurant as long as no one is within 12 feet and you order off the bar menu.

Uneventful except for endless Zoom meetings. I was on the Itana New2EA call when Yolanda joined late. “Sorry. Back-to-back Zoom meetings”, she said. “There months ago, who would have thought we would spend all day at home in back-to-back Zoom meetings! If I had known, I would have bought a lot more athleisure wear!” She is a hoot.

Uneventful except for the budget fallout from all of this whatever that means to the University. We have been told to plan for a 15% budget cut from the state. The state contribution to the budget is only a portion of UW’s income. But, other parts like the UW Medicine and athletics are losing money too. We will see what that means.

But, front of mind is the fact that Ena has been event free. So, I’ll take uneventful at this point in time. Uneventful is fine.

Ps. Ena reads (and is an editor) of these post before they go out. I look for at least one good laugh from her from each post.

Circles and circles

I don’t know… is it aging? Is it an anti-anxiety drug side effect? I find myself starting something… say… going out back to weed and I think, “Oh. I want to take that pile of stuff up to the shed” so I change and start towards the pile of stuff. Then I think, “Oh. That’s right! I want to put the hooks up in the shed” so I start towards the basement to get my cordless drill et al. This turns into a series of dawnings of additions to the original task that leave me turning in a circle like a dog lying down or wandering 3 steps in one direction to turn and go four in another then two in yet another or I dash around the kitchen – dining room – living room – kitchen loop a couple of times.

This happens more than I would like. It starts to make me feel flaky or old or both. It definitely exhausts me mentally and emotionally which I really don’t need much help with.

Tintern Abby view through destroyed roof to blue sky and puffy clouds.

Today was a dark day. The bottom kind of fell out. I think that getting some answers for Ena and drugs that seem to be working means that I could finally let my guard down a little bit. And all the things that have been at arms length since the beginning of March came rushing in. And, the anti-depression / anti-anxiety drug side effects are catching up with me. These take the form of a ½ a migraine-like headache, upset stomach, body aches, and general malaise (for lack of more fancy word).

The side effects and the circles just made me very down. Not to mention: race riots, COVID-19 pandemic, impending financial crash the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 20s, the implosion of higher education budgets around the world, layoffs of people who I really like and really care about, giant killer wasps, monkeys stealing COVID samples and breaking out of labs, and everything that has turned 2020 into a melodramatic soap opera of epic proportions. I mean, if someone wrote this story and sold it to Hollywood, it would be in the same category as Sharknado. We have moved out of reality and into a nonsensical farce.

Except that it is so terribly, terribly sad. So many people suffering and dying and facing financial ruin. So much turmoil and uncertainty. The horrible national leadership on so many levels…

So today has been very, very dark for me. Breathe.

[The photo is from Tintern Abbey in Wales. The abbey fell into ruins after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. We went there with Ceri and Ruth when we were in the UK last September. What wonderful memories to draw on during these times though September seems like it was at least a decade ago in another life. – editor]

I5 Southbound and Guided Meditation

Imagine me driving Ena to Urgent Care* at 1:45 this afternoon while I’m leading her through a guided meditation to get her to relax. Just so.

I’m pulling out onto 125th Street (wide and busy main arterial) saying to Ena, “Close your eyes and sit back. Let the sounds around you fill you”. Which are, as far as I can tell, the sounds of a turn signal signaling my right turn and a bunch of cars that I’m waiting for.

“Feel your weight press into the seat. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel your hands at your side” he said while turning left onto the I5 ramp. “You have a Yield Sign!” he said at the red Mazda 6 barreling through a right hand turn in front of him. “Take a deep breath in… and out and start to scan your body… starting at your head… breathing and scanning with kindness and compassion… if you come to spot of tightness…. breath into the tightness and release…” he said, in a much softer and compassionate voice than he used for the Mazda, while accelerating into 70 MPH traffic on I5 South.

“Scan down from the top of your head to your neck… and shoulders…” he said changing lanes to get out from behind a slow moving truck full of landscaping equipment. “Follow the body down your left arm… and back up… while taking deep slow breaths… each breath bringing relaxation and peace….” he said and he moved back over to get out of traffic heading for the 520 bridge.

Thus, I ended up leading a guided meditation on I5** as I was driving Ena to Urgent Care. At the end of the meditation I asked her, “How do you feel? Better?”

‘Yes’, she said.

“Still want to go to Urgent Care?”

‘We can turn around… No. Oh. I don’t know!” she said with the slight rise of frantic OMG in her voice.

“Close your eyes and sit back.” He said as he continued on to Urgent Care.

*Ena has had a cluster of angina attacks over the past couple of days. They all respond to her drugs and none last longer than a couple of minutes. She decided to write to our doctor (Dr. Thomas) and tell her about the cluster but also tell her that she is still trying to get follow-up tests scheduled.

The doctor covering for Dr. Thomas replied that she should go to Urgent Care. Ena called the doctor on-call and talked with him. He said, “this doesn’t look like a cardiac issue to him” but that she should go to Urgent Care based on how she was feeling which was anxious and short of breath which was probably due to being stressed and anxious.

We both mostly expect everything to be “normal” again in the test they run at Urgent Care. As of this draft the blood tests and EKG have come back normal. The Urgent Care doctor said that this is a cardiac issue and has re-referred Ena to Cardiology. He also said that her course of treatment is the standard. She has a new drug so hopefully that will help.

** p.s. I have noticed a lot more traffic out and about. We are still supposed to be staying at home unless travel is absolutely necessary. The American Attention Span is about two weeks long. “AAHHH! CORONAVIRUS! AAAHHH! We are going to DIE! AAAAHHH! We need hotdogs. Guess I’ll run to the store.