Over the two-year course of this COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken extra steps to keep myself and my family safe. I’ve kept abreast of the latest medical advice and research. I’ve invested in N95 and KN95 masks. I’ve hauled around my HEPA air filter to places where proper ventilation would be hard to come by. Most importantly, whenever I’ve had the slightest concern that any health symptoms I’d been experiencing might have been COVID, I have gotten tested with Wake County’s free PCR COVID tests. Six times I’ve done this, and six times I received a relieving result of negative. Most recently, we were shipped a set of four COVID antigen tests free from the government, and a test using one of those turned up negative, too.
I kept my precautions up, thinking I had succeeded in avoiding an COVID infection. It turns out I may have been wrong and didn’t even know it.
Last week, I noticed that one of my right toes was a little stingy and looked bruised. I didn’t recall injuring it so I wondered if it might be the “COVID toes” I’d heard about. See, COVID patients reported sores on their toes (mainly. Fingers may be involved, too), and my toe looked suspiciously like this. COVID attacks the vascular system in addition to everything else it hits, and red toes can be a symptom. Around that time, I had an attack of my Reynaud’s Syndrome, with some of my fingers turning numb and white for over an hour. This red toe effect could also be caused by Reynaud’s (which is also a vascular disease), so I couldn’t say for sure what was what. Thus, I popped open the antigen test and 15 minutes later it told me I was COVID negative. Sure, an antigen test is not as accurate as a PCR test but this was at the height of my symptoms so I assumed if I was going to pop positive on anything it would be right at that moment. But, no, it was negative!
Over the weekend, I got to thinking about how my body reacted to the primary, secondary, and booster COVID vaccines I had gotten. Basically, I didn’t react at all! There were no noticeable side-effects whatsoever. I was thinking about this and deciding that perhaps my reaction to the actual virus would be a similar non-event. I decided to contact the VA to schedule a COVID antibody test, knowing that this might show whether I’d been exposed and didn’t know it.
OZ Division, USS ELLIOT DD-967, fall 1991.
Had a dust-up on social media the other day and, frankly, I am still mystified how it all took place.
I tend to follow online and amplify veterans who lean left because the perception of the military consisting of only right-wingers needs to change. A tweet from one of the more popular veterans I follow attracted several good comments. I liked one from a particular veteran (we’ll call her Karen), checked her profile, and followed her when I saw we had something in common: our Navy occupations were in cryptography.
Durham VA COVID Clinic sign
I got the first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots on Saturday. For several years the Veterans Administration (VA) has been providing my healthcare. About two weeks ago I asked my doctor there if it was possible to get a shot. I stressed that I did not want to take one away from anyone else but if one were available I would love to get it. Thankfully, the VA has made it a priority that every veteran who wants a shot can get a shot. To my surprise, I got a call a day later! I was to be at the Durham VA on Saturday, 6 February at 9 AM to get my COVID-19 vaccination.
Our son Travis has been eager to get his vaccination, too, so in the offchance that he could pick up a shot, too, he accompanied me to the Durham VA. We hit the road shortly after 8 AM and drove through mostly-empty streets to Durham.
We arrived to a somewhat chaotic scene. One of the VA’s parking decks has been undergoing repairs for the past several months and parking has been tight even on a usual day. This day, there was a stream of veteran patients all arriving at the same time for their COVID shots. Though we got there at 8:35 for a 9 AM appointment, it took several minutes to find an open parking spot. Reaching the top level of the deck, we hopped out and headed to the walkway.
It was at the start of the walkway that I stopped to read the sign on the floor. No walk-in shots would be available. Regretfully, I turned to Travis and told him today would not be his day. With sadness, he turned back and waited for me in the car.
I joined a scrum of people waiting in line after line. First was the typical COVID risk screening at the entrance. A woman studied the masks worn by the visitors and switched out ones that didn’t meet her standards. I was amused when I was asked to trade the NIOSH-certified N95 mask that has protected me for months for an uncertified KN95 mask I was given. This was even more amusing when visitors with surgical masks that are not nearly as protective as my N95 were allowed to continue wearing them. Could it be that I know more about mask protection than healthcare workers?
There are some things about my health that aren’t yet going in the right direction. When the pandemic began, I saw a tip to get a pulse oximeter to measure one’s lung health. It has been great in tracking my sleep apnea. Most nights I sleep with no apnea events but it continues to happen. When it does happen I pop wide awake, frustrated not trusting that I won’t stop breathing again.
I still haven’t found any good solutions. I am not sure there are any. I hope that this gets better this year because I am useless without a good night’s sleep.
With gyms closed across the country it’s been tough to get in a workout. Not that I want to work out in a gym. Kinda shy when it comes to my workouts.
I took weight training for a few years in high school, both at South Meck and again at Herndon. To my surprise, it was a really supportive environment. There were guys who could life twice the weight I could but everyone seemed to applaud when someone bested their own record, whatever that may have been. When I arrived at Herndon in 1986 I could bench press 200 pounds, quite significantly more than my weight at the time!
Other than a brief gym membership in the late 1990s, I hadn’t pumped any iron since then. So, when Hallie and Travis started asking if I could find a weight bench for the house, I figured it was time.
I scoured Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for benches and weight sets. Anything posted would be gone within minutes. I searched for weeks to find something that would work, even being willing to rent a truck and drive two hours to pick up a set.
One afternoon, though, I had finished up work and was browsing Facebook Marketplace. A guy in Creedmoor had just posted an ad for a weight bench and weights. Literally within 15 minutes. It was everything I was looking for, so I jumped on it. Travis tagged along with me as we weaved through rush hour traffic to rent a truck and bring it home. While we were loading it into our truck, the seller’s cellphone was blowing up with potential offers. Too late!
So now we have a professional weight bench and weights. Travis works out regularly, adding muscle to his 6’4″ frame. And I love being able to step away from my desk and do a few reps just to clear my head. I’m nowhere near what I used to be able to do yet but I intend to do whatever I can to get back in shape. It’s a great investment in health. I’ve got no excuses now!
Strava 2020 totals
Not all has been doom and gloom for 2020. It was a year that I likely put more miles on my bike than ever before. Quarantining indoors (a.k.a, sitting around feeling powerless) has a way of negatively affecting one’s mental health. One of the few safe things (as well as one of the BEST things) we could do was get outside for some fresh air! Kelly and I biked Raleigh’s greenways on a regular basis (sometimes joined by Travis), knocking out 20 mile rides on a regular basis. We even rode the Neuse River greenway from Anderson Point down to its end in Clayton and back. I had signed up for the paid version of Strava before the pandemic started and, coupled with the sweet Garmin watch Kelly got me for Christmas last year, I was able to track all my progress.
I was amazed to feel the progress I made in my cycling, watching new personal records set on segments I’d ridden for many years. Kelly and I took a more leisurely ride just yesterday and afterward I felt better than I have in months. Cycling has kept me sane, that’s for sure. Daily dog walks don’t hurt, either.
Strava tells me that for 2020 I walked or rode a total of 1,182 miles, being active for 318 days of the year for a total of 266 hours. Overall, I feel great and hope to build on this for even more exercise this year.
Sleep apnea graph
At the start of the pandemic, I read a suggestion from a nurse that having a pulse oximeter would be a good idea. I’ve also had issues sleeping for some years including mild (and some not-so-mild) sleep apnea so I figured it might be good to document these. I bought a model which can be worn comfortably overnight and track the full night’s sleep, the Wellue/ViaTom SleepU P03.
The data it’s shown me is alarming. I have been having apnea events almost every night, some of these lasting long enough to dramatically drop my oxygen saturation. I’d been wondering why I’d suddenly find myself wide awake at 3 AM. Now I know it’s because I’d stopped breathing and my body struggled itself awake.
Though I’ve collected months of graphs showing a problem, I’ve not been successful demonstrating this during the VA sleep studies I’ve had done. I don’t do this every night but it happens with enough frequency that it makes it hard for me to feel rested in the morning. I’m hopeful that a future study will open the door to some treatment. A good night’s sleep is a fantastic gift.
Along my sleep apnea journey, I found the excellent OSCAR app, an open-source data visualization tool that gathers data from CPAP machines and pulse oximeters like mine.
Getting old is not for wusses.
Life as we know it has changed in an astonishingly quick moment. Last week it was fairly normal when it looked like China might be able to contain the virus but then panic set in across the country. Sports leagues like the NBA, NCAA, ACC, and NHL canceled their games. Raleigh’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade was called off. Then Wake County Public Schools decided last Friday to not count absences before turning around on Saturday and closing schools. A week ago I worked my first day at home and have not been back to the office except for a brief time Saturday to retrieve the plants off my desk.
We are doing what is termed “social distancing,” where we interact with as few people as possible. The kids are at home, Kelly and I are at home and we have largely given up any trips outside of the house except for dire emergencies. It is frightening and surreal. In an instant life has changed drastically.
It has been day three of our all being at home. Our home is big enough that we can find our own corners and not disturb each other. When we’re sharing our home office, Kelly has complained about how loudly I chew gum (narrator: it’s not that loud). Spirits are high now but the realization is setting in that this will not be over any time soon. We may have to shelter in place like this for months.
The saving grace is that we are not strictly confined to our homes. At least, not yet. We can go for drives, walks, bike rides, dog walks. Whatever. We are just encouraged to maintain that six-foot distance experts suggest will keep us safe from getting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The start of the fateful sledding run
I spent this past week at the Veterans Administration’s War-Related Illnesses and Injuries Center (WRIISC), getting examined to figure out the strange health issues I’ve had since leaving the Navy (more on that later).
One issue I discussed with them has bothered me for the past few years.I’ve had a numbness that has developed along my right quadricep. It’s icy-cold sensation can wake me from a deep sleep and is quite aggravating. They asked me if I could recall any injury I may have had to my lower back.
At the time I could think of none. but when pondering it this morning the answer came to me and it is decidedly not war-related. Instead, it’s the long-delayed consequences from an injury I received from snow sledding with the family.
They started out studying the immune response to brain tumors in children. But what they found may not only stop tumors from growing, but halt Alzheimer’s disease as well. Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children—have discovered a pathway that prevents the buildup of a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The findings offer a possible new approach to treatment of Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Researchers of the study—published this month in the journal Cell—named the pathway LC3-associated endocytosis or LANDO. They hope to now find compounds that will allow them to restore functioning of the pathway to treat Alzheimer’s disease or block it to treat malignant tumors.
Source: Newly Discovered Cellular Pathway May Mean New Approach For How We Treat Alzheimer’s and Cancer