I’m reading the Robert B. Parker Spenser series and it has that Western / gunfighter feel to it at times. Manly but sensitive men doing manly things, relying on themselves and others, living by a code. Some of it is macho BS, some of it resonates.
One of the key elements in some of the early books is about how Spenser is generally “self-reliant” as well as “self-contained”. That resonated with me given my own back history of my five-years of “tadpole status” where I ripped apart my psyche from age 28-33 or so and rebuilt it in a different way, figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. Like Spenser, I was self-reliant, but I knew that I wanted to eventually get married, have kids, etc., and to do both of those things, you have to let people in. Which I did. But in doing so, you trade off some autonomy. Not in a bad way, or unwelcome way, but a part of your soul goes with it, at least it does if you do it right.
But I feel like I’ve dropped too many balls in the last couple of years. Some of it started with my change in job at one point, something that seemed like a good idea at the time, but would be a change I might make differently now, if offered today. Not a regret so much as more info than I had, and no guarantees that the other choices would work out better or worse. I like to tell myself that I’m going to retire in about 4+ years, but I haven’t worked all those details out yet. It might be another 5 or 6, could be 9 or 10 I suppose. I feel like I don’t have a plan at the moment, and that lack of a plan is a bit endemic to my age and position. It isn’t a failure to plan, it’s that I know any such plan has way too many variables to be useful right now. The right thing, so to speak, is to go with the flow.
So, if not a plan, then what?
One option, as I described in earlier posts is to think of it as simply a journey:
Where am I now?
What is my destination?
What are the available routes to get there?
It’s an option, but when you are not as clear about the second and third parts, it’s not that helpful.
Another option, as per my last post, is more of a character test…who am I? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How does my mind work? In short, the psych profile I did. As an aside, I find it a bit intriguing, that post. In the history of everything I have ever written, that is probably the rawest. It is not the rawest thing I have ever done, some of that is the stripping bare of my soul in my tadpole days, the parts I didn’t even show my friends, but it is most likely the rawest, purest thing I have ever openly shared about myself and how my brain works. I got a couple of likes or hugs, and zero comments. Yet I know people read it, I can see the stats. Did I bore them? Was it mere mental / emotional masturbation? Or was it too raw? I’m not throwing a pity party that nobody commented, I’m really wondering who knows…I sure don’t. But I digress.
Another technique is a bit more challenging. It is, in a word, imaginative. You essentially try to answer the classic question of “Where do you see yourself in x years?” but with a much more pointed outcome in mind. You ask yourself a far more pointed question, one built not just in your own mind (internally focused) but on what others would say about you (externally focused). A balance between the yin of how you describe yourself and the metaphorical yang of how others describe you. Some people do it with a five year timeline. What would you like people to say about you in 5 years? Or they use 10 years. Or the inevitable, at time of death, what would they see as your legacy?
There are some risks in attempting this process, of course, not the least being some forms of toxic masculinity and stereotypes. The macho stoic man who never cries, never shows emotions, provides for his family, never backs down, blah blah blah. But if you’re careful, some of what can be revealed is intriguing.
Another risk is looking more for superlatives and adjectives than something that is a bit more pointed. “A good husband, a good father” are common catchphrases, and they show up in lots of obituaries. A friend to the people, cared about his community, etc. A thousand different phrases and they could apply to almost anyone, or more importantly, to two people who are completely different yet would have the same phrases said about them at a funeral or wake.
Ten things for your obituary
Over the next month or so, I’m going to write ten posts about things that I hope people could and would use at my funeral. Things that I see and that I hope they see. A yin and yang balance of perspectives in some form of objective reality. What would I want my legacy to be, beyond biology?
Can you do a psych profile of yourself?
| June 27, 2021
If anyone has been watching the Blacklist, they would know that much of the “mystery” of the show has been revealed in the last couple of weeks, written as if the show was ending before it was renewed, and letting many small cats out of the bag, if not the largest. I enjoy the show, and since it is on NetFlix, I watched the very first episode the other day, seeing how they described things, to see if any of the original content didn’t seem to match the latest version. Mostly I just wanted to watch the very beginning where he turns himself in and says he will talk only with Elizabeth Keen.
Yet in watching the episode, I saw a short scene that I had completely forgotten. Liz is meeting with an Assistant Director (her boss for the rest of the seasons, but she hadn’t met him yet) and he’s trying to find out ‘why her?’. She’s a newly trained profiler, first day on the job, and she has no answer. So he asks her to profile herself. She starts answering a bit about her work experience and he stops her…holds up her file and says, “I’ve read your resume and file. What’s not in there?”. So she profiles herself, how her coworkers see her, her plans for a child, her deep-seated desire to understand the nature of crime and the criminal mind as a form of control, etc. Cool concepts.
But it got me thinking. As I’m feeling lost, and wondering how to respond, can I profile myself? What would I say?
My profile of myself
I am an analytical introvert but can appear extroverted in situations where I have a predefined role or in a controlled environment, often betrayed by a desire to talk, mostly about myself or to tell stories. I like to tell myself that I’m a writer, based more on potential and abilities than actual results. I aspire, in all things, to be first true to myself or at least true to a self-actualized or sometimes self-aggrandized vision of myself. I assume other roles by choice, such as son, husband, father, worker, manager, friend, by the way I choose to live my life, but at the core, I see myself first, a single entity, the smallest indivisible unit I can be.
I talk a lot, digressing regularly, monopolizing conversations not as much out of mis-perceived narcissism or self-centredness as out of fear of chaos, loss of control. Talking helps me frame the experience, control the narrative so to speak, literally and figuratively and insecurity makes me talk more when I should listen or when I am already nervous around people.
I am obsessed with nuance. The shades of gray hidden in word choices, concepts that defy identification or discussion. Ethereal differences between similar concepts, positions. I would rather do the wrong thing for the right reasons than the right thing for the wrong reasons. If I can, I would choose to do nothing if not for the right reasons, even where failing to do so might not be what I want or the best solution for everyone. I frequently care more about the means than the ends, but even with means, I care more about the motivation behind choices. I can pursue nuances down rabbitholes to the point of analysis paralysis, well beyond what is “good enough”. I stop myself better in a work setting than I do a personal setting.
Living most of my life inside my head can be exhausting as there is no “off switch”. Yet I pride myself on my brain,. It is the most important part of my sense of “me”, and has been since I was very young. I don’t know if I have a soul, or a religious spirit, or an indefinable “consciousness”, but I have a functional brain, and I’m arrogant about how it works, an arrogance that can taint relationships with others, but I would choose to embrace self-reflection over friendship every time if I was conscious of it. It nourishes me and sustains me in ways the body can never do. Physically, intellectually, even emotionally, ironically. I analyse my behaviour, my feelings, my motivations. I constantly review, consider, judge my own behaviour. I can’t be “me” without it.
The physical world doesn’t interest me in the same way, or at least, not all aspects of it. My corporeal form is a mystery to me, a surprise anytime I look in the mirror to realize I even HAVE a corporeal form in a sense. I avoid manual projects requiring dexterity of movement, or skill in action, rather than the exercise of the little gray cells.
I have three competing thoughts at war in my soul, a triangular battle:
One side of the triangle is the intellectual ideal, a self-actualized version of me in thought and deed. Not as an abstract but as a vision of who I could be…self-contained, independent, resilient;
The second side is the ideal of the emotional me, the one that embraces others, builds connections, who is definitely NOT self-contained or independent, whose strength lies in connections forged with others…family, friends, a community, strangers on the street even; and,
A third side of the triangle, serving as the base for the war…the “real” me, I guess. Influenced by both, buffeted by the outside storms, living. Existing. And with the harshly clouded and biased filter of self-assessment and impossibly high standards, feeling quite often like a failure not in the attempt but in the result. Like I am not achieving any of the potential versions of myself that are better than the current one. Occupying space and time. Flotsam in the tide, no direction, no value-added beyond fate. Seeing too many trees in my life that need tending, not the forest that is often thriving.
I live with three great fears. The greatest public fear is the idea of wasted potential. As a father, as a husband, even as a writer. That I could have done “more” or “better”, even if I didn’t even know what “more” or “better” looked like nor how to define them. Yet the idea of wasted potential seems simple, obvious, clear.
My second less public fear is one that was nailed by a personality profile that I did some time ago (2004 or so). That the nuances I see, the ones that I think are the most important thing in the world, the pinnacle of my reason, the outcome of all my analysis and reflection are not only beyond my ability to explain to others but also that for many people, even if I could explain them, their reaction very well might be simply “meh”.
And of course the greatest fear, the greatest weakness based on the greatest strength…that my mind will falter, and whatever “me” that I am will simply cease to be. Not a physical death but a cognitive one.
I don’t entirely know where that came from. It’s been germinating for a while, as you can see. But even with all that mental masturbation, I am not entirely sure where it leaves me. It’s unlike anything I have ever wrote about myself before, certainly rawer than anything I’ve written before either.
Yet it feels like I’m on the right track to somewhere. I just don’t know where the journey is going. Maybe I don’t need to. I know where I am, I know somewhat what my choice of destinations looks like. Maybe all that I need to accept for now is today’s step.
Blowing the dust off the last 16 months
| June 27, 2021
So, today was the day. I got my first vaccine shot, Astra Zeneca, back at the end of April. Two months later, today, I got my second shot, this time Moderna. I’m doubly vaccinated.
Quick overview of the process
My wife booked me in through the provincial system, and with lots of bookings coming available in the last week, she found me a spot in August, then July, then two in June. We adjusted the schedules slightly and I went in at 4:30 this afternoon. The site was a local sportsplex, and I know it pretty well. My wife has played curling there as well as taken some courses, my son has had multiple summer camps, we’ve done a few expos there, swimming lessons, even attended a friend’s wedding vow renewal ceremony. Best of all? Lots of free parking. But overall, my greatest “sense” of the place was volunteers out the wazoo.
I pulled into the lot, and there were three people near my entrance directing traffic, checking timing, etc. with another three on the other side managing another entrance. They directed me to the best place to park, someone directed me at the main door to the right hall (a curling rink area in normal times that I’ve been in lots of times previously for various functions), someone at the main door directed me to another greeter, and the greeter directed me to a specific registrar in a long line of registration booths with nobody at them at the time I arrived. I spoke to six different volunteers before I even spoke to the person who registered me.
They checked my health card and did my symptom screening, all simple, and then directed me to follow a series of dots that took me down a long line only to double back and come back about half way to meet another greeter. It’s set up to deal with a lot of people at the same time, but there was only me. As I walked by the ultimate greeter spot, and she was directing me down this long unused corridor, I joked, “See you soon!”. Once I went down and back, I was like, “Long time no see!”. She directed me to another traffic director who took me down a corridor of booths lined with see-through vinyl/plastic, like a trade fair, except in each booth there was just two chairs. One for you, one for a guest. And you wait.
A nurse comes along eventually with a cart with her tablet on it, any supplies she needs, etc., and then she goes back and gets her ergo chair and wheels it along the corridor too. When she’s done a row, she goes back to the first booth and starts over. There were about 12 “corridors” / rows I would say, and all of them double-sided, so call it 24 rows of booths with about 6 kiosks per row, about 144 in total. But 24 nurses doing the shots.
I didn’t have to wait long, we chatted briefly while she got set up, and found out they’re doing about 1900 a day, and yes, it does feel like an assembly line to her. Not surprising.
Pfizer shots were what was booked, but we’re low on supply in the province right now, so everyone is getting Moderna. Fine with me, no real difference so far in outcome.
What did surprise me was the feeling as it went in. I know it goes into the muscle and I made sure I relaxed the arm in advance. But the whole time it was “in” the arm, I could feel the sting. I’ve had that with multiple things recently. Bloodwork that I did about a month ago was the same…normally you feel it going in, but once “in”, it kind of stops stinging until it comes out. I mean, you know it’s there, but it doesn’t “sting”, usually. However, for me, the bloodwork stung the whole time the needle was in. I thought it was something unique to the bloodwork but today was the same. The needle was in my arm maybe 15 seconds in total, but I felt it sting the entire 15 seconds. Nothing problematic, just made me nervous for Jacob. He hates needles and I’m hoping he doesn’t experience the same when he gets his second shot.
After it was over, I had to do the standard 15 minute wait, so over I go to the waiting area. Which is also an extra registration area? A little confusing, but whatever. Anyway, I finish my 15 minutes, walk up expecting to just show my form and leave, but no, I have to basically be “deregistered” and for them to complete the receipt process etc. Another two volunteers had pointed me to the waiting room, and then two more were directing “deregistration traffic”.
The first one told me to go to booth 1…I took about ten steps, passed volunteer 2 who told me to go to booth 4. Umm, okay, whatever. The guy at booth 4 heard both and was kind of shaking his head, and said, “No problem, I’ll take you here.” Except he couldn’t find me on his list. I gave him my health card thinking it might be a misheard name or something, but no, my file wasn’t “closed”. So he tells me to sit back down, and he’ll go check, but his question to me is, “Do you know where you got your vaccine?”. I swear to god, my first reaction was to say, “umm…here?”. But I over-rode it and told him which booth I had been in so off he want to find the nurse to get her to properly close my file, etc. He’s gone about 10 minutes. He comes back, I’m sitting about 10 feet in front of his desk, and he says in a pretty loud voice, “Okay, Paul, I’ve got you set up and you can come over now and we’ll finish this.”
I join him at the desk, and about 10 seconds later, one of the two traffic volunteers comes over and says in a big embarrassing voice, “You knowwwwww, we have a line here.” The registration volunteer helping me is like, “Umm, yeah, we know. He already went through it. Thanks.” Anyway, he is able to close the file, all good, I pick up my paperwork, about to leave, and he says kind of jokingly, “Don’t forget…we apparently have a line.” He thought the other guy was hilarious.
I pass four more volunteers to get out to the parking lot, and three more as I exit the lot. Wow, that is a LOT of volunteers.
My emotional reaction
When I had dose 1, I wrote about the fact that it seemed anti-climactic in some ways. I thought I might be super emotional, and then convinced myself it was more about dose 2. I also hoped that they would have one of those little kiosks set up where you could take a selfie to say, “I got dose 2!”.
There was nothing set up, and I had no overt emotional reaction at all. But as I walked out of the hall, I did have a physical one.
I got a bounce in my step. And I suddenly had a craving for something to “mark” the change. Something to blow the dust off the last 16 months, something memorable that I would recall in years to come. Something different, but not some ritual or anything. And then it hit me.
I wanted accompanying music. I wanted fanfare. I wanted a song that was not something cheesy like “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang or “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, although the sentiment would work. I wanted something rarer. Something a bit more like “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Something I wouldn’t necessarily hear on the radio very often but maybe in the future I’d hear it and think about this as a watershed moment. A turning of a corner, so to speak.
I wanted something that I could crank loud in the car, would get my toes tapping, and honestly, something with a bit of a harder rock feel, not pop. Out of the blue, I had a craving for a very specific song.
I like the song. I think somewhere in my old CD collection I even had the album it came on just for that song. But it is a song from ’73, from Scottish rock band Nazareth. It is not a song I came to myself, it is very much a product of having a much older brother who had all the 70s music there was in album and, yes, even 8-track. I think I even heard this for the first time on 8-track.
There was only one song that would suit my mood and meet my need. It’s Razamanaz.
Since 4:00 p.m. today, I’ve probably listened to the ’73 version over 20 times. Each time, it jazzes me up. It is my “end of COVID isolation” anthem. I know, I know, we’re not there yet, but I needed a song, and this one is mine. I will never hear it again in my life and not think of how I’m using it to blow the dust off my life.
Even my wife noticed, wondering where this upbeat, energetic, finger-snapping, shoulder and head-bobbing husband came from when we were running errands afterwards.
I’m fully vaccinated. Willingly stabbed twice. If that isn’t a reason to turn the stereo up to 11, I don’t know what is.
Feeling lost about feeling lost
| June 27, 2021
As I’ve blogged about a few weeks ago, I’m really hitting a wall these days. The lack of social release has been messing up my brain, as has my continued impersonation of a rabbit living in a subterranean burrow. The physical health stuff for my leg wound is behind me, thankfully. We have no financial pressures. Nothing looming on the horizon, at least nothing we aren’t prepared for already mostly.
Yet I’m struggling.
I have always prided myself on my ability to carry a fairly high degree of stress. No matter what, I can get most jobs done if I’m physically, emotionally and mentally capable of doing them. Build a house? No. Rewire the basement? No. Write a guide to astronomy? Sure. And most of the time I am pretty clear about my limitations. I don’t usually take on something that I can’t handle. Occasionally, I overcommit on some stuff, scheduling things as an introvert that I really shouldn’t, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more like a taking on a project.
Like biweekly trivia, for example. I started running a game back in the late winter / early spring, and it was an opportunity for 10-12 people to play online trivia against each other, mainly for my wife and son plus friends and family. I expected the crew to grow, and it has slightly, but also waxed and waned. I like trivia, it seemed like a good social connector, and I was happy to do it. Until I wasn’t. It’s actual “work” for me to organize the questions, and as much fun as the initial part can be in some ways, the actual running of the game was producing very little payoff for me. The people playing would go off to their breakout rooms, joke, guess, compare answers, submit answers and come back to the main room, while I sat in the main room by myself and waited. It’s not fun doing that part as I’m not interacting with anyone much, unlike previous iterations I’ve done as trivia master. I didn’t expect that, I confess.
And it was getting to feel like a chore. One that I couldn’t emotionally or mentally commit to consistently. I found myself realizing on Tuesday night that I hadn’t prepared the questions, and trivia was set for Wednesday. Or I would go to host the game on Wed and suddenly realize I hadn’t created the draft answer sheets yet (it’s only a few minutes work, but it IS work that I had to do at the last minute before the game started). I found myself regretting running it or more pointedly, regretting having committed to it.
So I did something I almost never do. I backed out of my commitment. I announced no more trivia until at least September. That was REALLY hard for me to do. Yet it was also self-care. Letting myself off the hook with the same advice I would give a friend if they were in the same boat. “Heal thyself first, everyone will understand, and it isn’t a ‘must do’, it’s a ‘nice to do’ at most”. I feel like I let Jacob and Andrea down, but I couldn’t carry the load.
Dropping another major ball
Today I dropped another major ball. I am part of a local astronomy group, and an idea came up for a project. It is something I had considered doing in part for some time, potentially on my own, potentially as PolyWogg or with the astronomy group, or even another astronomy org. It came up, I volunteered to do it with someone else, and I even signed out some materials from one of our partners to do it. That was February.
Since then, I’ve worked on it piecemeal here and there. Writing, testing, researching. I tried some setup previously, worked okay, I thought I was good to go. Timing was an issue, as was the weather, but I thought, “No problem, by the end of March”. Then April. May.
I’ve been getting super stressed. Stuff I tried wasn’t working the way it should have. The editing wasn’t coming together. But I stuck with it, I’m stubborn.
But then I hit another wall yesterday. I tried to assemble the telescope to get the last bit down, and two of the things I needed to do, I couldn’t remember how to do them or figure it out. It was like I’d never seen a telescope before. Yet I need the steps to work to complete the filming. It was a no-go. And in the current COVID world, it’s not like I can have someone simply pop over and help me over whatever mental block is happening.
It has been feeling like a weight around my neck pulling me down. No longer a project I was excited about but one I’ve been dreading. And as I said, some of the pieces were done, but when I went to assemble them as a draft, the video quality is not up to standards. It looks terrible. Almost like image stabilization wasn’t on (comes standard) or my quality settings were at the minimum (they weren’t).
In a different world, I would blast through. I might even take time off work to just “get ‘er done”.
Except I don’t actually feel right now like I CAN get ‘er done. I have no gas in the tank, emotionally, physically or mentally.
As unprofessional as I feel having to tell the organization I can’t do what I started to do, and that most of what I created so far is unusable, it would be even more unprofessional of me to continue trying to make it work when I have no confidence it will.
So I returned all the materials today and wrote my organizers to say “Sorry, I’m out.” I feel more ashamed than relieved. Maybe relief will come later. For now, I feel like I let myself down, as much as them. Sure, they’ll say “We understand”, and say all the right things about mental health, etc. But it doesn’t change the reality for me which is I committed to something that I feel I should normally be able to deliver. And instead? I’m flaking out. More like tapping out, but it feels like flaking out.
Feeling lost as I turn 53
On a larger scale, I’m feeling lost. Confused. Languishing as they say in the New York Times and elsewhere. Overall, mentally, I like the newer metaphor that we have a preset limit for our mental bandwidth. We can put through only so much, and as the noise of COVID and isolation grows, it reduces the usable bandwidth further.
Mine feels like I’m operating at 50%. I’ve had some recent social outings, one to some friends for an afternoon by the water, one on the weekend with Jacob and Andrea to Pinhey’s Point and then eating on a local patio. But it’s not replenishing me, not filling up my bucket as rapidly as previously, nor diminishing the noise that reduces mental bandwidth. It’s refreshing, but it doesn’t feel sustaining.
As an analytical introvert, I get an energy boost from reading, and I am binging like crazy this month. I read about 20 books a year over the last few years, plus or minus 10 or so, mostly fiction. Since June 1st? I’ve finished 21 already and half-way through my 22nd. It’s keeping me going, but it ain’t replenishing things either.
I have huge projects outstanding, and I have a way forward, to rebuild what I have lost, to find myself so to speak, but that is a post for another day. What has been interesting to me is a combination of three feelings.
First and foremost, I’ve been wondering about the nature of being lost. If you think of being “physically lost”, say in the woods, when exactly do you reach the stage of “lost”? Most people think of metaphorical “lost” as being without a destination or more aptly a plan to get there, while physical “lost” as being more about not knowing where you are or how to get anywhere necessarily. For me, I think it is a combination of not knowing where you are, not having a plan to get you somewhere else, and not necessarily having a “somewhere else” in mind as your destination.
But at what stage, as you lose your location, your route or your destination, do you become officially lost? I have always had a pretty good idea of my current location, the “id” as my sense of self and my capabilities. As my mental bandwidth takes a beating, I don’t know that I know my current capabilities exactly. I don’t know that my destination has changed much, I feel relatively confident on that, but I have no confidence that my previous “route” so to speak would get me there. I have doubts.
Secondly, one of the series’ I’ve been binging is the Jane Whitefield series. The premise is simple…she’s a one-person Witness Relocation Service to help someone disappear when people are trying to kill or hurt them. While I don’t want to disappear, the series does bring up lots of questions about the relationship between “self” and “identity”, “habit” and “character”. For example, her primary advice to her clients in the stories is that everything is about simple incrementalism. If people know you like to read, don’t go to the local library in your new life. You can read, but altering your habits slightly will make it harder for them to find you. Small steps that move you from your “old life” to your “new life”. Equally, there is a lot of discussion of how much of “you” is from your “nature” side and how much is learned from your “nurture” side over the course of your life. What can you easily change, what can’t you change?
Finally, I’m also binging the Robert B. Parker series called Spenser for Hire (or at least on TV, that is what it was called). In it, Spenser is the intrepid private detective. He has a best friend, Hawk, who is a top-level thug, a mercenary free-lancer doing whatever he is paid to do and not worrying about the metaphysical nature of it all. Spenser, by contrast, thinks all the time. It is not uncommon in the books for other characters to treat him a bit like he’s some wannabe throwback to the Knights of the Roundtable, rescuing fair maidens and young men in distress, including his brilliant psychologist girlfriend. He lives by a code, he does what he says he’ll do and never quits even if it hurts him; he’s quite thoughtful in general, neighbouring on philosophical; thuggish in his physical behaviour; and the renaissance man who likes to cook good meals, drink good spirits, and read voraciously. While he sounds impossible, he’s also rather down to earth in his wants and desires, eschewing dress up clothes, etc.
Yet what entices me to the series of late is the sense of “completeness” that he has created. Like most characters, you can see the “self-reliance”, that’s inherit in most protagonists I think. But what sets Spenser apart to a great deal is much of his life is also relatively “autonomous”. He knows what “completes” him. And in the early days of the series, what completes him is simply him. I’ll come back to this in a later post, as it seems misleading and disingenuous to try and discuss it in detail here.
But between the feeling of being lost, wondering about identity, and the ideas of autonomy vs. self-reliance, I feel somewhere in there is a nugget of wisdom I need to find.
Each year, on New Year’s and my birthday in June, I take stock of where I’m at, where I’m going, and how I’m doing at getting there. This birthday seems more like a crapfest, not feeling like I’m in control at the moment. I’ve got some ideas of how to get back on track, but I’m not there yet.
Tune in tomorrow for another episode of the weird mind of PolyWogg…
Joining the herd
| June 27, 2021
As of today, we have completed 1/6 of our household steps towards vaccinated immunity. With the recent drop in age for the AZ vaccine, my GP’s office had sent out a broadcast email to patients over 40 to say “Come and get it!”, like ringing a dinner bell. But my profile isn’t completely typical, so after reading a bunch of stuff online, I reached out to my GP to check on whether the AZ vaccine was right for me and that my curation had been correct.
Generally speaking, of course, the recommendation is to go with availability over efficacy rates. Currently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about rated to 90-95% efficacy, while AZ was down at 70%. Those are the initial efficacy rates against contraction, but all three of course are almost 100% effective against serious illness leading to hospitalization or death. In other words, even if you get sick after that initial efficacy number, your second number is generally 100%.
So what’s the issue?
I’m on the cusp of pre-diabetic / diabetic. When the three available vaccines were tested, they had very few people in the sample group with diabetes, and when they did, they usually weren’t separated out between Type 2 (controlled with lifestyle or medication) or Type 1 (requiring insulin shots). I would be near to the Type 2 category.
For the results they DO have, the numbers drop for efficacy — anywhere from 15-25% lower than that of the general population. Again, though, that’s the efficacy rate against contraction. Very few of the studies reported had reliable reporting on the secondary efficacy, but it LOOKED like 100%.
Yet you can only get one vaccine type, and I was reasonably sure I was good to go with the AZ one, but as I said, I wanted to be sure. I booked my appointment and then reached out to the GP for a quick consult before getting it.
My questions broke down into three steps:
a. As a near type 2 patient, was there anything that suggested I should wait for Pfizer over AZ? Was there anything with my health that said “wait”? As expected, and as hoped, she confirmed that the second efficacy number is close to 100% still for AZ for diabetics, and thus, yes, availability is more important than initial efficacy.
b. My household has an atypical profile with all three of us in the house having higher-risk profiles individually. Did that change anything in the calculation? I was mostly worried that I could still contract it with the lower rate and transmit it to them. But “some” immunity faster is still better than efficacy rates, as expected and hoped. It might even strengthen the rationale, although it is a double-edged sword, of course.
c. The last question was one I found no information about anywhere…some disease profiles suggest that the person should NOT wait 4m for the second dose but should get it sooner rather than later. Certain auto-immune diseases for example are being recommended to get Dose #2 as soon as possible. While AZ is being rolled out for dose #1 now, and the second in 4m, I wanted to know if anything in my personal or household profile changed that calculation. Put bluntly, if I could get Dose #1 of AZ now but Dose #2 wasn’t available for 4m, but I could wait a month for Pfizer but get 2 doses a couple of weeks apart, then waiting might get me “completed” for dose #2 faster. Diabetes didn’t seem an obvious candidate to avoid the waiting period, but as I said, you can only get one dose. I didn’t want to find out after the fact that I should have gone another route.
In the end, I was all clear. I was expecting to be, sure, but I did want to be sure. It’s too important to rely on Dr. Google for this one.
I confess, I don’t often think of it as a shot. Sure, I say “flu shot” like everyone else, and my “COVID shot”, but I would never use it as a verb. A couple of friends posted about being shot and I was like, “Huh?”. Because for me, it is very clearly a stabbing. 🙂
I booked the appointment through my GP’s online site and was relatively shocked to see that they had Sunday appointments available. I didn’t click as soon as I got the first notice, I wanted to check a few things, but I was able to book on Thursday for Sunday’s schedule. Pretty quick overall.
I arrived, parked in the lot next door (free on weekends!), and entered the hospital (the clinic is in the first floor of a LT care facility). A security person directed me to a COVID screening form, a receptionist checked me in and gave me a new mask, a nice escort took me to an available nurse in one of the examining rooms, and it was on like Donkey Kong.
Cathy, the nurse, did a simple run-through of who I was, checked my contact info so I could get receipts and follow-up notifications, screened me for a bunch of Qs again about reactions or likely reactions to a vaccine, confirmed a few details about the vaccine itself (where I was like, huh? Oh right, yes, she should tell me what she’s injecting, I suppose). Small needle, go to the waiting room for 15 minutes.
While I was in the waiting room, I got the notification from the scheduling portal for my second dose. They also told me orally that it was assuming they got the vaccine then, and nothing changes to either move it up or back. It’s an administrative booking, basically, more of a reservation than any guarantee that they’ll have a dose available then or that it will take that long.
I killed my 15m and left. About 30m after I got my shot, the Ministry of Health sent me a confirmation email as my immunization record.
My mental / emotional reaction
I said to Andrea and Jacob that I might cry when I got it. So much stress, and here’s a small light at the end of the tunnel. And as I walked towards the hospital, I did feel quite emotional. All the way through it? Nada. Just process.
When I left the building, I let the experience flow into me, and while I felt like I *could* react more for a release, I wasn’t feeling like I needed it. I was fine. Ho hum even.
I found it a bit odd, actually. I wanted to ring a bell, smash a pinata, get doused in confetti, have someone solemnly say, “I now pronounce you vaccinated”.
But ten minutes after I left, I was back in my ongoing mindset. The NY Times had a great article this past week about the new term for those who are stuck between normalcy and not-quite-depression — it’s called languishing. And it almost precisely captures what I have been feeling for the last two months as I recovered from my leg wound and rebuilding my website.
Now that I’m done the rebuild, I feel almost out of sorts. There’s no fanfare for finishing THAT either. I feel like there should be a reward for myself, some milestone to celebrate somehow, and yet here is perhaps one of the biggest milestones of the last 14m, and I was already past it and thinking, “Hmm, what’s for dinner?”.
Right up until Andrea hugged me at home. Then I lost it. I could probably lose it again right now, while I am writing this, if I let myself. The built-up energy, the tension in my heart and mind. Yet it isn’t honestly about me, not really. Sure, I’m scared like everyone else, and with my health, there’s a good chance that long-term ventilator use would not end well if I was hospitalized.
But my biggest worry is about Jacob and Andrea. I am their biggest vector. Jacob has almost no other vectors BESIDES me, actually. And the thought of my getting sick and exposing them, or leaving them without my support, is scary AF.
The journey isn’t over
Earlier today, I received my feed from GoComics.com and I loved the post by Tim Campbell (here). In the comic, it shows a person running a race and crossing under a banner held up by two vaccine needles. The caption reads, “Keep Going. This is not a finish line.”.
And it’s not, in oh so many ways. But let’s cut it to two.
First, the obvious one, just because I have a single dose, or even if I had a double dose, I still have to keep social distancing and wearing a mask. It doesn’t change my life until we get closer to herd immunity.
Second, the bigger issue? It’s one dose of six that my household needs. I need another dose of course. Plus Andrea is consulting with one of her doctors on her best way forward, similar to my discussion above. In the meantime, she’ll take whoever offers her an appointment first, and she’s registered multiple places. With 2 doses needed for her.
But Jacob is turning 12 in May, and probably by the fall / early winter, there will be options for people down to the age of 12. I chatted with him recently about how he feels about it, and while he has no strong views about the vaccine or not, the abstract doesn’t really resonate with him vs. the practical issues of going to school or being virtual. The bigger issue for him is that he doesn’t like needles. I told him he needs to get comfortable with the idea because I don’t know of too many reasons we wouldn’t do the vaccine for him if it’s generally available. 🙂 Maybe he can race his cousins although a couple of them might have a leg up, having a doc for a mom. 🙂
So where does that leave me? A tad bit more hopeful than I was this morning. I’m still languishing.
But I’m at least languishing with a small hole in my left arm. I’ve taken my step towards joining the herd.