No Holds Barred: Do No Harm

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My brother Steve Sabol’s last collage he made before he died of brain cancer in 2012. Steve will be inducted into NFL HALL OF FAME next week for his creative vision of NFL Films.

Just as I was getting used to the optimistic light-orange NYT map of the US looking low on Covid infection, we now have a new national map of red bullseyes indicating multiple mass shootings to look at.  Bill Maher is right, the media’s “panic porn” has taken over.

Last week I had two female friends, who were nervous about getting vaccinated, finally get their Johnson and Johnson shot.  Both did it four days before the distribution was halted.  They have been fearful ever since about getting a blood clot.  Neither has shown a sign of anything but anxiety.

I also heard from three acquaintances last week taking themselves to the ER complaining of chest pain and dizziness.  All three live alone and admitted to feeling vulnerable in their “House of Mirrors” solitude.  They were all scanned, tested, and released, and one did get diagnosed with sinusitis.  So, spring allergies now cause panic?  What doesn’t?!

We are once again living on a cushion of pins and needles.  Post-vaccine life makes us feel skittish at best.  Will we act like Ron deSantis and go brazenly maskless and just live your life, or as Anthony Fauci – apprehensive, vigilantly double masking and avoiding indoor dining?

“BBL,” or Brazilian butt lifts, are now officially a thing — here!

I have another 60-year-old friend who hasn’t stopped commercially traveling for over a year. She has been to many Mexico beaches, Florida, and coast to coast staying in hotels and “living it up.”  She just got fully vaccinated last week and is off to Dubai very soon.  None of these trips are essential.  I thought she was just longing to hook up but now I see it is some kind of response to the dourness of living in NYC. And for her, a red badge of courage to prove she refuses to live in fear. Good for her. I guess seeing the world in a pandemic is the new touring.

I also hear of a lot of very young girls going to Mexico (high Covid rate) to get “BBL” – Brazilian butt lifts.  Imagine the popularity of getting your stomach fat sucked out and stuffed into your ass at the bargain rate of $5000?! Welcome to post-Covid body imaging and Mexico’s newest industry along with cheap dental implants (and now cannabis).

Actually, all surgery is up and running – especially plastic surgery in the US.  Doctors are back “rock and rolling” operating and diagnosing although they never really left.

I am still hesitant about “coming out” and the guidelines are all over the place.  But I figured doctor appointments are the safest social thing to do.  Last week I went for check-ups at my dentist, dermatologist, and primary.  They all looked exhausted, but the offices were buzzing, though the waiting rooms still had 6-foot spaced seating.  Medics still take temperatures at the door (retail stores and restaurants have stopped all that and tracking info).

The wonders of a little medical tape.

I ended up seeing my great Primary Doc Scott Bernstein, complaining of MY OWN high anxiety (rapid heartbeat, adrenal high-wired surges).  I have known my doctor for ten years, and admittedly have put him through the wringer of weekly (and we’re talking pre-Covid) hypochondriacal emergency calls.  His patience and endurance through all my “imagined theatrics” have earned him the “royal title” of “my strength and stay.”  His mere ability to compassionately listen to people going off the grid hourly is amazing to me.

This year, I saw him double masked, shielded, double gowned, and gloved.  Now he is just double masked and gloved, but I haven’t seen his face in 13 months.  I think he grew a beard at one point.  During our last visit, we spoke of getting a grip on the “panic epidemic” by NOT heading to medications.  He insisted I return to  outdoor yoga immediately with a vaxed and limited amount of people and dump the Zoom classes.

Dr. Bernstein, then and now.

Best-seller doctor recommendation.

He suggested I read James Nestor’s new book Breath, try a few drops of Kava tincture in my water in lieu of Ativan, and seriously redo my sleep routine.  Shut down all devices one hour before sleep, darken the room, get a decent pillow (NOT “My Pillow”), no snacks. and listen to a Nidra meditation on YouTube once I’m settled down in bed.  In between all that, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (not with caffeine) and find an electrolyte drink I can stand to reinforce water in my tissues.  Keeping hydrated is key to anti-anxiety.

Best herb for anxiety — as good as Xanax.

Now… I kind of knew all these suggestions, but in Covid insanity I ignored most of them and settled into mainlining chocolate and caffeine and binging on Netflix all day and night.  But the jig is up and time to get a grip or down the rabbit hole I go.

I realize that Covid did some good things like stopping the FOMO (fear of missing out) trend — the desire to be with lots of people in crowded noisy eateries and events.  Screaming to be heard and feeling the deafening roar.

Extroverts have had a hard time being alone but I have discovered that a lot of my “friends” were just “filler.”  And now I don’t miss any of those obligated “get-togethers” because I have nothing to say and neither do they.  I don’t think we ever did.  But the four friends I have left (mostly phone) are enough.  Quality vs. quantity and they put up with my continued daily emotional rollercoasters.

There is freedom and calm in all the newfound “empty” emotional space.  I just have to learn how to support it and keep it clear of free-floating anxiety.  I doubt I will ever go back to the “tons of fun” in endless airport lines or crowded restaurants.  Now I have come too far in my “quieter” self.

What I did realize seeing my doctor was the hit he and every physician took this last year.  When he stood up at the end of our recent appointment, he wobbled a bit and confessed he had to get back into his own fitness regime (he is a fit 61-year-old).  Covid sucked out all of his time in dealing not only with his anxious patients, but in keeping his personal family safe and sound.  It was a tightrope of pressure for him between the office calls, Teladoc and endless late-night calls.

Remember last March with the 7 PM pot banging and cheers from city windows and balconies celebrating the first responders?  That has disappeared as the rioting and demonstrating took over.  But the doctors and first responders are still “on call” and overworked.  They all continue to fly by the seat of their pants trying to get a handle on the virus.  I keep thinking of the “Hippocratic Oath” of “Do No Harm.” What a motto to live by, especially now.  And remember, data changes daily — leaving many doctors spinning in their heads.

As my friend Devorah Coryell (Director of Integrative Medicine Elective Rotation at the Dr. Andy Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson) says, “Covid really hit the doctors (and all first responders) the hardest because they were already getting squeezed and gut punched by insurance companies and Big Pharma.  Doctors ended up being sacrificed in Covid with round the clock demands with no PPE or support early on from the AMA as to how to get through this.  The physician burn-out and suicide rate has been high from all this.  After all, who is taking care of our caregivers?  In the end … the patients will pay the price if our medical community isn’t backed up with information, help, and most of all, respect.”

One person I refused to give up on during this year is my Physical Therapist Jason Marino.  He continued to come to my mom and me weekly (goggled and masked with his gear drenched in sanitizer) to maintain our verticality and balance from falling.  His mantra is to “maintain our bodies” no matter what, and he gave me Warren Buffet’s “Lesson on Life;” “Let’s say I can give you a brand-new car of your choice tomorrow, free of charge.  The only catch is it has to last you a lifetime — what would you do?  Would you keep it garaged and if there was a dent or a scratch would you get it fixed immediately and what about rusting and part replacement?  Would you keep reading the manual?  It is the same with your body and mind.  You only get one so it’s got to last you for years.  And if you don’t start taking care of it now, it will be an expensive wreck.  It’s what you do now, today, that determines how your mind and body will operate ten years from now.”

PT extraordinaire Dr. Jason Marino and his sanitized gear.

So, it’s no wonder Covid made our nation aware of its huge obesity, diabetes, and heart issues.  I never knew what “pre-existing” conditions really meant.  And now with all our Pelatoning, Keto dieting and Iron Man-ing we are still the most unhealthy population. “Disease of the week” is our real reality show.

In a year, we learned about “Covid deep breathing” (hold for eight counts and release slowly) Oximeters and oxygen uptake, the great outdoors, the importance of just walking five days a week to prevent possible death, vitamin D, etc.  And now the NYT is publishing personal reunion accounts of grandparents seeing their newborn grandchildren who they missed over the year.  I guess that will outplay the same sex nuptial announcements … for a while.

Jason Marino working out in the pool with dad.

“Out of the woods” changes daily. I already threw out most of my flesh-eating hand sanitizers, dumped the gloves, stopped making my own wipes because Lysol dual action wipes are back.  My hairdresser took down his Plexiglas partition since he is in his own booth now.  My own “W” emotional peaks and valleys curve is slowly leveling.  It still spikes, but not hourly.  I noticed our desert “Spring Break” didn’t cause any giant infection surges.  And most beaches don’t kill. Fauci is rumored to consider changing his most recent protocols.  Life fluctuates hourly, but for sure panic is still worse than Covid.

Yesterday I went to get a major pedicure.  The salon was empty and my nail tech and I were fully vaccinated.  Halfway through her hour-long scrub-n’-file deluxe service I ripped off my mask (with her permission) as I couldn’t stand another second of my own carbon dioxide nausea dizziness and deafness.  I felt  MLK “free at last, thank God free at last.”  I danced out of the salon and immediately noticed a sign saying, “Brazilian Butt Lift Salon — Coming Soon.”

The future is here!

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