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One person’s experience with COVID

All of us in our house have gotten two vaccine shots plus a booster before testing positive.

January 1, 2022

Still in the throes of COVID. 

The afternoon of the 27th I started to feel achy and congested.  My spouse P. had had similar symptoms the day before, but she thought missing her asthma inhaler made her chest hurt.  I remember cleaning the kitchen the morning of the 26th—dishes stacked to the ceiling with Norwegian meatball detritus and various charcuterie plates, dozens of beverage bottles, pitchers, glasses, cracker plates. 

What a time we had Christmas day evening playing games with Bob, Heather, Olivia, Josiah!  Also, Kate and her dog Maya had been over.  No wonder the dishes were dirty.  In my mind I kept hearing the Spike Jones classic, “Leave the dishes in the sink, mama!”

Then the night of the 27th my body–back, legs, neck, head– hurt bad enough I could hardly sleep.  I’d cough; down the hall 20 feet I heard sister-in-law Dolly answer with a cough of her own.  That’s when I had the nightmares that the whole world seemed to be a suffering face as big as a barn door.  I coughed mud at it.  Next morning P. asked if I wanted a COVID test.

She found an opening for a COVID test appointment at the CVS pharmacy, but it would take 1-2 days for a result.  Good, I’m thinking.  Probably a more sensitive test than the quick test.  Remember:  high sensitivity means low false negatives.  High specificity means low false positive results.  Of course, they don’t tell that to the lay public.  Instead they use the term “accuracy” and I don’t know precisely what that means, except in terms of plus/minus.

I was dismayed that the CVS pharmacist had me take my own nasal swab sample because I’m not trained to do it properly.  I swirled the swab which looked like a Q-tip, except the swab part was harder and more compact. Because I was in the passenger seat I couldn’t hear the instructions the pharmacist rattled off at the drive-through.  Did I mention we got the test at the drive-through?  Sorry I forgot.  I glanced at the instruction sheet.  Said you don’t have to poke the swab far into each nostril, but to circle inside three times on each side.  I did.  Then we poked the swab into a tube that had liquid.  I wasn’t clear whether to put the business end into the liquid, but P. was sure we needed to, so I did.  Then we returned home and I slept until the next day.  I took two extra-strength acetaminophen tablets every 6 hours for pain.  They helped quite a bit with the back pain, leg pain, arm pain, headache.  I drank coffee that tasted like colored water because I was afraid my headache might be caused from my not drinking my usual coffee.

No result from the test that day, or the next, but the following morning, after a much better night with less coughing, we got the result: positive test.

We didn’t check any temperatures, so I don’t know if any of us had a fever, but all three of us had similar symptoms.  The morning of the 30th, P. and Dolly went to the ER after our son Todd recommended she do so.  Dolly got a COVID test and a flu test, but the COVID was positive, so she got the monoclonal antibody shots.  I called my internist, Dr. Malters, who ordered the antibodies for me.  P. got the COVID test from her physician and the next morning the antibodies.

I didn’t notice a complete loss of taste or smell. In fact I had a great appetite throughout. I tried some of Dolly’s Sprite, but it tasted like carbonated water only. Soup tasted and smelled fantastic. I drank some white wine that tasted like vinegar.

We all feel much better, but still have fatigue, some headache.

Do you know about antibodies?  These are normally produced by our body’s B-Cells in response to infection.  The antibodies themselves are usually Y-shaped molecules that bind to viruses and inactivate them.  The antibody treatments are not well tested, but seem to be effective clinically.

Nor did we party New Year’s Eve. In fact we went to bed at our usual 7 pm.

Anvil looking for a hammer…

Anvil made from a piece of steel rail.

December 25, 2021

I feel Christmasy today.  A social media post by a fellow NOVA theater actor, Manni Ratliff, showed him ecstatic, pleased to be the owner of a new smithy forge!  

Who would have guessed? I have an anvil (albeit homemade out of a railroad rail) in my garage!  I got it from my brother-in-law John Aseltine and now I’m going to give it to Manni when I get the chance.  He messaged me that he would be honored to accept my offering.

At this point I’m the only one at our house who is up amongst the napping folk.  It’s noon hour, but P. has been up cooking and baking Norwegian meat balls since early.  Dolly, recovering from total knee replacement surgery, is napping after a morning of catching up with her friends on the phone.

Faithful dog, Gunther, is on my neck, mostly sitting on the back of the chair.  Lucy, Dolly’s miniature schnauzer puppy, is nestled by my foot.  Probably thinking about urinating on the floor.  Or pooping.  That seems to be her strong suit.  That and cruelly nipping at my fingers and toes.

I like puppies, only insofar as they eventually become mature dogs who do their business outdoors.  And quit biting me and chewing on my stuff. My big sister announced she “hates puppies. And kittens. Kittens’ mothers, at least, clean up after the children.

Santa was excellent to me this year.  I am nearly 73 and I don’t want much stuff.  In fact, my idea of a good time is to get rid of stuff, such as the useful anvil described above.  I did receive a book of sea shanties, three pair of pants, two shirts, a fantastic book and a calendar of Hawaiian flowers.  I’m sure I forgot something.

Sure, there were the usual bottles of wine and popcorn and cookies.  Lots of cookies from neighbors who say they are glad I clear their sidewalks of snow.  I clear their sidewalks with my 24″ Briggs and Stratton snow thrower so I can later freely walk Gunther around the block without falling on the ice.  Selfish reasons.  The cookies are nice, though, and the candy.  I like to clear the sidewalks, makes me feel like a big shot.  I haven’t been a big shot since 1974, when a Marine sergeant told me to “let them know who is the boss” when I was conducting close order drill for a lot of Marines.  

I drilled soldiers exactly once in my 7 years of Marine Corps experience.  I think I could do it again, but there’s some pitfalls to guard against.  When ordering “column right” or “column left” you have to start the command on the proper foot or the soldiers in the platoon can tell you don’t know shit about marching.  Suffice it to say I don’t know much about marching.

I would refer you to the chapter in Joseph Heller’s book, Catch-22 , when he describes how Lieutenant Scheistkopf won a pennant drilling soldiers at the airbase in Santa Ana, California. After I got out of jail the Marine Corps sent me to the airbase in Santa Ana. I conducted close order drill there myself, as described above.

Nor did I win a pennant.

Uphill one way. . .

Henry, actually. Recently.

Winter Solstice, 2021

My childhood memories are jumbled like a UPS truckload of Amazon packages.  Yes, many were sunny and optimistic, as I suspect yours were, but I had my share of blizzards to brave.  Like many blizzards, I often endured them alone. What a strange phenomenon. Perhaps you endured yours solo also. Not all of them, but the most memorable.

I’m recalling things in 1954. That was a tough year for us because Daddy died a few months previously of a brain tumor. His promising career as a journalism professor at the university in Missoula was finished.

Amazes me my mother let me out of the house for me to stump stiffly around to the backyard where the wind made my head ache and my eyes water.  I was four years old!

Maybe today’s not so good for playing outdoors, I thought, as I crunched my rubber overshoes into the icy snow.  My jeans were lined with flannel but my legs got cold anyhow. Normally, I’d find a friend or two outside. 

My friend Mike Kohler, especially, was apt to be outdoors playing on any day of the week—even Sundays—because his family didn’t make him go to Sunday school. I had to skip out on Sundays. I could do it because nobody else in my family had to go, only me. If I went to Sunday School I’d walk a short way up the alley to the Bickel’s house and ride with them.

One snowy day Mike and I planned to take a day off from Mrs. Bloom’s kindergarten to play in the snow.  We met as we usually did for kindergarten, walked to the corner of the block, but took a right, then another right down the alley back to my house.  Mother taught second grade at Jefferson School.  My older brother and sister were in grade school and high school, so nobody saw me return home to retrieve my collection of little rubber army men.  Mike and I built a snow fort to kill the army men by throwing snowballs at them.  We played all morning, then went home, as if from our half-day kindergarten.  Trouble was Mike’s mother knew we finished too early.

Later Larry Bickel chanted at us, “Hookey players, hockey players.”  I had to ask my mother what that meant.

Beating oneself into submission, perhaps.

What a hike! Gunther fell asleep in his water dish when we got back to our car.

December 20, 2021

The past two years have brought much grief and loss to many of us.  And yet we try to put one day in front of the last.  Many happy futures might help ameliorate and cushion the last.  How are we to go on?  

The same as I often dream guilty memories, things done and left undone, a path toward the North stretches through the wooded valley.  I see Kalispell Rock in the distance, standing proudly amid the aspen.  The aspen, because the hillside has been clearcut of pine, fir, larch, and cedar.  The scrubby aspen allows us to slide down the hillside, but prevents easy passage up.  Not easy if you are trying to reach Kalispell Rock.  Best way is to find your way to the ridgeline between the Colville and Priest Lake drainages, then follow North along an ancient trail.

North is the mysterious, cold region of death and the resting phase, always followed by East, South, West.  Never been different, really.  East for awakening, South for work, West for harvest, then resting again.

I go on and on like this because I “cannot write.”  If I could write, I would have written professionally.  You see, I never did.  Now I am at wits end, wanting to scribble some sense, not able to.

I do not want to be talked out of my grief, I came by it honestly and I own it. I lost my best and oldest friend on the planet, Mike Fiedler, amongst a list of other dear friends who have passed on, over the great divide. I’m thinking of Lloyd Yellowrobe and others. I do not need reassurance of my ability to scrawl words. I scrawl many words, and many of those words could well be edited out. Editing didn’t hurt me, never did hurt me. My folksy voice does me no favors. Needs editing. I grimace.

A dear friend, Duke LaRance, berated himself, shouted curses at himself as he wrote. I was incredulous at first, but he is having fair success these days, so I am thinking, not such a bad method. I may hope for success like his.

I learned in college that I cannot write, paid plenty for a professor to beat it into my head. Slowly, like ice melting, I’ve regained my courage, my writer’s voice, my ability to put one thing after another. It’s good. Friends who are encouraging are good.

I’m thinking of hiring a counselor again, one who will make me pay attention to my stories, the ones I am writing for my grandchildren.

Sending Christmas presents to grandchildren

Me and Gunther. Hanging.

December 13, 2021

I’ve been fixing up Christmas gifts for seven grandchildren. Wait. Let me go back.  

I’m 72 years old, and the burgeoning population explosion of offspring weighs on my soul, especially at Christmas, but also birthdays. Daunting! I’m a slacker!

I’ve also been hoarding stuff since I was 24, back in the 70s when I bought a bunch of newly-minted coins on the advice of a co-worker.  (A good investment, said Bill Moody. Always worth face value, but acquire value as collectables.)

I went to the bank and bought pennies, mostly, but all the other denominations in much smaller quantities.  Therefore, I’ve had a whole lot of 1976-dated coins stashed away all those years.   I rented a safe deposit box at First Bank Billings.  More recently I kept the coins on a shelf in our room, in an 8×10 photographic developing tray.  I also gave a granddaughter some actual collections of pennies and nickels.

Therefore, like I said, I’ve been fixing up Christmas gifts.  Coins for grandchildren.  Also favorite books, also a stamp collection I got from my late brother.  

Expense:  mostly it’s been purchasing postage from an affable Post Office man with a name badge, Dean, the man behind the counter at the Pioneer Post Office in our neighborhood.

Mailing rolls and rolls of pennies isn’t cheap.  Some of the packages weigh 15 pounds, perhaps more. Seems worth it to rid myself of the coins, while enriching my grandkids. Hell, if they want to spend them on video games it’s fine with me!

Oh, we helped one grandchild purchase a new couch for her bedroom.  She is a fashion-forward 14-year-old who got a job at McDonald’s to help us buy it.

And we sent some of our books to our other grandsons who live in Duluth.  Books we love that will help them make sense of our dumb world.

Point is, we’ve been spending minimal amounts (except for postage).  Big bucks there.

That’s how we continue to survive this Christmas, retaining much of the fun and frivolity, joy and happiness.  Without going crazy at stores or on-line.

This post is about drug use.


December 12, 2021

Excited to be mid-December.  Legal marijuana in Billings Montana is but a couple weeks away!  A dear friend asked me why I spent six months in jail in my youth, back in 1969.  Drugs?  No.  I hit my commanding officer in the jaw.  Another friend thought that would suit my character.  Okay.  The appeals court said I should not have been punished.

Trouble with pot:  kicks the bricks out of my ability to keep up a conversation (a strength of mine).  My personality is my greatest strength, even if it is superficial.

Trouble with wine:  habit forming.  Kicks me into bed after a few glasses.  Destroys my ability to be anything but BORING after a few glasses.

I’m hoping to cope with a combination of pot and wine.  Not too much of any one drug.

The drug I like best is acetaminophen (Tylenol) because it has minimal side effects and helps my pain and my ability to sleep.  I’m thinking the CBD might be a nice alternative to the activating THC in pot.  Stay tuned.  I think the mellowing effect is good, but subtle.

Drug use for those such as me is ingrained.  Also, I’m a retired pharmacist, so I have an attitude toward acceptance when it comes to drugs.  Opiates?  Good for post-op pain or terminal cancer.  Otherwise, I’m not wanting any.  A dead-end.  Plus it has mild addictive properties.  

Speed?  Don’t get me started.  Speed kills.  I think that’s enough information about that.

Nicotine?  I think that’s a drug to be shunned.  If one is already addicted, one needs to try to taper off.  I did, and it took me a year.  I still have nightmares.

Straight talk about drugs?  Good luck.  Your own experience might be the best counsel.

Nothing much here, just the usual crapola.

The crapster at his controls.

November 4, 2021

I no longer believe I am capable of plumbing.  Leaky faucet?  No.  Running toilet? Nyet.  Broken toilet seat?  Not really.

Eighteen years ago I set out to make sense of the plumbing in our house.  Copper pipes ran hither and yon across the basement ceiling to the kitchen sink on the other side.  Then there were drain pipes and other pipes to vent the stinky air and allow the drains to drain.  Clogged toilet?  Slow-draining sink?  I can do some good with this last one.  

My paramour has long hair.  I used to use Drain-O, a plunger, a six-foot sewer snake.  Had filth, trouble, loose connections, leakage.  Then I discovered the seven-inch length of coat hanger that I fashioned into a crochet hook.  I poked it into the drain (without removing any parts of the sink or drain apparatus) and managed to withdraw great masses of hair to be wrapped in toilet paper and placed into the waste basket.  Worked like a charm on our bathroom sinks.  

I worked in Lame Deer five days/week, so I’d drive 1.5 hours to work, then put in about 8 hours, then drive 1.5 hours home.  This left a remainder of thirteen hours of every day to be wasted in sleeping or fixing the plumbing.

As I mentioned, I set out to make sense of the copper plumbing.  Using a pencil and paper, I sketched the location of the various sinks and bathtub and faucets upstairs and downstairs.

In the end I had an interesting jumble of angles and cross pieces. At two a.m. i turned on the water.

It leaked heartily. So I pulled a 40-gal garbage can to catch the water.

As I watched the water splash gaily, causing bits of paper and trash to dance happily on the choppy surface of the water, I abandoned my post.  I sprinted up the stairs to wake my spouse.

“I fucked up the plumbing,” I said.

Back in the basement I turned off the house water at the entry valve.

Then I ascended the stairs, undressed, put on my pajamas, and went to bed.

Next day I re-soldered the many joints, ruining a perfectly good piece of sheet metal I used to mimic the steel in the galley trays when I made page proofs.  That piece of sheet metal is permanently warped from the heat of the propane torch.  I used the metal sheet to protect the house from catching fire when soldering joints in the basement.

Basement.  My life from the days when I first learned to toddle has been obsessed with visiting the basement to play with the tools and paint therein.  I didn’t play with plumbing early on because it scared me.  I should have been afraid of electrical wires, but electrical wires don’t threaten to flood the house.  Once, in the bathroom, I cranked both hot and cold water faucets on but for some goddamn reason I couldn’t turn the water off.  This was the first of three times I screamed.

I soon had the water turned off because I had no choice but to keep trying.  You can run away from electricity but you can’t run away out of the bathroom if the faucets won’t turn off.  You scream, but you keep ranking and pulling and twisting the faucets.  Nobody else was home.

The second time I screamed I got stuck in the elevator in the university library between floors.  Nobody heard me then either and I got my wits gathered enough to keep trying the switches and playing with the elevator doors that opened on the south and north sides of the elevator, but at different floors.

Third time I screamed was as a principle actor in an opera because I couldn’t sing my solo loud enough to suit Hall Diteman, the director of “Bastien and Bastienne.”

I’ve not screamed successfully since, although I’ve groaned, yelled, hollered.

And yet people ask me to help with their plumbing.  And lead to confusion and delay.

The few diary entries the past month, or so. . . .

Gunther is a constant joyful presence.

October 26, 2021

Started writing several times, but it was no good.  I am ridden with contentment these days, despite the divisive politics and large calamities I read about.  

Opera Pagliacci came and went.  Trip to Hillsboro was most enjoyable with Guy Davis singing some of his modern blues/hip hop/social commentaries. We visited the Hoyt Arboretum and dug dozens of species of maples.

October 6, 2021

P. and I delivered Meals on Wheels yesterday morning.  Went well and the people we delivered the meals to were pleasant in most cases, and in other cases they were mildly grateful.  Sometimes they are so grateful they thank me repeatedly.  I assure them the pleasure is ours and, of course wish them a great . . ..

Today I was up at 6:30, back in bed by 9 to nap, then up at noon.  Drinking my third cup of coffee today.

September 16, 2021

Is this the best of all possible worlds?  How would we know?  Seems like we’re programmed in a secret way and things go well for us if we yield to the inner program and follow the way, no matter how mundane, no matter how scary.  The I Ching admonishes us to not present false appearances to God, as there is no use.  

A hundred and a half. . . .


September 2, 2021

Feeling the sting of not writing in more than a week.  I wondered what would happen.  Not much.  Frightening?

Olivia just came in;  She finished her fourth day of school at 3 pm, and is eating snacks to get ready for an hour 45 minutes of swimming at the Y.  A high school kid’s athletic schedule.  Billings Senior High School has no swimming pool.

(Reminds me of a dilemma I had in 1969 in Marine basic:  Each of us recruits was issued a “cover block,” consisting of a 24” by 6” piece of 1/8” plastic with a screw and wing nut to fasten it into a hat-size cylinder.  This device came flat, so we had to bend it into shape to hold our hats so we could brush on much starch.  A starched cover looked much sharper than the flaccid cotton we started with.

My cover block had a screw without threads.  No.  The wing nut had no interior threads, but the screw was fine.  No matter how I tried I couldn’t block my cover to starch it.  I needed a replacement wing nut-screw assembly.

That evening I walked to the hut where our instructors had their office.

I reported correctly to my senior drill instructor in his office.  “Sir the private requests permission to speak, sir!

“Go ahead.”

“Sir the private’s wing nut ain’t got no threads, sir.”

I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination for what happened next.  I mean, I knew it would provoke derision from the instructors.  I wasn’t worried, and I can honestly say it wasn’t terribly painful, but I got no satisfaction, hardware product-wise.  

In the end, I think I rigged up a clothes pin to starch my cover.)

Those are not my fondest memories.

Yesterday:  I heard back from someone in my distant past:  Gerry Berry, retired person living in Florida.

In 1971 Penny and I had Todd, newborn, and we lived in military housing, some old strip houses across Red Hill Road from MCAS(H) Santa Ana, California, 92710.

Our modes of transportation were a baby buggy and a bicycle.  I’m sure many can identify with that.  We lived in the orange orchards surrounding Santa Ana in Orange County.  I worked part time cleaning a Xerox facility.  It was the Regional office.  One of the things I liked best was cleaning the offices of the various vice presidents on up to the president of the Region himself.  Here’s what I noticed:  The pipe tobacco was Balkan Sobranie in the president’s office.  No.  It was Black Malorie.  I remember Peter Koch telling me back in 1969 about Black Malorie.  Finest tobacco anywhere, he said.  It was not attainable.

Black Malorie was the tobacco in the office of the president.  Balkan Sobranie was in the vice’s.

Amenities tended upward in the chain of command.  President had his own shower and dressing room.  Vice president had a large waiting room, but none of the other stuff.

As we worked down the hallway from the apex, a curious phenomenon:  Number of staples in the rug increased exponentially. We picked them out with needle-nose pliers.

In those days (1970s) computer work meant cutting 80-col key cards.  For some reason staples held the cards together, sometimes.

I tried to find work in Anchorage, Alaska, back in 1969.  Most of the secretarial-clerical (stuff I hoped I could find a job doing) work had to do with those keypunch cards.  In fact the word “keypunch” seemed to be everywhere.  Typing would have been a good enough skill to do “keypunch.”

Man of la Mancha

Not me: Sr. Don Quixote de la Mancha.

August 16, 2021

On this day in 1988 Lame Deer had a snowy blanket of ashes from forest fires.  I crawled out of my sleeping bag in a government three bedroom house, vacant, my home for the week until the government provided me with other living quarters.

That night the streetlight on the cul-de-sac illuminated the ash fall that I walked through the next morning to work at the Lame Deer IHS Clinic pharmacy.  I would be the second of two pharmacists on duty at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.  This was a new position; all the pharmacist action used to be performed by one pharmacist.  Turns out they had hired additional doctors so they needed additional nurses and another pharmacist.  Me.  

I was apprehensive.  Fires burned out of control in the nearby wooded areas around the edge of town.  Two locals were on death row at Deer Lodge for killing a caucasian man.  I saw a pile of four dead horses yesterday morning near the Little Bighorn Battlefield while I drove to work.  Old cars rusted on the lawns of houses along the highway between Busby and Lame Deer. All my fears were gone in 24 hours.


We’re having Bob and his family over shortly.  Gotta go.

I’m back.  Things are humming here in Billings.  We have a lot of union people, social democrats, moderate republicans, moderate democrats.  I get an inkling when I speak with Bob.

I think fishing will be restricted the remainder of the Summer because high temperatures stress some of the fish, especially the various species of trout.  This is a river-by-river deal.  I think I’d google Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks for current information regarding a river of importance to you.

We are hoping for cooler weather this Wednesday.

Did I mention I am reading Don Quixote?  I’m about a third through it, getting more and more involved in one of the ancillary tales that reside in the book.  Amazing work is this book.  What is he saying?  To whom is the humor directed?  

Published in 1604, in Spanish.  Translated numerous times into a modern American vernacular by many, and by someone named “Grossman.”  I don’t own the Grossman translation, but I’ll get it pretty soon via the internet.

Parts are funny enough to make me laugh out loud.  It should be read and enjoyed by most everyone, especially if high school age or older.