COVID-19

A real haircut during the pandemic

As of yesterday, Indiana is making the coronavirus vaccine available to every Hoosier aged 50 and older. I signed up as soon as I found out. I get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on St. Patrick’s Day.

Nails and Hair

I originally planned to wait until I was vaccinated before I did what I did last week: I went to get a haircut.

I had been cutting my own hair. Buzzing it, rather: 3/8 inch on the sides, 3/4 inch on the top. Where top and sides met, I blended it as best I could. Hair that short isn’t my favorite look, especially since it reveals how much my hair has thinned on top. But that cut always grew out all right. I made this photo about eight weeks after one of my buzz cuts.

Mirror selfie

I didn’t want to face another buzz cut. I’ve had enough of them! Even when they grew out, I couldn’t style my hair as I prefer. I have no idea how to do what a pro stylist does. I was so ready to look like myself again!

Infection rates have fallen dramatically both across Indiana and in my county, and mask and social-distancing mandates are still in place here. I decided that for my next haircut, I would take the risk and go see a stylist.

It felt at once strange and normal to sit in the stylist’s chair. I chose a walk-in place near my home and got a stylist I’d never used before. I’ve had better haircuts, but his cut was still far better than any I’ve given myself.

With the rate of vaccination increasing, I hope that sometime this summer events like a haircut become commonplace again.

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COVID-19, Stories Told

Changing jobs during a pandemic

Even as I approached the building, all was strange. The front was still boarded up after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the only such building on the block. My key card let me in the front door. It was irrational, I’m sure, but I thought it might not still work after not having used it in ten months. The lights were off in the lobby, as they were on my floor as the elevator doors opened.

My desk was as messy as I’d left it. I didn’t know when I took the week off in early March that I’d never use it again. The company ordered us all to work from home starting the Monday I was to return.

Fast forward to December. I received a fantastic offer from another company, one I would have been foolish to ignore. I took it. On my last day, I drove to my soon-to-be-former office to clean out my desk.

I’ve left jobs before, a dozen times. I have it down. I take stuff home little by little during my last two weeks so my desk is clear on my last day. After lunch I walk around and say personal goodbyes to everyone I can find who I ever worked with, wrapping up with my boss. Not only will I miss the people, who I genuinely enjoy, but also I want to leave a good final impression. The market I work in is small enough that I’m likely to work with some of them again. When I’ve said my final goodbye, I slip out the door.

This was all different. There had been a Zoom happy hour in my honor, which was a nice gesture. I said goodbyes in my normal meetings all during my final week. Anyone I didn’t see, I Slacked. But it all felt so disconnected.

Stepping off the elevator, the floor was silent but for the whoosh and hum of the HVAC. The last time I was on this floor it buzzed with such activity that I needed noise-canceling headphones to be able to focus. I sorted through my things, leaving a healthy portion of it in the wastebasket. I left my laptop and my key card on my desk, picked up my box, rode the elevator down, and walked out for the last time.

Monday morning I started at the new job. My commute didn’t change a bit: I came downstairs, sat at my desk, and started Zoom. But the faces I saw on the screen were all new.

The new company did a terrific job of onboarding, easily the best experience of my career. They committed to everyone’s first full week being nothing but group meetings with various people in the company telling us the company’s history and mission, how we make money, how administrative things work, and what our product looks like and how it works. We got to meet all of the executives.

Yet I kept wishing to see my old team in those little boxes. I really missed them! I always miss the good people I worked with when I leave a job, but never this acutely. But then, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.

This post also appeared on my software blog earlier this month.

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COVID-19

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s small and distant

The winter COVID-19 spike appears to be ending in Indiana. With vaccines currently being administered, could that be a light we see at the end of this tunnel?

Source: https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2393.htm, February 15, 2021

Maybe it is, but that light is small and distant. The tunnel remains long.

The CDC recommends that vaccinated people continue to stay home as much as possible, and mask up and remain physically distanced otherwise, until enough people are vaccinated that we have herd immunity.

That made no sense to me at first. If you’re vaccinated, aren’t you immune? Can’t you go back to a normal life? But then I learned that we don’t have enough experience with the vaccines yet to know whether they keep you from catching the virus. We know for sure only that the vaccine makes you unlikely to become sick with it. After you’re vaccinated, you might still be able to carry and spread the virus! That’s why the CDC is telling us to continue to stay home as much as we can, and mask up and remain physically distanced when we can’t, until enough people are vaccinated that we have herd immunity.

I experienced this as a punch to the gut. I was dreaming about living life more freely after my vaccination. Specifically, I was looking forward to taking my wife out for dinner, and going to visit my kids in their homes!

I must continue to wait, as it will take considerable time to administer the vaccine to everyone. In Indiana, we’ve already taken care of people like healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents, police officers and firefighters, and the like. The state is now administering the vaccine by age, starting with the oldest first. People 80 and older went first, then people 70 to 79. They’re currently vaccinating people 65 to 69; people 60 to 64 are next. If this five-year grouping pattern holds, I’ll be in the second group to follow. Given the rate of vaccination, that could be a couple months yet, maybe more. I’ve heard optimistic estimates that all of Indiana could be vaccinated by midsummer, but I don’t share that optimism. Unless we’re able to dramatically ramp up the available doses and the infrastructure to deliver them, I think it will be late this year before the job is done. Perhaps then we can ease these restrictions and live a more normal life.

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COVID-19

Packing on the pandemic pounds

Chicago Theater
Wet streets in the theater district

On one of our weekend getaways in Chicago, my wife and I got caught in a sudden heavy rain and were soaked through. We had tickets to the theater for that evening but no suitable dry clothes to wear. Still dripping, we popped into the Old Navy right there in the theater district and bought clothes that would do. They had chinos on a very good sale, and I ended up buying four pair. I chose the slim fit. They were a bit snug, but it was a good look on me.

I started putting on weight almost immediately when I started working from home in March. For a long time I’d hovered around 180 pounds on my six foot frame. It’s a healthy weight, but slightly heavier than I like. I look and feel better at 175 pounds, but in middle age I find that weight harder and harder to maintain. Thanks to pandemic stress and other life stress, I was eating and drinking more. It doesn’t help that my refrigerator is five feet from my home desk. I’ve also been less active — it’s remarkable how much walking I do when I go to the office. I felt my pants becoming tight, uncomfortably so.

In April I started using a calorie tracker to help me moderate my intake. It did help me overeat less, but I still struggled to hit my calorie targets. This is one reason I took so many walks and bike rides all summer, but as you can see in the chart below, they didn’t help. I slowly and steadily put on weight anyway. My weight gain only accelerated after the bike rides ended with the cold weather in October. Then I decided to let my guard down and enjoy as much holiday food as I wanted. As the weather grew even colder, I took fewer and fewer walks. Unsurprisingly, I quickly found myself pushing 190 pounds. Most of my slacks and jeans are now far too tight to wear, especially those slim-fit chinos.

Gaining weight during the pandemic

Historically, whenever I’ve eaten less and moved more I’ve easily shed pounds. A moderate reduction in calorie intake and a moderate increase in exercise would normally lead me back to about 180 pounds within a few months.

But there’s a possible monkey wrench in these works. In the last couple years I’ve developed Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid disorder. As I understand it, my immune system is attacking my thyroid, leading to its inflammation. I’ve had an underactive thyroid for 20 years, although past tests for Hashimoto’s always came back negative. I’ve taken the usual medication all these years, and it worked great for a long time. My labs show thyroid hormone levels within the acceptable range. Thyroid issues can be a culprit in weight gain — also in other symptoms I’m experiencing, including sluggishness and hair loss. But heavy stress, such as pandemic stress, can also explain all of these symptoms. So I’m not sure what the real root cause is.

My doctor and I have tried some dietary changes and a couple supplements aimed at reducing inflammation to see if they might reverse the Hashimoto’s. They helped a little. Now we’re trying a medication off label that has been known to help autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s. We’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, I’m doubling down on limiting how much I eat and drink, and stepping up my steps outside the house. I’m forcing myself to walk two miles each weekday before I start work, cold weather be damned. I will look for another chance to walk two miles in each day, at lunch if I can, and after work if I must. If I can get back to 185 pounds, where my pants all fit, I’ll be happy enough until I’m able to go back to the office and resume my pre-pandemic level of natural activity.

But today I ordered a few new pairs of chinos — same waist size, just in a roomier cut. They ought to be not uncomfortable at my current weight. I think I’m done with snug fits. Those slim-fit chinos are in our box of stuff to donate. It’s too bad, because those chinos had such a fun memory attached to them!

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COVID-19, Personal

Walking in the cold

I’ve regained all the weight I lost over the summer and am again 15 pounds over my ideal weight. I say that hesitantly, because it’s not like I have a weight problem. I’m only four pounds into the overweight category, according to this BMI calculator. Until I turned 40 I had a blast-furnace metabolism and could eat anything I wanted. Now, in my 50s, to keep my weight where I want it I need to limit calories and exercise a little. A thirty minute walk four or five times a week is all it takes.

Before COVID-19 sent knowledge workers everywhere to their home offices, I used to walk a fair amount just going about my day — between 2,000 and 4,000 steps, according to my iPhone’s step tracker. But now that I’m home all the time I am lucky to walk 500 steps in a day — unless I deliberately leave the house to take a walk.

Side street
I walk this road a lot. Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Agfa APX100 (x/7-98)

Trouble is, it’s cold. I hate the cold!

Over the summer, I couldn’t wait to get on my bike every day. I preferred the bike to walking, but that’s not to say a good walk didn’t have its own pleasures. But now? I have no desire whatsoever to be outside.

I’m starting to force myself. I put on a long overcoat and my earmuffs, and pull one of my COVID masks across my face. In middle age my teeth have become sensitive — they’ll ache for a couple hours if I walk thirty minutes in freezing temperatures. I know I can wrap a scarf around my face, but a COVID mask works just as well for this purpose and is a lot easier to manage.

We haven’t even hit the coldest part of the year yet. It’ll come, later this month or early next. We’ll see some days well below freezing, even below zero Fahrenheit. I’m ready. Since I was in high school I’ve owned a Korean War era Army topcoat. It hangs well below my knees, and it has a stout wool liner inside. It has repelled every cold nature has ever tried to throw at it. It’s Army green, so it’s hardly a fashion statement. But when it’s that cold, who cares?

I don’t mention it here much but I have a bum left foot. Bunion surgery in 2014 was supposed to alleviate the pain. It did, but it left me with a new and different pain. The ball of my foot and my big toe would both ache and go numb. My original podiatrist kept telling me it would heal in time, but it didn’t.

Healing up after the surgery

I found that I could walk nearly pain-free in Birkenstock sandals, which I wear whenever it’s warm enough. But that doesn’t work in the winter. After considerable trial and error I found an over-the-counter insert and a wool metatarsal pad that, together, made walking less uncomfortable. But long walks still irritated my foot.

I finally went to a different podiatrist this fall. He was awesome. He told me that either I had some scar tissue in there that was irritating a long nerve that runs along the big toe, or the original podiatrist nicked that nerve during the surgery. If it was scar tissue, he said, he could probably restore my foot to normal with a short course of steroid shots. But the only thing he could do for a damaged nerve would be surgery to cut it off entirely. He said he really didn’t want to do that as the end of my foot would permanently go fully numb.

He did some clever diagnostic work that, unfortunately, ruled out the scar tissue. It had to be a damaged nerve. “But all is not lost,” he said. He fashioned an insert for my left shoe that takes most of the pressure off the ball of my foot as I walk. It is almost as good as my Birkenstock sandals! At least foot pain isn’t a barrier to me walking anymore.

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Balcony at the Palmer House

Balcony at the Palmer House
Apple iPhone 6s
2020

I’m sad that Margaret and I won’t be able to make our annual wintertime trip to Chicago this year. It had become a tradition of our marriage. But Chicago requires travelers from Indiana to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, making the trip impractical. Even if we did go, our unwillingness to eat inside a restaurant would make avoiding hunger challenging.

We used to go every December to enjoy Christkindlmarkt, take in a show, and finish our Christmas shopping. Then Margaret took a job where December is the busy season, and we started going in January as a way of relaxing after the holidays.

Chicago is not a popular destination in the cold and snowy months, which is why we go then. We get such great deals on hotel rooms! Last year we stayed in the gorgeous Palmer House for what it would normally cost at a suburban box hotel.

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COVID-19, Photography, Travel

single frame: Balcony at the Palmer House

A view of the gorgeous Palmer House Hotel lobby in Chicago.

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