India

I haven’t been able to write about the absolute horrific apocalypse that’s been India’s latest wave. It’s unfathomable.

Over 412000 cases and over 3900 deaths in the past 24 hours. Both daily records. And both numbers are likely much higher, experts say. Hospitals have run out of oxygen. Desperate people have turned to Twitter to locate life-saving equipment and oxygen to help their dying relatives.

It’s harrowing. It’s just so unbelievably awful.

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Vax side effect day #4

So when you hear that the AZ vaccine side effects typically last 18-24 hours, that must be for other people.

Still feel beaten up, but at least I’m able to work. Went outside again, walked for an hour. Still with the muscle aches and headache and fatigue, sometimes a low fever just to remind me. But my appetite is back and that’s always a good sign, because when all systems are normal, this girl loves to eat.

I’m not complaining anymore because I feel very thankful that I was able to get vaccinated. Suddenly it seems like there is a shortage in the province again and people are calling around to every pharmacy around.

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Garbage

I think I’ve had every side effect known to be caused by the AZ vaccine (apart from the super scary, I’m-not-even-thinking-about-it blood clot risk).

By 4pm yesterday I had the telltale “worst hangover ever” headache. Tension and throbbing in my head. Broke down and took some Tylenol, which kinda helped. I couldn’t keep my head up without it pounding so went to bed early. Did I mention I drank 5 litres of water because I read somewhere that keeping hydrated was a good plan?

I’m not sure if it helped because the nighttime was rather hellish. Fever coming in waves, lots of sweating, head throbbing, chills, and body aches. I slept for 30 minutes at a time, unable to get comfortable, waking up to cough. The cough scared me.

And the nightmares, too. Vivid freaky dreams. Did they shoot me up with Covid by mistake? (But of course they didn’t).

I stayed in bed all of Tuesday. Felt like I had been hit by a truck. Could only drag myself to the bathroom. Headache was a bit more manageable, but the fatigue was unreal. Achy joints and just so tired. Fever coming in and out in waves of fire. I just drank water and waited for it all to be over. By the end of the day I wanted toast. But no bread in the house because I epic-failed on preparing for this plague upon my houses. Had no idea it would feel this bad.

Sleep happened overnight, which was a gift.

I managed a sluggish 30-minute walk around the neighbourhood this morning, in hopes of shifting some vax side effects. But I felt like I’d run a marathon and collapsed on the couch, tired, achy, ugh. Then my jab arm started to hurt.

Is there no end to this madness? (ha, like I’ve ever asked that in the past year).

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Vax #1 ✓

Today’s the day I didn’t think would happen –– at least not so soon. At noon today I received my first jab of AstraZeneca COVISHIELD COVID-19 vaccine.

Getting the shot was rather uneventful. We went to the pharmacy, rolled up our sleeves, got the jab, and waited in the lobby for 15 minutes to make sure we didn’t have any freaky reactions (we didn’t). The pharmacist was lovely and gave us our official vax docs (just like our cats) and waved us goodbye.

Afterward I suggested we go onto the nearby trail (where I usually run) and take a selfie of our newly vaccinated selves. I felt a little but weird, but mostly relieved.

Now we wait for side effects.

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Unlikely pandemic accomplishment

Today I’ve been working out with online classes in the basement for a whole year.

I’m not surprised that I’ve kept up with running during the pandemic because letting my legs fly in the great outdoors has been key to my mental health. And mental health is at a premium these days.

But I did not anticipate I’d continue participating in classes on the TV/iPad three times a week. I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d still be doing lunges, squats, push-ups, crunches, and myriad other forms of strength training on the floor with the couch and chair pushed aside, huffing and puffing and wondering how did we all get here. I didn’t know I’d find a community of like-minded others, and a trainer who’s positivity and encouragement shines through the screen and into the basement darkness. I didn’t know that I had that kind of commitment in me.

So I am kinda proud of myself for sticking to it, for not quitting, and for actually pushing myself these past 365 days. And I’m tremendously grateful that it’s been an option, that fitness trainers were able to pivot so quickly and offer a much needed service in lockdowns and isolation.

But here I am, probably in the best shape I’ver been in. Weight is down, muscle tone is up, lungs work really well (an added bonus when we’re all trying not to catch a deadly respiratory disease). During the pandemic, I didn’t learn a new language or write a novel or start a new business. But I did get healthier when it would have been really easy to drink my face off and gain 25 pounds. That’s my unexpected pandemic accomplishment.

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People are dying at home

“People are now dying of #covid19 at home. This hasn’t been seen before according to Ontario’s coroner Dr Huyer at today’s medical briefing. They are staying at home sick and getting more seriously ill faster until it’s too late.”

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Moving hospital patients to the country

The third wave has delivered what many of us feared the first wave would bring: a nightmare for the hospital system.

A year ago we watched in horror at what hospitals in Italy and then New York City were facing: overrun ICUs and emergency departments, doctors forced to decide who lives and who dies. We braced for that scenario, we dreaded it. And I think that many people thought that once the second wave crashed over us and retreated that we we would be OK.

We are not OK. We’ve had seven days of more than 4,000 new daily infections Ontario. Toronto hospitals are seeing record ICU admissions (750 and growing), including an “alarming” number of pregnant patients (30% at Mount Sinai). The patients are also younger –– perhaps because older populations are now mostly vaccinated.

Sunnybrook is creating a field hospital in their parking lot.

A Toronto field hospital, set up in a parking lot, is getting ready to accept COVID-19 patients. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre says its mobile health unit will likely open this week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

And patients who don’t require ICU admission are now being shipped out to hospitals out of the GTA because there’s just no more room. Some of them are coming to our shiny new little hospital, which can be expanded to 69 beds (it does not have an ICU). The closest hospital that does have an ICU has seen COVID-19 hospitalizations double in the past week.

In those early days of the pandemic, when we watched those scenes in NYC and Italy, I was pretty much terrified and anxious every time I read the news. Images, and worse, video, of overworked doctors and nurses and intubated patients everywhere were burned into memory.

It’s happening now in the city I called home for almost two decades. It’s also happening kilometres from where I live now.

This feels somewhat like both watching and being in a movie you can’t turn off. You just have to hope it doesn’t get worse and wait until it’s over.

“The amount of deaths that we could possibly see, the amount of sickness, that I can’t physically give my all to my one patient — everything I have to keep them alive — if we have hundreds of patients? I don’t know, honestly, it keeps me awake at night. This is scary,” said ICU nurse Nikki Skillen, who works at a Greater Toronto Area hospital.

‘The stress, the anxiety, the nightmares’: What it’s like to work in the country’s strained ICUs – CBC

I’m no longer worried about just catching COVID-19, but also if I or someone I care about has to go to the hospital for a medical emergency. Will there be staff be able to help? What if COVID-19 infections are not contained there and it’s passed along?

Even knowing that that I’ll be getting my first jab soon doesn’t assuage the anxiety. I don’t want to watch the news anymore, but I have to know. I have to know.

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Gen X gets the vax

Today vaccinations were opened up to those age 40+. And Gen X-ers rushed in like it was a Boxing Day sale.

The memes have been hilarious.

Oh, and we grabbed appointments for next Monday. 💉❤️

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Registering for a vaccine that might not come

Today our public health unit opened up pre-registration to the bulk of the population that has yet to be vaccinated. Now, they are still inoculating seniors and health care workers, so I’m way way down on the list. Teachers are still not on the priority list and that makes me angry. A teacher of any age needs this vaccine 100% more than I do. I can stay in my house and live and work for as long as it takes.

My pre-registration means pretty much nothing right now. They know that I am an Ontario citizen between the ages of 16 and 59 and that I want to get vaccinated. Great. Appointments won’t likely be available until June (so the registration site warns), so I’ll be waiting in line with the majority of Ontario for some time, I imagine. Perhaps by the end of the summer I’ll get my first shot.

If there is a shot to be had.

Aside from Canada’s troubles getting their hands on vaccines (we have to import them), the makers have been plagued with problems. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been found to cause blood clots –– although rare. Still, the studies have resulted in some countries discontinuing their use. Today the US suspended use of J&J and the company is suspending rollout in Europe. We’re are still planning to get J&J in Canada, at least for now, and when we can get some. And we’re only giving AstaZeneca to adults over 55.

But what’s the difference, you might ask, between the four rockstars of covid vaccine? I found these explanations helpful:

“Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use a harmless version of a cold virus as a vector [viral vector] to give our cells the instructions they need to make the coronavirus’s spike protein. The immune system recognizes the protein and makes antibodies, which then allow us to fend off attack if exposed in the future.”

“Moderna and Pfizer use messenger RNA (mRNA), a novel technology that essentially teaches our cells how to produce the coronavirus’s spike protein. That triggers an immune response if we become infected with the virus in the future.

All four of the vaccines basically work the same way, but there’s one less component involved with the mRNA versions. Whereas the viral vectors use another virus to give our cells the info they need to make the spike protein, mRNA dumps the genetic code in directly, without using another virus as a vessel.”

At this point, I honestly could care less which jab lands in my arm. I just want it done –– but only after the people who really need the shot get it.

But we have to get vaccination happening in this country. The VOCs are winning and our cases are rising rapidly. Last Friday Canada averaged more confirmed cases per million people than the U.S. Remember when we were feeling all smug about our situation, comparing ourselves to our neighbours to the south? Yeah, karma is a bitch.

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The news keeps getting worse

Today in depressing Ontario news:

  • We’ve reached the highest COVID-19 positivity rate (10.3%) since the pandemic started
  • The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU has climbed to 626 –– setting yet another record high
  • There are currently 1,822 people with COVID-19 now in hospitals
  • We have the capacity to administer 150K vaccine doses per day and we’re not even hitting 100K
  • Kids have been pulled out of schools again, with no plan for return

In other news, the outside has not been cancelled and I’m making concentrated, delightful use of it. Walking, running, sitting in the sunshine. Each day, each lungful of fresh air, is a gift and I’m grateful for it.

Keeping healthy is priority #1.

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One for the (tragic) record books

Sunday we saw the highest ever number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario: 4456 in ONE DAY.

“You are talking about hospitals getting full, ICUs getting full, people getting transferred to other sites because there is just no room at certain sites,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist and member of the province’s vaccine task force, says. “It’s going to be a very, very tough couple of weeks for sure.”

Because we’re not even at the peak of the third wave yet.

Sometimes you just want to go back to bed and not come out until this is all over. Except, we’ve been feeling this way for over a year now, and there’s no sign of it waning.

Now is not the time to have a heart attack or need to be transported to hospital because hospitals are stretched to the limits, are cancelling non-essential surgeries, and are looking after a lot of infected people.

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Lockdown #3 begins

Hoping that the third time’s a charm, our bumbling premier issued another stay-at-home order, which took effect today.

Not to say that we don’t need yet another “emergency brake” to help reduce transmission –– we do –– but it’s too little, too late. Again, he’s allowed big box stores to remain open and has not reduced capacity in these or in grocery stores. It’s the gatherings of larger groups of people (factories, warehouses, big stores) that makes this virus giddy with joy. Not small retail, hair salons, etc.

“Evidence suggests that large, congregate workplaces are the source of COVID-19 spread — not small shops, salons, restaurants or gyms. Yet the government continues to shut down small businesses, some of which are still facing North America’s longest lockdowns,” Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses President Dan Kelly said in a statement issued following the announcement.

And don’t get me started on our terrible vaccination record. The VOCs (variants of concern) are gaining strongholds and we have vaccines sitting in the freezer.

It’s a sad state of affairs.

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When the children’s hospital has to open to adults

Ontario is a shitshow for new virus cases. We’ve had 3215 cases in the past 24 hours, up from 3065 the previous day. And our ICUs are becoming strained –– worryingly, with younger adults.

So in an unprecedented move, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children has readied an 8-bed ICU unit for adults under 40. It will only be used if the area’s hospitals become overwhelmed, but at the rate we’re catching COVID-19 in this province, sending adults to Sick Kids might become a grim reality.

Word is out that the premier is going to put the province in lockdown again. It’s probably a good idea. Although we’re all so tired of it.

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WTF. One year later

It started with a dead rabbit. I saw it on the road and realized that I needed to start writing about what was happening, how I was feeling about it.

That was one year ago today.

I did not think that I’d be writing about it, still. Or at least referring to it as something current. A naive but understandable position. We had no idea what was coming for us. We had never experienced life with a highly contagious disease that could sweep across the world and render us all helpless, terrified, isolated. Stopped.

If anything I thought we’d have contained it, secured it, put it in a lead box and buried deep underground with the nuclear waste. Again, a naive thought. It could’t be further from reality.

Today, I woke up to read that “admissions of COVID-19 patients to Ontario’s intensive care units (ICUs) have surpassed the previous pandemic high.” We now have the most-ever patients in ICU –– more than at the beginning of the pandemic, more than at Christmas. The most ever. And there have been 2,333 new COVID-19 cases reported in the past 24 hours (Ontario).

The tweets are freaking me out. I have to stop looking at social media. It feels like a year ago –– perhaps worse because now we know so much more. It’s no longer the fear of certainty, but an educated terror.

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Mom gets vaccinated

My 72-year-old mom received her first Pfizer jab today. I think I’m more excited than she is. I baked her a cake.

It’s such a big deal. Canada is way behind other countries in rolling out their vaccination programs (the UK is around at least 50% vaccinated and the US is opening up vaccinations to everyone as of May 1). We’re at around 12%.

It feels like such a positive movement forward.

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If I had a surfboard

The third wave is upon us.

We are tired of this unpredictable ocean. We are tired of waiting to see when its depths of pestilence will surface and rise up again, towering above our exhausted bodies. We are weary of waiting for that next tsunami to come, but even wearier when it’s crashing down over our heads.

Over 1500 new cases were reported today in Ontario. There have been over 322K cases so far.

The ocean is angry again. Its wrath is swelling.

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Lockdown Anniversary

A year ago we were getting nervous. We watched the news with fear and trepidation. We knew that something very very bad was emerging in parts of the world (especially Italy), that the recently declared pandemic was an evil we had not previously seen in our lifetimes. And we wondered how our provinces and nations would respond to protect us.

On March 16, 2020, Canada closed its border to non-residents (with the exception of US residents) and then extended that closure to our American neighbours on March 21. We all felt the gravity of that move. We knew it was serious.

Ontario also moved into a shutdown (remarkably, we had just 32 new cases that day) that included all non-essential businesses and schools (March Break was extended for two weeks). It was our first of several lockdowns. It was unnerving and terrifying.

But, we thought, it’s probably only going to last a few weeks, maybe a month. We could handle that. And it would at least stop people from crowding into bars and patios, drunkenly celebrating St Patrick’s Day and spreading covid all over.

We had no idea what was to come. How many shutdowns and lockdowns and red zones were still to come. That over 7000 Ontarians (22K Canadians) would die within the next 365 days. That businesses and livelihoods would also die. That lives would be disrupted in unimaginable ways. That we’d be physically separated from other human beings for a full year. We had no clue what heartbreak and horror loomed on the horizon.

This feels like an anniversary to be marked. I’ve lived a year in isolation –– terrified for the first few months at least –– keeping away from people, wearing masks and sanitizing. No restaurants or concerts or seeing friends for drinks. No hugging. And for most of it, not even working. 365 days of isolation and fear and worry. It’s mind-boggling to even type that out. It still doesn’t seem real sometimes.

But here we are, and I guess I’m marking it by mentioning it.

We are battle-scarred and weary, but for those of us who didn’t contract covid or survived it, we’ve made it this far. Which is something worth noting.

If I was still drinking, I’d raise a glass to all of us. Oh did I mention? I’ve given up booze for weed. I sleep much better now.

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My last meal in a restaurant was a year ago

Some people remember their last pre-pandemic meal with gratitude and deep joy.

Not me. My last dining out experience –– indoors, with a server, and with other diners around –– was at a diner chain in K-W. We were taking out my MIL for lunch, so it was a place she liked. Not great food, but eatable.

It was only one day after the pandemic was officially declared (March 11). I remember worrying if we should even be eating at a restaurant. Should we wipe down our cutlery? Should we drink the water? Is it OK to use the bathroom? I used hand sanitizer about 20 times.

These were uncertain and unmasked times. It was an anxious meal. I was happy to leave.

Then I worried for two weeks about potential infection –– because we knew by then it could take up to 14 days to develop symptoms. I did not want to have caught Covid-19 at Mel’s Diner.

I remember at least three really great meals in restaurants in February 2020, in the ending of the Before Times. I’m going to remember those. With gratitude and deep joy.

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Virtual Golden Globes

Seeing celebrities sitting in their nice homes, in front of their screens, accepting a virtual award with a laggy speech just doesn’t do it for me.

Everyone has tried their best. What else can be done?

But it’s weird. And I’m tired of being reminded that the world is stopped and everything is different now.

I want to see people embrace on TV again.

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B.1.427/B.1.429 (California, can’t afford ya)

There’s another mutation in town and they’re calling it the “California variant.”

Viruses mutate all the time (we know these things as we all become virus “experts” from reading too much pandemic news). And the world is now very familiar with the UK, South Africa, and Brazil strains, which have common mutations and are more easily transmissible.

But the California variant is new and improved.

Everything is better in California.

The California variant is doing its own thing. Which is scary. Its not like the other mutations and doesn’t appear to be a subset of them. And it has the potential to outsmart current vaccines, COVID-19 treatment drugs like therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, and the body’s immune system. Plus, “the variant produces twice as many viral particles inside a person’s body as other variants do, which suggests that it could be associated with more severe illness and death.”

Great.

Right now the California brand of contagion hasn’t come north to Canada (we do have the other three).

But we’re also not testing for this particular mutation (“N501Y” if you want to keep track), so it might be here and we don’t know it. However the border with the US is still closed, so the number of people travelling from the now not-so-Golden State is significantly reduced.

But we armchair epidemiologists know that the virus and its variants know no borders.

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