Category Archives: self-isolation

Living with antelope

We took delivery of a new appliance last week. The delivery guys were from Florida and were a bit shocked over our Wyoming landscape. One wanted us to know that someone must have left a gate open and the animals were getting into our yard. The animals he saw were pronghorn antelope. I explained that no gate would keep them out of the yards — they roam where they want to and crawl under fences. There were hundreds of them here recently. It was -20 degrees, and I was worried about them weathering the cold. But there are five outside of my window right now, chowing down on the sagebrush. Still amazes me what survives these winters.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

I quit the gym today

My gym re-opened about a month ago. The owners had listed online all of their guidelines about wearing masks, cleaning equipment, and maintaining adequate distances between users. I was suspect about how well people would stick to these guidelines. It’s a pretty low-end gym and I’ve always been a bit concerned about the cleanliness of the place. I clean the equipment both before and after using it because I’m pretty certain that the previous user wasn’t all that conscientious.

But it was cheap. As am I. We were a match.

Now with the coronavirus amongst us, I hadn’t gone back to the gym until today because I’m still a bit leery about interacting with others in closed spaces for extended periods. Especially when those places involve heavy breathing and sweat. We live in a part of the country with low (but increasing!) numbers of COVID-19 cases, and the risks of contracting the disease are relatively small. Nonetheless, I’m still not willing to face the masses bare-faced. We know the short-term effects of COVID-19 can be horrid, but there are also severe long-term impairments that we are only beginning to understand. I do not want to live my retirement days with scarred lungs, heart damage, and neurologic complications. There are just some things I’m not willing to risk.

I’m not a total recluse though. I swim at our recreaction center because I figure a chlorinated pool is pretty safe from the virus — but I won’t use the shower and locker room. And I bike ride with a friend for a few hours at least once a week. So I’m not exactly pure in my self-isolation.

I was missing my gym. It was time to give the place a go and see if it felt okay.

It did not.

The gym doors were propped open as I first walked in, likely to reduce user contact with the surfaces and increase ventilation. There was an unmasked young woman using dumbbells near the entrance. This was a less than welcoming sight, but probably okay. The place felt hot and sticky as I walked in further. I then saw that there were at least 20 people on various cardio machines, none with masks.

I get it. Masks are a pain in the ass when you are trying to work out. That’s why I’m in the pool or outside for my exercise. Inside is a different story because the risk of transmission of anything is so much greater. The lack of masks just did not feel right to me.

I walked toward the check-in desk. There were 4 people behind the counter, which seemed crowded. I noticed that there were no plexiglass partitions that might have helped protect the workers from the public. Everything was open. Only one person wore a mask, and that one was draped from her ear, not around her nose and mouth. They were all busy with piles of envelopes, which were likely membership cancellations. I spoke to the young man nearest the check-in. I asked about mask use and he said that it was voluntary. I was welcome to use a mask during my workout. 

Gosh, thanks.

I check-in and turned to look across the room. The sight of everything and everyone made me ill. I felt like I had walked onto a petri dish ready for some gross experiment. I turned back to the guy behind the counter and said, “I can’t. I just can’t do this. I have to cancel my membership.” As he started the cancellation process, he asked why I wanted to cancel. I said, “It’s the whole COVID-19 thing. I just don’t feel safe working out here.” One of the other guys behind the counter made a face and a snicker. Screw him.

We finished the cancellation paperwork and I signed with the common-use pen on the pad. There were no “dirty” and “clean” pen jars — just one pen for everyone. I thanked him and took a palm-full of hand sanitizer on the way out.

So now I’m back on my own as far as lifting type workouts. I’m simply going to have to get more creative and make better use of the limited equipment that I have on hand. I think I will go back to some gym in the future, but probably not until at least this fall. And it certainly won’t be at my cheap gym.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

What the heck happened to my hair these past few months?

I have a lot of hair — a lot. I can’t wear normal sized barrettes. My barrettes have to be at least 6 inches to fit it all in. I’ve burst more than one headband under its weight. It is freaking thick. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose there are worse problems than having too much hair. My head is never cold and I save a lot of money on hats. But I spend more on high volume bathing caps when I swim.

I decided to stop dealing with my hair and cut it very short a few years ago. It was fun but still took some maintenance. I had to get a trim and thinning every 6 weeks to keep it from getting unruly. Now I’ve recently decided to grow it out again, aligning with my goal of simplification as I transition away from a professional life. My hair grows outward and upward until it gets to a certain length and gravity takes over, forcing it downward. It still needs trims to keep it from looking something like Roseanne Roseannadanna from Saturday Night Live (without the frizz).

It turns out that self-isolation during a pandemic is a good time to grow-out one’s hair. That is until it starts falling out.

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Pandemic shedding: I first noticed increased hair loss around early March. I know that my hair undergoes periodic shedding every few years. Still, there’s so much there that it is hardly noticeable. Not this time. By April, it was shedding everywhere. I’m not sure how to quantify hair loss rate — other than “gobs falling out every day.” My hair wasn’t breaking or damaged, but rather strands were falling out from the root. Every time I touched my hair, it seemed that another 10 or 20 strands would commit follicular suicide and end up in my hands.

What the hell was happening?

I stopped using any styling products and learned to avoid touching it. I still shampooed and added extra conditioner to keep it from snagging and sticking together. I started taking biotin and collagen supplements because things I read online suggested they would help stem the loss. By May, it was still falling out and I could feel it getting thinner. I was now getting concerned that there is some underlying health issue for my hair loss. Should I make a doctor’s appointment during the middle of a pandemic to assess why my hair is falling out?

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Telogen effluvium: In June, I read a New York Times article about people exhibiting new and unusual health issues during this pandemic that aren’t directly related to having COVID-19. The article talks about tingling extremities, digestive problems, and skin rashes that are related to stress and lifestyle changes incurred over the past months. And then, way at the bottom of the article, there is a brief mention of an uptick in cases of telogen effluvium — substantial hair loss during times of stress!

Specifically, telogen effluvium refers to the opening of individual hair follicles that allows the release of the hair from the scalp (at the root). Hair lost during this period often retains a white bulb at the end (mine does). The loss is spread over the scalp and not in patches. It is typically associated with trauma or hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy or menopause (I am undergoing neither). A reasonable rate of hair loss might be 50-100 hairs a day, but during a period of telogen effluvium, the rate can go higher.  

Apparently, gobs higher.

Given all that has happened the past few months dealing with the pandemic’s limitations, trying to finalize work projects, increasing my workout volume, and putting things into place for retirement, I definitely have been feeling an unusual amount of angst. Transitions are hard and there’s a lot of shit to deal with right now. It makes perfect sense that I would lose parts of my mane under these circumstances.

Thankfully, telogen effluvium is temporary and typically lasts only a few months. I have already noticed a decline in the number of hairs shed and there are lots of new fine hairs coming in around the hairline. Although I complain about having too much hair, I wasn’t ready to see it go permanently. I still want to be able to fill out that high volume swim cap. 

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I finally pulled the plug and made an appointment to cut my pandemic hair on Monday. It’s the end of June and I’ve not had a trim since January because I was concerned about the spread of COVID, along with the hair loss. I’m not sure what to do with it at this point other than trim it back to something manageable.

Maybe my hairdresser will have more insight as to why I’m shedding like a Huskey dog in summer.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

A self-isolating vacation

I finally took a little time off from work last week. This essentially meant that I didn’t walk into my home office to write on my work computer. Other than that, little changed in my day-to-day activities. Such is the mark of self-isolation.

I was a bit reluctant to take vacation time, seeing that I wasn’t planning to travel during this phase of the pandemic. However, my brain has been screaming for a break as I plow through my report writing — it’s so dry and such a slog. I hope that taking a break might help speed up my thought processes once I return. We will see how that goes tomorrow when I sit down at the computer again.

My plan was to get some work done on our growing list of backlogged home maintenance tasks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked because I spent more time relaxing than tackling projects. Fingers-crossed that taking a more restful break will produce more productive writing.

I started my staycation with a 30-mile bike ride with a friend last Monday. I got pretty dehydrated with the heat and wind, even in the early part of the day. Under more normal times, we would plan our route around a coffee shop for refreshments. But not this time because coffee shops are much less inviting with a potential virus lurking. Nope, this ride was work the entire time. I didn’t have enough water, and the last 8 miles were pretty sluggish. I had no problem maintaining the requisite 6′ social distancing.

And then, the weather changed abruptly and we ended up with 6″ of wet, heavy snow by Tuesday (June 9th!) morning. The power went out several times during the night and the alarm on my computer battery backup woke us at about 1:30 am. I spent 20 minutes crawling around on the floor in pitch darkness, trying to get things shut down and the alarm silenced. Our big white dog was so distraught, and I had to negotiate with her for space under my desk.

The first day of vacation wasn’t going as planned. 

I had wanted to finish painting the trim on the house this past week, but the cold, wet, and wind following the snowstorm made that problematic. We instead decided to tackle the piles of accumulated stuff in the basement. Kids’ toys, old clothes, books, sports equipment, and tons of tools/boxes/clutter from our parents vacated homes. We didn’t know what to do with all of the stuff from the houses we inherited at the time, so we ended up moving most of it into our unfinished basement. My spouse has the packrat gene and wanted to go through it all — slowly — to get a better idea of what was there. Mind you, this was about 10 years, so the mountain of accumulated junk wasn’t about to move out of the house in a week.

None of it sparks joy for me. At this point, I’d prefer to get a dumpster and be done with it. If we haven’t needed it in 10 years, can’t we just get rid of it? 

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On the plus side, I did manage to get in some decent workouts during my staycation. A couple of bike rides, plus 3 swimming sessions. Not that I’m training for anything in particular — at least not for this year. We already have re-signed-up for several postponed events, and I’m hoping that the baseline workouts that I’m doing now will pay off in the future. I’m putting more effort into swimming these days because it’s one place that is likely safe from the coronavirus with all the disinfectants that they use. Unfortunately, the push to open businesses continues, and the facility is seeing increased use. That means more potential exposure to the virus.

Even though I continue to use the community rec center, I still think that some of the re-openings are premature and that there will be continued waves of COVID-19 as a result. I recently read about a survey of epidemiologists where over 80% would not use a fitness facility for at least 3 more months — and half of those responding wouldn’t use a facility for a year or more. That certainly gives me pause. These are people who study the spread of infectious disease, and they wouldn’t risk exposure over the short term.

I still question if it is really safe to go back to the pools.

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And now it’s Sunday and my precious break is nearly over. I don’t think it was long enough, but I should probably get back to finishing off the tasks at hand. I’ve written in previous posts that my planned fieldwork for this summer has been canceled with the travel restrictions. I’m in total wrap up mode from now until the final day before retirement.

I don’t know if I want it to go really fast or really slow.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Re-defining open

Our community recreation center recently re-opened on a limited basis. Classrooms are off-limits, as are the showers and dressing areas. But the cardio areas and lap pool are available, by reservation. Meaning that you need to call ahead and reserve a lane or piece of equipment. You get temperature checked as you walk-in and need to wear a mask at all times, except when you are in the water. Four swimmers are allowed in the pool at a time, in every other lane. You come dressed to swim and leave in a wet bathing suit. I now understand what wearing a diaper feels like.

There are more lifeguards on deck than there are swimmers at this point. Lots of repeated disinfecting of things that no one really touches, like ladders and bleachers. Given the level of attention given to these tasks, I’m pretty certain that coronavirus is not in the building. But one can’t be too cautious with this novel virus. There’s so much that we don’t know about it, and it’s best to side on the more disinfected end of the spectrum.

I swam twice last week, on Thursday and Friday. This was the first time since mid-February. I definitely could feel that I hadn’t been in the pool for a while. I did 2000 yds on Thursday and 1900 yds on Friday, which isn’t too awful given the long break from the pool. The events that I’m planning to swim are a long way off (now 2021), but I have a long way to go to be more competitive. Being permitted to swim now will help in the long run. But the extra training time won’t be worth it if I end up sick.

I’m now wondering if anyone should be using the pool at this point in time. Yes, the state has allowed recreation centers and gyms to open, with stringent restrictions on capacity. But, really, does anyone fully understand the implications of doing this? We live in an area that has seen fewer cases relative to the number of people living here. That is changing as the virus continues to spread in more rural areas. Our state is one of the few with an uptick in cases recently. It would be good to know if this is due to the recent re-opening of a variety of businesses and facilities.

For now, I will likely continue to swim. This really is an ideal time for a lap swimmer, with reserved lanes and times. There is no crush of swimmers in shared lanes. There aren’t any kids yelling and jumping off the diving boards. But such restricted use of a community facility seems such a waste. There are only a few other recreators in the whole place — is it worth the expense to be open for such limited use?

Photo by Benjamin Basch on Unsplash