I have taken pen in hand to write my annual year in review post. 2020 was a tough year for me personally, for reasons unrelated to the Rona, and I thought that surely 2021 would be better. Welp….that was not to be.
January of 2021 began with a note of optimism as the government was starting to distribute vaccines. As someone in a high risk category, I was fortunate to be able to get my first shot (Moderna) towards the end of January. Three times over the course of the spring, I went to the ER with severe abdominal pain which I thought was a recurring bowel obstruction. On all three occasions, I was told I had no obstruction and sent home. It would not be until October that I found out the cause, but only after I went to a different hospital. I also learned that the issue was plainly visible on the CT scans that had been taken in the spring, but the other hospital missed it not once, but THREE TIMES. I guess they call it practicing medicine for a reason.
The spring semester was online, or at least my classes were. Thankfully, by that point, most of the students were accustomed to online classes and so the semester went along with less problems than I had in the fall. Then came the Great Freeze of 2021.
Generally, in Southeast Texas, February is our coldest month, but by that I mean cold for us, not cold compared to other places. That changed in 2021. We had a massive freeze that caused temperatures to plunge in the teens with wind chills in the single digits for several days. This caused widespread power outages across the state which meant that many people had to endure those temperatures with no heat. We were lucky in the sense that our power never went out. We did have a pipe burst under the sink and were without water for four days, but the damage was minimal and being without water was more of an inconvenience than anything else. Others had it far worse
Just a few days after the freeze lifted, I had my second Rona shot. I got it just after 1pm. I felt fine. When I got home, I wasn’t feeling sick at all and didn’t throughout the rest of the day. This got me thinking that people saying that had gotten sick for a bit after their second shot were either exaggerating or that I was some kind of Super Immune Man. WRONG! I still felt fine when I went to bed that night. At 0115, I got up to go to the bathroom. I felt fine walking the ten feet to the bathroom, but on the walk back to the bed, it hit me all at once. Fever and insane chills that just wouldn’t stop. I shivered in bed for six hours or so and my fever hit 104. Finally, I forced myself to get up at 0730 and took some Tylenol. This immediately knocked my fever down to 100.7. I stayed in bed most of the day, but made sure to get up for twenty minutes or so every hour just to keep moving. In the early afternoon, my temperature started to inch upward again, reaching 101.7, so I took some more Tylenol which knocked in back down to 100.3, but it hovered around that for the remainder of the day. I went to bed that night still kind of achy and with a slight fever. The next morning, I woke up drenched in sweat, fever free, and feeling fine, if a little fatigued. All told, it wasn’t too bad. True, that was the sickest I’ve felt since I had scarlet fever as a child, but it only lasted about twenty-four hours with only six of those being really bad hours, so it seemed like a small price to pay to get some immunity from the Rona, though at the time, we really didn’t seem to know exactly how much immunity we would get.
Throughout the spring, I worked with my publisher on preparing Molly’s Song for publication which included cover design and editing proofs. As memory serves me, it was available for pre-orders starting in May and the publication date was set for July 29th. Once all of that was set, I began to process of getting the audiobook produced. I had something like thirty-five auditions from very talented actresses. They were all good, excellent even, but one clearly stood out. Thankfully, Sasha was able to have the book ready by the print/eBook release date, so they all came out at once. She did an amazing job with it too, so if you haven’t given it a listen, I highly recommend it!
For a while there in the late spring and early summer, I kind of stopped thinking about Rona. I was vaccinated (as was my wife, though she got her first shot a month after I got my second) and cases were very low in our area. Then Delta came along. However, during the lull, I felt safe enough to go ahead and address and medical issue that I’d been suffering from since before the Rona. I originally had an appointment about it the week everything shut down in March of 2020 and that appointment got cancelled. As I suspected, when I saw the doctor, he told me that I would need surgery. The soonest I could have it down was the middle of September, so we got it scheduled knowing that it would put a kink in my fall semester.
In the spring, my oldest cat George Armstrong “Autie” Custer died. He was fourteen years old and he had been with me since I found him in a box on the side of the road when he was four weeks old. At that time, he fit in the palm of my hand. Over the years, he got a little more…portly. He was a good boy and we miss him.
Autie was Anastasia’s best friend. When I adopted her back in 2015, they took to one another immediately. Autie would follow her around and always wanted to be right next to her. When he died, Anastasia got very depressed. She would go around the house at night looking for him. After a couple of months, our local animal shelter put out an urgent request for people to adopt cats/kittens as they had over 100 in the shelter. My wife and I decided to go since Anastasia likes kittens and we thought adopting one and giving it to her might make her happy.
When we walked into the cat room, there were two Russian Blue sisters, six months old, in a cage together. One of them kept reaching through the bars to try and grab my wife’s hair. That’s what drew our attention to them. They’d been picked up on the street a couple of weeks earlier. There were two boys with them, all part of the same litter, but the boys had been adopted quickly since they were polydactyl. One of the girls was very friendly but the other just cowered in the back of the cage. We decided that we didn’t want to split them up because if we took the friendly one, odds are, no one would adopt the shy one, so we took them both.
Appearances can be deceiving. The friendly one, named Aksinia after Aksinia Astakhova, the female character in my favorite novel, Quiet Flows the Don, has turned out to be a little more aloof. She’s friendly enough when she wants to be, but she prefers to lounge on top of the cat tower or bookshelf and watch the goings on. The “shy” one, named Olga after Olga Nikolaevna, has turned out to be a holy terror. She is utterly fearless and the other cats are a little intimidated by her, despite her small size. Olga loves to crawl all over her Uncle Dickens and bite his ears and bop him on the head. He’s fourteen and very docile, so he just lets her do it. She is the Daddy’s girl of the two and every evening when I get in bed, she joins me and sits on my chest. At night, Anastasia sleeps on one side of me an Olga on the other. It’s been a long time since I’ve had kittens, and these two are a handful for sure.
My long awaited second novel, Molly’s Song came out on July 29th. It is available as a paperback, eBook, and audiobook. I completed the first draft on Thanksgiving Day, 2019. The following year and a half was taken up with the editing and publishing process. Releasing a book during a pandemic is a bit of a let down. I poured everything I had mentally and physically into writing this book, but given the state of the world, the release passed with little fanfare. There were no book signings, no author talks, and honestly, precious few readers. The book has gotten mostly good reviews, and some bad ones. That’s fine. I understand that my subject matter and writing style are not everyone’s cup of tea. Given the disappointing sales and my overall physical decline, it is difficult for me to justify putting that much of myself into writing a sequel that maybe a dozen people will read. In a way, I feel like I’ve failed my character, though I am still very proud of the book.
August saw my return to in person instruction. It jut happened to coincide with the Delta Strain hitting our area. I live in a state where the governor prohibited governmental entities (like state colleges) from requiring masks. At first, my college insisted on holding all of our professional development activities in person too, but then relented and said they would be virtual. However, on the Friday before the week started. Then, they changed their tune and said that though they would be virtual, we still had to be in our offices to attend. I asked for an exception owing to the fact that I have a documented medical condition that puts me at high risk, vaccinated or not. I was told it was mandatory and there were absolutely no exceptions. I went in person like I was ordered to do, only to find out half our faculty weren’t on campus, so I guess it was only mandatory for certain people.
Returning to teaching in person for the first time in 18 months was a little awkward at first. My students were great, but I had a hard time finding my footing again. But eventually, just like riding a bicycle, it came back to me. Two weeks in and it felt like I had been teaching in person all along with no gaps. But then, the surgery date arrived. I had built this into my schedule and was going to use my recorded videos from the Rona Semesters to allow my students to watch the same lecture that they would get in class. Initially, the plan was to be out for two weeks. But….Mother Nature had other plans.
The weekend prior to the surgery, we found out we were squarely in the middle of the Cone of Doom for Hurricane Nicholas. Landfall was predicted to be overnight Monday night into Tuesday morning, and my surgery was scheduled for Tuesday morning in Galveston. I had not heard of the surgery being cancelled, so Monday afternoon I had to drive down to League City to get my pre-op COVID test, which was negative. On the way back, the outer bands started to come onshore and so I had to drive through quite the monsoon. Thirty minutes after I got home, the surgeon called and said that they were cancelling all morning surgeries and that we would put it off until the following Tuesday. This turned out to be a good thing, because Monday night around 10:30pm, a large tree fell on our house during the storm. It punched some holes in our roof and we had water damage to the sheetrock in the kitchen and living room. The insurance covered it this time, which was a good thing, but we only finished up getting repairs done the week before Christmas.
Since the hospital required a negative COVID test 24 hours prior to surgery, I had to return to League City to get another test the next Monday, which was also negative. On Tuesday morning, we got up at 0400 and drove an hour down to Galveston so that I could be there in time for my 5:30am check in. Normally for this surgery, they would have kept me overnight, but because of COVID, I was discharged the same day. The drive home was pure torture. And worse yet, the following day, we had to drive 30 minutes down to the surgeon’s office so that he could check all the incisions. The recovery was a lot rougher than I expected, but I made it through. Because of the hurricane pushing the surgery back for a week, when I returned to school, I had been out three weeks instead of the planned two.
I won’t belabor what happened next here as I have already written at length about it in a precious post. Basically, I ended up in the hospital for a week and had to have my gallbladder removed, thus missing another two weeks of the semester. By the time the semester finished up, I’d been out for 5 of the 16 weeks. Thankfully, I was able to work it out in such a way that my students still got the instruction that they needed, with the assistance of some of my colleagues. But the semester really did seem like one gigantic cluster….fudge.
At the end of October, I got my Covid booster dose. Given how the second shot went, I was prepared for a similar reaction. As it turned out, this one was pretty mild. About 12 or 14 hours after the shot, I had a very mild fever (100.4) that hung around for the rest of the following day, but it wasn’t bad enough to interfere with my normal daily activities. I was home by myself (apart from the cats) over Thanksgiving and we spent the time eating DoorDash meals and watching football. It was a low key, but relaxing week.
The semester ended right as it was looking like the whole world was about to get Omicroned (is that a verb?). It seems insane to me that going into year three of the Great Rona Pandemic, we are setting daily case count records and hospitals are filling back up again. Vaccinated or not, I’m still in the high risk category due to my lungs and in another couple of weeks, will be back in overcrowded classrooms with dozens of people not wearing masks. I still don’t know how I made it through the fall semester, not to mention a week in the hospital in the middle of the Delta wave, without getting Rona. But with Omicron, I fear my luck may finally run out. Only time will tell.
I am finishing this post on New Year’s Eve. As has been my tradition since I retired from the FD and no longer have to work holidays, I am ringing in the New Year with the Twilight Zone marathon on the ScyFy Channel. Tonight, there will be no parties or wild celebrations for me. I’ll sit on my porch and enjoy a fine maduro cigar. That’s about it. And on New Year’s Day, we will be getting a cold front that will drop our temperature from the low 80s to the upper 30s in the space of ten hours. My arthritis can already feel it approaching.
For the new year, Dear Readers, remember, take care of yourselves. And each other.