The view from a quieter Saturday morning
On a day to day basis, what we've experienced just feels like what we've experienced... but when I briefly sketch out the events to others, I realize the collection of events are more than a bit nutty.
To recap- around 22 April, we decided that it was time to leave Sweden. That following week, Chris ended up in the Stockholm ER twice: on a Friday for dizziness (discharged and sent home), and on Saturday night/Sunday morning after he woke up thinking he was having a stroke and passing out and hitting his head. A long 40 hours later, he was cleared of having a stroke or a broken neck, but did have nerve pain, a hematoma (bruise on his brainstem), a concussion, and the underlying symptoms impacting his lungs. We moved our tickets to fly back to the US from 2 May to 9 May, giving him time for another CT scan. The next scan on 7 May came back clear and we flew home on 9 May with a challenging flight, difficult driving conditions to arrive at less than ideal conditions in a rental house (e.g., mouse poop in most corners and other grossness). On Sunday, all I wanted for Mother's Day was a good cup of tea, but my efforts at tea failed due to water that had probably been sitting for too long. I'll try again tomorrow.
Challenges aside, our return has been uplifted by the help and care of our friends- happy welcome home signs, food gathered for us, meals dropped off. A friend noted that they were happy to help- relieved to be able to do something. For our family, I think we're all feeling a bit more stable- Chris is playing the mandolin in the living room, we managed to watch the mandolorian on tv last night to actually see baby yoda in action. It's apparently been a cold and miserable spring here in State College but even that's turned a corner now with a few warm days in a row. Trees are showing their leaves, the grass is sparkling green, and the birds are chirping from their nests. Spring Creek has been running clear- we've been admiring the new restoration work done instream. We've even managed to put the electric skateboard back together.
It's help to keep cleaning the house- powerwashing the decks, opening the windows for fresh air.
On Chris' end, his concussion means that focused work is challenging anyway. Trying to computer code or even do a puzzle gives him a pretty quick headache. His lungs still feel compromised- we're hearing more and more reports of covid "recovery" taking a long time with these kinds of weird symptoms- lungs that don't quickly recover as a key piece. To avoid the mental impact, Chris has tried to avoid the news... he doesn't need the latest discovery to set him into panic. On my end, I think the stress has re-triggered a latent issue I've had with my gall bladder (eat something like pizza and end up doubled over in pain). I'm seeking medical help (telehealth appointment due to the 14 day quarantine) and lining up the tests for potential gall bladder surgery. The kids continue to be super patient with us and the situation.
Hopefully we'll be able to pick up our bikes and boats today. We can't just go over and get things out of our house but have to describe what we need to our renters and have them leave it outside. It's tricky when our Spanish renters are so worried about covid that they've really not left the house for 2 months. The husband in the family also cut his hand badly enough to need 6 stitches, complicating things (I'm sure both for their fear and for the practicalities of day-to-day living).
While moving in the midst of a pandemic has been a personal challenge, it is also interesting to see how this area is handling the pandemic response. For example, I had to pick up a chromebook for Elizabeth from the school district. I coordinated a date & time for pick up- pushed a button and the IT staff brought the computer up, leaving it on a bench well distant from me. A third person was also outside, so the three of us-- masked, 10 feet apart-- chatted for a bit. The third person- perhaps a finance person for the district based on his comments- suddenly remarked that he didn't know anyone with covid. I raised my hand- said I did, shared our story.
People still step back when they hear you know someone with covid, or might have had it yourself. I'd love to know for sure. As part of both of our medical issues, we'd love to get antibody testing- who knows what's available or possible at this point. We do feel like our own personal exposure is much less- living in a house versus an apartment complex, having many fewer people around. There remains a lot we don't know though. Our personal challenges highlight the societal challenges- we're all living in a large experiment with relatively little information.
In talking with other friends and colleagues, the fear of covid + the impact of shut down are very real, yet the prevalence of tested covid cases here in Central Pennsylvania is relatively low. Confirmed cases are increasing in retirement homes and the prison system; people have unfortunately died. Because of the low case/population ratio, Centre County is on "yellow" status- with stores allowed to re-open. I ordered stationery from a local business and called ahead to pick up my order- delivered in a bag on the street corner.
Construction was allowed to resume this week. Some flaggers wore masks, others did not. Construction sites hosted signs: this is a covid-prepared workplace.
While many are being exceedingly cautious, others are not. Driving by, the grocery stores appear to be packed. No idea if they are requiring masks or not. Elsewhere, Penn State students are lined up taking their graduation photos- so many that the university closed key places for "maintenance." I snapped the following photo as I drove by- students below the football stadium, lined up for their pictures at "The Pennsylvania State University" sign.
The university is already feeling the impacts; here's a list of key dates as of now:
- Employees who are telecommuting should continue to do so through at least May 31, with some exceptions.
- fall in-person classes will be announced by June 15. A decision about
- nonessential events are canceled, postponed or virtual through at least June 30. All
- who do not have work they can perform will be paid 50% of their wages through at least June 30. Employees
- domestic and international, is suspended through at least June 30. All University-affiliated travel, both
I continue to watch what's happening in Sweden. I've not had the mental energy nor time to write a blog post just on Sweden's approach but will at some point. The Swedish death toll related to covid-19 continues to go up- the reported death rate is increasing by about 100 people a day, with around 3,646 people dead as of 15 May. The heaviest impact is in the elderly and immigrant populations.
The rhetoric seems to be getting sharper about whether Sweden's approach was a good one or not; the New York Times had an article and info-graphics in the 15 May issue comparing Sweden's approach. Other countries are taking a stand- Denmark is looking to reopen its borders with Germany, but not with Sweden. At the same time, people are putting tattoos of the Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell on their bodies and writing songs about how good it is to listen to Tegnell.
The Swedish government is acknowledging that mistakes were made in handling the elder care situation, with investigations underway. [As a side note, I think a really interesting story is out there in what the definition of "elder care" might be in different countries. I've heard but not confirmed that elder care is Sweden is really end of life care, versus the idea of retirement community or something else. When people are reporting impacts to our elderly in different countries, what type of facility they are in might be quite different. I've not seen any reporting on this, but have raised the question to reporters for the Local].
Swedish schools continue to mandate that kids go back to school or parents face fines; this Newsweek article from yesterday sums up our fears about staying in Sweden. We have no idea what's happening with the school our kids were in, but we have to assume that a confrontation between parents and the school continues to mount. I know from talking with friends and even teachers at the school that they do feel conflicted: Sweden is all about promoting individual rights and freedoms, and yet here, the mandate is "though shalt" attend school. This feels really, really distant to me at this point. I'm not sorry to have moved away from this particular debate. Sad, but not sorry.
Today is Penn State Law's online graduation- I wish all my students graduating into challenging circumstances all the best. I've been in touch with many of them- sending short notes of congratulations and receiving notes back thanking me for checking in. I normally do this via hand written notes at graduation or the reception following, but email will have to suffice this year. I'm glad to know of a good cohort of dedicated lawyers to be going out into the world (also with uncertainty as bar exams have been postponed or canceled until February, or moved online).
For now and on our end, we'll have a quiet weekend, perhaps with bicycles. Friends have promised to deliver tomato starts when we are ready for them. The birds are a happy cacophony of sound and Spring Creek is running higher after yesterday's storms. A dove keeps drinking from the water that keeps pooling up on the patio; a set of birds bright with yellow and black flit through the air. We'll continue to hope for more stability and fewer health dramas, more birdsong and perhaps just the dynamic antics of squirrels climbing the barn.
Barn at sunset the other day; coffee on the porch this morning.