Running the Numbers (#320)

Everything carries a risk.

Walking outside exposes you to pollution, pollen, an aging population that refuses to give up their cars until they kill people.

Staying inside? You risk depression and poor physical health without sunlight, nature, human contact, and exercise.

Getting married? Well, for heterosexual men it’s a win; you live longer and you’re happier.

For heterosexual women? Your partner is the most likely person to murder you. Even if he doesn’t, your life expectancy is shorter (but that’s okay because you’re more miserable than single women).

I’m apparently something of a risk-taker. I brave the great outdoors on a regular basis. Despite nearly being run over IN THE CROSSWALK by hundreds of old folks in big cars, a dozen moms dropping their kids off at school, and multiple bicyclists.

I’m a heterosexual woman who got married—even after watching the extraordinary marital train wrecks of multiple parental units.  I’m still married (possibly it’s my husband who fears being murdered by his wife and RIGHTLY SO).

I even survived pregnancy. 17 out of every 100,000 American women don’t, which is the highest maternal mortality rate in industrialized nations and a goddamned travesty.

I take birth control pills, which puts me at a 0.03%  to 0.09% risk for a blood clot. (But since I’m not a complete adrenaline junkie, I don’t drink or smoke, which increase the risk.)

Most recently, I got the “risky” COVID-19 vaccine. No, no, not AstraZeneca—that one is super risky, with a .00065% chance of causing a blood clot. I got the J&J shot— which carries a blood clot risk of .00086% (if you round up).

When I got the shot, of course, no one yet knew the Johnson & Johnson vaccine posed that risk. About a week after my shot, the U.S. paused use of the vaccine.

Birth control pills are still being dispensed, as are guns, which increase risk of death by homicide (2%) and suicide (10% for males with guns in the house) .

Despite the above numbers and snark, I’m not opposed to the J&J pause. Treating these blood clots like other blood clots by using heparin can make them worse. All physicians should be made aware of the potential issue and side effects—especially since the clots appear mostly in women. Doctors have a history of not taking medical complaints of women—especially Black women—seriously.

Still, with such infinitesimally low odds, who would worry more about getting a blood clot from the vaccine than dying of COVID-19 itself (.25% to 20% risk depending on age, health, nationality)?

Apparently I would. Last week at 5:30 AM, I was on the floor of my bathroom, certain I had a clot in my left leg. It hurt to move. I was clearly going to die. My child would be motherless. Worse, son and husband would be referee-less! No one would remember to fill the pets’ water bowls and they would die, too!

I reminded myself that if I hadn’t gotten a blood clot when I was pregnant and stupid (.2% chance), I wasn’t likely to get one now. The pain eventually faded.

It was probably a cramp from kneeling on the cold tile floor in order to beat back an ant invasion.

But if it had been a blood clot?

The smart money would have been on my birth control pills.

Vaccination Nation (#319)

I need my vaccination
Want my arm burning
Immune system strong
I need that vaccination
White blood cells learning
That COVID’s wrong…
(Sung to the tune of the Human League’s “Fascination.”)

After my post on my drive-thru vaccination, I’ve fielded questions on vaccine side effects—possibly because I got the newer, less popular Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Here are all the details you could possibly want. And some you maybe don’t.

For the Pfizer vaccine, which both Andy and his mom got, the most obvious side effect was a sore arm. Neither one had nausea for the first shot, just some fatigue. Before his second shot, I warned Andy to stay hydrated; a nurse-friend had told me that she suspected a lot of the fever, headaches, and nausea people experienced with the second shot were either caused or exacerbated by dehydration (especially common in SoCal during our recent, delightful, low-humidity wind events).

Andy stayed hydrated, but he was literally sprinting for the bathroom when he got back from his long drive for shot #2. Not because of all the water he drank, but because he had diarrhea. (Andy insists that he over-indulged in cheese the day before and diarrhea is thus NOT a side effect. I have my doubts.)

Andy insists his only real side effect was being tired for a day or two. His mom just had the sore arm. But since Andy and his mom both have Chinese-American stomachs of steel and almost never throw up, I wasn’t sure their lack of nausea was typical.

I, on the other hand, have a highly reactive stomach. I’m the sympathetic puker and had morning sickness for six damned months (also threw up during labor).

If anyone was going to hurl after being vaccinated, it’d be me.

I’ve also got a delightful vasovagal response when it comes to blood and some shots (i.e., I’m a fainter). I packed ice (for the back of my neck, helps you not pass out) and an air sickness bag for my inoculation road trip.

Andy eyed me dubiously and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you?”

“I’ll be fine. You need to keep an eye on Baby D.”

“I’ll be fine,” Baby D declared. “You’d better drive her, Dad.”

“YOU just want us both gone so you can steal screen time and cookies, mister,” I told Baby D. “I’ll be fine. I haven’t thrown up or passed out since…”

“Since your last tetanus booster? Last August?” Andy offered, with unforgivable accuracy.

“Mom’s gonna faint, Mom’s gonna faint!” Baby D chanted.

“I did not pass all the way out,” I countered. “I just had to lie down and couldn’t see anything. Besides, I haven’t heard about people passing out. Your Engineering Cousin’s husband’s only side effect from the Johnson & Johnson shot was sleeping for two days. Two days! How awesome would that be?”

Sadly, I did not sleep for two days. But I didn’t pass out or throw up after my vaccination, despite the 11% humidity (possibly because I guzzled water all morning and throughout the weekend).

I didn’t get a headache, either. Nor did I get a fever. Yes, I popped some ibuprofen before the shot and several times over the weekend, but even when it wore off, my temperature stayed a degree or two below normal.

My left arm was sore, but the injection site hurt less—and did not hurt for as many days—as it did for other vaccinations (and cortisone shots). I could even sleep on my left side!

I definitely didn’t have my normal energy, though. On Saturday, I let Andy handle the three-mile morning dog walk (which hasn’t happened in years). I wasn’t sleepy, and I didn’t nap, but I was definitely lethrgic.

Sunday the dog and I only made it two miles. Monday morning I was still tired, but we made it three miles.

“So really,” I told Andy, “the only side effects of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccination were a sore arm and fatigue. Which is way better than being unvaccinated and risking a trip to the hospital…or the morgue.”

Still bummed I didn’t get the side effect of sleeping for 2 days, though.

(Note: Andy would like me to tell you all that there was one other side effect. He insists I was super cranky when I came back from being vaccinated. I even “yelled” at him! I would say the crankiness/ yelling was caused less by the vaccine and more by him sitting on his ass for three hours and leaving certain physical chores in the yard for his spouse with a sore arm to do when she got home. You be the judge.)

 

 

When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)

I am not a fan of car culture. I believe in public transportation: trains, the subway, buses. Do not get me started on the lost and lamented Los Angeles Red Car.

But damn, cars came in handy during COVID-19. Cars were a way to maintain social distancing in drive-thru testing sites. There were Ubers and Lyfts for those who didn’t dare brave buses, even with masks. There was Instacart for those who didn’t dare brave the grocery stores. With restaurant dining off-limits, at least you could still pick up a pizza or have it delivered.

Drive-in Theaters became a thing again. Fast-food restaurants brought back carhop service. We went from Escape Rooms to Stranger Things: the Drive-Into Experience. The majority of Americans opted for road trips this Spring Break, rather than risk flying.

Aside from take out, Andy and I mostly skipped the resurgence of car culture.

Until it was our turn for vaccinations.

Andy, being part of some top-secret national defense project, and being asthmatic, was up first. Now, a lot of folks are very pro-Pfizer (the first vaccine out), which requires two shots. But since all the vaccines will keep you from being hospitalized or dying, I’m with the California website My Turn, which says, “the best vaccine is the first one you can get.”

The first appointment Andy could get was the Pfizer vaccine at the LA Forum at the beginning of March. Run by volunteers, Andy drove up on Sundays, three weeks apart. He reported that it was smooth sailing, with minimal traffic and no wait times.

The first appointment I could get was last Friday afternoon, for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Andy reported that his coworkers eligible at the same time couldn’t get appointments as quickly as I did, possibly because they don’t get up at 5 AM. At least there’s one good thing about having a kid who wakes up early.)

The vaccination site was a drive-thru at Cal State Los Angeles, run by the California Office of Emergency Services. In practical terms it meant the vaccination site was being run by the National Guard.

It also meant I would have to brave a fifty mile round trip through Friday afternoon traffic. In Los Angeles.

So be it.

There’s an LA-specific greeting card that says, “I love so much I’d take the 10 to the 101 to the 405 for you!”

True love has nothing on inoculation against death. For the COVID vaccine, I took the 405 to the 91 to the 710 (because the 110 had 3 accidents). The 710 was stop and go, because it was, as always, filled with big rigs hauling containers from the Port of Los Angeles. Those trucks can’t accelerate quickly and thus cannot merge for shit.

About the time I exhausted my supply of swear words, I arrived at Cal State LA. There was a ton of signage, plus literally thousands of orange cones to make sure everyone went the right way. For 5 minutes, we literally followed cones around the campus and through two parking garages.

In one parking garage, we stopped in front of a sign that offered translators in every language I’d ever heard of (yes, including Tagalog). Next to the sign were members of the National Guard (who looked like 12-year-olds-dressed up in camouflage uniforms which is probably a sign that I skipped middle-age and went straight to old ladyhood).

The National Guard member checked my ID (which was my license but could have been a library card or a utility bill) against his electronic tablet, filled out my vaccine card, and had me put it on my dashboard. A laminated card with the time went under my windshield wiper. I drove through another parking garage to the actual inoculation site.

The site had tents and about 20 rows of cars. A pair of National Guard members walked down each row, giving shots. 15 minutes after the last injection in a given row, that row was allowed to drive away, following more orange cones off the campus and practically right back onto the 710 freeway. (Spoiler alert: equally awful traffic on the way home.)

You can check out more snippets of my drive-thru vaccine experience on my Instagram account if you are so bored so inclined.

I probably spent less than a half-hour at the vaccination site, but the whole excursion was over 3 hours in the car.

Pretty much a typical roundtrip commute in Los Angeles.

No wonder I’m still a big fan of public transportation.