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The unleashing of COVID-19 (and how to survive it) is what my dad has been sounding the alarm about for decades. Now that the day has finally arrived that his expert opinion is desperately needed, he’s unable to participate much in the discussion. That’s because he’s strapped to a reclining chair in the living room, sleeping most of the time, in home hospice care. It’s one of the saddest things I’m personally dealing with right now, because I know that what the world needs most right now are more experts like him.
You see, my dad – an actual rocket scientist, communication theorist and best-selling sci-fi and techno thriller novelist – has dedicated much of his life trying to warn people about all the different ways life as we know it might end, and writing earnestly about how those smart enough to listen to him could weather through such an event.
For example, dad has been promoting the ‘elbow bump’ in lieu of a hand shake for years. It’s how our family members typically greet one another. It would be impossible to grow up in Dr. Ing’s household without some of that doomsday fascination rubbing off on me, which is why a few years back I wrote about my obsession with The Walking Dead. It’s not the threat of zombies that fascinates me, it’s the idea of surviving in a world turned upside down. My dad has been drilling self-reliance and self-sustenance into me and my sister since as early as we can remember, and now we’re finally at that place when all those bedtime stories of little girls lost in the woods and survival camp outs we went on could actually come in useful.
About three years ago, Dad was really ramping up the Chicken Little rhetoric, steering every conversation to his favorite subject. And it was a little much. So partly to try to shut him up for a few weeks and partly because there really was no way to shut him up, we gave him the most spectacular present we’d ever come up with on Father’s Day. That Sunday in June – which was, coincidentally, also his birthday – we gave him a classroom filled with his close family. My sister and I, our husbands and all the kids gathered together with pen and notebook in hand, and sat through a three hour “Surviving The End-Of-Life-As-We-Know-It” lecture.
Dad is also a former university professor, so he was prepared with a syllabus and text books, which were copies of his own books “Pulling Through” and “The Chernobyl Syndrome” as well as Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”
The most likely possibilities, as he laid them out, included a massive climate-change fueled fire (this was in 2017, by the way. A full year before the Carr Fire, Camp Fire, or any of those other huge fires that not only destroyed many of my friend’s homes, but also left my backyard garden impotent). Other events on the list included more potential natural disasters like the long-predicted Cascadia Earthquake (anyone feel that tremor off the coast last week?), tsunamis and typhoons. The list also included a favorite spotlight of his doomsday prepping sci-fi books in the early 80’s: a nuclear war or nuclear disaster. You think it couldn’t happen today, and then you look at what’s going on in North Korea and Iran, and it’s not that far fetched. Also on the list: EMP. An Electro-Magnetic Pulse that could wreak havoc on our most prized modern electronic inventions, and force every person under the age of 21 to learn how to dial a rotary telephone.
But the thing heading his list of the things he thought had the potential to bring the whole world to a screeching halt is written at the very top of my page of notes with stars on each side and two exclamation marks. And of course you know what the #1 item on his list was, dontcha? Yep. *FLU!!*
After lecturing us on all the ways he predicted things could go sideways for us, Dad talked about the best ways we could prepare ourselves for any of these possibilities actually occurring, which included sage advice that we’d already heard most of our lives, like move out of the cities, learn to xeriscape, and protect yourself from a global pandemic, starting with the elbow bump.
Now, here we are, in the thick of it. My daughter and her boyfriend have done their part better than most people of their generation. Instead of partying on the beaches and licking toilet seats for TikTok videos, they cancelled a planned road trip home, and are isolated in their apartment. Sophia had just landed a job with the University of Portland, which was supposed to start with Spring Term. Now she’s unemployed again. Patrick, who teaches coding for kids at one of Portland’s schools, is now teaching kids online. When they do go out for supplies, here’s how they roll:
I have learned that even though I’m generally the biggest extrovert in the room at any given moment, I seem to be seamlessly adapting to an introvert lifestyle. I have no problem sitting on the sofa and catching up on the entire latest season of This Is Us that I’d missed out on (plus Fleabag, Killing Eve, and re-watching previous episodes of The Walking Dead), and playing solitaire with my favorite, well-worn deck of nude male revue playing cards that were discovered in my mother-in-law’s house after she passed away a few years ago.
Apparently being a public radio classical music host is still an essential position, so I’m one of the lucky (or unlucky) few who are still working, but we’re running on a skeleton crew. I come in to the studio at noon with a bottle of disinfectant and start wiping down everything that might have been touched by the host before me, including the console, mic, headphones, cd players, keyboards and mice. I even wipe down the weather forecast. I soothe the masses with Mozart and Debussy, and then I go back home and choose something from the freezer to defrost, and decide which bottle of alcohol I’m going to sterilize my throat with. I’ve been staying away from my parents as much as possible, because I know that anyone of my co-workers or the checker at the grocery store could unknowingly pass the virus on to me, and then I could carry this virus around for weeks without realizing it and pass it along to my folks.
Case in point: just in case you don’t know anyone who has tested positive for the virus yet and think this is all a great big overreaction, one of my close friends just lost his father to COVID-19. Pete Erickson Sr was the first Alaskan to die of the virus. Like my father, Pete Sr had congestive heart failure and kidney problems plus COPD, and was medivaced to Seattle recently for those issues. Because he had so many other issues competing with each other to do him in, nobody thought to test him until the very end for COVID-19. Not until he’d been on two separate floors of Virginia Mason hospital, discharged to a rehab facility, and then hospitalized again in Federal Way where he passed last week.
So yes. Someone I know has passed away, and now my friend Pete Jr has also tested positive. He’s quarantined with his wife and family, not really having the chance to mourn for his father because he’s so busy using his experience as a bullhorn to yell at everyone to just stay home. Pete has retained his in-your-face sense of humor though. In one of his many warnings to the public at large he said, “If you must go out in public for supplies, just pretend that you have dog shit on your hands and everything you touch will go in your mouth later.” I’m taking every bit of advice Pete is handing out, and I hope his symptoms don’t get any worse than what he’s already been experiencing so far: a sudden and profound loss of his sense of taste and smell. I hope his wife and kids continue to test negative. I have a lot of hopes.
Then the day before yesterday, my father’s caregiver called in sick. Said he was having respiratory problems. He might not be coming back. Ever. So I made a shepherd’s pie, put on my glamorous N95 face mask that I’ve owned since the Carr Fire, sterilized my hands, grabbed a deck of cards to play a few hands of rummy with my mom (yeah, those cards), and trudged next door to cater to the needs of the man who prepared me to weather the viral storm of the century.
My dad was so thankful for my presence that he said, “Come on in for a hug, kid.”
And of course I said, “How about an elbow bump instead?”
This playlist was easy to put together….I put it together four years ago for the original Armageddarevolutiopocalypticafluenza column (which you really should go back and read. It’s got all a great list of all my recommended reading and viewing material for the End Times one could ever hope for). But I bet you’ve got a few more songs to throw on the list, dontcha?