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Hearing the Unease

Today was yet another delightful step into the joys and gifts of aging; simultaneously it was also, however, a taste of what our technology now offers us. Today I received my hearing aids. Now bear in mind, I only have a 15%-18% hearing loss (pretty much equally in both ears) so I am far from being seriously hearing impaired, but that amount is enough to make my life…difficult. Difficult because my personal loss is in fairly specific frequencies – mostly those found in the voices of children and of many women. So I can’t hear my wife well and I certainly can’t hear my grandkids well at all. I struggle with a lot of letters such as F, P, C, and V. For example, recently my wife asked me to check the fitted sheets but I heard a request to check the feta cheese. Funny, but also depressing. And the movies? (When we could actually go to the movies.) I would typically miss between 40% and 60% of the dialogue. I have closed captioning on the TV at home for the same reason. And it is not about volume, it is about clarity. Turning up the volume only makes the garbled words louder, not clearer or understandable.

These hearing aids pair to my iPhone with Bluetooth which allows me to control a lot of settings “on the fly”. They filter, they amplify, and they are specifically programmed to focus on the tones/frequencies I have been missing in my hearing. And they are remarkable – they work really well. But while they are technological marvels, they do tend to amplify everything as well and that is startling at moments. Even sitting here typing, I am hearing sounds from my computer that surprise and annoy me. My space bar has a particular rattle sound that I never heard before. My shoes squeak – I had no idea! Driving home was a trip; I have, for all my life, been attuned to the sounds of anything I drive, always listening for something wrong, something not quite right. I heard more sounds coming from the truck in this ride home than I had ever heard before. Unsettling, but I sort of rationalized it as sounds that have always been there, just that I was never able to hear them before.

When I got home I stepped out back into the woods, and I heard birds singing everywhere – not one or two and not hints of them singing – this was a heart-stopping explosion of singing – everywhere. How much I had been missing! I can’t wait to go on my first hike wearing them. I also look forward to tonight and hearing the peep frogs. On spring nights this time of year, the peeps are out singing every night. It starts with only a couple of them, but as the warmth of spring spreads and grows, they multiply exponentially and their singing builds to a crescendo that even I could hear. But it had to all of them singing and I had to be outside. For the last few weeks, almost every night my wife would ask me if I could hear them and of course, I could not. Now I am sure I can. But by all means, that one thing I most look forward to is having a conversation with my grandkids and hearing (hopefully) every word. That will be such a joy!

Speaking of my grandkids, I detect an ever-increasing level of unease, discomfort, and stress in them. I think at first, it was a great novelty, most notably no school. Study from home, in a somewhat leisurely pace and decidedly comfortable environment, even in their PJ’s, was a novel and cool change. But not going anywhere, not seeing anyone, missing their classmates and teachers, recess, the bus ride….those losses have begun to mount up on them. And of course, their grandparents: I would pick them up every Saturday morning around 10AM and we’d keep them here until Sunday around 6PM. And they would also come over every Wednesday for “family night” when we would all get together for three or four hours to eat and to laugh and have fun.

They have not slept over since mid-March; in fact, they have not been in our house since mid-March. Of late, the last couple of weeks, they’ve come over. At first they stayed in the van with the windows down, but over the last week or so, we all sit outside and maintain some semblance of distancing – not always six feet but always a distance of some sort. And being outside with plenty of wind, coupled with the fact that no one is coughing or sneezing, I consider it a zero-risk visit.

Latest data seems to indicate that the overwhelming majority of transmission of this virus has been respiratory: someone breathing in droplets expelled from someone else sick with the virus. They still think that it can be transmitted by touching something someone infected touched, but they now feel the odds of that method are very low. Think about it; the infected person would have to cough or sneeze onto/into their hands, then without touching anything else (their pants, shirt, pocket, etc.) they would then have to touch a door handle or the like. Then you would have to not only touch the same object, quickly enough that it wasn’t wiped off by someone else, in order to pick it up. Not done yet. You would then, without touching anything else like your pants, or shirt, or pocket, need to touch your eye or mouth in order for the virus to have a chance of not only transferring but also live. That is a fairly impressive set of things that have to occur in order to become infected by touch.

Respiratory transfer makes much more sense; someone sick coughs or sneezes and if you are within a couple of feet of them, and inhale those droplets, you can become ill as well. Of course, you need to be close enough for this transfer (hence social distancing and masks). You also have to be unlucky enough that the droplets holding the virus sneak past your body’s natural screening and filtering defenses and make their way into you. And the person whose droplets you inhaled has to be contagious – not just sick. There is a finite period of time during which you are contagious, and before or after, you are not. So it takes some extensive things to all line up and occur in order to catch this virus.

I know, some of you are shaking your heads sadly thinking I am a fool; that I am ignoring the science and the facts. But in truth, that is exactly what I am doing: focusing on science and facts. But to do so you have to unplug the daily media messages of doom and gloom and you have to stop reading the daily (hourly) death counts. You have to think about the facts – really think about the facts. Start with your home town, your life – that is unless you live in a huge city like New York or Chicago or Atlanta. Cities are a whole different set of circumstances that make infection almost unavoidable. I am speaking about the bulk of the country, where people live primarily in houses, in neighborhoods.

Ask yourself: do you know anybody who has tested positive for the virus? Do you know anyone who became sick from the virus? Do you know anyone who was hospitalized? Or someone who died from it? (And if you do know someone who died, I am so deeply sorry for your loss.) For me, I know no one who tested positive, no one who was sick, no one who was hospitalized, or no one who died. I keep close tabs on what goes on in the company I worked at for almost 45 years, both through a great number of personal friends I remain in contact with, but also through a number of employee Facebook groups. There are over 14,000 employees between our two locations and at last check, there were 37 positive cases. These are people who work on top of each inside the bowels of submarines and only 37 positive cases. I find that quite telling.

This has been going on here in the US for almost four months now – four months! My town has a population of just over 26,000 people. We currently, after four months, have 177 positive cases…out of 26,000 people. And as I said, I know none of them who tested positive. At last check, over 75% of our cases were from nursing homes, which in a microcosm, mirror life in a big city. And during these four months, and especially the last two months during this “shelter in place” saga, I have watched the Facebook group posts for my town, and have made personal observations during those times I did have to go out. The big box stores such as Home Depot, Walmart, and all the big grocery stores were packed – literally. True, people did not go out to eat and drink; people did not go to the movies, concerts, and the like. And they did not get their nails or hair done. But that was about it: they still rubbed elbows in the big box stores. And the great outdoors? Hiking trails are packed with people parking along the road wherever they can. People are NOT avoiding each other.

Now think about the last two paragraphs; think about your personal experience. Your town, your stores, your circle of friends. Then think about the information with which we were blasted daily about how highly dangerous and transmittable this virus is. If this virus was one tenth as potent as they initially stated, my town would have more than 177 positive cases after four months. My company would have more than 37 cases after four months. And please remember that a positive test does not mean they are ill, only that they have the virus. Good information, no doubt, but just catching it does not necessarily make you ill and I think we need to remember that, given how we a bombarded daily with “new positive cases” data.

But our children are not that evolved yet in their thinking; they are not capable of consuming the vast oceans of data that are out there and then separating fact from fiction, extrapolation from empirical data, politically motivated biased reporting from objective reporting (if indeed that even still exists). They hear it all and then they watch, they observe, and they wait to see how their personal elders respond. They were told two weeks, then two more weeks, then we don’t know. They hear about how life has changed “forever” – a little premature for that dire prognostication isn’t it? They see and hear all this and their level of apprehension and stress rises. As does their level of mistrust; it is far better to tell someone “I don’t know” when you just don’t know, than to capriciously throw out answers that have no factual basis just because you hope that is how things will turn out, such as our president does every day. And at the same time, you can’t climb up on a podium and shout out “facts” to the world with a megaphone when you don’t really know, such as our news media has been doing from the start. I don’t know which is worse, carelessly throwing out statements and answers that have no foundation in truth just because you want to spread good news or make yourself look good or announcing information as scientifically factual when in fact it is not, merely to make it (and your political opponent) all look worse. They both suck to be frank.

And while all this misinformation flies about, and people point fingers, and people affix blame, no one is seeing what’s happening to our children. The children don’t know who or what to believe, and don’t have the intellectual depth or training yet to figure it out on their own. They are young, naive, bewildered, and decidedly scared. How must a eight or ten year old feel when they are told they can’t go see their friends? They can’t go sleep over at their grandparents? That they can’t come within six feet of the same people they hugged and kissed for their whole lives? Especially given that no one is sick – everyone is the same but this “virus” means no school, no friends, no going out to eat and no coming closer to your grandparents than six feet. It is mind-boggling to them, mind-boggling and terrifying.

Please dear reader, please take a moment to find a new and meaningful way to express your love and comfort to the children in your personal world. Reassure them, comfort them, and above all – love them. They need it now more than ever. There is no way to shelter them from this, there is no way to provide them any sort of hard factual data on what happens next and when, and there is no way to let them know when it will end. But we must find a way to let them know it will be OK; they are loved, they are safe, and while it may be different for some amount of time, it won’t stay like this forever. We need to find a way to make them feel safe and secure and for them to know we’re scared too, but that together, we’ll come through it just fine. Personally, I can’t wait to talk to my grandkids again, because now I can actually hear what they have to say and I may be better able to give them the love and support they need. Stay well dear reader.

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