The Marfa Meanderthal: Let’s worry (and worry some more)

Let’s worry

Do you tend to worry unnecessarily about things? Many of us do. And we are repeatedly told not to. Family members, counselors, “experts” of all sorts warn that worry is detrimental to one’s health, both physical and mental. “Don’t worry,” they say, “keep your thoughts positive and pleasant.” So I tell my clients to go ahead and worry, but do it productively. If you’ve kept abreast of the news lately, you know that there are situations in our world currently very worry-worthy, so let’s get to it and WORRY!

Our biggest worrisome situation now is the global pandemic of COVID-19, a seriously scary disease caused by a novel coronavirus. This is highly contagious and we have no vaccine to prevent it and no drug to cure it. That is definitely worth worrying about. What will you do if you get it? Decide now, and then just follow your plan. What are the symptoms? You will feel sick. It starts out like the flu, with coughing, fever, perhaps an achy feeling and the general “blahs.” This is your cue to back off and take a break from your normal activities. No matter what you may or may not have, your body needs rest. It is of utmost importance now to isolate yourself from other people. Don’t share! If you even think you might have this disease, stay at home!

Do not go to the emergency room at the hospital or to a doctor’s office or clinic. Call your doctor on the telephone and get advice about what to do. Then take care of yourself: drink plenty of water and eat frequent light meals that are not made up of junk food. Stay as comfortable as possible, and sleep as much as you can. And do just what your doctor says. If you should get worse, call the doctor again. If you have to call 911, be certain that you tell the dispatcher that you might have this new virus, and if you need to call an ambulance for any other reason (injury, heart problems, etc.), keep in mind that the ambulance crew has also been to various other places, and so could have been exposed to any number of things.

They must respond to emergencies and cannot decide based on who at the scene might have a communicable disease. They are paid to take these chances, but you are not. Stay away from sick people. There is a lab test for COVID-19, but living out here in the Big Empty, it may be difficult, if not almost impossible, for us to efficiently utilize it. By the time a nose and throat swab is obtained and sent to El Paso (our nearest testing facility), the test performed, and the results sent back here, a person with a mild case could be getting well!  It really makes more sense at this time to just simply treat any fever or respiratory problem as if it were this bad virus until proven otherwise. That means isolate the patient, treat the symptoms, and support the body’s ability to recover. So far, this is all we have for treatment. And it works equally well for a cold, ordinary flu, or seasonal allergies. Simply go straight to the bottom line worst-case, and if it turns out to be something less, you’re pretty much home free.

This brings us to the next dilemma: how to keep from getting it in the first place. A few weeks ago, this column was dedicated to how to catch the flu. Since coronavirus is spread in pretty much the same way as flu, this part should be easy. Just don’t do anything that article said to do and be sure to do everything that the article said not to, especially the hand washing part. (In case you’re now confused, just avoid groups of people and wash your hands a lot.)  And as for sick people –– avoid them like the plague. So far, we have been very fortunate in that there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in our somewhat remote area. However we do need to worry about a certain phenomenon called visitors. Spring break has begun, marking the beginning of tourist season, which invariably brings with it massive groups of migratory humans. (Face it –– in a town this size, 10 people is a pretty good-sized group!) Could any of them be virus carriers? Don’t get me wrong now, tourists are good for our local economy, and most of them are interesting and friendly. We should be welcoming and congenial toward them –– from a distance of three feet or more. Smile and wave at them, talk to them, but if you touch them, wash your hands. And while we’re on this subject, now is not a good time to travel. Control the things you can.

So now we’ve worried our way through avoiding this dreaded disease and what to do if you get it anyway. We have confronted the worst things that can happen and decided how to handle each one. Don’t you feel a little better now? Yes, it’s a nasty virus that is easily and rapidly spread, but now you have a plan for avoiding it, as well as a plan of action if you  happen to catch it anyway. We have gone straight to the worst-case scenario in both instances and decided how to handle it. Anything less that happens should be easy to deal with. While it’s true that people have died from this disease, most do not. And absolutely tons of people die from flu, pneumonia, various organ failures, strokes and heart attacks. It’s also possible to die from snake bite, auto and airplane crashes, even measles. Life itself is a terminal condition, but we have learned to live with it. Take care of your body and it will serve you well. And remember that while there is a tiger in the zoo, he probably will not eat you if you do not go into his cage.


Let’s worry some more

Hopefully by now you have productively worried yourself into a workable plan to protect you and your family from COVID-19 and have a plan in place in case you should get sick. Let’s just say we will assume that everybody we encounter is potentially contagious, and if we get sick we’ll treat it like it was COVID-19 until we know for sure it isn’t. Good work! Now let’s look at the ripple effects. Most of these effects are directly tied to money in some way. And why not? We are a consumer society after all, and it takes money to obtain products to consume. When people’s mobility and interactions are restricted or limited, buying and selling naturally decreases. When people have less than they are used to, they tend to worry, which leads to anxiety, which can easily escalate to panic. Panic is the true villain here. Therefore, let us worry out a plan to prevent the occurrence of panic in any situation.

Money Situation 1: The Stock Market. Television news tells us that the market is down. Has it ever been totally stable? And how many of us in our little corner of the world actually rely primarily on the market for our regular existence? (If anyone is investing money that he cannot afford to gamble with, then he probably isn’t going to do too well anyway.) If we wait the market will go up again — then down again, up again and so on. It always does. No need to worry on this point.

Money situation 2: Shortage of  goods and supplies. Realistically, out here we are near the bottom of the supply chain. We are dependent on transportation systems to bring us what we need, and by the time the trucks get all the way down here, they don’t exactly have all their best stuff any more. The bottom line is we mostly get the leftovers delivered to our stores. Shortages or increased demand at the top can turn into even less or possibly even nothing when it gets to us. This is a really fine setup for panic!  But, in spite of the fact that by current standards labeling is generally considered poor form, panic is, in a word — bad.   So let’s just worry us up a plan instead. What if we have to self-quarantine for a couple of weeks, or if the deliveries stop for a while? Believe it or not, we can make it!

What do we really need? The list will include food, of course. Also, we can add cleaning supplies, toiletries, medications and child or specialty healthcare supplies. There are also pet needs, paper products, and some sort of entertainment, particularly if you have children. We’ll begin with food. Everybody must eat. So what do you already have in your pantry? Some things keep longer than others, so separate the dried items such as pasta, rice, beans, etc. and the canned goods from the things that could go bad rather quickly. Fresh potatoes, carrots and apples will last longer than a lot of other fresh food, so you can probably count those with your canned and dried food. Frozen items will last a good while, but they can get a little off-tasting after a few months. Now you can prioritize your eating and plan accordingly. Use up the spoilable food first and decide how long your current stock will last. If you need to buy more, keep in mind what you will be using soon and what will keep for later. Of course, a lot of this will be dependent on what is available at the store. Be realistic though. Don’t take home a bunch of food that you know your family will not like, just because it will keep well. For instance, my gang could live for six months or so on mostly rice and pinto beans, but I couldn’t force canned spinach down my husband with a plunger! It is recommended to have about two weeks’ worth of usable food on hand. And don’t forget that you also have to feed your pets. They really won’t understand a sudden drastic change in their diet.

Cleaning supplies will come next. You will definitely need detergent for dishes and laundry, and a bottle or jug of bleach. The CDC recommends one cup of chlorine bleach mixed into from 1 to 5 gallons of water for disinfecting surfaces. Wipe all surfaces and allow them to air dry. Make a new disinfectant solution every 24 hours to keep it strong enough to kill the nasties and or wash them away. Anything else you have along these lines is nice, but the above are essential. Paper towels are convenient, but you can wash and reuse rags and old towels. Now you should make sure you have a supply of hand or bath soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, and anything else you use in your daily hygiene and grooming routine. This is a personal matter and needs no discussion. Just remember that the stores could run out after a week or so.

If you take prescription medications, consult your medical professional about how much you need to keep on hand and what to do if you should run out. Make sure you have enough over-the-counter meds to take care of fever, pain, nausea, etc. A basic first aid kit with antibiotic salve, burn gel, and simple bandages should always have a place in your home, and even (responsible) children should know where it is and how to use it. If you have a baby in your home, you probably already know the inconvenience of running out of supplies. Who knew she could go through that many diapers in one day?! Anticipate problems and be prepared to improvise. Most importantly, know who you can ask about anything you may need to know. And keep up with the news.

Finally, it is advisable to keep a little cash on hand. (Just because you’re stuck at home does not mean life as you know it has to shut down.) It doesn’t have to be a whole lot, but make sure the money is in small bills and change. A piggy bank is always a good friend. This fits in with entertainment suggestions. So does a variety of batteries. Reading material, board games, musical instruments, cards or dominoes –– all this and more are good ways to spend what could be boring hours. Television is okay for a while, but after a couple of days, a hobby or other amusement starts to look awfully good. And by all means, maintain contact with your friends, whether by phone or computer. Loneliness isn’t good for your health. Isolation should be physical, not emotional. Sometimes it can be fun to “camp out” in your home, especially with children. Think picnics on the floor and sleeping bags. You might even try it ahead of time just to familiarize the family with The Plan. Of course “ahead of time” isn’t really practical right now; our crisis is already here, but you can use this one to learn and prepare for next time.