As the country hopefully moved toward transitioning to Quarantine Phase II around Memorial Day, things did not go as planned…
We stayed home on the Memorial Day weekend, expecting traffic and crowds to materialize everywhere. I had a little twinge of sciatica on the left, probably from our aggressive neighborhood hike with the grandchildren on the Friday before. But, getting out for a walk on Tuesday worked out the kinks, and I was fine.
On Wednesday, the “need to wander” bug hit, so we planned a drive out to remote Lake Wynoochee, 60 km north of Montesano, and maybe a bike ride or hike. Heading out past Deckerville, where we have been riding our bike, we headed out on Cougar Smith Road, the shortest route from Shelton. Unfortunately, the last 4 km of the 10-km long road runs through private logging land, which was being worked, so we turned back, driving down to Brady and Montesano, before heading north again. At the lake, the road turns to gravel. We continued on north of the lake to the bridge across the river, where we parked and set off on a short hike of a kilometer or so, up the canyon on the west fork to Maidenhair Falls. There were a few campers in the unimproved but approved camping areas around the bridge, and a few recent footprints on the trail, but we saw no one.
The falls were at the head of a deep cleft through the rock, with an old wood bridge just below the falls, which were mostly obscured by recent tree falls across the creek. Nevertheless, it was an idyllic forest scene, with the roar of the largely unseen cascade through the cleft. On the way back to the car, we took a side route to the now broad and slow river near the fork, checking out the camping area, thinking we might come back for a longer stay.
We headed home, 125 km by the route through town, while we had come at least 200 by taking the “shortcut” that was closed. This was a longer drive than we’d been on all year, and more mileage than we’d put on altogether since the start of the Troubles. So, on Friday, we decided to drive into the city and refuel at Costco in Tumwater, though we didn’t intend to shop in the store, having mail-ordered everything from Costco over the last three months. But, it would give us an opportunity to ride our bike on the country roads to the south.
After topping off the tank on the truck with a whopping 95 liters, we parked at Home Depot and rode over the pedestrian/bike overpass over I-5, then down along the freeway, passing through the industrial park on the west side of Olympia Airport and down Case Road, which crossed the Freeway again about 10 km south. Turning west at Maytown toward Littlerock, I had forgotten to shift down, and the push-off from the stop sign was met with huge resistance. I managed to shift down after one revolution, but it was a shock.
We continued on to Littlerock, stopping at the [closed] Littlerock Elementary School for a water and banana break before dashing up the more heavily-travelled Littlerock Road, which, fortunately, has a wide shoulder. Entering Tumwater, the road traverses a series of traffic circles. Instead of dismounting and pushing across on the walkway, as we sometimes do when riding in traffic, we sprinted through each one, back to the truck, a bit over 30 km ride. We were anxious to get home, since we hadn’t had lunch, but only our mid-ride snacks, so we skipped our usual post-ride electrolyte, which helps flush lactic acid from the muscles.
I had a bit of tightness in my back from all the driving, which I noticed a bit on the bike as well. Later that evening, I began to experience a sharp burning pain in my lower right leg, and twinges of sciatica down my right hip. Lying in bed was painful, so I got up and slept in my recliner downstairs. In the morning, it was still painful, and difficult to walk. The pain persisted all day, and I prepared for another night in the chair, sleeping fitfully despite the pain. But, by 3:00 am, it was obvious that I shouldn’t wait until the doctors offices and clinics opened on Monday to call for an appointment, so I called the 24-hour hotline and got directed to go to the ER in Olympia, When we showed up at 5:00am, the lockdown rules kicked in: Judy wasn’t allowed inside, so she went home to await my call, and I tied on my home-made face mask, grabbed my cane, and limped in. After a brief chat with the attending physician, I was wheeled out into the hallway to make room for incoming patients, then to the Ultrasound lab to check for blood clots, for which I had been hospitalized there six years before. Not surprisingly, they found none, and I was wheeled back out in the hall, in the midst of EMTs lined up with their patients, all awaiting exam rooms. Finally, I was given a prescription for a light dose of narcotic and a light dose of acetomeniphen, about 1/3 of what I normally took for arthritis, and sent out to wait for Judy to arrive.
Well, the pills did next to nothing, so by evening, I was back on my normal meds: Tylenol, which also did little to ease the pain. I spent another fitful night groaning in my recliner. On Monday, I made a reservation to see my primary, physician, for a followup, which got scheduled for later in the week. That visit went pretty much in the normal way: Judy was allowed to accompany me: the waiting room had half the chairs turned to the wall, to enforce distancing, and everyone was masked, including us. Given a diagnosis of “probably sciatica,” I got a prescription for a muscle relaxant and advised to see my chiropractor and do some massage to relax painfully tight muscles in my lower leg.
The pain went on, the pills only lasted a couple of hours: the most effect was from taking my usual turmeric latte in the morning, which I’ve been using for arthritis for the last year or two. The chiropractor said take turmeric two or three times a day if needed, worked on relieving the sciatica, but I was still concerned with the severe pain in my lower leg, and sought yet another look by my primary. By now, two weeks had gone by, with me unable to walk unaided. A trip to the bathroom or attempt to lie down resulted in a prolonged period of severe pain, and some definite swelling in the right foot. But, another adjustment helped with the hip and thigh pain, and the leg pain subsided some during the day, and I was able to sleep in my chair for more than 90 minutes at at time between pain attacks. I’m thinking I did some muscle damage trying to accelerate a 500-bound bicycle in high gear, since the pain is centered on the muscle that pulls up when clipped into the pedals. Monday, a second, or third, or fourth look. Hopefully, I will be able to walk without a cane real soon, or stand long enough to cook and help around the house, and it would be a bonus to be able to ride the bike again.
Meanwhile, the news of the world was not good, either. Yet another police brutality incident resulted in yet another needless death in an obviously racial-motivated act. The country exploded. During this period, battalions of police in riot gear were gassing, beating, and bombarding peaceful protesters, bystanders, and journalists alike with 40-mm rubber bullets, with no provocation other than assembling without a permit. In the confusion, persons with lesser motives began looting and burning. Minneapolis, Seattle, and other cities were on fire, and would-be protesters in Washington DC were gassed, shot, and beaten to clear the way for the President to pose holding a Bible in front of a church in an undeclared transition from a constitutional representative democracy to a nominally Christian police state. In a flash, the Republic was over. Locally, a small chunk of Seattle, a long-time counter-culture center, effectively seceded from the city, declaring itself an autonomous zone. Civil War II is underway, whether anyone realizes it or not. Or, rather, the flimsy truce of 1865 has gone from a 155-year-old Cold War to a full revolution, as the old state collapses in an unthinkable and willful abandonment of the Constitution that has survived for 232 years, even through the last fragmentation of the Union 160 years ago. Over the weekend, vigilante armed militias gathered in Albuqueque, ostensibly to help the police put down insurrection, but ran afoul of law enforcement themselves when they started playing with the definitely lethal variety of bullets. So it goes.
And, the pandemic surge is beginning to rise again, as the civil unrest and premature relaxation of quarantine rules takes effect to throw crowds together again. Exhausted, we finally braved a trip out to order take-out at the local pizza place, only our second “dining out” experience since early March. Since my infirmity, Judy has been to the grocery for the first time in three months, and has had to take walks on her own for the first time. I haven’t been able to do much, but finally managed to wind warp to braid ties for another round of face masks, since we are getting out more, mostly for trips to medical facilities. I sewed the first round of masks, and Judy sewed the next, so my contribution has been the ties, for which I finally studied and learned to use my marudai (Japanese braiding stand), which I bought for a workshop that has been canceled twice in as many years for natural disasters: snow and pandemic.
Another trip to the chiropractor on Friday brought a bit more relief, as well as doubling up on the turmeric, but still in the chair over the weekend. Finally, on Sunday evening, after a late dose of turmeric, the ache subsided and I managed to sleep most of the night. By the time I was ready to go to the clinic for my appointment, the pain and ache had dissipated, leaving just a twinge and a bit of weakness and limited range of motion. So, no expensive radiological tests, no more “better living through chemistry,” just need to do stretching, i.e., get back to doing a regular yoga practice, neglected these three months of lockdown and isolation. Looking forward to actually being able to lie down without spasms of pain, after 17 nights in my chair. We’ll try some slow walking on flat ground to see how that goes, and maybe next week a spin around the airport on the bike. Baby steps. The only thing worse than getting old is not getting old.
Epilogue: Our grandsons came by on Monday for a round of board games. We’ve been getting together every few weeks, after periods of mutual quarantine, so it should be safe enough. A while later, I got a frantic Facebook chat from our daughter-in-law: she had been trying to check to see if they arrived safely, but the phones were down. We later found out that the cellular networks in the entire country were down most of the afternoon. Might this be a test? After all, you can’t live-stream the apocalypse if the cellular system is off-line. Not too paranoid a concept after the horrific on-the-scene feeds from the protests against police violence that were met with–wait for it–more police violence, along with unmarked federal squads and unarmed national guardsmen who served only to shield the police from brick-throwing during protest demonstrations that mysteriously turned into riots, complete with looting and burning, and piles of bricks that turned up in an area with no visible construction projects. We have, in the age of cries of “Fake News,” at last come to the end of truth. What actually happened in the Plague Years in the third decade of the 21st century may never be known. But, eventually, when the flames die down, the world will be rebuilt and start anew, the Twilight of the Gods again a myth, a fantasy tale retold symbolically in grand opera in some distant future, when crowds flock to the shores to celebrate life and marvel at the crumbling sunken cities of a lost age.