Hello!

Hello, is anyone out there? I didn’t realize that the last time I wrote on my blog was almost 1.5 years ago. I apologize for my long absence; I did not intend to take this long of a break. I blame COVID (twice), a new job and a move. SO much has happened in the time that I have been away. And while I’d like to fill you all in, I think it’s best to just give you the 10 most recent highlights:

  1. We moved to Las Vegas
  2. I started a new job!
  3. I started a new hobby- macrame
  4. I read for Litquake- SF’s biggest literary festival
  5. My niece turned 4
  6. I wrote 25,000 words for nanowrimo
  7. I was gifted a Kindle (but I still buy actual books)
  8. I went on a cruise to the bahamas
  9. I attended my 25 year high school reunion
  10. I have perfected my recipe for vegan Shanghai lumpia!

Dear readers, please tell me what you have been up to? What important events or goals are you proud of?

I hope to hear from you.

Mabuhay,

Sheila

I’m COVID positive

My COVID experience started on September 2, 2021, when I made a comment to my co-worker that I might not come to work tomorrow because my throat felt a little sore. It was very minor- just a scratchy sensation. I had been testing students one-on-one the last two weeks, so I assumed it was the overuse of my voice, or my body adjusting to going back to work, wearing my mask for long hours. The next day, more symptoms developed: congestion, body aches, tiredness, which felt normal because I associated them with my recurring sinus infection. On Sunday I spoke to the Kaiser advice nurse, on Monday I spoke to the doctor who expedited a COVID test. On Tuesday morning I took my test, and that night I received my results. It was positive. By then, when I lost my sense of smell and taste, I already had an inclining that I had COVID. The test confirmed it. Turns out, I probably had COVID sometime at the end of August, then symptoms developed 3-5 days later, and I didn’t test ‘till three days after that. It’s easy to see how the virus spreads so quickly.

You hear how unpredictable COVID is, how it affects people differently, how there is no definite way to predict how your body will respond. I know many people who survived COVID, but I also knew a few people who didn’t. I wondered where I would fall on the spectrum. I wondered if my asthma, my weight, my thyroid would affect my experience. When I developed a form of pink eye on the 5th day, I cautioned if my symptoms would unexpectedly turn severe like other cases I read about.

I don’t know how I contracted COVID. There’s a myriad of sources- my husband went to the dentist, I work at two schools where the students are not old enough to get the vaccine, my brother-in law visited one day. I wear a mask, I’m vaccinated and I’m as safe as I can be in public settings. But with COVID, especially with Delta we know it spreads faster and it’s more infectious than the outset of the pandemic. I believe my breakthrough COVID case was bound to happen; it was just a matter of time. It is also worrisome that at my schools, it seems as if there is a positive COVID case everyday; students are in the hallways sitting next to a garbage can, vomiting. The outdoor isolation tent seems to have students daily, waiting for a parent to pick him/her up. When I see students playing, hear them laughing, or witness them smiling with their eyes, it’s easy to forget that we’re in a pandemic, and it seems like kids at school is the right decision, but when COVID cases rise and as I see adults and students get sick and the after effects of COVID unknown, I’ve decided that school is probably not the safest place for people to be, especially those unvaccinated. I’m lucky that when I return to my job, my interaction with people will be limited, and I’m taking it one day at a time.


The support from friends and family, the daily calls, check ins or even the delivery of organic Gatorade from a dear friend were sources of comfort for me. I was also surprised with the care I received from Kaiser. They sent me a care package complete with high grade cleaning solution, sanitizer, alcohol wipes, body wash, shampoo, condition, face masks, gloves, eating utensils, plates, cups, even a thermometer. Although I had most of the items at home, it was reassuring to know that in all aspects of my life, including my health care, everything was easy so I could just focus on my health and healing. Even when I was contacted by Contra Costa County they offered to do the trace contact on my behalf and asked if I needed help financially and with food preparation. I wondered about all the people who were affected at the onset of the pandemic, when a lot was unknown, when the system and after care weren’t as robust, how lonely and frustrating and expensive it might have been, especially the immediate hours after testing positive. It’s an odd time. Many thoughts run through your head and the imagination runs wild. The care I received from my circle, including the County and Kaiser made things feel less helpless, less overwhelmed, less like I was a statistic. This was the care I received for my case; I only hope others receive the same care, especially those with more severe cases.

There’s a mental condition called Survivor’s Guilt , where a person who survived a life threatening situation, while others did not feels guilty for surviving. Many people have experienced this in traumas we’re familiar with such as 9/11, Pulse nightclub, a car accident, Cancer, and most recently COVID. While my COVID case was relatively mild compared to others, I do wonder about those who weren’t so lucky, particularly family members who died because of COVID. Some didn’t live long enough for the vaccine to become available to them, so by chance and by time, I was fortunate to have a chance simply because of a timeline. It could also be because I haven’t eaten meat in over a year, or that I received both vaccines of the Moderna, it could also be because my family prayed for me and my mother in law added our names to a congregation of nuns who prayed for us. Who knows why I was lucky and relatively unscathed. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those who had a different experience, those who needed a pacemaker after COVID, those whose sense of taste never returned after COVID, those who will have life long lung issues after COVID.

And it wasn’t just me who tested positive. My husband, my brother-in-law and two other people , including a friend’s children, tested positive. It was clear that our 6 degrees of separation had been compromised. Could I have been the COVID culprit? Probably. Most likely. The conditions at my school make it the obvious answer. And I carry a lot of guilt for that possibility. It is wild when I think about it. How a simple action turned into something possibly life threatening. We found humor in the situation though. We jokingly thought about having a quarantine routine or eating an entire onion or durian. And I affectionately referred to us as the COVID Crew. My mother in law, in jest, said something to the effect of: “I can’t believe all my children have COVID all at the same time”. But it all turned serious when my niece all of a sudden had a fever of 103 and then my sister developed flu-like symptoms, the possibility of spreading the virus to them became even more severe. My niece is only three. She’s lived most in her life in the pandemic, and it didn’t seem fair that she was a bystander of poor actions. They ended up testing negative; which was a huge relief, but the guilt ensued. I was sorry and sad. I’m grateful that my family has been kind, understanding and has found humor in a grave situation. I love them very much.

As of today, day 10 of my quarantine, the only symptoms I feel are fatigue, loss of smell and taste and a slight congestion. My days are strange. I haven’t been outside since September 2, and I have urges to take long naps throughout the day. I miss my hikes; I miss my family; I miss my tastebuds. I don’t find pleasure in the things I’ve taken for granted like eating, drinking, or smelling my favorite perfume, a home cooked meal or the wonderful outdoors. I think about the possible long term effects I might endure like COVID brain fog or a persistent disorienting metallic taste in my mouth. I think about the last flavorful thing I ate: a nori roll wrap with sunflower seed pate, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, avocado. I think about the email I got from work urging me to take advantage of mental health services they are offering for free.

I go back to work tomorrow (Tuesday, September 14), and it will be 13 days since I set foot on campus. I’m looking forward to putting this behind me, but I do worry that COVID might make its way back, like others I read about who had COVID twice, like the CDC study in Kentucky. The most I can do is take the same precautions I took before: sanitize, wear a mask, physical distance, wash my hands, get tested regularly. But even with all of that in place, the chances are still there, albeit significantly less, but still there. What I’ve learned from this situation is that being infected with COVID means different things for everyone. Cases vary in degrees and people respond differently- socially, emotionally, mentally, physically. I think about the positives: the support of family and friends. The surprising outreach from work, Contra Costa County and Kaiser Permanente. It seems once you test positive,all hands and feet are on deck and on the ground and an army of people are there to help with the process. I’m thankful for the vaccine; I am assuming it prevented my symptoms from escalating and me being admitted to the hospital. I’m grateful to all of you who have also chosen to get vaccinated as well; it may have saved your life and others. If you are still considering not getting the vaccine, which is now approved by the FDA, I hope my experience encourages you to reconsider or at the very least to have a conversation with those around you, especially those who you love. Being positive affects your entire community. Even if you live alone, if you step foot outside your door, you’re impacting life all around you and there’s a strong possibility that your actions might impact the health of another person. I honor each person’s individual choice and what is best for you and your family. But after experiencing this and contending with all the possible outcomes that could have been, it would be irresponsible of me to not share this story, my story. A possible life may depend on it. And that’s a chance I’m not willing to take. Stay safe and thank you for reading.

Care package from Kaiser
Pink eye photo
One of the fun the things I looked forward to was the phonecalls with my niece and using the filters
The last flavorful meal I had on Friday September 3

Girls Trip to Las Vegas

Well, we did it. A group of 40 year old gals, who have been friends for over two decades, made a voyage to Sin City (Las Vegas) for four days during the pandemic.We know this was a risky trip; the Delta variant has spread across the country and has become rampant in metropolitan places like Las Vegas. In fact, a week before the trip, we talked reconsidered going– analyzing the pros and cons of going on vacation during this time. In the end, we decided to move forward with our original plans, partly due to a financial investment we probably would never see again but also because it had been well over 1.5 years since we has seen each other, or even travelled together, and there was something about making a maiden voyage to the dessert that seemed alluring to our mental health. Days later we all packed our bags, boarded our separate flights and finally met at the time share. One after the other, with each arrival, we hugged, taking inventory of each other’s body, hair, face, realizing how much time had passed among us.

The trip was not your average one. We didn’t go to any clubs or pool parties. We didn’t attend any after hours or buffets. We tried to steer away from the usual party scene and stuck to our loose itinerary of lazy mornings, quick trips to get coffee, excursions in the water, and girl talk in the living room accompanied with Tito’s Vodka, fresh fruit and vegan oatmeal raisin cookies. With the exception of the kayaking trip, everything we did could have been easily been done at the comfort of our homes. We really didn’t need to be in Vegas to do any of the simple activities we participated it. But it was the idea of being together that you couldn’t put a price on.

I don’t know when we’ll be together again. Who knows if it’ll be next week, next month, next year? Maybe we’ll meet again in Las Vegas or maybe we’ll head to the ocean. What ever the destination, I’ll be thankful for the company. Even if it’s sitting in the living room of a fancy hotel and doing absolutely nothing but talking.

One armed stranger

Today was my second day of bootcamp work out. I thought of every excuse not to go: I already walked for 30 minutes this morning; it’s so difficult to breath and work out indoors wearing a mask, technically I wasn’t wasting any money because I have a week-long free membership, which expires on Sunday. Yet with my sister’s probing, I went. Besides, the class is only 50 minutes, and it’s so close to my house; can walk there in under 5 minutes.

As soon as the workout began, I already wanted to give up. My breath was labored; my heart rate was at in the optimal zone and my legs felt like jello. Then I noticed this very striking woman. I don’t know if it was her svelte physique, her matching workout outfit or her sleek and shiny hair wrapped in a tight pony tail. I noticed her form, her pace and her effort. All of it was very admirable. And then she turned around, and she didn’t have a left arm. She seemed to be my age or maybe a few years younger. I thought about what could have happened. Then I realized that this woman had a very valid reason not to be here. But here she was making it work. I thought if I, a fully abled person, with just a minor disability of asthma, could work out unequivocally with no excuses then I have no reason to complain. Watching a one armed person do box jumps, and modifying works out such as swinging kettle bells and throwing weight balls are reasons for me to stop finding excuses and starting finding inspiration.

Photo by Julia Larson on Pexels.com

Lent 2021

Lent is a time in the Catholic calendar that brings us closer to God. During this time, we spend time in praying, fasting and almsgiving- all ways in which strengthens our relationship with God. Every Lent season, I usually participate is some sort of “sacrifice”; it has varied from eating no meat, staying off social media, giving up soda or adding something positive in my life like meditating, cooking, being a better friend. While I was successful in maintaining the goal for the 40 days, soon after Lent was over, I went back to my old habits- indulging and distancing myself from God, unintentionally.

This year I thought, at length, what I wanted to focus on Lent this year. On Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I still hadn’t decided on anything meaningful. My hubby asked me at 5:30 PM what I had decided. The day being almost over, he encouraged me to join his goal, since he already landed on the idea of giving up dairy. I really didn’t want to participate in anything food related because I’m already cleaning up my diet as a vegetarian/ vegan, and now I’m seeing a health specialist and dietician for by hypothyroid. Limiting my food just didn’t seem like the task that was going to bring me closer to God. Unsure of what to do, I turned on the computer and attended virtual mass. It wasn’t until I watched the priest sprinkle ashes on the tops of the people’s heads that it occurred how much I missed attended mass. When I lived about 5 minutes away from St. Callistus, I went every Sunday for almost two years. During this part of my life, I had so many blessings– I was writing, planning my wedding, going to graduate school, training for a half marathon, and I remember crediting God for all the fruitfulness coming my way. After the wedding, school and way after the marathon, I moved and haven’t been to church consistently the way I did almost seven years ago. When the pandemic happened and when churches began offering virtual mass, I attended for a few months and my husband and I prayed together every morning and night, yet over time, that too didn’t last.

This Lent, I plan to attend mass every week, and I’m hoping that this commitment continues well after Lent season. God has continued to shower and bless me with so much, and I know He doesn’t ask for much back. All God wants is some time together.

Valentine’s Weekend

My husband and I usually don’t participate in celebrating Valentine’s Day the traditional way. But we do like to keep up with our traditions, namely because it gives us something to look forward to the beginning of the year. Over the years, January has been a difficult month because a lot of people we love have passed away this time of the year. In February, we like to reflect on life and appreciate our blessings. On Valentine’s Day we honor our traditional love languages: we gift each other with food and things that we think will make us stronger- individually and together. This year I asked my hubby to join me on a hike, even though I know this is not the kind of activity he prefers. He often complains and makes excuses like his ankles hurt or that his fingers hurt. But this weekend, he joined me on a hike and what was more thoughtful was that he didn’t hesitate. He understands that my love language isn’t material things but offering support. In turn, I gifted my husband a pair of ipods. I know this is isn’t the most romantic gift, but I know my hubby is looking for motivation to jump rope consistently, and I know music helps him achieve this, so it was worth the investment.

After the hike, we drove to Oakland and picked up a combo meal from Vegan Mob.

I know this isn’t’ the typical way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or maybe it is. What ever the case, happy Valentine’s Day, no matter if you celebrate it or how you celebrate it. Continue to do the things that are meaningful for you, every day.

Things are looking up

It’s so interesting that I noticed that when I hike, I’m usually looking down or eye level. I’m hardly ever looking up.

Today, I tried a different perspective. Rather than looking at the dirt below me or the hills around me, I looked way up- way up in the sky. I don’t know why I never did this before. Maybe the blue sky and billowing clouds seemed unreachable and distant, unlike the solid trail under me and the curvy peak ahead of me. But looking above, past my horizon and beyond the limit of my eye sight provided such a calming and welcoming feeling. I felt small and mighty all in the same breath.

My Memorable Visit to the Doctor

It doesn’t escape me that compared to other jobs, mine is relatively free from any type of gore or graphic images. As an educator, the most squeamish incidents I’ve come across are a bloody nose or a child urinating themselves. I taught in very challenging areas, where students wore wearing ankle monitors, had babies, were arrested. I’ve dealt with excessive absences, gang violence, a loss of a parent or close family member. There are some other teachers who have personally experienced loss of a student. In all my 14 years in education, I haven’t lost students. In many ways, I am thankful for this. And I count my blessings that the most gore I’ve witnessed involved a nose and a trip to the bathroom, not the emergency room.

Today, while I was at the hospital getting a sigmoidoscopy, I thought about the decision one makes about their job. When I first thought about being a teacher, I was motivated by the heart warming images of me in my classroom. I thought about me delivering an inspirational lecture, a student thanking me for teaching them a new skill, a shiny apple on my desk, a potluck of international food as the students talked about literature from all around the world. The traumatizing implications associated with my job came much much later; I was too preoccupied with relishing in the pleasant and charming aspects of my future job. I suppose this is the same for most people. A budding lawyer thinks about the innocent lives she’ll represent, a gardener imagines a lawn filled with vibrant plants and flowers she’ll curate, a chef fantasizes the different dishes and flavor profiles she’ll conjure. I’m sure these professionals later considered the gruesome parts of their job- bloody crime scenes, wet slimy mud, decayed and molded fruits and vegetables.

As my doctor entered my rectum with a probe (sorry for the graphic image and TMI), I thought about his decision for this occupation. All day he inserts his finger and squeezes a camera in a stranger’s hole that is meant for exit, not enter. He inspects colons filled with stool and waste, probably altering his sense of smell vision. As a patient, I laid on my left side of the bed and for about 15 minutes watched a monitor as a video of inside my colon appeared and will probably burn in my mind for a very, very, very long time. I know fecal matter is normal and everyone is literally filled with shit, but seeing it on a screen and having a doctor navigate his way so casually in me left me to wonder his motivation for starting this very unique occupation.

I am not making any judgements or ridiculing him for his chosen profession. I actually find it admirable. Although I can’t equate it to teaching or gardening- jobs usually associated with beautiful moments, I can say that being a physician who specializes in performing sigmoidoscopes requires not only highly trained skill sets but also requires patience and humanity. Obviously he thought about the gore before taking on the job and he could have easily reconsidered. Yet despite the uncomfortable procedure, I did feel safe and somewhat relaxed. He talked me through the entire procedure, explaining what to expect and how much time he needed. His assistant asked me several times how I was doing while she patted my leg for comfort. They encouraged me to breath in and out at they inspected a part of my body no one has ever seen. In the end, he was able to find what was giving me discomfort, why my general doctor requested the procedure, why I needed to be seen in the first place. He took a biopsy and swiftly normalized the situation trying to alleviate any worry, even though it’s always concerning when you hear words like abnormal, cells, and possibly a more aggressive procedure- colonoscopy. The room was sterile, the florescent lights were burning, the cold air was unrelenting. But the doctor provided comfort in the most unusual circumstance. He was kind, thorough and sympathetic. Perhaps that’s the image Doctor Tsang considered before taking on this profession: he wanted to make the absolute best of a very shitty situation.