Legal Nomads https://www.legalnomads.com/ Telling stories through food. Sun, 20 Nov 2022 15:04:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 https://www.legalnomads.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/LNavicon_32x32.png Legal Nomads https://www.legalnomads.com/ 32 32 13522760 My Favorite Things: The Legal Nomads 2022 Gift Guide https://www.legalnomads.com/gift-guide-2022/ https://www.legalnomads.com/gift-guide-2022/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2022 15:32:23 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=14173 A gift guide for creative people who want to support small businesses: beautiful artwork, jewelry & more that make for wonderful gifts.

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I did my first ever holiday gift guide for travelers a few years ago, which was fun to compile. Readers seemed to enjoy the various items, and I was happy to share some of the products that accompanied me on the road. This year, I wanted to do something a little different.

For starters, my life is a little different – something all of you already know. As a result, my own gifts to family and friends aren’t souvenirs from far-away places, but fun things I’ve discovered. I wanted to share some of them here, especially as many are small businesses like myself.

This year, I’d like to share two categories of gifts: artists and makers from my new home of Ottawa and some from beyond, and books I love or found impactful in my own life.

I planned to publish the book guide and the art/gifts guide in the same post, but there are too many suggestions and it got quite unruly. So I will publish the book guide in the coming week, and below are my suggestions for art, jewelry, and more.

I hope you’ll find something you like in them!

Art, beauty, and jewelry gifts for 2022

Now that I live in Ottawa, it was fun to get to know some of these great people and I’m excited to share them with you, too. The items below are from artists that I have either supported by purchasing products myself, or local items I loved that didn’t work with my many immune/other restrictions.

Floral Polymer Clay Earrings

The talent behind Island Meadow Clay is Rylan, who runs the shop with her husband Alex. She makes the jewelry, he packs the orders, and they both show up at local flea markets with a booth to show off their beautiful earrings and necklaces.

The business began as a pandemic hobby, but took off even as the country reopened. I have purchased these for myself (see below), as gifts, and had an earring pair commissioned specifically for a friend based on the colours she loves.

These are made of lightweight polymer clay, so even the larger earrings are not going to pull down on your earlobes. This is an important thing for me, since I already have a lot of head pain. These will also make for a great gift for people with migraine headaches or other conditions that affect the cranial nerves. And, for people who simply love hand-crafted jewelry.

Because I’ve purchased from them the most, they are at the top of the list—and rightfully so! I love their products, and their warmth as a couple too.

earring gifts polymer clay 2022

island meadow clay earrings gifts holiday

More information:
Where to buy: the Island Meadow Clay website
Shipping to: Canada and the United States
Follow them on: Instagram


Embroidered heart maps

I met the lovely couple behind Sadie and June when at a flea market in Ottawa, and appreciated their fun offerings as a traveler with a lot of places I miss deeply. They sell hand-embroidered maps for 900 locations (and counting), either as stand-alone “I love this place” style, or connecting hearts, where there is a thread connecting two places. They also do custom maps, if your favourite destinations aren’t on offer presently.

The couple, whose names are actually Steve and Kendall, are a cross-border couple—something quite common here in the towns that border the US! She’s from New Jersey and he’s from Ottawa, but they met in Florida. Extremely popular any time I’ve seen their booth around town, they capture the nostalgia of leaving pieces of ourselves in places we loved.

Says Kendall, “Our hand-embroidered heart maps were born out of this love and our belief that love knows no borders. The concept: I began embroidering through paper vintage map prints that meant something special to me and Steve.”

gift of a map with two connected hearts

The couple have a post about how they went from being ‘flat broke’ in 2014 to building a full-time business around their sewing skills. When I met Kendall at the market, she mentioned that as the business picked up she was struggling to get orders done … until she taught Steve how to sew, and that helped get the maps completed much faster. Now they are both working on their popular maps, and adding cities all of the time.

hand-embroidered maps from ottawa

More information:
Where to buy: the Sadie and June website
Shipping to:
Canada and the United States, as well as Europe
Follow them on
: Instagram


Preserved resin flower jewelry

Another local vendor that I was taken by is Floral Sweeties. I ended up getting my mum’s birthday gift from them, beautiful earrings that I knew she’d enjoy.

Floral Sweeties is the brainchild of Hannah, a registered nurse who has expanded into a botanical side hustle. The jewelry she sells is made with hand picked wild and garden flowers from Ottawa that are dried, preserved, and then embedded in resin to create each piece. (She also sells clay pieces where fresh flora is imprinted in clay to produce plaster relief art using natural pigment, but those are quite heavy to ship and I am focusing on her jewelry).

resin-preserved leaf earrings

floral earrings in resin gift 2022

Their earrings, like Island Meadow Clay, are mostly very lightweight—perfect for anyone who has headaches.

More information:
Where to buy: the Floral Sweeties website
Shipping to
: Canada and International (including USA)
Follow them on:
Instagram


Hand-drawn maps of food

Yes, yes—I have included my own maps in this guide as well. I, too, am a local Ottawa business after all. And one with an exciting development: my food map of Canada is finally complete!

As with the other maps in this series, the Canada map is designed by me and inked by Ella Frances Sanders, a bestselling author whose new book is also in the books guide that will be published shortly. 

hand drawn maps of food gifts 2022

More information:
Legal Nomads readers can take 10% off with the code HOLIDAY22 until December 24, 2022.
Where to buy: the Legal Nomads art shop website
Shipping to
: Worldwide
Follow me on
: Instagram


Plantable cards that turn into wildflowers

Another fun gift that is thoughtful, AND does not create waste: quirky cards embedded with seeds, that you can then plant and nourish over time.

Seeded Memories was built by MaryAnn and Jose, a husband and wife team who felt greeting cards were both expensive, and wasteful. So they decided to make paper and cards using 100% recycled material that are embedded with a variety of wildflower seeds. So the card you bought can be planted, growing a garden of memories and one that creates no tangible waste.

Cards are available in English, French, and Spanish.

plantable cards seeds wildflower

seeded memory cards that are plantable

More information:
Where to buy: the Seeded Memories website
Shipping to
: Canada only. For my many American readers, you can find seeded cards at Cute Root instead.
Follow them on
: Instagram


Adorable fruit earrings

I fell in love with cute grapefruit earrings a few years ago, and have worn them so frequently that they fell apart.

In the hunt to find new replacement earrings, I found a few shops on Etsy that offer them, in case you want a pair for yourselves—or someone else!—too.

LOOK HOW CUTE THEY ARE:

grapefruit orange lime polymer clay earrings gifts
From The Scrappy Cat shop in the USA
dragonfruit grape watermelon polymer clay earrings gifts
From Ellie Bear Shop in Canada
cute polymer clay fruit earrings
From Brlogarka in the UK and EU

They too are lightweight, and a very fun addition to any outfit.

Where to buy:
The Scrappy Cat (USA)
Ellie Bear (Canada)
Brlogarka (UK and EU)


Porcelain and ceramic jewelry

Larra & Dawn started Flourish Stoneware in October 2018, on what they call “nothing more than a dream to create.”

Each of their pieces takes an average of 25 hours to create, as it involves sketching, imprinting the clay, drying it out, and then firing it in the kiln before glazing thereafter.

The pieces are individually crafted with a variety of materials like porcelain, speckled clay, black clay, a variety of glazes and overglazes (like gold lustre and Mother of Pearl overglaze). 

The result is a collection of beautiful, unique jewelry that caught my eye at a local market.

porcelain and ceramic glazed earrings

gift 2022 glazed earrings

More information:
Where to buy: the Flourish Stonewear website
Shipping to: Canada, USA, and International. (Shipping outside N. America is costly, though)
Follow them on: Instagram


Knitted cacti

With a mission to bring greenery to “every struggling plant parent”, Kelsea’s whimsical knitted cacti caught my eye at a local flea market. The business came about when Kelsea knitted her sister some cacti for Christmas, after seeing how her sister couldn’t keep plants alive.

Taking inspiration from real plants, Kelsea carefully crafts knit cacti and succulents in a variety of sizes, colours, and shapes. She also tries to use sustainable materials for other parts of her products: upcycled packaging, sustainable yarn and stuffing, plus reusing cardboard inside the pot to make them lighter weight for shipping.

The company is fully family-supported, including the build for the displays at the market stall I met her at.

I bought myself a mini cacti (though I’m having cactus regret that I didn’t get a larger one), and thought you may want one too.

knit cactus with a red flower: excellent holiday gift

More information:
Where to buy: the Kelsea Knits website
Shipping to: Canada, USA, and International.
Follow them on: Instagram

DIY candle, deodorant, and clay mask kits

Jessye, the founder and maker behind Make This Universe, started her DIY shop in 2018, while getting very frustrated trying to make her own deodorant at home. She searched for a shop where should get a kit to do so instead, and came up empty. Like me starting my food maps because I couldn’t find the product I was looking for, Jessye kicked off her shop to fill a gap in the marketplace.

Make the Universe offers DIY “modern craft kits” for candles, deodorant, masks, and necklaces, in sleek packaging that can be recycled. They allow for customizable products to account for personal sensitivities, without having to do everything from scratch.

diy candle kit gift 2022
diy clay mask kit gift 2022

More information:
Where to buy: the Make the Universe website
Shipping to: Canada and USA
Follow them on: Instagram


Caffeine necklace in silver

Do your loved ones enjoy coffee as much as I do? This stainless steel and silver plated necklace of the molecule for caffeine may be up their alley, or yours. Chain length: 50cm. Nickel and lead free

You can buy it here.


Whimsical bird art

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the genius behind Birdstrips, Jess, in person in Montreal twice before we each moved elsewhere. Her illustrations have grown a huge following on Instagram due to their whimsical, relatable messaging.

In Jess’ words, the shop comprises “the existential distress of the flightless through the eyes of the flighted.”

Below, two prints from her shop: one of an acrylic painting of a chicken named Cheddar Cheese, who’s “escaped into a field of dandelions and is having the time of her life”, and the second, therapy “before and after”—in classic Birdstrips style

birdstrips gifts bird posters

birdstrips gifts bird posters

More information:
Where to buy: the Birdstrips Print Shop (also mugs, tees, and more!)
Shipping to: Worldwide
Follow them on: Instagram


Birds + curse words

These illustrations of birds that swear in creative ways are popular all over the web, with good reason. As Twitter implodes and the world feels like it’s doing the same, the bird outrage by Aaron Reynolds says all that we are bottling up inside.

That doesn’t stop people from getting pissed off about the cursing, but … did you expect anything else from a company called Effin Birds?!

effin birds gifts 2022
effin birds gifts

More information:
Where to buy: Clothing, mugs, pins, and more here, plus an Effin’ Birds book and a newer French Effin’ Birds book, as well as a 2023 Calendar too.
Shipping to: Worldwide
Follow him on: Instagram


Pearl jewelry from Tahiti

My friend Celeste is not only a great travel writer, but also runs an environmentally-friendly Tahitian pearl company, Kamoka, that adheres to the strictest levels of sustainable farming in the world. Their pearls are from oysters grown in the nutrient-rich lagoon of Ahe Atoll, 300 miles northeast of Tahiti, with electricity supplied by solar and wind power. And if you needed more convincing about supporting their enterprise: a National Geographic study found that their farming methods helped increase the area’s fish population in recent years.

One of their products I wear often: the Mana Bracelet. At $99, it is an investment, but a durable and beautiful one.

Celeste said that this bracelet was initially crafted for surfers. Now, it’s one of their best sellers for active people who want a beautiful pearl bracelet without worrying about fragility. The adjustable band is made from kangaroo leather (the strongest leather in the world), and is a great choice for the fashionable wanderer and the active fashionista alike.

Tahitian pearl bracelet gift kamoka pearls

They also now offer a new collection, featuring Tahitian blacklip oyster shells and jewelry made from their own sustainably produced mother-of-pearl. The earrings below are more affordable than the pearls alone, and are a beautiful gift for those who want something sustainable and different.

mother of pearl earrings gift

More information:
Where to buy: The Mana Bracelet is available here. The full mother-of-pearl collection is here, with the earrings above here.
Shipping to: Worldwide
Follow them on: Instagram



Those are my 2022 gift picks! I hope you enjoy at least some of them. I’ll be following up with the books I think are worth a read, in just a few days. 💙

-Jodi

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A Few Important Updates From a Year of Change https://www.legalnomads.com/2022-update/ Wed, 02 Nov 2022 15:41:00 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=17165 I haven't written on LN in a year's time, so here is everything that's been going on.

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When I started Legal Nomads as a blog in 2008, I did so so that friends and family could follow me after I quit my job as a lawyer to travel the world for one year.

Of course, one year turned into many—you all know the story by now. When the site began to grow sharply in the years that followed, I made a decision to keep it ad-free and not take any sponsored text links or advertorial. I did not enjoy reading sites peppered with ads—so I treated my community the way I wanted to be treated.

Years ago, someone once told me that was a very stupid idea, that I’d never be successful if I built my business with those kinds of rules.

Did I leave a lot of money on the table?

Definitely.

But I wanted the Legal Nomads blog to be a living tree of my experiences and adventures, without sacrificing the kinds of reading I wanted to focus on. So I wrote the way I wanted to, and shared what I found most interesting at the time.

While I am lucky to have an incredibly loyal and engaged community of readers, the downside to this choice has been that the blog has taken a back seat to other pages and projects that do bring in income. It’s been especially dormant during the last few years when my capacity to work has been extremely limited.

So after almost a full year of not posting on the blog, I wanted to update you all on what’s been going on. I realize that what I share below may not be news to those of you who get my Curious About Everything newsletter, or are Patreon members. But there is still a big group that receive neither of those, and it’s high time I gave you an update!

I’m also going to be sending out my 2022 gift guide soon, focusing on talented local artisans here in Ottawa (who also ship to the United States).

Updates, mostly in chronological order, below.

I ended up on the front page of CNN for a weekend

In 2021, CNN commissioned a piece about my spinal CSF leak and how I went from travel and food blogger to bedbound. The editor, Karla, saw an Instagram post I wrote about the work to accept what is, and how to reframe the present moment when life lets you down.

The piece was very hard to write, both physically and emotionally. I’ve said elsewhere that it felt like doing surgery on myself, carving away parts of my story that were too unwieldy to fit into the brief.

With the help of friends who edited my draft before I submitted it to Karla, CNN published the piece in late January 2022.

I had hoped that the piece would raise awareness for this terrible spinal condition that many people don’t even know exists. I was one of the blissfully unaware, before it happened to me. I also wanted to write something that fellow patients could potentially send to their families and feel seen by, helping them explain how painful and debilitating spinal CSF leak is.

CNN decided to put the piece on the front page for an entire weekend.

I completely lost track of who read it as my inbox exploded with comments and terrible stories of pain from people who could relate. It was an overwhelming, exhilarating week and I feel honoured that my writing was so widely read and shared.

jodi ettenberg cnn front page
Screenshot from CNN’s frontpage, January 31, 2022

I still receive messages from people who stumble on the piece and recognize their symptoms on it, sending them down the path to get treated for spinal CSF leak.

I’m very grateful to Karla for giving me the opportunity to effect change through my story.

Note: I received many questions about my leak story after sharing it, like why I haven’t gone for surgery, or things I wished I knew before I got a lumbar puncture. I did a special edition FAQ newsletter, and you can see answers to those questions here.

The Legal Nomads community adopted two ‘Legal Lemurs’

One day, while I was in the shower—where all good ideas derive—I decided that I would adopt a lemur from the Duke Lemur Center.

Lemurs are some of my favourite animals (behind tarsiers of course), and I regret not visiting them in their home of Madagascar before I become disabled.

Adopting a lemur seemed like a fun distraction from the gaping maw of the news cycle, and I wondered if any readers would be interested.

lemur eating rose blossoms
This lemur’s face expresses how I feel when I look at the news. © DLC, 2022

I took to social media with a hastily made graphic and asked if anyone else would be interested in joining in. 31 people said yes, and I sent $750 in lemur monies to the Duke Lemur Center.

In return, we adopted a Coquerel’s sifaka and an aye-aye, and receive quarterly behaviour updates about our lemurs with a lot of really cute photos.

One of our lemurs, Pompeia, even had a baby this spring.

Duke Lemur Center Pompeia and Cornelia
Cornelia and her mum, Pompeia. © DLC, 2022
Duke Lemur Center Pompeia and Cornelia
I can’t even. © DLC, 2022

Our aye-aye is named Agatha, and she has a very feisty personality. Her updates often involve the creative ways that she avoids going in her enclosure when she’s supposed to. (Below is a different aye-aye, Binx.)

Duke Lemur Center Aye Aye
LOOK AT THAT FACE

(For clarity, this is only a symbolic adoption; sadly there will be no actual lemurs sent our way.)

I’ll be re-upping the adoption process next February, since many of the Legal Lemur parents have already asked if we could renew again. If anyone wants to be kept updated about this eye bleach, please send me an email and I’ll keep your name in mind for next year.

I joined the Spinal CSF Leak Foundation’s Patient Advisory Panel for Research, and later in the year, their Board of Directors

Around the same time as we adopted some lemurs, the American Spinal CSF Leak Foundation announced its selections for a research board that is patient led, and helps formalize the role of patients in moving research forward.

Research is an area of hope for complex cases like me, and I joined the patient panel for research in February 2022, along with a group of other patients. We all appreciate having the opportunity to include our voice as research studies are crafted or conducted.

Later this year, the Foundation asked me to join their board of directors, and I accepted. Both the US and Canadian Foundations have been very helpful, both for me and for patients in North America generally. I am excited to continue serving the patient community, and hopefully continue to raise awareness in new ways.

I moved to Ottawa

After a year in Aylmer, in Quebec’s Gatineau region, I finally found a place for me in Ottawa. It’s near water, it’s an 8-minute drive from my brother, and it’s in a building that has thus far been very accommodating with respect to my disabilities.

Though I have now clawed back a few hours a day of ‘uptime’ with my spinal CSF leak, there is still a lot I cannot do.

Jodi Ettenberg
Me on my 43rd birthday, in Ottawa

I have to limit lifting anything to 5 pounds and under. I can’t bend at the waist, or twist my spine. Anything that raises intrathecal pressure too much is going to risk blowing open my leak. (As will Covid, by the way, so my concern with getting it is not only my risk profile for complications with my immune dysfunction, but also that a coughing fit can take away all of this hard-earned independence.)

I do go for walks when my health allows, but doing so eats into my “standing up” budget—and means I need to make sure I’m not cooking a meal then (I’ll have a salad instead), and not standing up to write that day. Since I’m writing this post, today will not be a walk day.

Still, the slow walks I have done were absolutely beautiful, especially in Autumn. And after years fully in bed, they feel like jubilation.

fall trees ottawa ontario
Beautiful trees here!

As for the apartment: my building gave me permission to install a special device on my patio door, since the heavy glass door was not something I could open safely. It drills into the top of the patio door and allows me to press a button to open it. I also invested in electric blinds, and in a tabletop freezer. A friend gave me his old tabletop oven, and both freezer and oven sit side by side and able to be accessed at any time.

I’ll be writing a post eventually about the accessibility changes that helped make this place doable for me. But I do want to say here that it feels really wonderful to have a place to my own after so many years of roaming the world, and then living in other peoples’ houses. 

Oaxaca was meant to be that for me, a home base I loved that I could eat in and soak up the joy of living in such a special city. There is peace in having a small space to my own that I could build around my limitations, even if I can’t stand up for long each day.

I am thankful for my dad and stepmum, who gave me a generous gift to help furnish the apartment. I had no furniture when I rented it, and it’s been a challenge finding pieces that are the right height, and not strongly off-gassing. Their gift allowed me to hunt for the items that worked best without scrambling.

IKEA, Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji (a Canadian Craigslist alternative) and a friend who donated his bench cushion couch to me all came in handy. 

The overall result is a place with lots of furniture storage—bins and drawers and shelves—so that I can access things but not have them cluttering the counters. Because I can’t bend, it means most things have to be at waist level. There’s a lot of lower drawers that I can’t get to, but family helps me grab things if I need them there.

It’s also been really nice to bring in some of the souvenirs from my travels for the first time. The photo below is my reading corner, with art from my first trip to Asia in 2004, and a papier-mâché lady from my years in Oaxaca.

The duck is new, and delightful.

apartment ottawa
My reading nook
My standing desk nook, where the sausage gets made.

I am mostly breaking even, thanks to my community

When I became disabled, I worried about how I would support myself going forward. I did not want to be a burden on my family, but I could barely sit up let alone find a way to earn a living. Though I am privileged that my family would never let me starve, it felt very tough to not be able to support myself in my 40s

At first, my celiac translation cards were selling quite well, and seemed like a way that I could at least have some passive income to pay bills I incurred. 

When Covid hit, however, no one traveled any longer — and my sales crashed to near zero.

I then started my Patreon membership, upon the urging of this lovely community who asked for it to help support my very changed life. (For those unfamiliar, Patreon is a way for readers to pledge monthly recurring memberships, in return for Patreon-only benefits.)

Many people set up their memberships with tiers that have different access. The more you pay, the more you have access to. I decided to have similar benefits across all tiers (a “support only” membership), since I was concerned my health would intervene in my ability to give the benefits my Patrons deserved. I wanted people to pledge what they were comfortable with. 

Obviously, my tiers are birds. Birds with names.

jodi ettenberg patreon
Screenshot from my Patreon page

We’ve had Zoom calls with the community, I do videos answering questions (although I’ve received a lot less questions of late so less of those!), I have done some video tutorials on meditation techniques, and the Patreon community gets updates about what’s going on more frequently.

I have lost some Patrons in recent months, all citing financial issues as the reason. Understandably, as everything has become more expensive, we cut the extras where we need to. Overall, though, the Patreon provides a fairly consistent income stream at at time when I can’t work as I used to.

That means that I don’t need to chase down paid work to make ends meet, and can instead focus on raising awareness for my condition, and sitting on the Foundation’s board of directors (which is unpaid).

In 2021, my celiac cards started selling again since travel picked up. Whenever I have “uptime” available, I work on updating the existing celiac guides I have, and on working toward new ones. There are several new countries in the works, two of which that are out being beta tested now with celiac readers who will provide feedback.

Taken together, and with my food map sales (see below), I’m making ends meet.

Entrepreneurship is generally anxiety-inducing, since you never know if one month will fare well compared to the next. Adding to that, I expected that when my life changed that my audience would too. No longer able to share fun travel photos or food stories, I wondered if I’d have anyone reading at all.

I am thankful that many of you are still here.

My spinal csf leak is stable enough that I have delayed going back to Duke

I get emails each week asking why I’m not pushing for surgery, or more blood patching. I think this is one of those very personal things that many people do not understand. It was a very dramatic last blood patch, and I have to be willing to accept all the risks for me to go back. 

After the CNN piece came out, I spoke with my doctor at Duke and he offered to patch me again. This is a reasonable thing, given that I was sealed for 8 months during the last patch he gave me. But I also needed an epinephrine jab on the table during that same procedure, and my immune system has gone into overdrive since.

I was also told I have a condition I’ve not written much about called adhesive arachnoiditis, where my spinal nerves are clumping together causing a lot of pain.

There are other considerations that factor in. It’s not a guarantee that the patch will work, especially as we can only use blood since I am allergic to the glue. While blood-only does work for many, with a connective tissue disorder in the mix, fibrin is more durable (pun intended), which is why they went with it for me in the first place.

So it’s a matter of accepting risks, but among them that I may end up net negative—not just that the patch may not work.

This combination of factors, along with my few hours of ‘standing up time’ a day, has led me to push out patching for now.

I have hope that the science evolves to support a better probability for my healing. There are new imaging techniques, procedures, and ongoing research for this condition. Thus far, not much has shown to be applicable to my complex case, but you never know.

I do plan to get treatment eventually, because symptoms abound. When I stand, I still get the “brain sag” feeling of my spine being smushed by my brain. I have a lot of nerve pain and back pain, and neurological issues. And I’m grateful that Duke is willing to patch again.

I am just not there yet.

I redid my Legal Nomads Art Shop

The hand drawn maps of food that I designed have been selling since 2014. The plan was, and remains, to do ten countries in all.

This year, I am finally releasing the Canadian food map—it’s only been 3 years in the making! The delay is all mine, despite the fact that my artist Ella has had New York Times bestselling books come out in the interim.

Most of the foods Canadian think of as ‘our foods’ are colonial dishes. There were no “ketchup chips” or poutine prior to Columbus, that’s for sure. I wanted to include Indigenous dishes as well, and I reached out to the specialists in Indigenous foods in Canada both to make sure I was including a cross-section of dishes, but also to ensure the spelling was correct.

I hope it’s a more inclusive map as a result.

food map of canada by legal nomads
Food map of Canada in 12×12 format (without title)

The shop that houses my maps was stagnant since 2016, when I set up a now-defunct theme and ignored it ever since except to add new maps for sale.

Despite that, people have bought maps! And sent me their pictures of their maps all over their walls. I am also thrilled to have orders for new restaurant openings, with my map adorning their walls for the cuisine in question.

For this holiday season, I wanted to redesign the shop so it better reflect the style of the LN website, now that I’ve redone things here. I did the shop redesign myself, because I wanted to update things as I go…. So it took me awhile.

Behold! Old shop:

hand drawn maps of food

And, the new shop:

Yay! Check it out here. I’m still fixing some bugs, but it’s mostly done.


Phew, I think that’s everything.

Thank you for your support, and for coming along on this very unusual ride.

-Jodi

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Connecting the Dots: My Chronic Pain Explained. (And a Long Overdue Update) https://www.legalnomads.com/chronic-pain-explained/ https://www.legalnomads.com/chronic-pain-explained/#comments Thu, 07 Oct 2021 14:32:04 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=15660 For years, I did not understand why I was in incredible amounts of pain. Two new diagnoses gave me my answers, many years later. (Plus, a business update!)

The post Connecting the Dots: My Chronic Pain Explained. (And a Long Overdue Update) appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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It’s been awhile, and though I do share tidbits more frequently on social media and via my newsletter, I wanted to do a full write up of what has been going on. I haven’t published a blog post since April, so this is a long overdue update. It shares some exciting professional news, but also the personal as it relates to my health.

This community has been a huge part of what has kept me afloat during the last few, difficult years. With my limited bandwidth due to the ongoing spinal cerebrospinal (CSF) leak, I have had to cut out some of the work I want to do. The blog was put on hiatus first, because updating on social media (primarily Instagram) is quicker and less labour intensive.

But while I have not been putting out new posts here, I have spent many hours updating the backend of the website, and working on a number of other things that I wanted to share. I’ve also seen specialists and learned more about my body, enough that that information sheds a very different light on the many years of chronic pain I endured prior to my CSF leak.

It has taken time to process the thread that now connects dots I never thought to connect, and I wanted to keep my community updated.

Personal Updates

A few updates about how I’m feeling, those connected dots, and where I’m living.

Moving to Gatineau, Quebec and Living Semi-Independently

Since May, I’ve been living in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa. My brother lives in Ottawa, and my plan is to eventually move there as well. For now, though, Gatineau has been a lovely middle ground. I got to spend a summer wandering down to the water, seeing my family, and learning how to live mostly alone, with a leak.

Gatineau Quebec
Unfiltered / unedited photo from a sunset over the Ottawa River, taken from the Gatineau side.

My brother and his partner come over once a week to help with things I cannot do, like getting groceries for me, and doing my laundry and my vacuuming. I’m lucky that I have them to pick up the slack that my leak steals away, and I will never complain about getting more time with people I love so much.

At first, adjusting to the apartment felt really deflating. There were many things that I couldn’t reach, or use. The bed was too low and very painful to get in and out of. The freezer was a drawer under the fridge, so I couldn’t open it without making my CSF leak worse. The dishes and pots were too heavy for me to wash myself, or use comfortably. The list went on.

These are fixable problems, of course. I got a mattress pad, a tiny freezer, and new lightweight dishes and a small pot to use, thanks in no small part to the Amazon gift cards you got me for my birthday.

But the initial weeks here felt really deflating. As humans we are so good at adjusting. Sometimes too good, and we forget where we really are. The perspective I lost was that I am actually more disabled than I remembered, something that hit me hard when I moved into this apartment.

Like anything else, adjusting to this new life has its ups and downs, and eventually I got past the frustration and started strategizing ways to fix the problems I was facing. I also got a kitchen rolling cart, lots of canvas storage bins since everything has to sit on counters to be reachable for me, and a few other things that make the place more comfortable.

I was never sure if I’d even be able to live independently again. So while there is a lot I wish I could do, I am very grateful that I am able to have more autonomy after years of being so dependent on others for every little thing.

jodi ettenberg gatineau quebec
It’s 3.5 km to the Ottawa River and back, and I am beyond grateful that I am able to walk there when my body allows.

Spinal CSF Leak Status

As I mentioned, my spinal CSF leak is still active. But my body either seems to have produced more CSF, giving me some additional “uptime”, or it has gotten slightly better. I did have a whopper of a setback before my birthday in August, but ultimately I have come back to baseline again. That baseline now is better than it was last year at this time. I am getting around 5-6 hours of standing time a day, with many breaks to lie down in between.

The net of that uptime is that I am able to put some extra work in, and I have thus divvied up my hours toward some of the projects below. I’ve also been able to handle longer walks, which always helps lift the spirits.

A percentage of that uptime goes toward the necessities of life, since I’m living alone. Doing my own dishes, preparing my own food—it all takes time and effort, and pain. But it’s been wonderful, and peaceful, and like rediscovering myself again.

My life does remain very small, and an “exciting” day for me is when I go for a slightly longer walk than usual, or make some progress in other ways. Like last month, when I was able to go and get take-out food at a restaurant by myself, for the first time in many years. It’s not anywhere near the intensity of the life I used to lead, but it remains more than I thought I’d be able to claw back.

The little things are what I now celebrate. And I am lucky to have others here to celebrate with me.

Angry Mast Cells

I recently finished a very long mast cell activation disorder page. Well, for now it’s finished! I update it when new studies or research comes out.

mast cell activation syndrome symptoms and treatment
Mast cells!

Many of you know how tough the last years have been in terms of reactivity to food, environments, and other strange new triggers—like sunlight. Some of these issues started after I got sick in 2013, but I actually had many years as a child where I would cough and itch while trying to sleep. This went away when I hit puberty, and remained mostly in repose until 2013. Then, when a lumbar puncture gave me a CSF leak, the sleeplessness, itchiness, tickling in my throat and more came back, in addition to many new issues. This culminated in my going into anaphylaxis on the table during my final round of blood patching.

Ever since, I’ve been struggling to stabilize and calm my immune system. I started learning about mast cells because other CSF leakers with complex cases also seemed to have this issue. It was a fellow leaker who suggested I look into it initially.

From the page I wrote:

Mast cells are “sentinels” of the immune system, a type of white blood cell that helps control the immune processes in the body. They are called resident immune cells because they reside in tissues and not in our bloodstream. And they reside in tissues all over the body, from the connective tissue, to the endothelial cells, to the epithelial cells, and even in the brain.

Over time, I kept a huge folder of notes, studies, and protocols and whittled down my own self-experimentation to something that has worked. I was able to self-refer to a specialist outside of Canada (thankfully my global travel insurance covered the lab work needed to test for it, but not the specialist appointments themselves), and travel to the United States to do the required testing.

Testing confirmed that I do, in fact, have this disorder. It’s a doozy, and it affects every aspect of my day-to-day life, in addition to the leak. I went from eating tons of street food and traveling the world, to going into anaphylaxis with certain smells, foods, or insect stings.

Given how many people have written me over the years with strange reactions, hives, thick sticky blood, bone pain, rashes, itching, headaches, and much more, I wanted to share the resources page because it goes into symptoms caused by each of the systems affected by mast cells when they are dysfunctional.

In addition, the prevalence of long-covid during the pandemic is relevant. Anecdotally, many of you wrote in to say that you’ve been diagnosed with a mast cell disorder following a COVID-19 infection. This matches some of the literature, but research is ongoing in this area. At least one mast cell specialist agrees. It’s also similar to what happened after I got sick in 2013.

Given those numbers, I wanted to make sure I had a resource page for those of you with long covid, too. It has felt so bewildering to manage and tackle this very erratic condition and I know how exhausting it can be to look at the scads of very contradictory information online and try to make sense of it.

While I am obviously not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on TV, I hope my research notes will help patients navigate this complicated disease.

Wonky Connective Tissue

Another mystery solved. It turns out that I also have a genetic condition that affects my connective tissue. It’s called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), of which there are different subtypes. According to the geneticist I saw, I have the hypermobile type (called hEDS), the subtype where the gene has not yet been found. Diagnosis is thus made based on clinical findings.

Way back when I started writing about this spinal tap and what happened thereafter, I said that the patients that had connective tissue problems were the ones who seemed to have the worst outcomes.

Sadly I am in that boat.

The geneticist confirmed that disparate issues I never would have thought to connect all lead back to my collagen synthesis. And that the worsening expression of this condition also explains the years of chronic pain since I got sick in 2013. (Apparently it’s also why I look so young, though the rest of my body feels like it’s 90 years old.)

My appointment with the geneticist was an overwhelming one. For starters, she was taken aback by the force of what I put my body through during my many years of travel. She told me she was surprised it took so long for everything to really collapse. She confirmed that in some of her patients, getting a bad virus can worsen the underlying collagen issues, which dovetails with the changes in my body and skin after I got sick in 2013.

But even before then, there were so many strange quirks that ran in parts of my family but did not seem to affect my friends. Those included how my ligaments easily tore, how I had delayed wound healing, how my skin was soft and velvety and thin, how flexible I was, the fact that local anesthetics don’t work for me—and more.

This last factor was also why my spinal tap was so excruciatingly painful.

Prior to the lumbar puncture, any concerns I raised to doctors about my rising pain levels or easily-obtained injuries were simply dismissed as “stress.” This minimization or ignoring of symptoms isn’t new, but is common. Says geneticist Dr. Clair Francomano,

“A lot of people hear that it’s all in their head, and that there is no physiologic basis for their symptoms,” Francomano said. “Particularly if they’re healthy-looking young women, unfortunately there is a tendency to dismiss their experience.”

Via STAT Magazine, “Everyday bumps injured her joints, but finding the reason took half a century

For me, the diagnosis was validating. The stretchy skin and painful joints and so much more made sense. As does celiac disease and the mast cell issues. A 2021 case control report found that celiac disease was one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions associated with EDS, and the association was much stronger than in controls. And a different 2021 analysis found that in hospitalized patients with MCAS, 1 in 3 had a comorbid diagnosis of hEDS.

But it was also deflating. Connective tissue disorder patients seem to be the ones where the leak repairs don’t hold. In my years in the CSF leak groups, those of us with wonky tissues are the ones who blow out new leaks and/or have their old ones re-open frequently, even with surgery. This information is part of why I’ve been so conservative about pursuing further procedures.

The diagnosis also hit me hard for another reason: throughout my life, I joked that I was scrappy “even though my body hated me”. I’d say things like, “oh I was built from the defective parts of other people!” My ex used to say I was built with no warranties (yes, as lawyers we thought this was funny). But the truth was the opposite. Not knowing I was a canary in a coal mine, I put my body through so much. I pushed myself to the brink many times. I stubbornly kept traveling even when I got frequently sick. Even when I dealt with years of chronic pain. 

And throughout I was mad.

Mad at my body, mad at my exhaustion, mad that I couldn’t be “normal” like everyone else. 

Why did I always get hurt? Or sick? Or exhausted?

Now I have my answer. All those years when I was mad at my body, I should have been proud of it. Despite these underlying things I didn’t know, it allowed me to see the world intensely for a decade. 

Now I know. 

Business Updates

Some of the projects I’ve been working on in the months since I last published.

Sharing Resources about Pain on Patreon

I created the Patreon as a way to accept support from this community, but it is slowly morphing into a place where I also share resources for people who are suffering for chronic pain, or those who know someone who is in pain.

The sad reality is that most of us are in one of those two categories.

Over the years, I’ve received many questions about how I’ve coped with my own pain levels. Now, I’m getting questions about how someone can support a person in pain. So the Patreon’s AMAs are a place where I answer those questions, and add additional resources.

The posts I’ve shared there also go into how I made the apartment I’m in accessible, and what changes to the setup allowed me to handle living alone with the disabilities I now have. Most recently, as sometimes people feel bad about asking for help or accepting help, someone asked me to talk about how to talk to someone in pain to help them get support if they are stubborn. (I’ll be answering this in the next AMA).

From feedback so far, these have been really useful. I look forward to sharing more.

Also, I’m now a Patreon ambassador! I got an email from them in the summer, asking if I’d be interested in applying for an ambassadorship programme they were building. I’m one of a small group of creators (out of their 200,000 users) who were accepted.

It’s still quite new, and thus far it’s been lovely to meet some really interesting, super artistic people. The ambassadorship is unpaid, but features workshop—I’ve attended a few so far—and rewarding breakout rooms with others in the programme to share strategies and problems/successes. Other perks include 1:1 product support, social media features, fun swag for my Patreon community, as well as paid opportunities to participate in things like product focus groups or creative collaborations with their team.

I don’t know how they found me, and it’s intimidating because many of the other creators have upwards of 2000 Patrons, but I’m looking forward to participating! Given that it was all of you who asked me to start a Patreon, I have this community to thank!

If you’re interested in joining the Patreon community, you can do so here.

A One-Time Support Option

When I launched my Patreon, I received messages from readers who wanted to contribute and/or support me in my work via a one-time payment. I did not have that in place, but do now.

The Curious About Everything Newsletter

Despite all this excitement of moving to a new place, I’ve managed to keep my newsletter running. I’ve been playing around with format (and emojis, I can’t help myself), and primarily spotlighting a few important reads each month, along with more fun photo-essays and quirky pieces I find. I sometimes include personal updates, but the focus of the newsletter is on talented and/or important writing worth reading.

While it is on Substack, and many writers have moved to a paid newsletter model, I do not plan to do so. The Patreon is the primary support system for my income, alongside celiac cards and the food maps shop. The newsletter I plan to keep free.

Even if this site has been more dormant than I would like, I feel happy that CAE has gone out every month for the last 11 months.

You can sign up below if you are interested in receiving it.

A Big Piece about Mental Mindset (Coming Soon)

I had a post called How to Get Through Terrible Times that I had on this site, but I have temporarily taken it down as I planned to publish it separately. But it, and Instagram posts about resilience and reframing, caught the attention of an editor at a big outlet, who commissioned a piece about how I found joy again despite my limited life.

I’ve been working on this piece during the last while and it’s still in editing, but I am excited to share it here along with the republication of the Terrible Times piece.

Redesign of Legal Nomads:

You may have noticed that the site is a little different!

Arthur the raven, my mascot, is very prominent. Ravens are such incredibly curious birds, and I chose one as my site’s throughline in order to highlight that I still am too, albeit in a different way to before.

arthur the raven legal nomads

And, a new slogan: curious about everything. I am no longer telling stories through food, so that slogan had to go. The new logo reflects a divergence from my prior life of travel and food, but also the truth of who I always was: someone who wanted to learn as much as possible.

I started to feel really dissonant when I looked at the ‘old’ Legal Nomads, so this reflects more of where I am in life while still maintaining a similar structure.

I’ve added health and chronic pain to the main categories on the home page, too, since they are now a bigger part of what I write about.

I had really specific ideas of what I wanted, so as with the last redesign to the site I provided the assets (new logos, Arthur the Raven, etc.) to a web developer instead of hiring someone who did branding as well as development. The assets were inked by my artist-in-Legal-Nomadsness Ella F. Sanders. The redesign was done by a web developer who works for fellow travel blogger Mike’s web development company. While her work was paid, he donated his own time pro bono to help supervise the project.

Post Overhauls and Page Updates:

My morning routine is to get up, make coffee, and then do some work on the website until I need to take a break.

This has allowed me to slowly update pages and posts over time, and keep Legal Nomads more current.

Among them:

  • The gluten free guides are updated for 2021. They’re here.
  • The gluten free New York City guide has also been updated to reflect restaurant closures and some newcomers to the scene that are 100% gluten free.
  • I added a history of Belize section, and a “where is Belize located” section, because believe it or not that’s the most common search term for this post. It’s also got COVID-19 rules for visiting, if you were choosing to risk going now.
  • I updated the Vietnamese Egg Coffee Recipe with places to get it in North America, and new pieces and videos about the sweet treat.
  • I updated my piece on sleep issues and jet lag with information about how to sleep better, and new studies about chronomedicine and Covid-19.
  • I updated my Vipassana Meditation retreat experience with some new data about the dangers of those kinds of retreats, and how in some cases they can lead to a mental break.
  • The Alternative Careers for Lawyers page has been updated to include pandemic information, the rise of consultants in the legal field, and a more clear breakdown of how to go about shifting careers when you feel overwhelmed thinking about how to do so.
  • In November 2021, I updated my history of chili peppers post to include the 2021 Nobel Prize winning research on capsaicin, somatosensory receptors, and pain.

RSS-to-Email Changes: Feedburner is no more. RIP Feedburner.

Google has been threatening to cut RSS-to-email options for Feedburner for many years. The service was deprecated years ago, and this July they finally said that they were done supporting that option. So I had to figure out what service to use in order to get those people their emails. (Since I barely write here, I had lots of time to do this!)

For those of you who opted to receive Legal Nomads updates via email, new posts will be sent by a company called ConvertKit. I was planning on switching to them right before my CSF leak happened, so it only took me an extra few years. My friend Nathan started the company and is a really lovely human being; I’d much rather give my money to talented friends than strangers!

If you’re not getting Legal Nomads via email, you can sign up via the form below. This is just for LN posts (about every six months, in terms of publishing schedule these days!). My monthly newsletter above is separate.

If you were already subscribed to get Legal Nomads posts by email, you do not need to do anything. I wanted to explain why the emails look different, and let everyone know they can also sign up that way if they prefer.


That’s it for now!

While the pain I’m in never goes away, these projects and my newfound autonomy have helped make these last few months some of the best in years. I may not be mobile or traveling the world anymore, but I believe that I’m able to help more people than ever before.

Whether it’s helping navigate tough times, understanding pain and loss, or just giving more context to the illnesses of loved ones, this work feels useful.

And feeling useful goes a long way toward life satisfaction for me.

Thank you for allowing me to share this journey with you.

Until next time,
Jodi

Edited to add: I received a few messages saying I’m lucky to live in Canada because I could easily see specialists. Yes, I love Canada, but that is not what happened. Canada’s system is great when you have a common, expensive disease. You will not go bankrupt due to medical care when getting treatment for cancer, for example. But access to specialist care, especially for rare diseases, is very difficult. I’ve also been in Quebec for a long time and still do not have a primary care physician, because the waits are so long. I can thus not get a referral to a specialist.

In order to see these specialists, including during my time at Duke, I had to fight hard to get care. I think some of the skills you learn traveling long term apply here, too; when a path to getting from A to B is no longer possible, you start to look for other, creative connections between them.

For me, this meant self-referring to the mast cell specialist and to the geneticist, but it took a long time to make it happen. Concurrently, I kept trying to go via the conventional route here in Canada. I am privileged that my global medical plan I used on my travels covered some of these appointments.

The medical systems in both countries have their problems, and their benefits. I found it difficult to navigate as I sought out these answers, but it took my figuring out that these conditions matched what was going on, then getting to specialists to see if those theories were correct. I otherwise would not have gotten care.

The post Connecting the Dots: My Chronic Pain Explained. (And a Long Overdue Update) appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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3 Years Later, A Surprising Reunion with Something Important https://www.legalnomads.com/surprise-reunion/ https://www.legalnomads.com/surprise-reunion/#comments Tue, 27 Apr 2021 16:19:16 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=14753 A few years after a burglary and ER visit that completely changed my life, an unexpected message reunited me with something stolen.

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A few weeks into December, I received a message in my “requests” folder on Facebook. I didn’t know it at the time, since it was buried in Facebook purgatory. It was only a month later that I thought to check my requests inbox. I found the following message.

Hi, you don’t know me, but we found a backpack with your credit cards in it on my roof in Park Slope Brooklyn. Did you by any chance lose or have a backpack stolen in the last few years? If so, let me know; there are a couple of things still in it.

My heart just about stopped in my chest.

For those newer to the site: when I was in the ER in August 2017, getting a spinal tap that would leave me disabled, the apartment I was cat-sitting for was burgled. In fact, the time that the burglar entered the apartment (per the time stamp on the apartment’s baby cam) was the same time that the doctor was starting the lumbar puncture.

Setting aside the creepiness of that confluence, part of what was stolen was my trusty Tom Bihn synapse daybag. The thief used it to gather my belongings and those of the apartment tenants, stuffing the backpack with things but leaving me my Canadian passport and a $5 Canadian bill on the couch when he left.

Once my heart started beating normally again, I replied to this woman thanking her and trying not to overwhelm her with all the crazy details of the night this all happened. I asked where she was located, and briefly explained that the robbery happened while I was in the hospital, and I never expected to see my bag or its contents again.

It turns out that she lived only a few houses down from the house-sit, and had recently paid someone to clean her chimney after a few years. It was the chimney cleaner who found my backpack tucked into the side of the chimney vent on the roof of her house.

In the backpack was a few random and not useful things: a blue dice that was not mine, my old hand lotion, some Tylenol, and business cards from a travel meet and greet. Happily, it also contained both pairs of prescription glasses that I had to replace following the burglary. The glasses frames are warped from years of temperature fluctuations, but should be able to be adjusted at an optometrist. Among the items was also a few of my credit cards.

The woman at the apartment a few doors down looked me up on Facebook after the chimney cleaner gave her the bag, and sent me a message. I assume she realized it must have been a few years ago since those cards had all expired.

Tom Bihn Bag
Reunited and… I am not sure it feels so good?

What wasn’t included: the laptop that was stolen, the money, the jewelry stolen from the apartment, and more.

As you can imagine, this lady’s message brought back all of the feelings. I wrote her back, but it took some time for her to view my reply, and in that time I was flooded with resurfaced memories. That evening was the worst in my life. To have an unexpected reminder felt like kicking up a lot of sediment from the bottom of a lake that appeared to be clear. It did serve as an opportunity to work through some of those emotions in ways I hadn’t yet gotten to, though and I am grateful for that. Ultimately, it was a good exercise.

And of course I am very grateful for her efforts to reach me.

In the end, one of my best friends went to pick up the backpack. This friend is Cheryl, someone I went to law school with. We became good friends when she offered to sew a mermaid tail out of sequinned stretch fabric so I could sing a parody rendition of Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid. (The song was “Part of that Firm” and yes, the tail had little elastics so I could flop it around stage when I walked. And no, I am too old for there to be a digital version of this rendition. Thank god.)

Cheryl and I ended up working at the same New York firm many years later, and were pretty much inseparable by then. We’d grab lunch together, we’d alternate coffee runs, and when quit my law job to travel we stayed in touch and I often house-sat for her and her husband when I went back to New York in the summers.

I mention all of this because Cheryl knows me knows me – she knows all the things that make me happy and make me sad. And she knew, of course, just how much of a mindfuck getting this backpack would be.

So, she set upon the backpack with a loving frenzy, to make me feel better. She not only washed it and dried it, but mailed it back to me full of llamas.

A llama sweatshirt, llama Christmas tree ornaments, llama card, llama notebooks, and more.

llama sweatshirt
Llamatastic, with love

I wondered what to do with the backpack, now that I had it back. Tom Bihn had kindly mailed me a replacement when they read the story of the burglary, and I was using it day to day.

I contemplated burning it, or shredding it, or just donating it. But ultimately, it felt like a bit of a miracle that it had returned, so unusually, over three years later. I decided to offer it to another good friend who would appreciate the tenacity of the backpack and also use it for her own needs. And who would appreciate the llamafication of it once it was found.

Her reaction to my offer was exactly my train of thought: that it was a miracle bag and deserved a good home, transmuting the bad into something useful and kind.

It may seem like just a backpack, but for those few weeks it felt like it held all of the liminal weight of a life about to change. Until it had a new home, the backpack was a holding of my breath, the transient space between an old, mobile Jodi and a Jodi that I am still getting to know.

There was some power in it for me, feeling like it came around again on the spiral of life. Power in managing the emotions that receiving the bag dredged up. And a hope that by closing that chapter, it would bring me more healing in the future.

Since you’ve all come along with me during this extraordinary ride, I wanted to share this story.

Someone once told me I was an outlier of possibilities, and I suppose being reunited with this bag falls into that category. All I can do is ride the waves as they hit, and try to feel the strength that comes from making my way through them.

Brief other updates:

  • The Patreon! We are up to 209 patrons, and it’s a lovely new community. I’ve enjoyed sharing shorter posts there and the feedback has been great.
  • Newsletter! Despite my leaky state, I’ve managed to get out a newsletter monthly, filled with the best long reads from the prior month, and a grab bag of fun things to explore from around the web.
  • Redesign! It’s not yet done but we’re close. I’m excited.

I hope everyone is staying safe and doing well.

-Jodi

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A Patreon, a New Newsletter, and a Site Redesign https://www.legalnomads.com/patreon-newsletter-redesign/ Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:55:07 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=14777 After a 6 month blogging hiatus, I'm back to share plans for the coming months: a new Patreon campaign, a Substack, & changes to Legal Nomads.

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It’s been a long while since I’ve written on Legal Nomads. When people ask how I’m doing, I’ve taken to saying, “I’m hanging in as best as I can.” What else can we all do? These are pretty unusual, extreme times, and honestly I’m just impressed with anyone who makes it through each day without cracking at least once.

While I haven’t been writing much here, I have been working (in 20 minute standing increments!) on some really rewarding things, which I am excited to share with you here.

1. I’ve Launched My Patreon

Many of you have asked about ways to support me at a time where I can’t physically work the way I used to. Patreon is a great way to do so.

I released my Patreon to the world during the last week of February. For those unfamiliar with Patreon, it’s a membership platform that allows people to sign up to receive updates, behind the scenes videos, private podcasts and more from their favourite creatives, writers, or artists. A lot of you in this community have suggested I start one up, and in my tiny working increments I was able to get it up and running.

Many of my travel blogging peers have started one, but my Patreon is a bit different than the norm, because it’s support only. So instead of each tier offering more and more rewards for what you sign up for, my campaign has each tier receiving the same access and benefits as the others. But! Unlike many support-only Patreons, it still does have fun goodies (below), because there are still many fun things I can provide within my limited state.

I structured it this way because pain limits my day to day output so much that I’d rather be absolutely sure that I can deliver what I promise, vs. creating high monetary tiers and break that promise.

It’s an amazing feeling to have a community of people asking to support me from far flung places. I’ve had artists and photographers reach out as well, to provide monthly goodies that I can add to the tiers — mostly bird-related or soup-related, which seems about right!

The launch video is below. Patreon page is here. We’re up to about 170 people now, at the time of writing.

Though it is a support-only Patreon, everyone does receive a bunch of rewards!

  • Your name on the Patreon thank you page on Legal Nomads.
  • Your name on an Instagram thank you post.
  • Early access to podcast details, Legal Nomads site redesign, and news.
  • Ability to vote on future episode topics for the podcast.
  • Monthly video or audio AMAs on Patreon, as my health allows. You can submit questions that I will answer.
  • Shorter videos with updates about progress for the podcast, redesign, and any other updates in the Legal Nomads universe.
  • Supporting me with a stable income at a time where I’m physically unable to work as I used to.
  • A thank you image of your tier bird, one of Bob, Fiona, or Arthur (these are the birds in the header of this post – I love them so much.)

I may add higher tiers with specific rewards later. There are also fun goodies in the works as I mentioned above.

I saw this on the page itself, but here’s how I plan to use the funds:

  • Funding my operating costs so that I can keep my websites and projects afloat.
  • Supporting the launch and production of my new podcast, that will allow me to create and share content with you through a more manageable medium given my current condition.
  • Helping me convert my blog posts about chronic illness into audio form in order to make them more accessible to others (I will hire a sound engineer to do this).
  • Redesigning Legal Nomads to include a new home page, logo, and site flow that reflects my present.
  • General support for me as I navigate this new, limited, way of life.

A big thanks to the following wonderful people, who took the time and energy to preview the page, the video, and give feedback along the way (including many testing-of-the-banner-image-on-mobile attempts) for this big launch: Ella Frances Sanders, Audrey Scott, Catherine Bodry, Christopher Nowakowski, Dalene Heck, Derek Earl Baron, Jim Fricker III, Kate McCulley, Marta Bethencourt De França, Mike Sowden, Reine Gammoh, Shannon O’Donnell, Tasha Mary, and Tim Van Der Linden.

A New Newsletter

I mentioned in my last (August 2020) post that I would be restarting my newsletter on Substack. I did so because Aweber was becoming cost prohibitive at a time when I wasn’t able to work, and Substack’s offerings are free unless you charge for your newsletter (at which point they take a percentage). Since I always plan for my newsletter to be free, it made sense to switch over.

I’ve done three so far and they follow the lines of my former Links I Loved missives: some musings about a topic of interest, personal updates, the best reading from around the web that month. The next one goes out at the end of February.

If you were on the Links I Loved list, I’ve brought you over to Substack. If you think you were but didn’t get the new publication, please check your spam folders on February 28th! And if you’re interested in receiving it, please sign up below.

You can check out the archives here, first.

A Legal Nomads Redesign

This site no longer reflects the person I am, or the life that I lead. I love it, and I’ve enjoyed writing on it for all these years through the iterations and redesigns, but it’s no longer me.

This time, colours, logo, and layout are going to change. I don’t plan to change too much given my limited bandwidth but will start with the basics: the homepage, some of the category flow, and the about page and basic text.

Also changing? The slogan. I’m not telling stories through food any longer. I’m also not a legal nomad, but after 12 years here I am sticking to the domain. The new slogan is Curious About Everything, same as the newsletter. The main theme colour will be a green-blue, below. I’ve also chosen a mascot, a raven I’ve named Arthur, since corvids are insatiably curious just like this community.

 

Legal Nomads | Curious About Everything

The main page will have similar categories as right now, but will ask the question, “What are you curious about today?” to browse them. Other than that and the look-and-feel of the home page, I may make changes bit by bit but the content from the last decade will remain. I’m excited to have a site that reflects a little more of my present mindset, though of course curiosity is what fuelled my life of travel all along.

Podcast Progress

I was never one of those “I’m going to write 4000 words every morning” people. Unless I was under deadline, my writing held the same kind of whimsy as my travels: when inspiration struck, I pounced. And then I basically went feral. When the tingly, “I need to write” feeling started, I knew I needed to stock up on snacks, get a shower in now, and cancel plans with friends. I would forget to eat, live, and do day-to-day tasks; writing blotted everything out.

It sounds manic, I’ll give you that, but it worked for me because I never knew where the writing journey would lead me. I never had a set arc before I sat down to my laptop but found the joy partly in the process of my brain’s wandering.

(Case in point: I stood up to write this post now, and realized I missed something I was supposed to do at 8pm… because I got lost in writing.)

My point is here is that the act of writing is itself such a big part of what makes me feel creative and alive, and it’s been very hard not to have it in my life. I’ve realized voice-to-text does not bring me the needed tinglies, nor do other accommodations for my CSF leak. So as I said in my 12 years of Legal Nomads post, I’m going to be moving toward a podcast instead.

The podcast was going to be called Ask a Jodi, but I’ve changed the name to be “The Way Through” – because at its core, it is a podcast about getting through the ups and downs of life. If you have topics you’d like me to cover, I’d love to hear from you! Email me at jodi-@-legalnomads .com or via my contact page. Thus far, I have a list I’ve kept from your questions, which includes how to be more resilient, how to be less anxious, and how to sleep better.

That’s it for now! Thanks for all your support, love, and enthusiasm as I navigate through this complicated time. I hope you’re staying safe and well.

xo,
Jodi

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12 Years of Legal Nomads: Work, Gratitude, and the Challenge of the Present Moment https://www.legalnomads.com/12-years/ https://www.legalnomads.com/12-years/#comments Sat, 15 Aug 2020 13:23:39 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=13743 Moving from resistance to resilience during these very tough times. And, an annual review, a few months late.

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I’m late to my own party, but April 1, 2020 marked twelve years since I quit my job as a lawyer to travel the world.

By now you guys know the drill: each year I wrote an annual update post for April 1st, about my state of mind and the state of my business. I’d usually also have a get together with friends to celebrate, wherever I was. In Saigon, it was a party with bun cha and rice vodka. In Oaxaca, it was mezcal and quesadillas.

This year, the date fell during the long trek back to Montreal from Florida. I was trying to move quickly enough to get home safely, but slow enough to not exacerbate my spinal CSF leak.

While I was technically on the road on April 1st, the date involved a little less celebration and a little more pandemic than usual.

Since today is my 41st birthday, I thought I would use the occasion to do that annual write-up.

Here’s a post about what’s going on, and some of what comes next.

12 Years of Legal Nomads

Health wise, my leak is ongoing. Other chronic issues are ongoing.

Still, I am here today, alive, feeling loved, trying to find gratitude for what I can and remind myself that human connection is part of what sees us through.

With increased acceptance of my day-to-day reality came a sense of increased dissonance when I looked at Legal Nomads. That smiling person on a motorbike on my front page is no longer me. Telling stories through food is no longer me. Those are part of me, sure, and I am proud of whatever roads took me to them.

Still, I would open my dashboard every so often and think, “what am I even doing? Is there a point to any of this anymore?”  Questions that many of us are asking these days, and ones that take sharper form because the physical opportunity costs of working are so great for me.

I love writing, and my mind misses writing. Writing this post in morning increments felt like coming home. My body, though, it doesn’t so much like me writing. My leak symptoms worsen when I do and while I have tried creative solutions like voice to text or transcription, they don’t scratch the writing itch. I love the typing itself, the act of words falling out of my brain and rearranging themselves into prose.

So I decided I will do something a little more drastic.

Killing my Darlings

In order to create a good piece of writing, you often need to first cull those paragraphs or characters you feel attached to even though they no longer contribute critically to the whole. You need to “kill your darlings” to make a better-working piece.

For me, killing my darlings results not from ornamental prose but from the physical limitations on my ability to work. While my creative time is endless, the actual creating takes the kind of physical overhead I no longer have at my disposal. I’m divesting some of the projects I’ve clung to in the hopes that I’ll be able to build something exciting for my community.

I have a half-finished writing course workbook, and a full outline for a product for lawyers who want to change careers.

Neither will be doable in the next very long while with my limitations. But the reason I wanted to build these products was because readers asked for them, and clearly had a need for them. So I’ve partnered with people I trust to fix those pain points since I cannot.

How to Tell Better Stories in a Digital World: My Storytelling Course


I planned to do a storytelling course, and I have a half-completed workbook and many sign ups from readers. I’ve tried to think of ways that I can do this project while leaking, because I love to teach storytelling. At the moment, I don’t think it’s possible to do so without eating into all my uptime.

So I’ve partnered with two people I trust to offer two different courses; which one might be best for you depends on your needs.

Storytelling Course with Lola Akinmade Åkerström

How can we craft and share those stories with others that can create empathy and connection with others? How can we cradle with care the responsibility of telling other people’s stories? How do you hook, engage, intrigue, and keep your readers all the way to your closing message? How can you find threads and narrative arcs to structure your story?

These are all questions Lola addresses in her comprehensive course about storytelling.

The course is self-paced, and includes lectures, video modules, and lots of case studies and examples to illustrate the lessons Lola teaches. Lola just launched this course, and I contacted her to see if I could refer my readers her way because it’s a great alternative to what I planned to do.

Lola has offered $50 off for Legal Nomads readers if you let her know that’s where you came from for the course.

Blogging Course with Mike Sowden

I’ve also referred some of you to my friend Mike*, who has a course called Engage! A Storytelling Course for Bloggers. A lot of readers aren’t bloggers and thus want a broader more technical story instruction, which Lola can provide. For those who are in the blogging world, and/or don’t have the budget for a larger course,Mike’s course is a great option.

His course is self-paced over 8 weeks, aimed at teaching bloggers how to be a better storyteller. It includes email lessons, audio lessons, PDF guides (including my fave, “How To Edit The S#!t Out Of Your Writing”), and 1:1 support from Mike.

He has offered a $15 discount for Legal Nomads readers: enter the code donkeyballs2020 or use this link to purchase.

*Mike also kindly edited this post, and many others, for me. Mike is a good set of eyes for your brain.

Leaving Law Behind with Casey Berman and Adam Ouellette

My Thrillable Hours series exists to inspire lawyers feeling deadened by their job options to find the courage to think more broadly. I created it to help with fear, career change, and life after law. Though I also had plans to make a course to help lawyers take a leap, I didn’t get to finish it.

Casey and Adam have, and so I’m partnering with them to fix the pain point some of my readers have. They’ll help lawyers through the process of leaving the law, if that’s what they want, and help them overcome the blocking beliefs and self-sabotage that can get in the way. They also provide their students with interview and résumé help, as well as support to allow lawyers to hone in on what alternative career is best for them.

Basically, if I can’t help you I feel that Adam and Casey can at Leave Law Behind.

The plan is to hopefully record a video interview with them, too, for Legal Nomads readers.

The “Ask a Jodi” Podcast

A few years ago, I bought the domain Ask a Jodi and thought I would do videos answering questions readers had about life and everything after. It was actually my sitting on the ground to dig out a tripod from my drawer that led to my re-opening the leak in 2018.

I shelved the video idea as it was infeasible, and with the physical strain this year’s posts about COVID-19 took on me, I decided that writing would need to come second to something else.

I’ve long said I’d write if no one were reading. But unfortunately as I said, my body and writing don’t get on as well. So a short (10-15 min) podcast is where I netted out, specifically to answer the many questions I receive from readers about resilience, grief, hope, and so much more.

This will take time for me to get off the ground, because I’ve learned everything takes more time when you’re sick. I look forward to sharing it, when it’s ready.

If you’ve got a question for me that you’d like me to address in a podcast episode, I’ve made a Google Form here for you to send it my way.

Redesigning Legal Nomads

This site started on Blogger and moved to WordPress in 2010. It’s gone through quite a few resdesigns since 2008.

Legal nomadsLegal nomads
It’s been a few years, and this time the redesign will streamline existing categories into a few main ones, and link out to the courses and resources I’ve listed above. I also want to brighten up the colours and update the pictures and ‘about’ page to reflect the transitions I’ve gone through over the last years.

I’ll also be changing my slogan from “Telling Stories Through Food” to “Curious About Everything.” The new slogan better reflects my present, though it also is always who I’ve been.

Audio recordings for Accessibility

Some of my readers who have CSF leaks (spinal or cranial) or who are chronically ill have asked if it would be possible to record posts in audio form, specifically the ones about meditation and my leak journey. My goal is to record these before I start the podcast, warming up to audio for starters but also making it easier to access content for the people who find reading difficult.

Newsletter Back Up and Running

Links I Loved was a newsletter I started to share the interesting links that I read, including those I shared on Twitter. I’ve had the newsletter disabled for the last year and a half because my pain levels fluctuate sufficiently that I felt I couldn’t commit to putting it out every month as promised.

With the redesign and the podcast, I am starting it up again. It will house a few great reads as well as general updates from my work, and podcast planning, and more. You can sign up here.

Supporting Legal Nomads

This is the question I get the most from you all: “how can I support you?”

I feel incredibly lucky to have an incredible, caring community. I say this often, and will continue to say so. Even during these bewildering times when just about everyone’s reality has become warped, you still reach out to ensure that I’m holding up ok.

As with last year, the easiest support is via an Amazon gift card to jodi-at-legalnomads.com, which is where I get some of the harder-to-find items that aren’t available at the grocery store. With COVID-19, my neighbours/family/friends have helped with groceries, and ordering from Amazon means people don’t have to go hunting for tiger nut flour.

There’s also my Patreon, which I launched based on your request! I love the intimate community there.

Honestly, there isn’t much else at the moment! Support the podcast when it launches, and share my work if it resonates. The care I need day-to-day is the most pressing, and thankfully I have family (and now neighbours and friends!) to help with grocery runs during the pandemic, and who drop by for socially distanced visits while it’s still warm.

***

My friend Cheryl, who I’ve featured here, says her life mantra is LSAT. That she’s a former lawyer makes this funny, since it’s not the LSAT of our nightmares. Her LSAT means love, surrender, acceptance, and trust.

A lot harder to embody than fear and anger and loathing.

A lot easier to say than do.

And yet, a worthy use of mental time and energy.

Every moment you’re not in a state of surrender, you’re in a state of lack.

That’s what gets me through each day.

Jodi Ettenberg Legal nomads
A February Florida soup adventure. Worth the pain!

Well, that and soup.

-Jodi

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We Should All Be Wearing Cloth Masks, And Here’s Why https://www.legalnomads.com/masks/ Tue, 19 May 2020 01:56:21 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=14377 Why we should all wear cloth masks: the science, the studies, and the point by point rebuttals to those who claim otherwise.

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Originally published May 18, 2020

Legal Nomads began in 2008 as a travel site, and during the subsequent decade it morphed into a travel and food site as I lived around the world. Then, it shifted into a place to share the reckoning and grief that accompanied an abrupt life change. These days, it remains a place to share my thoughts on what’s going on around us, even if now we are all not able to explore the outside world. For now I wanted to talk about masks.

Specifically cloth masks.

Specifically the fact that many people are resisting wearing them.

I’ve been banging on about masks since I wrote my previous COVID-19 piece in mid-March, including via Instagram. But the subject is so important that I wanted to address masks in a standalone post.

I believe in individual liberty. But we should not use the concept of liberty as a pretext for acting selfishly toward society as a whole. Entitlement to freedom in a moral sense evaporates when the exercise of that freedom becomes harmful to others. By now, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that wearing masks in public dramatically lowers the risk of you spreading COVID-19 to others. And as I reiterate below, given that a large percentage of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, you may be infecting others without even knowing it.

Let’s get to it.

Cloth masks help you protect other people

The guidance regarding masks has been convoluted at best, with countries around the world taking very different positions as to whether or not they ought to be worn.

But there are two discussions here: whether a mask protects YOU, and whether a mask protects others FROM YOU. You may have seen articles talking about ingress (will a mask protect you from the droplets?) and egress (will you wearing a mask protect others?).

Unfortunately, most of the focus has been on ingress only, and whether one can be protected by wearing a mask. For some time, the CDC and WHO focused on this issue and how only medical staff should be wearing N95s and surgical masks. Rightfully, those medical providers need to be properly outfitted with personal protective equipment (PPE), and we’ve all seen how there was a mad scramble for PPE in many jurisdictions. Protecting the mask-wearer is not easy. It requires strict protocol, medical-grade respirator masks, a proper fit, and the addressing of contamination concerns. But careful attention to these factors is necessary to keep our doctors and nurses safe.

In contrast, masks that are worn to prevent COVID-19 transmission to others are a lot more simple to handle. A cloth mask can be used, and it lowers the viral load circulating at one time, thereby reducing the exponential spread of the virus throughout society. And it makes a big difference. As The Atlantic notes, “It’s like stopping gushing water from a hose right at the source, by turning off the faucet, compared with the difficulty of trying to catch all the drops of water after we’ve pointed the hose up and they’ve flown everywhere.”

Here’s a graphic illustrating how stopping the droplets at the source helps curb spread of the virus:

Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 with masks
From “Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2“, Science  26 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6498, pp. 1422-1424.

Infectious aerosol particles can be released during breathing and speaking by asymptomatic infected individuals. No masking maximizes exposure, whereas universal masking results in the least exposure.

Here’s a real-life depiction of the graphic above:

Laser imaging showing masks preventing the spread of COVID droplets
The two halves of the image above compare the emission of speech droplets by a researcher in a laser scattering chamber, with and without the speaker covering his face with a paper towel. As you see, nearly all of the outbound droplets are blocked. The reason speech was tested is that we now know it’s a common transmission mechanism for COVID-19 (via the upper respiratory tract), especially when the transmitter is not showing symptoms (i.e., not coughing or sneezing). The same principle by which a simple paper towel blocks outbound droplets applies when the speaker is wearing a mask.

When the pandemic was new, there was lots of focus on PPE for front-line medical workers in the press (and in studies), but little or no discussion in these sources about the benefit to everyone when the majority of society puts on a simple cloth mask. We wasted valuable time that could have prevented people from dying.

In countries where there was a swift about-face to require wearing of cloth masks, the transmission rates plummeted. A June 2020 study also confirmed that the countries that mandated mass masking earliest had the fewest deaths. “It wasn’t just by a few per cent,” said one of the study’s authors, “it was up to a hundred times less mortality. The countries that introduced masks from the very beginning of their outbreak have had hardly any deaths.”

And thankfully, more and more countries are following in their footsteps.

As a June 2020 study from the UK noted, “A key message from our analyses to aid the widespread adoption of facemasks would be: ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’.”

Using a mask can help lower the risk of your unknowing transmission of COVID-19 to others

COVID-19 can spread in different ways, and one of them is via the droplets that hurtle out of our mouths. In fact, a June 2020 study confirmed that airborne transmission is the dominant means of transmitting COVID-19, and that mitigation measures that do not include the mandatory wearing of face masks are insufficient to curb spread:

In this work, we show that airborne transmission, particularly via nascent aerosols from human atomization, is highly virulent and represents the dominant route for the transmission of this disease. However, the importance of airborne transmission has not been considered in establishment of mitigation measures by government authorities ([120]. Specifically, while the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have emphasized the prevention of contact transmission, both WHO and CDC have largely ignored the importance of the airborne transmission route [120]. The current mitigation measures, such as social distancing, quarantine, and isolation implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public. Our analysis reveals that the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic worldwide. We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission.

Ok, so COVID-19 is transmitted via outburst of droplets. How does this occur? It happens when cough or sneeze, but also when we speak. A single cough can release 3000 droplets. A portion of these droplets quickly evaporates to become something called droplet nuclei, which are tinier particles that are harder to protect against. They can be easily inhaled by anyone nearby.

But wearing a cloth mask has been shown to slow down that evaporation process. So much so, that in studies, a cotton mask reduced the quantity of virus particles emitted from mouths by as much as 99 percent. (2) This is because in the moist space between a person’s face and their cotton mask, it takes a lot longer for a droplet to evaporate into a droplet nuclei. The mask increases the humidity in that space, which prevents the droplets from getting tinier — meaning the fabric can still prevent them from being flung into the outer world.

Mass masking both prevents others from being infected by you, and if everyone is speaking moistly (3) into a mask, it lowers the overall burden of the virus in the area. Lowering the viral load in the area will also help protect essential workers.

People with no symptoms drive half of transmission for COVID-19

Here’s where COVID-19 throws a giant wrench into the common saying that you should only wear a mask if you’re sick: many people are transmitting this virus despite having no clue they are carriers. (4) This “oblivious transmission” issue is a huge driver of outbreaks for this pandemic. These oblivious carriers are divided into two categories: asymptomatic people, who never show symptoms, and pre-symptomatic carriers, people who are infectious but are not yet feeling any effects from carrying the virus – but will eventually develop symptoms.

As of mid-March 2020, studies were already showing that even if you’re fully asymptomatic, you can still spread this virus as a vector. Further articles demonstrated that the same is true for patients who will become symptomatic but are in a pre-symptomatic state. In fact, those patients are most contagious during the time when they’re pre-symptomatic.

study from Japan released in June 2020 cited 61 clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks, each analyzed using contact tracing. The study found not only that many COVID-19 clusters were associated with people breathing heavily in close proximity to each other, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gymnasiums; but also that the most common age groups among those spreaders were 20–29 years (27%) and 30–39 years (23%) — and that an analysis of 16 of the clusters showed that 41% of the spreaders had no symptoms when they transmitted.

So if people only wear masks when they’re actually showing symptoms, that doesn’t fix the problem.

face masks can stop the spread of covid-19
From: Face Masks Against COVID-19: An Evidence Review

Wearing a mask does not mean social distancing and hand-washing are off the table

Have you seen people moving their masks around to talk? Or touching their faces and then food? Yes, me too, and it’s horrifying.

Mass masking is not a substitute for other precautions, and still requires the same amount of common sense as we needed to exercise pre-mask wearing. Social distancing and hand-washing are still critical to control the spread of COVID-19.

Just because you wear a mask doesn’t mean you should go and cuddle up to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. It doesn’t mean that you should ignore the social distancing recommendations. And as the weather warms up, it certainly doesn’t mean you head out and throw caution to the wind.

It means: add this one simple thing to your existing routine, and you will help save many lives.

And while the studies establishing that masks prevent transmission of COVID-19 are overwhelming, a recent real-world example demonstrated powerfully the difference that facial coverings make: In June 2020, the Springfield-Greene County Department of Health in Missouri reported that 2 hairstylists at a hair salon in the town of Springfield had serviced a total of 140 customers while infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in May. However, the hairstylists wore masks at all times during appointments. Not a single one of their 140 customers (or 6 co-workers who had potentially been exposed) contracted COVID-19. While other measures that the hair salon had in place (such as distancing of chairs and staggering of appointments) likely also played a role, it’s difficult to dispute that the wearing of masks by the infected hairstylists contributed heavily to preventing all of their customers and colleagues from contracting COVID-19. Indeed, Springfield-Greene County Director of Health Clay Goddard stated, “This is exciting news about the value of masking to prevent COVID-19.”

It’s as easy as that.

As a piece on masks in the Atlantic states,

[O]rdinary people are not helpless; in fact, we have more power than we realize. Along with keeping our distance whenever possible and maintaining good hygiene, all of us wearing just a cloth mask could help stop this pandemic in its tracks.

There is still some opposition to cloth mask wearing, so I wanted to address a few of the objections here:

1/ “Hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen)”. No, hypoxia is not an issue with breathable cloth masks.

In the video below, research scientist Jeremy Howard shows why wearing a cloth mask causes virtually no reduction in your inhalation of oxygen: most of the air that you’re breathing in comes from outside the mask.

This science is borne out by actual measurements of a mask wearer’s blood oxygen saturation level. Vlogger Tim from TheTimTracker, wore a tight, 2-layer fabric mask during a visit to some Disney properties in Florida for over 3 hours on a hot day; and he used a pulse oximeter to measure his oxygen saturation before, during, and at the end of his visit.

Per the Lung Health Institute, the normal range for a pulse oximeter reading for an adult is 94 to 99%, while a level below 90% is cause for concern. Prior to donning his mask, Tim’s oxygen saturation level according to his pulse oximeter ranged between 96 and 97%. While he was masked and doing a great deal of walking around in the heat, his pulse oximeter readings remained between 95 and 97%; and at the end of his visit to the Disney venues, his reading was 96%.

Since Tim’s video is long, if you want to view the portions where he measures his oxygen saturation level, you can find them beginning at 1:32 (initial, pre-mask reading); 10:16; 15:12; 17:41; and 23:37. The video confirms that your intake of oxygen isn’t meaningfully decreased when you wear a cloth mask.

Yes, it’s hard for doctors to breathe in N95s, and I empathize with their needs to wear PPE (masks and gowns and more) for long stretches since that equipment is very uncomfortable, but that’s the only way for them to be safe in treating people who come in with COVID-19 given the high viral loads they are exposed to at work. In contrast, as shown above, cloth masks that you and I can wear don’t cause comparable difficulties in breathing.

And even for those with asthma, wearing masks is recommended.

2/ “Ok fine no hypoxia. Hypercapnia (abnormally elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the blood)”. Also a no. Arguments that wearing a mask can do this due to “rebreathing your own exhaled CO2 by wearing a mask continually” are false. Many doctors, scientists, and industrial workers have routinely worn masks for prolonged periods of time without any clear adverse effects. As this AP piece fact-checking the hypercapnia claim states, “with how common mask wearing has always been, even before COVID-19, we would know if hypercapnia was a problem with wearing masks.” In addition, since I’m advocating for wearing masks made from breathable cotton, the hypercapnia claim is even more baseless than if I were urging everyone to don an N95.

3/ “Studies about the size of the droplets for COVID-19 show that they’re small microns, so cloth masks don’t work.” Yes, that’s the big issue with ingress: inbound droplets. But my argument for cloth masks is based on egress, outbound droplets. The studies cited below are specifically using conditions comparable to COVID-19, and are new because we didn’t focus too much on egress previously – but now we have great reason to. We are trying to prevent giving others our droplets, and that’s why cloth masks only work if we all wear them. We’re trying to make sure we don’t unknowingly contaminate others.

4/ “I can just stay further away from someone when I go out and not wear a mask.” The experts have weighed in on this one, and explained that merely keeping your distance from others without wearing a mask isn’t safe enough. Droplets emitted when there’s no mask to block them scatter into a cloud, and they then hang around in the air for about 10 minutes. See research scientist Jeremy Howard’s tweet below, which addresses this issue. So even if you’re not immediately next to anyone when you breathe out droplets, a person who wanders into the area several minutes later can still be exposed.

5/ “I tried wearing a mask but my glasses fog up when I do.” Yes, the fog is real. I am nearsighted and have experienced this issue. It’s true that when you wear eyeglasses, your warm breath exhaled through the top of your mask can fog up the lenses of your glasses. Fortunately, there are workarounds. A full discussion of ways to prevent the fogging-up problem, provided by the Cleveland Clinic, here. Additional tips via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here. Among the anti-fogging techniques: (a) washing the lenses of your glasses with soap and water; (b) putting a folded tissue under your mask at the top, to absorb the moisture so that it does not fog up your glasses, or (c) using anti-fog sprays designed to defog glasses. There are many solutions to choose from that enable you to wear a mask while still seeing clearly. I prefer the soap and water technique in the video below, but if you want anti-fog sprays, here’s a round up of the best ones.

Also, for those who don’t want to add the tissue yourselves, MasQuebec sells a mask with the added piece of material built in, specifically for people who wear glasses, which you can find here.

VIDEO: How to wear a mask without your glasses fogging up. The second technique is the one that works for me.

6/ “But doctors need masks” Yes, that’s why we aren’t using theirs. The piece you are reading (and others, see the sources below) discuss how cloth masks work very well to stop the spread of COVID-19 if worn by the vast majority of people when out in public.

7/ “But the CDC said not to wear them if healthy” Reality is that this is a new virus and scientists and doctors are all learning as they go. Once epidemiologists and other medical professionals realized the staggering percentage of cases transmitted via asymptomatic vectors, they – including the CDC – shifted from their initial guidance to now recommend  the wearing of cloth masks. And countries such as the Czech Republic and Austria that switched course quickly to mandate masks are faring a lot better than those that did not.

8/ “Masks increase the risk of infection for the wearer.” Back in March 2020, which is basically decades ago in COVID-19 time, the U.S. Surgeon General and others were recommending no wearing of masks, and opined that wearing certain types of masks increased the risk of infection for the wearer. At that point in time, the discussion was about N95s and surgical masks, and those same articles discussed ensuring adequate PPE supply for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Here we are talking about a cloth mask, which is a very different situation as purchasing or creating a DIY one does not imperil the supply of medical masks for the medical professionals who need them. And again this is a discussion about egress, not ingress. There was a 2015 study from Hanoi, Vietnam about how cloth masks worn by healthcare workers who are in close contact with sick patients for long periods of time increased those healthcare workers’ risk of respiratory infection. That is again not what we are talking about here. You and I are not healthcare workers who are going to wear our masks while attending to hospitalized patients; our mask wearing as stated above is about not infecting others.

9/ “But freedom!” I know some people have been convinced that freedom is at stake, but if we look around the world the countries that did mandate mask wearing – or had cultures of most members of their populations voluntarily wearing masks in public (which in the latter case were East Asian countries where people had memories of the SARS and H1N1 influenza pandemics that hit that region hard) – are those that tend to be doing the best. Many never even felt compelled to impose lockdowns because the virus never spread in an uncontrolled fashion within their borders; and those that did are now opening up. Their people are now able to move  around safely. In contrast, in many of the countries whose citizens have not worn masks in large numbers either voluntarily or under government mandate, the virus is still spreading rapidly.

After living in Asia for many years, where it’s considered customary and reasonable to protect others from becoming infected by you when you’re ill, I wore masks when unwell with contagious diseases. Excluding specific and limited exemptions, for example people who are hearing-impaired* or have a disability that makes it hard for them to wear or remove a face covering, there are only self-focused reasons not to wear one during a pandemic. And this is not a time to be self-focused.

I wear a cloth mask to protect others, but that can only have a meaningful impact in reducing the society-wide harms from COVID-19 if others do the same.

The freedom to breathe on others in ways that may kill them is just not a reasonable thing to desire.

-Jodi

* There are ClearMasks for the hearing-impaired community, but to my knowledge they are not widely available nor widely accessible.

***

Where to Buy Cloth Masks

I got mine from my friends Bethany and Randy, who are sewing them and donating one for every one sold. You can get yours here. They are also making them with pockets so that filters can be added if desired. Be sure to specify in the notes section if you have a particularly small or large face.

Options for cloth masks for kids, to be put on and removed with parental supervision, can be found here.

Another option is to make masks at home, if you’re able to. Patterns abound.

  • Pleated surgical-style mask out of fabric, here.
  • Craft Passion’s mask with covering for the nose and elastics around the sides here, in 4 different sizes including for kids ages 2 and up.
  • Masks for the hearing-impaired here.

Cloth masks should fit snugly but comfortably, and be tied with elastics or adjustable fabric. They ought to contain at least two layers of breathable fabric, and be able to be washed (see below) without damaging the materials.

Good Housekeeping notes that “tightly woven, 100% cotton is the best fabric to use, which means you can turn a bandana, or fabric from pillowcases, curtains, or woven shirts into a face mask or covering. Be sure to avoid knit fabrics, like jersey T-shirts, because they create holes when stretched. To make the mask even more protective, use a nonwoven interface, coffee filter, or HVAC filter (as long as they don’t contain fibreglass) inside the mask to help block particles.”

Proper Care for Cloth Face Masks

Yes, these masks need to be washed and cared for in order for them to keep working. I launder mine in a washing machine on a gentle cycle, or hand wash them with hot, soapy water, after each use.

As with anything you may touch that may be contaminated, it is important to wash your hands if you have touched your face with your mask on (or if you touched the mask itself while wearing it), so that you don’t contaminate the next thing you touch. Also, after removing your mask (which you should do only by handling the straps or other piece that secures it, and never by grabbing the front of the mask), thoroughly wash your hands for those 20 seconds you now know well.

Sources

(1) On droplet size

(2) On how cotton masks can help curb the spread of COVID-19

(3) The “speaking moistly” is a reference to Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau, who used the phrase at a press briefing — and seemed to immediately regret it.

Someone creative made it into an autotune song, and it is glorious:

(4) On asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers:

The post We Should All Be Wearing Cloth Masks, And Here’s Why appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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I’m In The Vulnerable Class for COVID-19. A Plea To Take This Virus Seriously. https://www.legalnomads.com/coronavirus/ https://www.legalnomads.com/coronavirus/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2020 21:22:06 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=14270 This post is a plea to take COVID-19 seriously for everyone, including those who are most at risk. Acting swiftly and comprehensively is critical.

The post I’m In The Vulnerable Class for COVID-19. A Plea To Take This Virus Seriously. appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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This post was published March 12, 2020 and has been updated frequently since then.

A friend of mine recently texted me in a fury.

“Someone just posted on FB that we’re doing things to stop the virus only because it’s going to ‘hurt old people’s feelings’ if we don’t,” he said.

His mother has respiratory issues and thus falls into the “older person vulnerable to the new coronavirus” category, as do many others.

Like me.

And I can read.

So when I read tweets or posts about how it’s basically “just a flu” (false) that “only hurts the vulnerable,” it makes me worry for us as a society. If we can’t protect our most vulnerable, what are we doing?

COVID-19: We Need to Consider Society As a Whole

I’ve received many reader emails about COVID-19 asking for my thoughts given that I am currently dealing with a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak and an inflammatory immune condition that already predisposes me to medication reactions and a cytokine storm.

It’s been very surreal to see the news unfold at a time when I have been in quarantine of sorts (bedrest) for many, many months. Due to the CSF leak, I rely on family and friends for groceries and to make food as I cannot do so myself.  For those who are chronically ill, the lack of independence for basic needs adds an extra layer of concern and need for care on a daily basis.

The discourse about COVID-19 seems to consist of differing responses from several distinct groups of people

First, the people who are well and who believe they’ll be unscathed. This “isn’t a big deal,” they say. “Why is the media making us panic?”

Second, those who are vulnerable like me, and who know they are at risk for significant complications if they contract the virus.

There are some people who live in between those two extremes, and while healthy themselves are nonetheless able to remember a series of subclasses whose lives legitimately depend on the collective to stay safe.

And then, there are others whose actions are downright dangerous for all of us. This includes NBA player Rudy Gobert. Per Hot Air’s report:

I doubt we’ll get a better case study during this nightmare of how a single person’s cavalier denialism about the threat from the disease can put entire industries at risk. This happened two days ago. Gobert apparently thought it was silly that the NBA had set a new rule requiring reporters to stay six feet away from players at all time. So, as a goof, he decided to touch all of their microphones after his Q&A ended.

After mocking COVID-19 precautions by touching a bunch of things, he then tested positive. And as with any exponentially spreading virus, this exposure and infection have predictably led to others testing positive.

Ultimately, Engel isn’t wrong from a statistical perspective.

He’s also not the first or last person I’ve seen try to stem the panic by reminding people of the expendability of the vulnerable like me.

I’m writing this post as a plea to each person to put overall societal needs above individual desires until this virus peaks and subsides.

I am not a doctor, and the following is not medical advice. It is, however, a summary of what I’ve researched for my own safety given my risk levels due to the issues with my immune system

Disinformation and panic don’t help anyone, especially during a pandemic.

By now, you’re probably living under a rock if your’e unaware of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the artist formerly known as 2019-nCoV. SARS-CoV2 is the virus, and COVID-19 is the disease which that virus spreads.

People also refer to it as “coronavirus”, but since it’s one of many coronaviruses, I’m not going to do that here. MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV are two other coronaviruses you may have heard of. COVID-19 is a unique virus.

COVID-19 is a called Novel Coronavirus because it’s a new disease for humans. The World Health Organization estimates a global death rate of 3.4% of those who are infected. While many people around the world may have built up immunity to various flu strains over time, the newness of COVID-19 means no one had immunity to it when it first broke out. There is also no established treatment for COVID-19, and there is presently no way to cure it. There are some treatments in trial, however, and I’ve detailed them below.

The fast spread of this virus has led to heavy amounts of disinformation and even outright conspiracy theories. I’ve argued with quite a few people online who suggest that this is “just like the flu,” or that “most people barely feel sick.” In an internet age where we are able to quickly get data from countries that are ahead of our curve here in North America, there is simply no excuse for not acting as swiftly as possible.

Panic isn’t useful.

Changing nothing in your life isn’t useful either. It’s actually outright dangerous right now.

In the middle lies being informed, prepared, and willing to think about society as a whole. Doing so lowers the burden on our health care systems, and buys a bit more time for treatments and research to happen. Reducing the number of people who are sick at once is the best way to keep our health system from being overwhelmed. And that in turn helps not just COVID-19 patients but also everyone else who must seek treatment in a hospital.

Two factors that make COVID-19 a big concern to everyone:

  1. A medical system that is over capacity, where doctors will need to decide who coming in gets a ventilator, who gets a bed, and more – not just COVID-19 patients, but other vulnerable patients with chronic diseases. Data tracks at a 10% hospitalization rate in Italy for people infected with Covid-19, with those in critical condition needing 3-6 weeks for recovery. That puts a prolonged strain on the system.
  2. The lack of immunity to the disease worldwide means that there’s no ceiling on the amount of people who can get infected. Presently, cases of COVID-19 are doubling every few days. Research labs and scientists around the world are racing to find a vaccine that works, but as of today the only ways to address the outbreak are mitigation, and planning in an attempt to slow down the spread.

Asymptomatic carriers can help fuel a pandemic

Yes, the bulk of infections will be mild, per the available statistics we have.

But those mildly infected people can and will transmit this highly contagious disease to others. It is imperative that we keep the numbers low. At the beginning of COVID-19 coverage, news outlets reported that you were at risk of transmission if you had symptoms. As of mid-March 2020, however, studies are showing that even if you’re fully asymptomatic, you can still spread this virus as a vector.

For example, per CNN earlier in March 2020, Dr. Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology in Frankfurt, Germany, tested 24 passengers who had just flown in from Israel. Seven of the 24 passengers tested positive for coronavirus, despite four having no symptoms at all. Of great concern regarding the spread of this virus is that the viral loads for those four asymptomatic patients were actually higher than for the patients who exhibited symptoms. Viral load measures how concentrated a virus is in someone’s respiratory secretions, and a person with a higher load has a higher probability of spreading the virus to others

That is… not good.

The risk of transmission by people who seem healthy due to lack of symptoms is also contrary to what we were told initially, right? I know people keep saying that new information that they’re hearing about this virus contradicts what we’ve previously been told; but the reality remains that COVID-19 is a new virus that we are learning about globally, as the outbreaks continue.

Thanks to data shared from scientists in China and from doctors in Italy, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, those of us ‘next in line’ — such as people in North America — are able to learn lessons from those other countries, and to model and see how we can adapt our protocols to this novel virus.

Joshua Weitz, a professor at Georgia Tech, co-authored a paper about the asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19, and published his takeaways in a mini tweet thread here. He urges everyone to practice social distancing now, to the extent possible. He notes that doing this reduces both your chances of getting sick and the chances of others getting sick because you can be “unknowingly ‘asymptomatic’ but infectious.”

Or, see the tweets from evolutionary biologist Benjamin Kerr below:

(Full thread here.)

Which is why acting now, even if you’re healthy, is critical.

This also means preparing without panic, being reasonable about what we need and don’t need without hoarding, and above all considering our roles as citizens in a collective. As Mark Manson said in a new post:

So, while staying home, from an individual risk perspective, seems unnecessary and an overreaction, from a systemic risk perspective, it’s the only prudent thing to do. The more people who go out and about, the faster this thing spreads, and the faster this thing spreads, the more the hospitals get flooded, and the more the hospitals get flooded, the more people die unnecessarily.

Or, as Dr. David Juurlink, a physician at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says, “The faster this hits us, the less able we will be to provide care. The less able we are to provide care, the more people will die. It is as simple as that.”

This chart put together today by the Institute of Disease Prevention shows the potential mitigation of COVID-19 for King and Snohomish counties in Washington State by taking precautions sooner rather than later. The chart shows effects if people reduce contact with others by 75% vs. 50% vs 25% or .. nothing.

Infections with and without social distancing COVID19
Infections with and without social distancing COVID-19, courtesy of the Institute for Disease Prevention

This virus is beyond containment worldwide, and acting swiftly but calmly is imperative.

Learning from Italy

Outside of mainland China, Italy now has the highest number of deaths in the world from COVID-19. And the country’s fatality rate from COVID-19—at 5%—is much higher than the global average of 3.4%.

https://twitter.com/elipariser/status/1241158297140498432

Why is Italy’s death rate so high? Italy has conducted a substantial number of tests — more than 42,000 as of Saturday (March 7), according to Al Jazeera. But the size of the outbreak and the late adoption of containment measures combined with speed of spread meant that Lombardy and to a lesser extent other areas in Italy are unable to get back to a place of balance. The strain on the system is so bad that the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) has shared guidelines (link is in Italian) for the criteria that doctors and nurses should follow in these extraordinary circumstances, likening them to the moral choices doctors face during wartime. They require doctors to allocate ICU access to the patients with the highest chance of therapeutic success. This may seem logical and even utilitarian, but it’s a devastating position to be in every day during an outbreak.

At the same time, an Italian doctor begged other countries to act now. Dr. Daniele Macchini posted (link is in Italian; English here) about what’s happening on the front lines of Italian’s coronavirus response, noting that each ventilator was like gold and that many of the doctors were themselves getting sick with the virus. He notes that there are no more specialist doctors, just doctors as a whole, a single team to try and stop the inflow of sick people. Italy does have a sizeable older population, but the case study of Dr Macchini and others on the front lines would be foolish to ignore.

The foregoing is not “media hype” but rather published testimony and guidelines from a country right in the middle of a substantial outbreak. Most Western countries are on a similar trajectory as Italy, with a time delay. From March 14th:

Exponential growth of COVID-19 cases over time, tracking countries in the EU, as well as USA and Asia.
Graph via this tweet.

We need to think through the exponential growth of this disease, and we don’t seem to be doing so on a systemic level. The way exponential growth works is that it seems tolerable until suddenly it’s an avalanche – and then it’s often too late.

Let’s try to avoid the avalanche.

Risk Groups for COVID-19

Briefly, because we’ve all been bombarded with graphs these days, a note about mortality and risk groups.

The CDC has released the following guidance for pre-existing conditions that are known to be factors in worsening COVID-19 infections in patients, in a Community Mitigation Strategy document:

Underlying medical conditions that may increase the risk of serious COVID-19 individuals at any age.

The medical consensus is that those over 60 years old, and those with the conditions above, are most at risk.

In addition to the main pre-existing conditions listed above, immunocompromised patients are at higher risk for fatalities. And there are millions of immunocompromised people in America alone, a number which not only comprises those with immunodeficiency syndromes but also people with cancer (who are accounted for in the above chart), or who have been treated for it, people who have received transplants, people with HIV, and more.

For those who fall in the vulnerable class of patients, extra precaution is needed. What is also needed — as this post will keep saying over and over — is for everyone to take social distancing seriously, especially because of testing limitations in many countries but especially the United States.

It’s NOT just the elderly

While the bulk of fatal infections have shown to strike those in advanced years and/or those who have the pre-existing conditions referenced above, this does not mean that if you’re young you’re all good. In the United States, we are learning, young people are hospitalized in large numbers. CDC data shows that nearly 40% of patients sick enough to be hospitalized were between 20 to 54 years old. And in a system that risks being overwhelmed, every hospital bed counts. All the more reason to self-isolate now.

ProPublica interviewed a respiratory therapist in New Orleans (article not for the faint of heart), and noted:

Since last week, he’s been running ventilators for the sickest COVID-19 patients. Many are relatively young, in their 40s and 50s, and have minimal, if any, preexisting conditions in their charts. He is overwhelmed, stunned by the manifestation of the infection, both its speed and intensity.

Stay. Home. Now.

Symptoms of COVID-19

The symptoms of Covid-19 vary from case to case. From China’s data, the most common are:

  • fever
  • dry cough (majority of cases)
  • fatigue
  • mucus coughing up from the respiratory tract (called sputum)

If you have a fever and dry cough alone, advice from interviewed doctors is to get tested by calling your department of health – NOT by presenting to the ER or Urgent Care where you could potentially infect others.

It’s important to note that anecdotal data from around the world suggests that the sudden loss of smell in otherwise asymptomatic adults may be a sign of COVID-19 infection. A significant number of coronavirus patients experienced anosmia (loss of sense of smell), per UK rhinologists. In South Korea, 30% of 2,000 patients who tested positive experienced anosmia as their major presenting symptom. These were milder cases, but the point remains: you do not want to be a vector for this virus, and if you have COVID-19 you’re contagious, period — even if loss of smell is your only symptom.

“We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Prof. Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, noted to the New York Times on March 22, 2020.

Most common symptoms in China, up to February 22, 2020

Contacting your Department of Health for your state, province, or territory is a starting open, since many have opened Coronavirus Hotlines to help direct you appropriately toward testing.

  • For Americans: state department of health contact information here.
  • For Canadians, scroll down to the phone numbers of each provincial health department, here.

Also call your GP or primary care doctor if you have one, as well as local hospitals, if there is no hotline or dedicated response from your local Department of Health.

And – it goes without saying but here we go: STAY HOME unless advised otherwise by one of the hotlines or medical professionals in your life.

Are there any treatments for COVID-19?

No drugs or biologics have been proven to be effective for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. But, numerous antiviral agents, immunotherapies, and vaccines are being investigated and developed as potential therapies.

In trials/studies to ascertain whether it could work for COVID-19:

Genetic Engineering and Biotech News summarizes the 60 current treatments under investigation for COVID-19, including potential vaccines in development.

Where testing comes in

Data from Italy suggests that many cases went undetected and enabled community spread. This data is part of why it is extremely important to get testing capacity up to population numbers, and why containment in the USA is going to be a big problem.

As of late-March 2020, it’s still difficult to get tested in the USA.

Several Legal Nomads readers in the USA have reported symptoms consistent with COVID-19, obtained doctors’ requests for testing, and still were told by the Departments of Health in their states that they were not eligible for testing. New York State has now begun testing widely and as a result has more COVID-19 cases than France or South Korea. As of March 22, 2020, New York State had tested 61,000 people. Other states will hopefully follow suit.

Those readers did the smart thing and put themselves on self-quarantine, but what of the many potentially infected people who did not?

Strain on the hospital system when catastrophe medicine is at play, especially in the USA

The facts for the US health care system during this pandemic are not great.

According to the American Hospital Association, as of 2017, the US had 924,107 beds total. On a per capita basis, that was 2.77 beds per 1000 people. For comparison, China’s 2017 per capita bed ratio was 4.05 beds per 1000 people. (See OECD healthhcare stats here.)

Put simply, there are not enough hospital beds in the USA for an outbreak of the kind we’ve seen elsewhere, nor for the projection of hospitalizations – 4 to 8 million – that researchers estimate the United States will see. In fact, the US’s ratio of hospital beds per 1000 people is also smaller than those of the other main countries overwhelmed with outbreaks of this virus. The respective ratios for Italy and South Korea as of 2017 were 3.18 and 12.27.

Moreover, with at-will employment in many states and many employees receiving few sick days — especially in jobs that are front-facing (service industry, food industry, etc.) — increased community spread is likely.

And then there are patients who are chronically ill and depend on medication and hospital needs even outside the “at-risk” aspect of COVID-19. If the system is overwhelmed as we’ve seen happen elsewhere, deaths from pre-existing conditions that can’t get properly treated are more likely.

From a family friend, a doctor in Indiana who reviewed the Indiana State Department of Health Crisis Standard for Ventilator Allocation:

Here’s the problem: If we can’t find a way to slow the spread of this virus in the United States, the healthcare system will be faced with a surge of patients that may overcome available healthcare resources. Things like ventilators and ICU beds may be inadequate.

But most patients survive, right? The flu kills more people, right? Well, that’s again not the whole truth. Take a look at the news out of Italy. Hospitals are overrun at 200% capacity. They have ICU patients in operating rooms. They have run out of ventilators. Patients are being triaged into likely to survive or not likely to survive. The former receive a ventilator. The latter receive oxygen and medications to keep them comfortable as they die. That’s because this virus is capable of making people – especially older people and people with comorbid conditions – very very ill. None of us have immunity to this illness, and unlike flu none of us have been vaccinated against COVID-19. If this illness is allowed to spread unchecked, far too many patients will require care at the same time forcing doctors and hospitals to choose between patients who are likely to survive and those who are not – a process called ventilator allocation.

Oh come on, isn’t it just like the flu?

No.

For the love of all things holy, NO.

This isn’t the flu – it’s a different virus altogether. Scientists in Asia have described it as a cross between SARS and AIDS in terms of how it impacts the body.

It is more contagious than the flu.

It is more deadly than the flu.

Even assuming a global death rate of 1% (despite the current death rate of 3.4-3.5% of infected people per the WHO), it would be 10 times more deadly than the flu, which has a death rate of 0.1%.

COVID19 vs the flu, courtesy of Bloomberg.
COVID-19 vs the flu, courtesy of Bloomberg.

The data from all around the world indicates a much higher mortality rate and a very different virus altogether from seasonal influenza. China’s datasets, as well as those from countries like Taiwan and Singapore where so far containment has been possible, have all provided us with information to help us see what’s coming.

Won’t it go away when temperatures rise?

We don’t know. This virus is so new that we just don’t know yet. We know that COVID-19 is an “envelope” virus, meaning that it’s packaged not only in a capsid protein, but also in a membrane (the envelope), usually made of lipids. Soap’s effectiveness at breaking down these lipids when people wash their hands properly is part of why the “wash your hands!” instructions are being shouted from every rooftop.

This envelope interacts with our cells during infection, and helps the virus dodge attempts to eradicate it from the body. Generally speaking, viruses with envelopes are more fragile and vulnerable to adverse conditions, says Neal Nathanson, an emeritus virologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

In a 2010 paper “Absolute Humidity and the Seasonal Onset of Influenza in the Continental United States,” scientists posited that a drop in in absolute humidity was far more relevant to the flu’s ability to replicate than temperature or general humidity in the air. But why that is we just don’t know. One of the authors of that paper, climate geophysicist Jeffrey Shaman, confirms in a Science Magazine piece that yes, lower absolute humidity might favor some viruses. But the why remains unclear.

“Variables that could affect the viability of the viral membrane could include changes in osmotic pressure, evaporation rates, and pH, Shaman says. “Once you get down to the brass tacks of it, we don’t have an answer.”

I mention seasonality because quite a few people have brought that up as an argument not to worry now. “Oh, it’ll go away in the summer,” they’ve said.

We just don’t know that. And even if it does go away in warmer, more humid places, it may roar back just like the 1918 influenza did. So slowing the curve down to make sure our hospitals don’t get overwhelmed remains important.

So what are the projections for infected people within the United States?

Per a New York Times article updated March 18th:

“Between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to one projection. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.”

Those worst-case assumptions, however, do not take into account the mitigation measures that are now swiftly being put in place by states, cities, businesses, and individuals. As I’ll explain below, social distancing really is helpful in slowing down the strain on the system, and ensuring that the sick get the care they need to lower the chances of them being casualties.

People who are usually reasonable and rational are nonetheless comparing this virus erroneously to the flu or saying it’s just overblown hype. This is not only unkind, to belittle someone’s fears about their own health and safety, but negligent for the wellness of society.

Please don’t make fun of people who are scared of this very real threat, especially if they’re in the vulnerable class.

Please don’t downplay actual data and case reports from around the world where doctors have been fighting this virus to the point of exhaustion.

The success of our outcome depends on individual willingness to mitigate risk moment to moment.

So what can we do? Think collectively, not individually, to help flatten the curve of the epidemic.

Those who require hospitalization require the long term stays of ICU care that I mentioned earlier, for a period of 3-6 weeks. Italy thus far estimates that many COVID-19 patients need at least 4 weeks on mechanical ventilators.

That number would put hospital systems over capacity very quickly if we don’t flatten the curve on this virus.

An infographic that shows the goals of mitigation during an outbreak with two curves. The X-axis represents the number of daily cases and they Y-axis represents the amount of time since the first case. The first curve represents the number of cases when no protective measures during an outbreak are implemented and displays a large peak. The second curve is much lower, representing a much smaller rise in the number of cases if protective measures are implemented.
via Vox news

This virus is going to affect your life. And you get to decide if you want to contribute to flattening the curve, or spiking it.

I sound like a broken record for social distancing because we know testing isn’t going to get everyone and thus if we want to have a bell curve more like South Korea versus like Italy, we need to start taking action on an individual level yesterday.

I realize not everyone has the privilege to work from home or to take all the measures I list below.

But doing as much as possible is extremely important for EVERYONE, in order to help ease the impact of this pandemic.

“When people change their behavior,” said Johns Hopkins associate professor Lauren Gardner in the New York Times, “those model parameters [i.e., the worst-case scenario numbers cited above] are no longer applicable . . . There is a lot of room for improvement if we act appropriately.”

Fine, you’ve convinced me. Now how do I help stop the spread for COVID-19?

Starting place: do not panic.

Each of us thinks better and makes smarter decisions when we are not in cognitive overload. The earlier you take precautions, even if you’re not directly impacted yet by the virus, the better you can help lower the societal burden. Choose compassion for the societal burden over fear and distrust. I know it’s not easy, but as a collective we do depend on it.

Worldwide data shows there is no advantage to being a late mover here. As the WHO director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on March 13th, all possible action should be taken. “Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone,” he said. “Do it all.”

1. SOCIAL DISTANCING

Does your company let you work from home? Start doing so now.

Limit nonessential public gatherings.

Make small choices that can take away from groups of people, even in quotidian activities. Refrain from museums, clubs, dancing, religious services, and more as this plays out. Crowded spots are prime dissemination spots.

What is a “public gathering”? Doctors I have spoken with define a public gathering as anything more than 6 people, but there doesn’t seem to be consensus overall as you can see with the number (5) below. Regardless of the actual numbers, social distancing is how we can have a hope at slowing the spread of COVID-19, and potentially mitigate its effects on the hospital system. The Atlantic has a “DOs and DON’Ts of Social Distancing” piece from March 12th here.

The same doctor in Indiana who wrote about ventilator allocation above, says:

This means not flying on a plane or taking a cruise or a train. This means cancelling your vacation. This means not going to gatherings of people. How many is too many people? To give you an idea, one of the health organizations I work for has banned meetings of more than 5 people. Most meetings are video or teleconferenced. So should you go to a crowded school event or a sporting event? NO! And schools shouldn’t be so irresponsible to continue to offer such gatherings.

This also includes cancelling non-critical medical visits, to keep the hospitals and systems as clear as possible for the coming burden. Telemedicine has been available for a few years now, and this is definitely the time to avail yourself of it if you have the privilege to do so.

I’ve been telling people, “be St. Louis, not Philadelphia,” because in 1918, Philly held a huge parade during an influenza outbreak. In contrast, St. Louis cancelled all gatherings. As you can see from the chart below, the death toll was very different in those two cities.

It’s selfish to complain about “changing your plans” or making adjustments to social activity when the downside of doing nothing is systemic overload and catastrophe medicine.

It should go without saying, but do NOT fly on a plane if you’re awaiting COVID-19 results. A passenger from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida did just that.

Again, this isn’t hype, this is simply a summary of what we’ve seen in other countries to date with medical systems that don’t have enough beds for contagion at this volume.

People like me don’t have the privilege to be out in the world safely right now, and nor do your parents and grandparents.

2. WASH YOUR HANDS. OFTEN. LONGER THAN YOU WANT TO.

The most important thing other than social distancing is to wash your hands, for 20 seconds.

That’s a lot longer than most of us are accustomed to taking when we wash our hands. And we need to do it frequently. Before and after eating food. When returning home from outside. When in contact with anyone else. If there is a chance your unwashed fingers have the virus on them, you do not want them anywhere near your face (see below), nor do you want them touching surfaces in your home

“Happy Birthday” sung twice is about the right length, so many people are singing that as they wash. Here’s a song generator from The Verge that can help you choose other options so you don’t hate birthdays by the end of this COVID-19 pandemic.

If Neil Diamond is your jam, he has generously released a special edition of ‘Sweet Caroline’ specifically for COVID-19 hand-washing, called ‘Hands Washing Hands’:

Proper handwashing technique COVID19

Soap works very well on this virus, and it doesn’t need to be anti-bacterial soap. It just needs to be a looooong wash, because of the nature of the virus.

For the science behind why that is, see the thread below:

If you cannot use soap and water because you’re away from access to them, alcohol-based hand sanitizer with over 60% alcohol content is a good stand in. When you do get access to soap and water, though, wash immediately.

3. STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACE

THIS IS SO HARD.

I’m not alone; a study from 2015 shows people touch their faces an average of 23 times per hour.

It’s very important though, and we have to keep avoiding it as much as possible. This includes the eyes, since ocular transmission has been one of the ways the virus is spread.

 

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A post shared by Matt Shirley (@mattsurelee) on

4. DISPOSABLE GLOVES IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS.

Wear nitrile or latex disposable gloves when in public spaces like buses, subways, and other areas where you will be touching areas that others have touched like pumping gas.

If you are in a social situation where you need to remove your gloves, do not touch your face or eyes, no matter how much something itches. And before you put gloves back on, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, scrubbing the fingers.

If you don’t have gloves but are using light switches, elevators, or other public buttons or switches, use your elbow to hit the button instead of your hand.

As with everything involving a virus this contagious, it’s extremely important to discard your gloves safely. The CDC has a PDF on how to dispose of contaminated gloves safely from its Ebola guidance, here.

5. STAY 2m (6 FT) AWAY FROM SICK PEOPLE, AND TRY TO KEEP DISTANCE OF 1m (3 FT) GENERALLY WHEN OUTSIDE.

This means life changes that have irritated some people, but nonetheless are reasonable precautions during an outbreak like this.

And still, social distancing takes precedence.

Netflix instead of a movie theatre. There’s even a Chrome Extension called Netflix Party that allows you to watch as a group while chatting with friends. If you’re want to dine out, there are ways to keep distance. Either get take-out food and bring it home, or sit outside if there is a terrace instead of staying inside a closed restaurant.  You get the drill.

Serious Eats has a Comprehensive Food Safety and Coronavirus primer from the exceptional J. Kenji López-Alt*, who discusses all things food, including special precautions restaurant owners, kitchen managers, or other folks with food-related businesses should be taking.  He also gets into the safest ways to shop at grocery stores or supermarkets. Worth a bookmark.

Some further advice for safely receiving food delivery: pay the entire amount, not just the tip, online or over the phone in advance (since cash is an effective medium for transmitting viruses); ask for food to be left outside your door instead of actually interacting with the deliverer; use your own pen if you’re signing for the food in person; and transfer the food to your own dishes before eating.

*Kenji’s book is one of my favourite cookbooks. He is presently donating 100% of his sales commissions towards producing food to be served free of charge to needy families and individuals affected by school and business shut-downs in San Mateo, an additional 10% of the sale cost will go to a nationwide network of independent bookstores.

6. THIS MEANS NO HAND SHAKING OR CHEEK KISSING TO GREET PEOPLE. OR ELBOW BUMPING, DESPITE THE POPULARITY OF THAT GESTURE AS A SUBSTITUTE

Curtsy, briefly bow, bring your hands together as if in prayer, nod your head with a smile at someone — these are just a few options or just do a head nod with a smile.

No hand shaking or cheek kissing for greetings as they bring you too close.

According to the WHO, no elbow bumping either as it also brings you into contact:

7. AVOID PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.

This likely doesn’t require an explanation, but is to avoid a cough, sneeze, or hand-to-hand contact that can put us in the danger zone for droplet splatter or air particles that can transmit the virus.

8. DOORKNOBS: LEARN TO CLEAN THEM OFTEN AND TRY NOT TO USE THEM IN PUBLIC. 

I’m very limited here because of my CSF leak, but for those of you who can open and close doors using your elbows, hips, or shoulders: do it. If not, wear gloves to turn a doorknob, or wash your hands immediately after touching it. If someone does get sick in your household, wiping down your doorknobs is a good idea too.

A March 17, 2020 study notes that “SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces.”

The CDC has a list of cleaning recommendations for COVID-19 (which notes that the virus can survive on some surfaces for days) here.

9. WIPE DOWN YOUR CELL PHONE WHEN YOU RETURN HOME FROM OUTSIDE. 

I use alcohol-wipes for this, small size, but the ones I bought are no longer available. A spray bottle with rubbing alcohol sprayed onto a wipe will usually suffice. Apple used to say not to clean phones this way, but due to COVID-19, Apple has changed its guidelines. The company now says you can use a wipe with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a Clorox wipe to clean your iPhones. For non-Apple devices, see this piece from CNET.

10. WHEN THE WEATHER ALLOWS, OPEN A WINDOW.

This virus cannot linger in a well-ventilated space, per this FP article, though it’s quite cold in much of North America still.

11. ON MASKS 

There is a lot of controversy about masks. If you do choose to use one, you need to don and doff it with gloves on, and then make sure you properly dispose of the gloves.

When the mask has been taken off, place it inside of a disposable container or bag, seal it, and put it in the trash.

In a March 12th piece, The Guardian recommends wearing masks when caring for sick people and when around sick people:

Wearing a face mask is certainly not an iron-clad guarantee that you won’t get sick – viruses can also transmit through the eyes and tiny viral particles, known as aerosols, can penetrate masks.

However, masks are effective at capturing droplets, which is a main transmission route of coronavirus, and some studies have estimated a roughly fivefold protection versus no barrier alone (although others have found lower levels of effectiveness).

If you are likely to be in close contact with someone infected, a mask cuts the chance of the disease being passed on. If you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, or have been diagnosed, wearing a mask can also protect others. So masks are crucial for health and social care workers looking after patients and are also recommended for family members who need to care for someone who is ill – ideally both the patient and carer should have a mask.

However, masks will probably make little difference if you’re just walking around town or taking a bus so there is no need to bulk-buy a huge supply.

If someone is coughing or sneezing it’s good to ask them to put on a mask to protect you.

The guidelines from China, Hong Kong, and Japan do suggest wearing masks, and while surgical masks will not protect you 100% from the virus there is reason to don one if you have them available. Priority remains that medical providers have sufficient masks and gloves to wear. If in North America and Europe we are able to access them without shortages to critical care personnel, then they might be a good idea.

The Czech Republic has made them mandatory, already, and people are sewing them across the country:

If you’re in North America, Speakeasy Travel Supply company is currently sewing masks on a donation basis, here.

12. DON’T FORGET TO STAY SOCIAL, EVEN INSIDE

I’ve been on bedrest now for close to two years, and with technology I’ve been able to keep myself sane and connected with friends. In times like this, where fear often takes over, it’s even more important to stay in touch with people you love even if you can’t see them.

An epidemic of loneliness is not what does the immune system good. These are three things that really helped me during bedrest and isolation the last few years:

  • I scheduled nighttime calls with friends to calm myself before bed.
  • I watched Netflix programmes with friends and family in faraway places, with each of us pressing “play” at the same time.
  • I started meditations in groups every Sunday for 10 weeks, where we all meditated to the same track at the same time. At the peak of these sessions, we had hundreds participating and it was delightful.

I found that connecting to others was the most helpful way to keep my spirit high, and it also gave me ample time to catch up with people I loved who I had not spoken with in years. Video calls on FaceTime or Skype kicked it up a notch and gave me even more smiles.

Plus, many companies and cultural institutions have begun streaming such content as video recordings of operas, Broadway shows, and ballets; virtual tours of museums from around the world; films that normally are unavailable online, including movies that had been scheduled to screen at festivals that have been cancelled, and more.

The bottom line is to find a way to be a part of the human experience as a whole, even if you’re stuck inside.

Or if you’re in a city, do as residents of various Italian cities have done and start a massive singalong with your neighbours from your window or balcony:

https://twitter.com/leonardocarella/status/1238511612270690305

12. STOCK UP, RESPONSIBLY

Make a list of crucial prescription medication as well as over-the-counter medication such as and cold/pain relief, and stock up for a month’s extra supply – or more if your insurance allows.

In Canada, most people I’ve spoken with have gotten 2 months’ extra supply of prescription medication when they refilled their prescriptions. In the USA, this will vary by state and insurance provider.

Examine also has a list of immune-supporting supplements that may be of interest, including Vitamin C and Vitamin D (the latter of which has been shown to help with respiratory infections in studies).

Other things to have in the house:

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Hand soap
  • Dish soap
  • Rubbing alcohol in case you need to dilute it to make a spray.
  • Paper towels
  • Cold & flu medicine that you favour, if any.
  • Painkillers like Tylenol or Advil
  • Latex gloves or nitrile gloves to wear donning and doffing masks, or for use outside the home.
  • Toilet paper (for a few weeks extra not a panicked buy of a monster load of toilet paper!)
  • Bleach or Lysol or Clorox Wipes for cleaning.
  • Toothpaste
  • Laundry detergent

Some non-perishables that are easy to have in case you want to minimize your food trips: rice, canned tuna or chicken, protein bars, popcorn, crackers, nutritious seeds like flax or chia, peanut butter, oats, cans of chickpeas and beans, and oils you use to cook with. Also some frozen veggies.

Don’t forget the pets! Stock up on pet food for an extra month.

How long will the COVID-19 outbreak last?

We don’t know yet. But experts like Michael Osterholm, who appeared on MSNBC in a MSNBC on March 15, 2020 video interview, are approaching the coronavirus outbreak “like a Minneapolis blizzard, where if we just hunker down for a couple days … we’ll get through. This is really much more like a coronavirus winter.”

In the UK, Public Health England documents accessed by The Guardian note that the outbreak is expected to last until Spring 2021.

The vulnerable are worthy of protection too.

On March 12th, Norway instituted a mandatory quarantine for all inbound travelers and cancelled classes at all schools, as well as all sporting events. They also have a mandatory quarantine for people coming into the country from abroad.

In the USA and Canada, many of these large-scale domestic measures have not happened yet, though more and more cancellations are happening each day.

We know that the countries that have been most successful at lowering their overall death rate are the ones that take swift, aggressive measures quickly.

In South Korea, for example, nearly 20,000 people are being tested every day for the virus and labs are working 24/7 to get testing kits processed. This morning, I heard a segment on NPR from a man there who tested positive despite his only symptom being a slight cough. In Seoul, the radio anchor reported drive-through testing with results delivered via text in 5-6 hours.

Taiwan, too, has tested every resident with unexplained flu-like symptoms for COVID-19 since January 31, 2020, and tests every traveler with fever or respiratory symptoms. Taiwan has had only one death from COVID-19 so far. Moreover, in addition to proactive testing, the government acted swiftly with crisis management tools, combatted misinformation, and focused on resource management throughout.

We can see from Italy what happens when we don’t take a preemptive, wide-reaching approach. Let’s not squander the horrifying lesson they taught us. It’s clear that the US does not have the capacity to test at high levels like South Korea, meaning many people who are otherwise asymptomatic could be infecting the vulnerable classes in society.

It took me many days to write this article because I can only stand for small 20-minute increments to write it with my CSF leak. But it’s well worth the “up time” if it makes a few more people take COVID-19 seriously.

Stay home.

Do what you can to protect the at-risk population.

Change your schedule, your patterns, your habits to the maximum extent you can.

Just because I’m vulnerable to this virus doesn’t mean I’m less worthy of staying well.

 

COVID-19 Resources

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On Turning 40 With An Ancient Heart https://www.legalnomads.com/forty/ https://www.legalnomads.com/forty/#comments Sun, 18 Aug 2019 18:26:39 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=14042 The Carlo Levi quote "the future has an ancient heart' came to mind when I turned 40. This is a personal post, about learning to find joy again when life hands you catastrophe.

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In February, I realized that I was no longer sleeping well. On the rare nights that I did rest, my tracker said I went into only 20 minutes of deep sleep a night total. Plus, the hours of light or REM sleep that I did have were punctuated with awful nightmares.

After a particularly rough stretch of ugly darkness, my friend Naomi asked to chat one night before bed. I slept soundly for the first time in months. In the morning, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that I had one hour and fifteen minutes of deep sleep. In the shower, where all good ideas derive, I decided to ask for some help and see who would want to have a nighttime call with me to help me sleep better.

Worried it was too hokey, I texted my brother as my brain-check.

“Are you kidding!?” he exclaimed. “Everyone feels helpless in this mess. Give them something to do.”

He was right.

I put up a short sign-up sheet on my personal Facebook page on February 13th, and by the end of the day I had a call booked every single night, all the way until late May.

“Some species of trees spread root systems underground that interconnect the individual trunks and weave the individual trees into a more stable whole that can’t so easily be blown down in the wind,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her essay A Short History of Silence. “Stories and conversations are like those roots.”

The nighttime calls were my root system that leant a beautiful intimacy to already existing friendships. Everyone who signed up already knew me fairly well. The combo of my present situation, plus the tenderness with which everyone tried to tiptoe around it, assured that the calls were truly wonderful.

I wanted to direct the conversation away from my explaining how I was doing. I wasn’t doing very well, and to repeat that night after night didn’t seem like an effective way to sleep better. So I decided to ask everyone two questions:

  • When life takes something or someone important from you or delivers a big blow, how do you find hope and joy again?
  • Does spirituality affect your ability to be resilient in life? (By this I meant lower-case “s” spirituality, general connectedness to all things / something greater, not necessarily Spirituality in a religious sense. For many who were religious, it was one and the same.)

The questions led to some beautiful discourse, a deep dive into wonder and the human experience. People felt comfortable sharing their own grief and losses, as well as how they picked themselves up again.

I listened, I shared, and I felt connected to the world in a way that I missed.

I slept well almost every night.

finding joy after catastrophe
(c) CDD20 via Pixabay

***

The day before my 40th birthday, someone asked me how old I felt internally. I laughed, saying that we all felt younger than we were. But she meant an actual number. The question stemmed from an exchange she had with her friends, since none of them felt their age.

Does anyone feel their actual age, over the age of 30? I suppose I assumed we generally did not, that we were all milling around in various states of cognitive dissonance, waiting for a certainty that would never arrive.

I thought about it and calculated that my internal compass stopped at 28. That was the answer I gave last Wednesday, and it still fits after exploring the edges of the statement ever since. It was at 28 that I planned in earnest to leave my law job and start traveling. I didn’t plan to keep traveling. My one year sabbatical was supposed to morph into real life once more, and into a law job potentially in the public sector instead of a private firm.

But as the story goes, not so much with the return to the law.

Frankly, up until that point, I did things a bit backward. I started law school just after my 19th birthday, I billed 90 weeks at a fast-paced firm, then moved to a slightly smaller one to work in advertising law. While I did play mini-putt in the hallway with paralegals while waiting for my proxy statements to turn, the level of billable hours certainly wasn’t what my most of my friends in their early twenties were doing. And as anyone in the billable business knows, the astronomical hours billed in my first year of lawyering meant far more actual hours in the office all told.

From the judicious billing in 6-minute units, I took a sabbatical to turn to what I loved most in the world: learning as much as possible every day. That my thirst to absorb (and eat!) turned into a business was extraordinary. That it sustained my travels financially and led me to develop a community of travellers and readers who supported my work was… well, very delightful. Very humbling. How did these smart, capable people become interested in my site? Reader meetups were a wondrous marvel. I didn’t know how they got there. I just felt grateful.

Long-term Legal Nomads fans know that I never quit my job as a lawyer because I burned out. I quit because I wanted to see the world, and let those memories inform my next steps as an attorney. That I had the privilege to do so was never lost on me. Taken together, that privilege plus my profound awe that I mistakenly stumbled into a passion that became a career, meant that most of my days took little for granted.

And then this leak happened.

When I look back, I feel a loss of innocence. How could I have known to also be grateful for the ability to tie my own shoes? To walk down the street without fear of someone bumping into me and reversing my fragile healing?

I wrote about being in pain since I got dengue fever, and along the edges of that pain I found a deeper appreciation for my work and my life. At the time, it felt that my world was narrowing beyond recognition for each. It took adjustment to recalibrate to gratitude.

With the perspective I have now, those years feel ethereal and free. That journey toward grace, and my earlier reacquaintance with food when I learned I was a celiac, both feel expansive in retrospect.

On turning 40 | The future has an ancient heart
(c) CDD20 via Pixabay

***

One of my favourite short quotes is by Italian writer Carlo Levi, who noted that “the future has an ancient heart.” In a 2011 column on The Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed shared it and added that the quote beautifully summarizes her belief that who we become is born of who we most primitively are. Strayed’s reply was to a request for a graduation speech for writers, many of whom dreaded entering the real world.

I think it’s a useful sentiment for you to reflect upon now, sweet peas, at this moment when the future likely feels the opposite of ancient, when instead it feels like a Lamborghini that’s pulled up to the curb while every voice around demands you get in and drive.

I remembered this column when I began to write this post. Those times where the future felt roaring and new are curiously hard to grasp. With the weight of tragedy, I’m not alone in struggling to reconcile who I was with how my heart and soul has evolved.

The future may have an ancient heart, but my present does too.

In the two years since this spinal leak began, my inbox overflowed regularly with the rattled confusion that accompanies deep misfortune. And I write those people back using my thumbs and I say, “Yes – what we actually know in our hearts feels murky in the midst of unfathomable disorientation. Yes. I hear you. I’m sorry. I’m listening.”

How do you trust your heart when you can’t put on your own socks? How do you close your eyes and be you when “you” no longer exists in some fundamental way? The catastrophe led each of us to this mysterious place where nothing makes any sense always fails to provide the way out.

The cold truth is that life just isn’t fair. Depending on our childhoods, we learn that lesson early. Or, we learn it later. Eventually, we figure it out. How we deal with the stoic certainty of that unfairness as it churns through us dictates how well we survive.

In those two years, I’ve come to believe what many before me have said. That way out is through. The way out is remembering what we are outside the bounds of our wounds. In a society obsessed with doing, identity often ties to your accomplishments, not who you are. Fighting through all that “doing” to get to the “being” sometimes feels like a salmon trying to swim upstream.

My life today life is life itty bitty teeny tiny through no fault of my own. Many weeks I cannot go outside. I am not alone in this place; I have found others with similar, persistent CSF leaks and similar complications following treatment. Together we hold ourselves aloft in the ether.

As I’ve written before, getting through this is not about thinking positive for me. It’s about choosing what serves this journey best. Anger corrodes, and the last thing I need is more of that. It has taken a conscious shift to force myself past the borders of reasonable reaction, and into something open-hearted. To accept this twisted lot I’ve received, and then transform those fiery feelings into something lighter and more empowering.

A wisp of life is what I have, sure. But my work each day is to find joy in that wisp. Or put another way: I can’t change what happened now, but I can change the way I wake up each day. Moment to moment, I have had to pull out my most powerful emotion-microscope to find ways to feel gratitude despite how much I grieve.

I have many tools that have helped me calibrate that microscope, and I absolutely could not have done it alone. I also could not have dedicated so much brainpower and time to overcoming the mental aspect of this big life change without my family holding the weight of my physical care.

The “how to stay sane within tragedy” is a question I receive each day from readers. I hope to write about it when my health allows. It’s one of the most important questions we can ask, even in the absence of calamity.

Every day, the choice looms: do we dust ourselves off and try to find joy, or do we wallow in suffering? It’s a decision we all have to make. I used to think that optimizing for joy alone meant that we were neglecting the reasons for suffering. I equated the shift in thinking to burying my head in the sand. Through this experience, I see that even when we have good reason to wallow, it doesn’t help us endure or overcome.

My stakes feel particularly acute, since most of my days are spent to myself. I first had to accept the intrinsic unfairness. Slowly now, I can untangle the knots of my frustration and despair, and flatten out the thread until it looks sleek. Neat and tidy.

And then the next day, I start all over again.

***

Jodi Ettenberg (c) Marie Christine Genero, 2019

This picture was a generous gift from my friend Marie-Christine. A wedding photographer, she came over to shoot photos and make me feel glamorous for my 40th. I put on makeup for the first time in almost a year, went on the balcony, and MC did her thing.

A wise person once told me decades ago that it was smart never to compare my insides to someone else’s outsides. Few people wear their struggles on their sleeve or their face. We never know someone’s story, we can’t say what is weighing them down or lifting them up. We use our own beliefs, honed with however many years of bias, to make a judgement call about a stranger.

It doesn’t look like I spent 10 months in bed or that my brain is sinking into my spine, does it? There’s a reason they call it “invisible illness”. It’s one of 30 photos I’m set to receive, all taken last week. My smile and laughter are real. I had an excellent afternoon with a dear friend, even though I paid for being upright with some extra pain.

The afternoon was a reminder of what I’ve tried to remember as I pass through this extraordinary time. That each moment we get with someone we love, each second that we can find goodness and joy — that’s one moment we aren’t giving into what exists and can dredge us down.

***

“As my face changes, I will lose myself,” writes Chelsea G. Summers in a piece about the skincare industry. “The skin-deep existential crisis is this: Who am I when I don’t recognize myself in my own skin?”

As a woman, aging unfurls all sorts of whispered consequences. Peeking grey hair and wrinkles and yes, changing skin. These days, aging is somewhere in a storage space at the back of my mind. At forefront is instead the dearth of basics that I never thought I’d lack. Walking. Being able to tie my own shoes or cut my own toenails. Opening a heavy drawer. Cooking my own food. Laughing hard or coughing or sneezing without worrying about opening up a bigger leak in my spine.

It’s not been an easy few years. It’s been the hardest few years, harder than I ever thought I could sustain. I haven’t given up, and have surprised myself with the resilience I needed to power through. “I couldn’t do what you’re doing,” people tell me. Of course they could. We never know the depths of our own adaptability and strength until it’s deeply called into question.

My story is no exception, it’s just a story of extremes. Freedom to not-freedom, with the love of the world in between.

Learning as much as I could powered my life as a traveler, and it’s powering my life now. I’ve spent two years reading everything I could about neuroplasticity, immunology, and epigenetics. I’ve meditated more than is reasonable. Through force of imagination and curiosity, and with the help of many remarkable people, I’m no longer in the pit. Even though I don’t know when I’ll walk again without brain sag.

There are thousands and thousands of people who have shown me they care during this absurd time. I try to show up for other leakers in the same way, or for readers who are scared about their pain.

I dreaded my 40th for the last while because my plan was for years to summit a big mountain with my friends. But as the day approached, I made more peace with where I am. Is it where I wanted to be? Absolutely not. But the same lust for life that fuelled my too-young-to-be-lawyering years and my eating-all-of-the-soup years sustains me now.

Life changes in an instant, and I feel proud that I packed in more in my 40 years than many people get in a lifetime. For the last two years, I’ve had to live life from the inside-out, searching for answers that don’t exist. Trying to keep my brain afloat both literally and figuratively.

***

My actual birthday was as good as it could be given the circumstances. I woke up to a burst of love from around the globe from my family, community, and friends. Friends and my mum stopped in all day long in waves, to give me gentle hugs. My Montreal bestie, who you may remember from my post about how I officiated her wedding in Costa Rica, came over for sushi dinner and a beautiful cake.

The cake was specially by Kleine Shoppe. The owner, Katie, patiently took my short list of “ingredients that don’t cause a Jodi to go into anaphylaxis” and turned out one of the most beautiful cakes I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

 

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A post shared by Jodi Ettenberg ✈ Legal Nomads (@legalnomads) on

To be clear, she chose the message not me. But it was both hilarious and delicious, and I saved some of it for future consumption.

I went to bed content on my 40th. Even without the foods I used to obsess over, I felt sated. And most of all, I felt deeply cared for.

Many of us have a hard time receiving love, and that’s been a lesson for me in the past two years. It’s hard not to feel unworthy – not of love generally, but the fierceness and care of so many who want to see me well. The natural awkwardness of that feeling is far eclipsed by the strength it gives me, and the humbling effect the support has.

I’ve always looked young, something that was a liability as a lawyer and a source of mirth as a traveler. But now, it feels particularly off-key. When I first arrived in New York as a summer associate I was 20. Amazed I was there at all, I would scrutinize people’s faces as they passed by. Who would I look like? Where would my life lead me in 20 years time? It’s always fascinating to remember the shape of those predictions in retrospect.

I look at my face and my face doesn’t look forty.

I look at my face and think, who cares how old my face looks?

In that 2011 Rumpus column, Strayed writes about the interstitial years between knowing your heart’s path and making it there, eventually.

The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life. For some of you, those things have already happened. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.

When I stare in the mirror, I see a weary but strong version of me that doesn’t jive with who I was, but is exactly who I am. Surprised and knowing all at once.

And in those quiet exhalations when the pain lessens for a blessed moment, I feel overwhelmed with pure love.

My soul in bloom and my ancient heart and my youthful face, all of it, braided together to help me feel whole.

-Jodi

How You Can Help

A lot of incredibly generous people have written to ask how to help during this time. I am not starting a Go Fund Me again, and unless things change I do not plan to.

However there are three easy ways to help.

1. Help by Donating to the CSF Leak Foundation

Help by making a donation to the CSF Spinal Leak foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that has advocated tremendously for the condition I’m currently working to overcome. They are a lean organization, with those involved also dealing with spinal leaks – so every dollar counts. I’ve started a fundraiser for 1 week, via the Legal Nomads page. If you’re on Facebook, you can make a donation here until the fundraiser ends on August 22nd.

2. Helping me personally (which many of you have asked for specifically!)

I’ve told friends and extended family that the best way to help me is an Amazon gift card. This allows me purchase ingredients for foods I can eat, like teff and tiger nut flour, without my parents having to go hunt for them. I also use Amazon for the items that help with the disabilities I face – grabber devices, coccyx pillows, and my fave! Lying down glasses. You can send a gift card to legalnomads-at-gmail.com if you’d like to contribute to me personally.

3. Help spread the word and raise awareness about CSF leaks

CSF Leaks are an under-diagnosed condition than can arise from a spinal tap, epidural, spinal surgery, epidural steroid injection, and even spontaneously.

If you’re in the USA, please see the CSF Spinal Leak foundation‘s page, including the research studies they have previously funded.

If you’re in Canada, there’s a new Canadian foundation that was started by leakers this year. Awareness of leaks is specially low in Canada, and doctors here told me that I was just “having migraines” – even though they went away when I laid down. The leak experts are predominantly in the USA, so hopefully with more awareness and doctor education this changes.

***

PS. It seems my internal age broadcasts externally just fine, because several people joked that I looked 28 before I published this post. Here are a few of the responses from my birthday pics on FB and Instagram:

Best coincidence ever?

PPS. I had to end with a llama

jodi ettenberg 2019
Another of MC’s photos from our birthday photoshoot last week, with bonus llama photoshopped in by my always-creative friend, Laurence.

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A Eulogy for my Grandfather https://www.legalnomads.com/grandpa/ https://www.legalnomads.com/grandpa/#comments Thu, 18 Apr 2019 10:59:15 +0000 https://www.legalnomads.com/?p=13762 My grandfather's incredible life story, including how my grandparents fell in love at first sight and got engaged the day they met during WWII.

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A few years after my grandmother died, I joined my mother and brother to visit her grave. Her remains are located in a crowded cemetery, one that has different markers to guide mourners to the right place.

After visiting a different relative, my mum got turned around and could not get us back to my grandmother. My mum is a blisteringly smart woman, but directions are not her forte. The three of us wandered the rows in search of my grandmother, laughing at our predicament.

Eventually, with my mother in the distance reading people’s graves, I stood next to my brother and turned my face up to the sky. “Grandma!” I called out. “Your daughter got lost, but this time it was en route to find you. Can you give us a hint over here?”

Moments later, a crow starting cawing and flew to the far end of the section that my brother and I were standing in. We turned to look at each other sharply.

Surely not?

“Come on, let’s go!”

We both sprinted toward the bird at the same time, our pace slowing as the tombstone came into view. We found a crow sitting on my grandmother’s grave. The gravestone was double length, as she and my grandfather planned to share a double plot whenever he should pass.

We took a few moments to stop freaking out, and then called our mum over.

“How did you guys find it?” She asked, incredulously.

“Well you’re not going to believe it but…..”

My grandmother and me.

***

My grandfather proposed to my grandmother on the day they met, an action born from a connection far deeper than many of us can comprehend.

He saw her and knew, he said. There wasn’t a question in his mind.

Through the entire length of their marriage until her death in 1996, he was a gentleman deeply in love with his wife. Subsequently, and among many other things, he was a widower who would still tear up upon the mere mention of her name decades later.

I am comforted by the thought of them reunited again at last, twenty plus years later.

My grandparents, 1945

My grandfather proposed to my grandmother because he caught a glimpse of her on a fateful day in 1944.

He enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to England in the early 1940s. That too is family lore, because the man wore thick glasses since he was a child. But he wanted to fight for his country during the Second World War, and wanted to join the Air Force to do so. He couldn’t disclose his terrible eyesight, however, so he failed the eye test several times taking it without glasses. They rejected his application.

Did he give up? No. He never gave up. He memorized the eye chart and waited until a new doctor was giving he exam. The sneaky strategy paid off and he finally passed. He was sent to Gander in Newfoundland for training, and eventually onwards to England. The ruse was up eventually, of course, and he was not able to fly planes. Instead, he served happily from the ground.

(I got my stubbornness from several family members, him among them.)

Eventually, he transferred to a base on the coast of England. There, he and his Air Force buddies would spent one evening a week at a hotel near the sea, playing poker with injured son of the owner.

One week in 1944, a young woman caught his attention on his way to that weekly game. She was walking down the stairs at the hotel with an older woman, her mother, and she stood out immediately, he said.

He turned to his friends and told them to go on to the game without him.

In all of the times I have heard this story, I never thought to ask how he broke the ice. I imagine it started with a cheerful hello. Perhaps, as he saw her heading to a room in the hotel, he asked her if she was retiring so soon. It was early evening, and the sun hadn’t set.

“Hello..are you retiring so soon? Would you like to take a walk along the beach?”

Seeking an escape from the London smog for a weekend, my great-grandmother brought my grandma to the coast with her. Slim, petite, and always introspective, I can only imagine what was going through her head that she agreed at age 19 to an impromptu date with a stranger.

He was 25.

I suspect it wasn’t logic, because my grandmother, like my grandfather, confirmed that it was love at first sight. Further, unbeknownst to my grandfather, she was engaged to a gentleman in London. For a shy (engaged!) young lady to leave her mother and wander the beach during the war took something larger than life. Love.

She did not retire for the night, and instead did what she always did because she was always cold: she went and got a sweater. She turned and explained her need for a sweater to my grandfather – this part we all do know – and that she wanted to get her mother settled for the night.

“Ok. Then I will wait,” he replied.

And he did.

Their first date was a drawn-out walk along the cliffs at the edge of the sea, one that culminated in a proposal. Complicating matters was not only my grandmother’s engagement, but that my grandfather too was promised to a woman in Canada who he planned to take up with after the war.

Regardless, and as they both told it, those previous plans were impossible now. Something shifted in the universe, something firm and unyielding. They felt that they were meant to be together despite the chaos that would it would likely cause in their individual families.

My grandparents during WWII

Before they knew it, it was almost curfew. My grandfather had to be back in his barracks or risk being declared AWOL. A gentleman, he tried to walk my grandmother to the hotel regardless, but she insisted that he not risk his enlistment. They made plans to meet at the hotel the next day, and she told him to rush back before it was too late.

My grandfather made it back in time and in one piece, but my grandmother did not.

During the war, a country-wide blackout went into effect Sept 1, 1939. Lights could easily geolocate a spot for Germans to bomb, so at dusk there were no lights. The effect was immediate, and conditions like “blackout anemia” spread as city dwellers got used to a life without nighttime light. “For the first minute going out of doors one is completely bewildered, wrote Londoner Phylllis Warner, “then it is a matter of groping forward with nerves as well as hands outstretched.”  Near the sea, it was especially important that the blackout was in full effect because U-boats were patrolling the waters.

With darkness upon them, my grandparents split up to make their way back to their respective sleeping spots. In the inky blackness, my grandmother felt her way along the cliffs toward the hotel. En route, she tripped over a retaining wall and promptly collapsed a lung.

What was she thinking, inching back in the dark after accepting a stranger’s engagement, in pain and alone? Again, the questions I never thought to ask as a child.

Clearly, the mother-daughter trip to the coast was over. My grandmother and great-grandmother left at dawn for to London to see a doctor. The next day, my grandfather returned to the hotel as planned, only to find out that my grandmother was gone. He begged the hotel for their London address, and on his first day of leave he rushed to London to see her.

Today, treatment for a severe collapsed lung usually involves inserting a needle or chest tube between the ribs to remove the excess air. In 1945, however, it was simply bedrest for as long as it took to hopefully heal. So for several months, my grandfather made the trip from the coast to London and back again whenever he had a day of leave. As they couldn’t go anywhere, or do anything, they talked.

And through that multi-month recovery, they got to know each other.

One day, my great-grandfather took my grandpa aside to ask him what his intentions were, since he was doggedly returning every chance he got. “As soon as she is better and strong enough,” my grandfather said, “I plan to make her my wife.

They were married in 1945 in London, and honeymooned in Wales.

My grandparents’ wedding picture, London, 1945.

My grandparents on their honeymoon

It’s worth mentioning that my grandparents were as lucky as they were star-crossed. In the case of my grandpa, the ship he was supposed to take from Gander to England was hit by a German U-boat torpedo on its trajectory. Thankfully, a pilot friend was also being shipped out to England, and offered my grandfather a seat on his plane. Everyone on the ship bound for England died.

So too did my grandmother cheat death. After recovering from the collapsed lung, she took a her job at the office of a munitions factory in London. She had perfect attendance at work, until she came down with the flu over a weekend. Not wanting to miss work, she only allowed herself to stay home on Monday morning, returning to the factory in the afternoon. She arrived to find it completely levelled; it suffered a direct hit by a German bomb that morning, and everyone inside was killed.

In a similar vein, she had a near-death experience on her passage to Canada. When the war ended, my grandfather returned home with his fellow servicemen. As many Canadians stationed in England met and married English women, the government provided them special ships that transported them back to their now-husbands. The Canadian government estimates that by 1946, 48,000 marriages between Canadian servicemen and civilian women overseas had been registered. The women were called “War Brides,” and while most were from Britain, a few thousand came from elsewhere in Europe, like the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany. By the end of March 1948, the Canadian government had transported approximately 44,000 wives and 21,000 children to Canada, sent across the ocean on huge troop ships or modified cruise ships.

My grandmother sailed on a troop ship and came up on deck feeling nauseous from sea-sickness during a storm. Being so slight, when a wave crashed into the ship she went with it. A sailor holding a guide rope grabbed onto her just before she was swept off deck.

She arrived safely to Halifax eventually. My grandfather eagerly awaited her smiling, no doubt exhausted, face. They settled in Montreal, eventually starting a family of their own.

My mum, their firstborn, aged 4.

We humans love to connect dots, and to create a compelling narrative where there may not be any. Were they just lucky? Perhaps. In my family, they were far more than that. A couple that was simply fated to be, with an incredible love story that transcended time, a war, and borders to bring them together.

***

Every conversation with my grandfather started with intense cheer.

“Hello Dolly!” He would say when he saw me, “tell me some good news.”

It wasn’t just me. He brightened everyone’s day, no matter the place or time. He was universally loved, to the point where his caretakers and nurses sobbed when they heard the news of his passing. Throughout his life, he comported himself with dignity and a strength that you knew you never wanted to test.

Before he retired, he worked in the menswear industry, building a modest company into a huge operation over the course of his career. Due to his vocation, he was impeccably dressed until his heath interfered and people had to choose them for him. In true grandpa fashion, too, he was classy and comfortable without ever appearing snobby. He dressed well because he believed in the products he made and the materials he traveled far and wide to personally source.

He is the only man I’ve ever met who could make an ascot seem normal.

That’s a testament to his shapeshifting nature, one day selling his clothing to shops, and the next in the countryside to see what raw materials he wanted to buy next. I drew on his strength many times when on the road and out of my element, or up to my eyeballs in fear. He was a comforting chameleon who charmed everyone.

The man also did great at anything he put his mind to. And I’m not just talking about his work. He bowled a perfect game for most of his life, and at 89, he complained to my mother that his arm was hurting. My mum gently told him that perhaps three different bowling leagues weren’t the best idea as he approached his 90th birthday.

Fiercely independent and unrepentant in his desire to live each day fully, he was not impressed by her suggestion that he cut down to two.

He learned how to play bridge at 85, not only learned but learned, remembered, and kicked some serious bridge ass.

Around the same time, he decided to join meals on wheels, for “something else to do.” Not content to bowl, go to the gym (yes, the GYM), socialize, and participate in community programmes, he wanted to give back. That’s right, in his 80s he joined Meals on Wheels to serve the food, not to receive it.

“I’m going to visit the old people,” he’d tell my mum with a characteristic chortle.

He was, of course, older than many of the people who received those meals.

***

My grandfather taught me to stand up for what I believe in, not just because someone tells me to do so but because it was right. Because I knew it was right inside. No one could take that from you, he would say, looking right into the heart of who I was.

“You stand up for what you know is right.”

Integrity mattered to him, to me, and to all of his grandkids.

My grandfather taught me that anything in life was possible in life and love.

He taught me that mealtimes could be anything I wanted them to be, with his joyful celebration of soup for dessert. Why have ice cream when there’s soup available? He never turned down a bowl, something my cousin Alanna and I clearly inherited from him.

By extrapolation life could be anything you wanted it to be, too. While he didn’t understand why I quit my job as a lawyer to start traveling, when this blog turned into a website and a business, he believed I was making a difference. (Plus, by then I was telling everyone “I eat soup for a living”, so I am sure that bought me some goodwill). I was effecting change without compromising my values, something that mattered to him.

I have handwritten notes from him well into his 90s, encouraging me to keep doing what I was doing.

One of my favourite memories of him was a trip to New York City when he was 90. I was working at a law firm then, and my parents drove in with him during thanksgiving weekend. He traipsed around town with us, over the Brooklyn Bridge, down into the subways, and into Times Square. He had not been to New York since the 1950s, and I remember looking over at him in the neon chaos of 42nd street, with all its noise and bustle and movement. He looked up, he took a deep breath, and said “you know, take away the neon and it really isn’t that different.”

He was adaptable in ways that I couldn’t even fathom, and his ability to find connection to everything, everyone, everywhere, is a part of why I traveled the way I did.

He made it to 100, spending his milestone birthday last year surrounded by friends and family.

By that point, dementia had set in, and he did not understand why everyone was clamouring around him, or that he was 100. “I AM?” He would say, astonished. “100? Are you sure?” He did not recognize who I was, and asked my mother how she and I met.

“Dolly,” he said conspiratorially as I walked by him at his party, “what is going on?”

Someone cut in to say that it was a party for him. “We are all here to celebrate your birthday! Do you want to say something?”

And he did what he always did and took charge of the situation with grace, poise, and authority. Despite not remembering he was 100, nor did he recognize the people in attendance, he spoke clearly and confidently.

“I want to thank everyone here for coming to see me today. And I hope you all enjoy yourselves and have a wonderful time!”

My mum, stepdad, brother, me, and the 100th birthday boy last year.

***

I was too sick to attend my grandpa’s funeral, the second grandparent’s life celebration I’ve missed in the last few months.

To grieve alone when your family grieves together is a deeply isolating thing, but thankfully with family in town for the funeral, I was not alone for it all. My cousins piled onto the floor of my tiny bedroom for hours to grieve with me.

My grandfather proposed to my grandmother on the day they met, and though he taught my cousins and I many things, the legacy of their love abides in each of us. In the time since, he lived an astounding life full of more variety and purpose than most people get during their time on earth.

With every single thing he did, and every person he interacted with, he was charming, polite, and perspicacious. But when we all gathered at my mum’s last week before his funeral, the love story was the first thing we discussed.

As with many stories that span distance and generational time, however, it succumbed to a game of broken telephone over the years.

Eventually, at my cousin’s wedding in 2007, the close family gathered around my grandfather during a break in festivities to hear the truth straight from the horse’s mouth.

The candid photos from that gathering encapsulate his status as beloved patriarch: us cousins gesticulating, our parents shaking their heads, and my grandfather in the centre with his head thrown back in full-body laughter.

My grandfather and I at the family wedding in 2007, just after the broken telephone was resolved.

My cousins and I reminisced together about this famous family day, and then we moved on to the rest of our memories. How during loud, drawn-out family gatherings, he would glare at us sternly until we piped down enough for him to say blessings before the meal. And then, while the meal was served, he would come to the kids table, ostensibly to “check on us,” but inevitably to sit down and spend part of the meal with his grandkids. We shared what we learned from him, over the many hours of wise advice we received during our respective lunches, phone calls, and visits.

That nighttime tribute with my cousins felt like a beautiful celebration, one that he would have approved of. Later, we all went upstairs to rejoin our our parents and continue the memories until we could barely keep our eyes open.

***

I’m still on bedrest, but I know the smaller reminders will hit harder when I start interacting with the world again. Grief follows no timeline, of course, but even with time it comes back without warning in the smaller remembrances that give a sharp gut punch.

How he loved a bowl of Wendy’s chilli, and how every road trip (or city drive) with him involved a Wendy’s stop. Any excuse for a Wendy’s stop.

How we would all go for Chinese buffets as a family, and when everyone got dessert, he’d loop back to get another bowl of soup.

The smell of pipe tobacco from before he quit smoking. His beloved ascot. The pageboy caps he wore in the winter months.

That raucous, eternal laugh.

Always in a pageboy cap.

***

In early April I was on resting and reading in my mum’s room. A flash of black caught my eye, and I looked up to see a crow flying straight at the window. It veered suddenly and disappeared.

Intrigued, I got up from the bed to look outside. The crow was sitting on the street in front of the house, and stared me straight in the eyes before flying away.

“Goodbye grandma,” I said softly. It reminded me of that story from her grave that I hadn’t thought about in some time.

That night, I went to my computer and downloaded a whole bunch of photos of me and my grandfather that I had stored to the cloud. I’m not even sure why, other than the crow reminded me of his beloved wife. When I told my brother, he shook his head and said, “well Jodi, the birds certainly seem to give you messages.”

My grandfather passed peacefully in his sleep that night, in the early hours of dawn. Peacefully, and unexpectedly.

I suppose nothing is unexpected when you are a hundred and a half, but his body was so robust that we were all shocked.

When I saw the bleary panic and grief in my mother’s eyes the next morning when she woke me up with the news, I never even thought that it was about my grandfather. He was a hundred, yes, but he was indomitable.

Of course, he was also human.

Transcending our grief was our relief that he passed painlessly and quickly.

And in death, as in life, he kept the whole family on its toes.

I miss him very much.

Air Force photo of my grandpa

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