Friday, March 13, 2020

The need to de-stress

I have noticed that people throughout my life sphere are more stressed than usual these past two weeks.

I modified my blogs to write about happier subjects---the love of dogs ( ,

I find I need to corral my thoughts sometime during the day to put the corona virus news in perspective.
Marilyn and Franny, Obama's inauguration, 2008

Many articles have been written about the psychology of hoarding toilet paper, bottled water, and sanitary wipes. This particular virus does not have symptoms that would make you suspect you’d use more toilet paper (thank goodness!). Having spent many years in the DC area, several times per year we dutifully schlepped to the grocery stores to stock on TP, milk, bread, and beer before hurricanes, power outages, and snowstorms. In California, people are often generally blasé with respect to earthquake preparedness. In the event of the Big One, we really do need drinking water and water to wash and flush.

For the isotope community, folks have been exchanging protocols for putting labs on standby. We normally do this during the winter holidays, and maybe during summer vacations, but not for spring break or mid-year. Fortunately for many of us, our instruments run automatically and can be managed from home via software programs like Team Viewer. As a housewife, I’ve managed this way since the late 1990s, getting data collected while cooking, cleaning, and taking care of family.

I was unaware of the stable isotope contributions to virus research. The bird folks have paved the way with pairing stable isotope measurements with spreading of bird, mosquito, and human viruses. (See citations below.) Water isotopes in groundwater were used to link viruses from sewage contamination. I’d like to carry out a study on isotopes in viral proteins—do they steal essential amino acids directly from their hosts? Do they hijack amino acid synthesis pathways? Maybe this is known, but I haven’t read up on it.

The stress, though, of dealing with uncertainty has overwhelmed the academic community. Classes are now on line; exams must be given on line as well. Those who haven’t kept up with this technology are struggling to keep up. “Fortunately” for me, owing to my neurological disease, I’ve been working remotely the majority of the past few months. I’ve gotten used to “seeing” people through the computer screen.When we return to "normalcy" we may need to root out lab Gremlins (see their photo below.)
Of course the health and welfare of people colors everything. Working parents are having to think about kids being home from school or daycare… seemingly forever. And of course, those with hourly jobs in the service industry are looking at no paycheck. At my stage of life, I’m thinking about my retirement stock portfolio that was hefty and is now shrunken.

People are angry, confused, and worried.

I’ve been on-and-off consumed with reading the news. I am appalled that we don’t have a robust system for testing for COVID-19 in the US. As a scientist, I am saddened that the very bright people in the US who deal with pandemics aren’t called in by our government, listened to, and their advice followed.
Stella the Dog, 2019

While we academics worried about classes, exams, and conferences, I thought about all those brides who’d looked forward to hosting a wedding—planning it for a year or more. How disappointing they may have to put their plans on hold. Fortunately for me, Chris and I held our wedding renewal ceremony back in November! Surely, that would have fizzled in this “climate.”

I’m personally not worried for my health—even if this virus comes my way. After the shock of learning I have ALS, there’s not much health wise that can sideline me. I’ve got an advanced ventilation machine at home, a new wheelchair accessible van, and a comfy home office. If you need help delivering a lecture on stable isotopes via Zoom, let me know—I can talk on Australian paleoclimate, mangroves, astrobiology, amino acids, plants, nitrogen isotopes.

Maybe it would be fun to think about the three foods we’d want on a desert island (or a quarantined house). Mine are 1) Eggs; 2) Potatoes; 3) Avocados. I’m not certain about the avocados. For drinks, water and wine. Music is now unlimited with streaming; movies and books as well.
Back in the day, I would have wanted my surf board, 2002

We’re still open for live visitors in Mariposa! We’ll have the TP ready for you.

Isotope Contributions on Viruses:

Gunnarsson, Gunnar et al. “Disease dynamics and bird migration--linking mallards Anas platyrhynchos and subtype diversity of the influenza A virus in time and space.” PloS one vol. 7,4 (2012): e35679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035679 

Bethany J. Hoye, Ron A. M. Fouchier and Marcel Klaassen, Host behaviour and physiology underpin individual variation in avian influenza virus infection in migratory Bewick's swans; 06 July 2011

Randall J. Hunt, Mark A. Borchardt, Kevin D. Richards, and Susan K. Spencer, Assessment of Sewer Source Contamination of Drinking Water Wells Using Tracers and Human Enteric Viruses, Environmental Science & Technology 2010 44 (20), 7956-7963, DOI: 10.1021/es100698m.

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