They Are The Miracles That We Need

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For months now we have all heard that Covid 19 will only be tamed if enough people worldwide receive vaccinations. The trouble with that idea has been a lack of sufficient vaccines being distributed in areas of the world like South America, India and Africa where storing and distribution of the mRNA vaccines is often too complex. While those of us in the United States and Europe were arguing over who was willing to accept vaccines, much of the rest of the world was sadly lacking in meaningful efforts to get more people vaccinated against the virus. Now all of that is in the process of changing thanks to the work of two dedicated doctors who reside right here in my city of Houston. 

Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Botazzi, co-directors of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, have created a safe and easily produced and distributed new vaccine for Covid 19 called CORBEVAX that is already approved for emergency use in India with other underserved countries to follow. The “no strings attached”vaccine will be sent with no patent restrictions or costs. Donors are already lining up to fund the global project whose aim is to bring the jab to as many corners of the world as possible. 

The vaccine has been produced using safe and long used protein technology which is less expensive to create than many of the current vaccines. CORBEVAX is also easy to store, not requiring refrigeration which might hamper bringing it to isolated communities. It was specifically designed by Drs. Hotez and Botazzi for use in middle to low income countries in a humanitarian effort to stem the tide of Covid for all populations.

Dr. Hotez has been one of the many faces of medical academia to emerge during the current pandemic but his work on providing vaccines for tropical diseases and other threats around the world has long been recognized as important in stemming the tide of many illnesses. Sadly the politicization of vaccines and diverging opinions about Covid have sometimes resulted in attacks on the motivation and honesty of Dr. Hotez and others from the medical community. He has been dubbed by some as “Dr Doom” because of his insistence that we will never fully conquer Covid without vaccinating most of the world’s people, not just those in the richest and most developed countries. From the outset his goal has been to educate everyone about the efficacy and importance of global vaccination efforts. 

Now it appears that Dr. Hotez’ dream of finding a vaccine that will be easy to create and distribute to all corners of the world has come to fruition. It is an exciting prospect to realize that the incredible work of Dr. Hotez and Dr. Botazzi  will soon make vaccines a reality for people all over the globe. What is even more remarkable is that neither doctor will profit from the vaccine beyond their usual salaries from Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine where both are doctors, researchers and professors. 

I feel a great sense of pride in knowing that I live in a city that is home to such a great institution as Texas Children’s Hospital. Even better is realizing how many truly inspiring and dedicated individuals are toiling daily to keep our children and their parents healthy. We too often forget the importance of what is happening in the heart of the Medical Center that brings people from all over the world in hopes of finding treatments and cures for their illnesses. Now we also learn that we have two pioneers in the world of virology and immunology working feverishly in our midst for the good of all of humankind. There is something incredibly comforting in knowing that. 

I’ve been following Dr. Hotez on televised interviews and on Twitter for many months now. I have followed his advice regarding my own behavior during this time of pandemic. I have read his latest book and realized how the global impact of disease links all of us together whether we wish to acknowledge this basic truth or not. We can no longer isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. A sneeze in Africa more often than not eventually affects us all and vice versa. 

I congratulate and humbly thank Dr. Hotez and Dr. Botazzi for their brilliance and diligence in working day in and day out to produce and distribute safe vaccines for many different diseases. While we babble on and on about the efficacy of taking advantage of the miracles of vaccines they are dedicating their lives to keeping all of humanity safer from the many diseases and viruses that threaten us, while taking insults and threats on the chin. They are unmitigated heroes in our midst. 

If you are the praying kind of person you may want to thank God for these two remarkable doctors and ask Him to keep them safe while they continue their work. After all, I believe that they are doing the Lord’s work. They and others like them are the miracles that we need.

Use the Insurance

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We purchase all kinds of products that we hope we will never need to use. Most people have home insurance, flood insurance, car insurance, health insurance and life insurance. Years may go by without ever making a claim, which is actually a good thing. We don’t want to be involved in tragedies of any kind, but when and if they happen we want to be covered so that our situation is not also a financial disaster. 

We wear seatbelts in our cars even if we’re never been in a serious accident. This one is especially important to me because I’ve heard again and again that my father probably would not have died if seatbelts had been installed in cars back in 1957. There were no real safety features in his automobile and so his chest slammed into a steering wheel that did not collapse upon impact. His heart almost immediately stopped. His lack of a seatbelt changed the lives of me and every member of my family.

I have a fire extinguisher in my kitchen. It’s a new one that replaced the one that we used when our oven caught fire. With quick action we were able to prevent what might have been the loss of our kitchen or maybe even our entire house. We confined the fire to the inside of the oven so that our only cost was purchasing a replacement oven and buying a new fire extinguisher. 

We don’t always get evidence that our precautionary payments or actions have been worthwhile. Sometimes we go a lifetime without ever having to use the safety features of life that are there just in case. We might dream of countless other ways that we might have invested the money that we have paid for flood insurance until we see the homes of friends and family members filling with water. Then we are reminded of why an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

So we go through life visiting our doctors for annual checkups, being immunized for diseases, following traffic rules, installing smoke detectors, locking our doors at night, creating contingencies for unexpected dilemmas. We can’t always foresee the future, nor can we be one hundred percent certain that the measures we take will prevent us from ever having to endure tragedy. What we are able to do is mitigate some of the cost of accidents, disasters, health problems. We invest in the tools available to us hoping that we never have to use them. 

Our human responses to the current pandemic vary according to our beliefs, but one thing is certain. Covid 19 is very real and it is determined to mutate in a battle to stay alive in our midst. We may have gone past the point of being able to fully control it with a totally vaccinated population, but we seem to have prevented it from being as dangerous than is once was for those who have had two vaccines and a booster.

Insurance cannot prevent a fire in a home but it has the power to make the price of repairing the damage far less than it might otherwise have been. So it is with Covid after completing three doses of the vaccine. I may catch the virus, but the odds of it sending me to the hospital or causing my death are miniscule. Taking the vaccine is my insurance policy, one that I hope I never need but have in my back pocket if the occasion arises. 

I see the current responses to the pandemic as a no win situation. If the governmental decisions is to have a long list of fail safe responses in place, a hue and cry of wasting money and limiting liberties ensues. If the response is to wait until there is a surge, there are complaints that we should have been better prepared. 

The truth is that we have too many people who have been unwilling to get vaccinated, wear masks whenever they are indoors and generally sacrifice in a concerted effort to rid ourselves of this plague. Instead I have watched too many asserting that those of us who have done those things are fearful and hysterical, as though taking precautions has suddenly become a sign of some kind of weakness. 

We have countless measures in place that are designed to keep us safe. I follow them without thoughts of somehow losing my liberties. Why a worldwide pandemic would suddenly lead to risky behaviors in the name of freedom is beyond my comprehension. Why would we not take advantage of every possible means of avoiding the more severe consequences of this virus?

I have grown weary of those who accuse the medical community of growing rich because of Covid. They obviously do not know or understand how exhausted and frustrated all of our doctors and nurses are. A year ago we were celebrating them as the heroes that they are. Today they sometimes fear for their safety because of a spate of misinformation that is fueling a hateful campaign against them. 

I am tired of being accused of being fearful simply because I am very careful not to bring Covid to the immunocompromised members of my family or to the ones whose hearts and lungs were already weakened long before the virus came along. 

Those of us who are doing everything possible to keep our families and friends and neighbors safe are not on a campaign of hate or propaganda against those who are following rumors and unscientific ideas. We truly want everyone to be safer from the worst effects of Covid. We do not want anyone to suffer or die. 

We have made Covid 19 a political football when instead we should be as united against it as we should also be against any foul hurtfulness that befalls our fellow humans. We need to admit that no single individual is to be blamed for the shifting vagaries of the virus. Instead we should all be asking how we might sacrifice like the brave doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, firefighters, store clerks, delivery people do every single day to finally put an end to the virus. If we can’t come together in such times then surely we should all be very worried. It’s time we all began to use the insurance that those in the know are offering us. Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Be safer. It’s a great investment that hopefully you will never have to test.

The Truth Is Inconvenient, But It Is Based In Fact

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I’ll admit to watching Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” and thinking that it was a bit hokey. That film premiered in 2006, and brought attention to the gathering storm of global warming or climate change or whatever term one wishes to use to describe the effect of human over consumption of the earth’s resources. I remember thinking that the documentary was a bit too anecdotal and hyperbolic, so it had little effect on the way I lived my life. 

I suppose that I was filled with the false hopes of wishful thinking because since that time I have witnessed an exponential rise in the number of horrific weather-induced events, not just in the United States, but all over the globe. The growing evidence that we humans are inflicting enormous strain on the environment seems to have grown since Al Gore warned us of our need to change our ways or bear the consequences of our actions. 

My own grandchildren have begun crusades to halt the growing trends of destruction, but they understand that unless their efforts are universally adopted our planet is doomed to more and bigger life-changing events produced by the weather. They are moving away from the Texas coastal plain where they were born in the belief that the oceans will indeed one day engulf large swaths of land. They have purchased electric and hybrid cars. They are eating less and less meat, and some have even sworn off of animal protein totally. They preach the gospel of climate change with conviction, but mostly they worry that we may already be too late to avoid the horrors of what is yet to come. They believe that if only we would agree to throw ourselves into a concerted effort to save our environment there might still be hope. 

There is much merit in what they have to say, as frightening as it may sound. Somehow the evidence provided by damaging worldwide weather events no longer feels simply anecdotal to me. Their frequency and amplification of damage no longer appears to be bonafide proof that things are not just simply as they have always been. There is definitely something very different about the climate that does not bode well for any of us. 

I grew up in a southern state known for its warmth, but there were still regular days of colder weather from November to the middle of March. I actually wore out my winter gear in past times, but now I may not wear my sweaters and winter coats for more than a few days out of the year. I’ve seen hurricanes but nothing like the multiple days of driving rains that inundated Houston and surrounding areas with flooding that destroyed the homes of many of my friends and family members. I’ve watched the Bay Area of California endure so much drought that once green spaces have turned a crispy looking brown. My favorite haunts in Colorado are subject to regular fires that damage wildlife and homes. All over the world I see dramatic changes in climate that we talk about, but essentially ignore. 

We seem to think that a little girl named Greta who is militant in her climate activism is little more than a pig-tailed upstart of a child. Instead of listening to her concerns we poke fun at her and pretend that she is immature and will soon enough learn how things really work. We bash anyone who suggests sacrifices that we all need to make if we are to create a trend that begins the process of healing our beautiful earth. 

Think of how effective it might be if we all agreed to having meatless days a couple of times each week. How would it hurt if we used less energy by changing a few of our habits? It’s not that difficult to go back to some of the ways that we did things when I was a child. I remember when liquids came in reusable glass bottles that we had to pay a deposit on until we returned them for future use. I lived in a hot and humid climate without air conditioning until I was in my twenties. Not every day requires keeping the temperature at a “perfect” level. That goes for drying clothes as well. Those old backyard clotheslines were wonderful as long as the day was dry. It is a bit more work to hang wet laundry out to dry, but it is worth the effort if it results in much less consumption of energy that brings done the alarming warmth of the earth.

We need to launch a worldwide effort to make a difference. We should each be doing something every minute of every single day that helps with the cause. Such actions need not require a great deal of extra time or effort. Simply turning off lights, mowing lawns less often or even turning them into xeriscapes is a way to create passive resistance to the waste of our resources. 

We have many issues on this earth but the one that should unite us is a goal of changing the way we do things with a determined will to combat global warming before it destroys us. Science tells us how to do this, but so far we have mostly ignored the cries for change. Nature is warning us on a regular basis that we are past due for doing something about the mess we have made. That inconvenient truth is made real with every drought or flood that plagues us. It’s time that we faced reality and made a truly concerted effort to reverse the trends that we have created before it is too late.   

Three Kings And A Birthday

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My brother was born on January 6, Three King’s Day. In many parts of the world Christmas celebrations continue all the way through this date, but in the United States all thoughts of the holiday season have generally been relegated to the past. By a few days into January it’s time to look forward and move on from partying. We Yanks tend to get serious about the work at hand by diving full force into jobs and school work. Nonetheless, since it was a special day for my brother, our household always continued with the revelry in spite of a lack of participation from most of the rest of the folks around us.

I remember my dear mother struggling to find gifts for my brother in stores that looked as though they had been visited by looters. She would encounter empty shelves and even when products were still available they were all too often defective in some way. I suppose that she might have planned ahead by purchasing gifts before Christmas and setting them aside until January 6, but her budget and her personality forced her to prepare for each occasion one step at a time. Thus, she created unique traditions for my brother to make do with whatever she might find. One of her yearly offerings to him was a bag of his favorite cookies, fig Newtons, that he could enjoy without having to share with the rest of us. Somehow with a bit of imagination Mama always managed to make his day as special as he was. 

I have never cared much for the dark and often dreary days of January. I find myself missing the decorations and lights of Christmas. By January they are more often drooping and looking out of place, so most folks rush to take them down as soon as possible. After all the work and rushing around to prepare for Christmas we celebrate in one enormous burst and then return quickly to our work and resolutions. January is almost an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. Birthdays and anniversaries in that month are all too often forgotten as people set out on the long journey around the sun one more time. 

From the time I was a child I have harbored a love/hate relationship with January because of its association with a return to school and work. I have a sense of dread about going back to the grind after all of the enjoyment of the holidays. It’s a feeling akin to returning to a routine after an especially wonderful vacation. On the one hand I want to stay suspended in an unending fairytale of fun and on the other hand I’m more than ready to return to the day to day realities of living. Even now when I am retired, I find myself feeling a kind of pull and tug of emotions when January rolls around. I am anxious to enjoy the possibilities of what lies ahead, but also cautious about the kind of events that might bring sorrow into my life.  

No other month of the year elicits both joy and dread like January which I know is actually rather silly. There is nothing particularly unique about the month. It’s place in the year is simply a random creation from a long ago attempt to organize life with a calendar that marks the passing of seasons. It is simply a demarcation of time that allows us to keep track of how many times our earth has revolved around the sun. That countdown might just as well have begun in the spring or summer or fall. Our reaction to January is nothing more than a learned response to the invented traditions to which we adhere, and yet it has always held the same blend of optimism and anxiety for me. 

As a teacher my colleagues and I always looked ahead to the long semester during which we knew that our students would lose their focus and begin to drift away into spasms of spring fever. January began the long haul of the school year, the time when the pencils and book bags and shoes were no longer shiny and new. It took lots of energy and creativity to maintain the interest of our students and sometimes even to motivate ourselves. Once we got back into the groove everything was fine, but summertime and sunshine always seemed to be so far away. 

I still cling to my brother’s birthday as the last hurrah of the holiday season. In some ways I have always enjoyed his birthday more than my own, because it has been a way to keep the holiday fires burning a bit longer. I keep my Christmas decorations shining brightly in his honor every year even though he is not at my home. I’ve never fail to attend his birthday party with the exception of last year during the before vaccination times of Covid. His special day is one last opportunity to laugh and feel the warmth of a family gathering before we all put our heads down to the tasks that lie before us. This year we get the added bonus of a baby shower for my nephew and his wife. That will add a bright spot to January that should bring lots of smiles. It will be March before we have another birthday to celebrate but if all goes according to plan the new baby will create another reason to celebrate in February. Then it will be almost spring and we will be looking forward to the times when the sun will shine most of the day, a situation that my body and mind seems to crave. Who knows it may also be the moment when we can finally say goodbye to Covid and begin to rebuild the more normal aspects of our lives with hugs and kisses and love all around.


Surely There Must Be A Better Way

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My husband Mike and I had a good friend who had come to our town from Germany. He ended up here because his uncle was a professor at the University of Houston and the family decided that this provided him with a great opportunity to earn a college degree from an American university without the expense of room and board. For much of his time as a student he lived with his uncle’s family in the suburbs of Houston, giving him access to a crash course in the American way of life. With a particular talent for mastering different languages he was soon speaking like a native citizen and soaking up the culture of Texas. Unlike many international students he chose to hang with the locals with whom he took classes. Among them was my Mike with whom he became fast friends from the start. 

The two of them were dreaming of earning PhDs and becoming college professors. A stint as teaching assistants convinced both of them that working with students for a lifetime was not one of their best ideas. Besides, as is rather typical of students at the University of Houston they had landed jobs that were proving to be more promising for the future than the dreams that they once had. They both earned their degrees while concurrently building resumes in the real world and then launched their divergent careers and cemented their friendship. 

Our friend was the only child of a German father and a Norwegian mother. It was somewhat heartbreaking to his parents that he decided to stay in Houston, Texas rather than returning to his hometown in Bremen. His decision was cemented when he married a gal from Chicago who had also fallen in love with my city. He would never become a citizen of the United States because he believed that doing so would have broken his mother’s heart. To her it would have meant that she might never see him again. Of course such an idea on was hyperbolic because our friend saved his money and vacation time so that he might regularly travel home to visit his parents with his bride.  

While he was there he often took advantage of the fact that he was still a citizen to get some dental work done for free. He used to joke that the cost of airfare was often zeroed out by the medical care that he received as part of the German national healthcare plan. He liked to talk about the differences in the ways of life between his birth country and his new home in the United States. While he was a salesman in his daily life he always sounded like the college professor that he had trained to be whenever he spoke of the sociological pros and cons of living in Germany versus the United States.

From his own experiences he was able to compare and contrast the systems and he had come to the conclusion that there were actually good and bad things about each, and that judging the merit really depended on individual points of view. He noted that his parents’ lifestyle was definitely less extravagant than that of the average American, but they were quite comfortable and content with the way things were for them. 

They had moved into a small apartment after World War II and had secured jobs at the local telephone company. They walked or used mass transit systems to get around town but eventually saved enough money to purchase a car that allowed them to travel to the German countryside and to take trips to other European countries. They had the same neighbors in their apartment building for years and their comfortable routine included traveling once each year to Norway to visit with relatives at a family retreat fondly known as Hovden. Theirs was a predictable life that was marked with very few anxieties, a situation that suited them after the chaos of the war that had affected them both. 

They would visit our friend a few times. When they came they were in awe of the huge home that he owned complete with a swimming pool and two cars in the garage. They marveled at the long distances that he and his wife drove to work. Trips into other parts of Texas stunned them with the miles and miles of wide open spaces. The huge malls with stores offering virtually anything they might desire sometimes overwhelmed them. They were genuinely impressed with the success that their son had found in the USA, but a part of them wished that he had come back home. The vastness of America was breathtaking but they had come to prefer their more routine way of life, so they were always more than ready to return to what they knew best. 

We often contrasted our friends parents with my mother who struggled more and more as she grew older. Her life was wrought with so many economic nightmares. Even though she had worked continuously for most of her adult life, she had never earned an income equal to my father’s. When he died suddenly leaving her to care for three small children her life became a constant struggle, and there were few safety nets in place to help her. Luckily we were a rather healthy brood so she rarely had to take us to visit our family doctor. With the help of my uncles she kept her cars running far longer than normal so that she was able to navigate around town. The cost of living without mass transit systems and healthcare programs were a constant source of anxiety for her. 

These uncertainties would magnify themselves as she grew older and was no longer able to treat her maladies herself. As she needed more and more professional care she often chose to ignore the suggestions of her doctors because she simply did not have enough money to follow their advice. She tended to have some of her teeth pulled rather than spending more to have them repaired. She eventually became unable to get around our vast metropolis because the care of feeding of an automobile was way too expensive. Nonetheless, she owned a large home on a big lot with trees and gardens that our friend’s parents in Germany did not have. 

We often spoke of which system was better for our parents. I had to admit that I found a bit more comfort in the social services that my friend’s mom and dad enjoyed when I compared it to my mother’s worrisome situation. She literally spent her golden years fretting over concerns that she might not be able to pay for the most basic necessities. In her efforts to cut back on spending she paid taxes on her home rather than turning on the heat in the winter or the air conditioning in the summer. She stopped making repairs so that she might eat, so her home became rundown.

My brothers and I did our best to fill the gaps that our mom’s meager income left gaping. We gifted her with work parties for all of the special occasions. We sent our repair people to her home with orders to bill her for minimal amounts while sending us invoices for the real cost. We drove her around town when she needed to get places and boosted her food budget by inviting her to dinners many times a week. Still, her medical issues nearly broke her spirit even with Medicare. There were still copays that often destroyed the small income that was the basis of her survival. Eventually we took her into our homes so that she might finally relax in the knowledge that there would be a comfortable place for her to sleep each night. 

I often think of our friend’s parents contentedly living out their lives in small but familiar surroundings. I imagine them moving about their city with ease and enjoying the comfort of knowing that when they eventually became very sick they did not have to worry about paying the bills for their care. They always appeared to be a happy lot, as was my mother as well, but the difference is that they were better able to enjoy life free from the concerns that haunted my mother from the moment my father died. Perhaps it’s time that we think a bit more about what life is like for those less fortunate than ourselves. I suspect that we have some work to do. I’d like to think that I might play a small part in making life less worrisome for those who struggle in spite of their efforts. Surely there must be a better way.