Focus Post – July 15, 2020

Greetings Progressives.

There is so much happening – transformation is in the air. It won’t be easy, but Bernie helped us find each other and if we stick together, we can make a difference in this world after all.

Protests continue across the country in support of #BlackLivesMatter and #DefundPolice. We stand in solidarity with these movements and our sister city to the North, Portland, which marks the 50th day of protests on Wednesday, July 15th.  If you have been to these or other protests in support of Racial, Social, Economic, and/or Environmental Justice, please feel free to share your photos in iPA’s facebook group.

COVID19 dominates the daily news with the much-predicted spikes following premature openings in multiple states. You may or may not know, but I am a teacher and the topic of schools opening in-person – some are being ordered to open this coming Monday – is in my opinion, insanity. You also may or may not know that I was sick with COVID19 in March and spent four days in ICU at Kaiser Sunnyside. This experience, of course, greatly shapes my opinions on all topics COVID19-related. To that end, I wanted to share a lightly abridged version of the testimony I offered on behalf of my union to the administration of the agency where I work.

“Good afternoon to the Board and my colleagues. My name is Lisa Ortiz. I am an Autism Consultant and have served this agency for 8 years since 2008. I have been asked to put a face on this discussion. I recognize my unique position as perhaps the only employee to have first-hand experience with this disease. For your information, I became identifiably symptomatic of an unknown illness on March 13th (the same day everything closed down) and was hospitalized in the COVID ICU wing of Kaiser Sunnyside on March 25th for 4 days.

Almost daily someone on social media asks incredulously, “Does ANYone know ANYone who has had this disease/tested positive?” I fume inside at this question, honestly, as I do with unmasked persons in public.  I don’t feel one should have to experience something to understand that it exists – be that racism, sexism, homophobia, climate change, or the very real existence of this deadly and debilitating virus. But for the sake of data, as of Monday, July 13, 2020, worldwide about 580,000 of more than 13 million people who have tested positive have died from it (5%). In the United States, with 3.5 million cases, 138,000 people have died (4%). And in Oregon we have 12,438 cases and 240 deaths (2%). As for our little slice of Oregon (three counties) has 2277 cases and 75 deaths (3%).

What these statistics don’t tell you is what the aftermath of this disease is. IF you live through the racking cough, raging fevers, pain, extremely low blood oxygen levels, and physical/emotional trauma, you will be faced with effects of indeterminate length and severity. I could list all of the most horrific not-quite-death effects, but instead I will tell you is the effects I am experiencing almost 4 months after being released from ICU and 2 months after finally testing negative.

First, I have no major organ involvement, thankfully. I do have four lasting effects which in the grand scheme of things are not that significant, but without having gotten this disease, I wouldn’t have to deal with them at all so I’ll share:

  1. As this is the second time in my life I’ve had pneumonia, it is something that I am now and forever much more susceptible to.
  2. Brain fog. They call it “COVID brain” in the support groups and even some research. It’s a lot like ADHD except without the good part of hyper-focus on things of interest. I have issues with maintaining a linear thought – hence I am reading this testimony – and most infuriating of all my word retrieval is impacted. Just yesterday I was trying to say the word “path” and to get there I said, “road, street, thing, map” and then finally “path.” As someone who values words, just earned their doctorate, is highly verbal, and an external processor, THIS is a big issue for me.
  3. Loss of taste and smell. During my active illness I had no sense of either and experienced something they call COVID anorexia. I lost 25 lbs in two weeks. I simply could not force myself to eat – in part because food sounded disgusting and in part because everything tasted like different textured sponges. Obviously I got over the anorexia part but my sense of taste and smell are greatly diminished. If not for texture and sight, I likely would have no idea what I was eating beyond recognizing something as spicy, sweet, or salty.  For a “foodie” this is in fact a significant life-altering consequence.
  4. And finally the aspect that is actually debilitating. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. While in the ICU with seven other folks isolated in their own rooms, two died in a 3 ½ day period. I heard one “Code Blue” on my first night there. Knowing ¼ of the folks at Kaiser that weekend died and had the same illness as I did puts things into rather harsh perspective.

In addition, I want to share a post I put on social media. Beginning week 2 of my illness, I posted almost daily so folks would know what to look for, what I had tried since doctors knew next-to-nothing at that time, and to maintain some sort of human contact and “normalcy.” While in the hospital, after receiving a positive test on Day 2 (Day 16 of my illness) after a false negative result on Day 1, it suddenly dawned on me that given I was quarantined in a hospital and no one but medical personnel in full PPE even came near me, if I were to take a turn for the worse – need to be put in a drug induced coma to be put on a ventilator – or die, I would do so utterly alone with none of my family or friends. I would not be able to say goodbye or have them hold my hand or tell me “It’s ok to let go.” I would do so surrounded by machines and personnel who were rightly afraid to spend much time with me. Here’s the post:

“Day 3 “ICU” Covid19 quarantine.
Yesterday was hard and, though this is going to be a bit rambley, let me tell you why.
I respect doctors more than tests when it comes to situations like this so when three doctors I respected were saying it was Covid-19 I believed them … but there is something about the confirmation from a test.
It’s powerful knowing the name of a thing – especially a thing that could kill you if it wanted to. It’s humbling to know how small we are in the big scheme of things. Perhaps one of the oldest elements of storytelling is the power in knowing the true name of things. YOU can kill things if you know their true name. You can control them. So that has always been my general attitude about things like diagnosis. I’ve got a name for it and now I can take care of it.
But yesterday didn’t quite go that way for me. I did what I do and that’s take care of things in order – who needed to know first, second, third? Who did I need to speak to on the phone or video versus send a text message? I did all that. The last call I needed to make was to my 18 year old daughter, Malena, but I knew I needed to compose myself so I opened a document so I could start transferring all of my updates from Facebook into a database and listing all the people that I had had contact with since the beginning of February. I was getting (sic) stuff done … which is what I do.
I turned on my phone and texted my ex-wife to see if Malena was with her. I figured that would be better but she wasn’t, so I pulled up Malena ‘s phone number. I hadn’t yet push the button, thank goodness because all of the sudden all of the air sucked out of my lungs and I made a noise that has never come from this body in my life. And then I was gasping loudly, smacking around for the call button. My favorite nurse had taught me just that day that if I ever had a dire emergency to just pull the phone out of the wall because it would send off all kinds of bells and alarms and so I did. They answered but I couldn’t. I’m not sure what it sounded like out there in the nurses station but in my head I was one of a thousand fish on a cattle boat 30 years ago when I gave up that type of fishing. My mouth gaping with no possibility of ever breathing air again. Not a good thing for someone with pneumonia and Covid-19. Not good for anyone I’m sure.
I’m told that was a panic attack. It was horrific. Each of my two nurses since then have taught me their favorite techniques for calming themselves. These really are wonderful people and we need to make sure that they have the gear they need to protect themselves. Because if we don’t have them, we are doomed.
Obviously I got control of my breathing and then decided it was okay for me to ask for a sedative because I was just too overwhelmed by the idea that no matter how sick I get in here I can never have a visitor. Never. No one could come and say goodbye.”

I was released from the hospital a day and ½ later and for the next 6 days and nights, after being sent home from the ICU I suffered panic attacks about not being able to breathe, dying in my sleep, dying alone, etc. One housemate slept on the couch so they could hear me if I panicked. This particular manifestation of anxiety/trauma is now mostly under control, but specifically because I KNOW what the experience of having this disease is like, other things can trigger that panic.

This brings me to the purpose of sharing my personal story with you all.  There is not one person in this world that I wish this disease on. There is not one person for whom I wouldn’t take extreme measures to protect from having ANY chance of contracting this disease. Not my most despised politician, not any person who has ever caused me harm, NO ONE. That is how bad it is. The mere sound of someone coughing – or if, like today, I have a cough myself, or thought of discussions about returning to school buildings causes a range of emotions in me – none of them positive. As a teacher, I WANT to be with my students and I know that the best online teaching does not compare to the best on ground teaching. But I also know that one dead teacher is one too many. One dead child is one too many. One dead support staff member is one too many. One dead grandparent of a student or parent or baby of a teacher are each one too many. I am not being hyperbolic. I was told by a person knowledgeable regarding human resources that a 9-building district would need to hire 30 ADDITIONAL custodial staff to actually meet their sanitization needs. This does not include wiping down tables between classes. That would be up to teachers of course.
In light of even just this last point, what do I want?

  1. I want to feel like the people who we serve are taken care of with the highest regard for their safety and health. Those are the first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs of course. When we can ensure those things, then it will be sensible to discuss returning to on ground schooling. Until then:
  2. We need training and paid time to learn platforms, develop curriculum, and master the technology necessary to provide our services remotely.
  3. We need permission to work remotely to ensure our own health and safety and that of our families. In my household I have one housemate who is severely immune-compromised and hasn’t left her part of the property since mid-March as well as my 78 year old mother who by the grace of all the good things and military-level quarantine has not gotten sick. Coming in to work in a cubicle – even one not shared with a cubbie-mate and even if we are on alternate day schedules so that only 100 vs. 200 people are in the vicinity, in my opinion, is an unnecessary risk to our health, to safety, and to our well-being.

In closing, each year our agency shares with us our OUTSTANDING ratings from member-districts. Those ratings are due to the professionalism of your teaching and support staff. We work long hours and go above and beyond because we are professionals and care DEEPLY for our students and families and also for each other. We are team mates as well as colleagues and we stand together to protect each other and those we serve. We CAN be safe AND serve our students. We just need the resources and time to develop a plan. You, the first recipients of our outstanding feedback ratings know, by our actions all the years I’ve been at this agency, that we are trustworthy professionals. We just want to be valued and protected and to be able to protect ourselves and our loved ones while serving the needs of our students, families, and districts.

Thank you.”

Please know, as a parent myself, I do not minimize the impact children being home and distance-learning is having on families. I simply weigh those impacts and find them wanting against the fact that 2% of the known COVID19 cases are children under 18 and although infrequently fatal, there are potentially life-long effects and we truly have no idea the severity because the world has only been dealing with this disease for the past 8 months and we, in the United States, are at a particular disadvantage given the utter lack of leadership at any level of government. Politicizing a pandemic and safety measures is another example of the heights of callousness possible.

In-person school is not the panacea. For too many years, schools have been underfunded while more and more expectations are placed on teachers and staff. If it was only “education” we were responsible for, we could do a fine job with distance learning, but the objections most folks bring up are those “other duties as assigned” which should rightly be done by other professionals such as mental health workers, social workers, nutritionists, medical providers, Meals on Wheels, and the like.

Or HEY! How about we just implement Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income and freeze all mortgage, rent, credit card, and school loan payments, halt evictions, and exonerate and release all the folks in prison for non-violent offenses? What novel ideas. Where have I heard that before?

In Solidarity,

Lisa Ortiz, iPA Co-Founder