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Posts Tagged ‘Covid 19’

Recently, a phone conversation turned to—what else?—the pandemic. My friend told me that when she was a child, there were old ladies in her community whose hands shook. These women had been victims of the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century. They were in good health, living into their 90’s, but they had what was called a Parkinson’s disease, which was an after-effect of the flu.

Influenza virus

That set the wheels in my head spinning. Grandma Rogers’ hands shook. So did Aunt Hazel’s, her younger sister. At the height of the 1918 pandemic, they were 17 and 15. Neither they, nor other relatives, ever talked about the Spanish Flu or its aftermath. The only family member I knew of who had been affected was a great-great aunt in West Virginia who died of “pneumonia.” Family tradition was that she died of the Spanish Flu, which is very likely. In those days they didn’t have flu tests, and West Virginia was hard hit after infected soldiers returned from World War I.

Grandma Rogers and me

Could my grandmother and aunt have been victims of the Spanish Flu? Grandma once told one of my sisters that their mother, Hattie Brown, also had shaky hands. Three women in one family whose hands shook! When I was a child, I wondered if it was genetic, if I could have inherited it. I didn’t know about the Spanish Flu. Any time my hands were unsteady, I would worry. Needlessly. My hands don’t shake. Nor do any of Grandma’s descendants have this problem.

Hattie Brown, left, with sisters Sadie Smith and Fannie Houghtalen

Shaky hands didn’t hinder Grandma or Aunt Hazel from performing household and farming tasks. They even crocheted, did embroidery, and tatted. I have a beautiful table cloth Grandma embroidered and lace she tatted, as well as an afghan Aunt Hazel crocheted.

Aunt Hazel with Mutt, 1964

The Spanish Flu was misnamed. It was caused by the H1N1 virus, now known as the Swine Flu. It didn’t originate in Spain. It is thought to have crossed into humans at a pig farm in Kansas, but Spain got blamed for it. Due to censorship during the war, outbreaks in Europe and the US were not reported, but Spain was not spared, especially when King Alfonso XIII fell seriously ill with the disease. He survived, but due to the general perception that Spain was an epicenter of the infection, it was so labeled.

For more information, I turned to the internet. It took some digging and asking the right question. Finally, I found discussions about Post-encephalitic Parkinsonism, also called Encephalitis Lethargica, or von Economo’s Encephalitis, after the doctor who studied it. This syndrome had a variety of symptoms, including movement disorders (shaky hands). It appeared in epidemic proportions between 1916 and 1929, with over a million known cases, but has not been seen since. It coincided with the 1918 pandemic, but some victims didn’t develop it until years after they had the flu.

Parkinson’s Disease can be genetic, but not always. Virus infections have been known to cause Parkinson’s. In mice, H5N1 (related to H1N1) can enter the brain through the vagus nerve, causing inflammation and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. The mice seem to be more susceptible to later flu exposures, but vaccines and anti-viral medications can protect them. In humans, H1N1 doesn’t enter the brain, but can activate the immune system, causing inflammation, which can result in Parkinson-like symptoms.

Some victims didn’t develop Post-encephalitic Parkinsonism until years after they had the Spanish Flu. There is no hard proof to link the two, but there sure is a strong correlation. This Parkinsonism is thought to be a post-infectious autoimmune disorder.

Grandma was in good health, except for arthritis, and she lived to 96. Aunt Hazel suffered seizures as a child and diabetes in her later years, but otherwise her health, too, was good. What about their father? George Brown was a wallpaper hanger. Grandma once told me that when his eyesight got bad, he had to give up his vocation because he could no longer see the seams well enough to hang paper straight. So he went into farming. Now I wonder, did he also have the flu? If it left him with shaky hands, that too would have made it difficult to hang wallpaper.

George Brown with grandsons Russell and Donald Rogers, 1927

We cherish the stories our grandparents told us, but from time to time, questions arise that we wish we had asked. We didn’t think to ask about the 1918 pandemic, or whether Grandpa Brown’s hands shook.

We keep hearing about “long haulers,” COVID victims whose symptoms persist after they’ve “recovered,” and warnings that there may be long-term medical effects of the virus. My grandmother, her sister, and her mother were long-haulers. Their shaky hands were a cosmetic symptom that didn’t shorten their lives, but we don’t know what COVID-19 will leave sufferers with, and teenagers are not immune. The “Parkinsonism” didn’t appear in many early 20th century victims for years after the pandemic, so it may be a long time before we know what today’s victims will face. And what about a-symptomatic victims? Can they become long-haulers?

Another thing to consider is that subsequent virus infections can trigger Parkinson-like symptoms. Studies in mice found that immunizations and anti-viral medications could protect them. Does that mean we should get our flu shots every year?

Personally, I’m suspicious of flu shots because of the nasty ingredients in them, such as heavy metals. I got the COVID vaccine because I was more scared of the disease than of the nasty ingredients. My personal plan is to keep wearing my mask until the end of the pandemic (just in case), continue to socially distance, and keep drinking my pine tea. After we get through this, each flu season, I’ll rely on the anti-viral compounds in pine tea to keep me healthy. I don’t want COVID, and I don’t want to be a long-hauler.

Check out my award-winning novel Trials by Fire. Available on Amazon. You can read a selection from the book here for free.

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“During the Spanish Flu, those who ate pine needles didn’t get sick.” I came across this in one of my notebooks recently. I had jotted it down several months ago when I watched a webinar on herbal remedies. Unfortunately, I’d failed to record my source, but the webinar had touted the benefits of various parts of the pine tree. As I recall, the 1918 patients were being treated with pine needles for scurvy.

I already knew pine trees are edible, if rather hard to chew. Years earlier, I had read one of Euell Gibbons’ books in which he queried, “Did you ever eat a pine tree?” Then he proceeded to tell how to prepare and dine on the various parts.

More recently, I bought a book at a Garden Club event, I Eat Weeds by Priscilla G. Bowers. She devotes 68 pages to wild edible plants and the rest of the book to recipes. I’ve tied many of them and one of my favorites is Pine Needle Tea. I have pine trees on my property and occasionally a storm will blow down a few branches. I’ll salvage a generous handful and make tea. You can drink it hot or iced. It’s delicious, but I didn’t know it could protect you from the Spanish flu. I needed more information.

Iced Pine Tea with Mint

I Googled “pine needles/Spanish flu” hoping to find my source. I couldn’t, nor could I find any evidence of pine being used as a treatment during the 1918 pandemic. However, I did find information on pine in regards to modern influenzas.

Pine is rich in vitamins C and A, but it is also rich in shikimic acid, which is an ingredient in Tamiflu (Oseltamivir)! This ingredient is imported from China where it’s extracted from the star anise tree, but we grow our own source of shikimic acid right here in the US. You may have it growing in your backyard.

I found two newspaper articles on the subject, from the Bangor Daily News in Maine and the Pocono Record in Pennsylvania. Both discussed how timber companies could gather pine needles from harvested trees and extract shikimic acid to supply pharmaceutical companies.

In 2006, CNN.com published an article about a Canadian company, Biolyse, that collects discarded Christmas trees to extract shikimic acid. Chemist Brigitte Kiecken, CEO of Biolyse, expressed concern about the inevitability of a viral pandemic. “It’s an urgent matter, and we should be starting production—not once the pandemic hits, but before that. On a personal level, I’m scared, and on a professional level, I’m terribly frustrated,” she said. “Government and industry have to work together now. We’ve been warned for ample time, and it [a pandemic] is bound to happen.”

This was 14 years ago! Yikes!

I wondered, if pine can protect you from the flu, what about Covid 19? I kept digging and was surprised by the research that’s been done on the medical uses of pine.

There are 80 to 90 species of pine around the world, and most are edible. In fact, other conifers are also edible. That includes trees such as fir, spruce, larch, cedar, and hemlock. This is not the hemlock that killed Socrates. Poison hemlock is a member of the carrot family. Beware of wild carrots. Also beware of these poisonous trees: ponderosa pine, yew, and Norfolk or Australian pine. And remember, not all evergreens are conifers.

Another caution: pregnant women and those who could become pregnant should not drink pine needle tea as it could cause abortion.

Besides Vitamins A and C and shikimic acid, pine contains protein, fat, phosphorus, iron, and a long list of other compounds. The composition of nutrients varies with the species and season, which is why you won’t see a Nutrition Facts chart attached to your pine tree. Oils from pine needles could potentially treat heart disease, diabetes, senile dementia, and hypertension. And the list goes on: obesity, depression, and anxiety. Pine is anti-microbial and boosts your immune system, so it’s good for colds, sore throat, sinus and chest congestion. To relieve upper respiratory illness, you can inhale the vapor.

But what about our current scourge? Doctors are scrambling to find treatments for Covid. Maybe all they need to do is look out the window. If pine indeed worked during the pandemic 100 years ago and contains an ingredient used today to treat influenza, would it be effective for coronavirus?

To my knowledge, no studies have been done yet on pine and Covid 19, but there have been studies involving other coronaviruses, including SARS, which reared its ugly head in 2003, so it makes sense it would be good for Covid 19, too.

Priscilla Bowers’ recipe for Pine Needle Tea is simple:

Green pine needles, cut into 3” or 4” lengths

Water to cover

Sugar to taste

Bring to a boil in a sauce pan and hold 5 minutes, then let steep for 10. Strain and sweeten. Including some of the stems gives it more flavor.

I like to make it by the half-gallon and serve it iced. I take a generous handful of pine needles and twigs, cover them with water, bring it to a boil, simmer five minutes, then let it cool before I sweeten and dilute it.  You may not need to sweeten the tea, depending on your taste. Honey will make it more healthful. Warning: pine rosin will stick to the pan. Use an old pan or one that’s easy to clean.

A windstorm last week blew down several pine branches. I gathered twigs, cut them into useable lengths, and put portion amounts into freezer bags. Now I have a supply to last me until the next windstorm.

Of course, I’m no doctor and can’t guarantee that Pine Tea will protect you from or cure Covid 19, but when you have something that won’t hurt you, is pleasant to drink, and might help, why not try it?

Here’s a handy article with additional information: https://www.arborpronw.com/pine-needle-tea/

If you haven’t already, check out my YA novel, Trials by Fire, which is a semi-finalist for the 2020 Royal Palm Literary Award. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

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At first, they called it a novel coronavirus, but it mutated into a real-time dystopian novel.

At the turn of the year, Covid lurked in the sidelines, waiting to take center stage. Initially only a vague specter, it materialized from the shadows to become a source of ghoulish entertainment, dominating the airwaves. Can this be a replay of 1918? Surely not in this age of medical miracles! But the pundits could not hide their dread. Their knitted brows were enough to freeze my spine. Older ladies of my acquaintance, thinking they were prime victims, quarantined themselves. It was rumored this would become everyone’s fate, but surely that couldn’t happen, could it?

1918 Flu Epidemic

On Friday the 13th, the world changed. Schools closed. People stopped going to work. Panicked hordes stripped grocery shelves clean. Of toilet paper, no less. Meetings, travel plans, even weddings and funerals were cancelled. Life, once plotted out in calendar entries, became a fogged-up windshield in a vehicle out of control, hurtling at unknown speed to a nebulous future. That’s when I realized I was living inside a dystopian novel.

Stories and movies came to mind, of catastrophic events that spelled the end of the world: wars, alien invasions, plagues decimating the world’s population. In some stories, heroes emerged to save remnants of mankind, while in others the heroes were lucky to save themselves. Dystopian stories are great entertainment, but they’re no fun for their besieged characters. And now I was a character in one!

As a writer, it’s not such a bad place to be as long as my retirement checks keep coming, the electric grid holds up, and I can get groceries every week or so. If the electricity fails and I can’t get to the store, I’d still survive, as long as my cache of last year’s hurricane supplies held out. But, darn, I’d have to write on paper instead of my computer if the power went off.

Then I found out how much I depend on technology. One day, my phone stopped working. Good, no spam calls for a few days until a technician can fix it. I still had internet. A week later, the internet went out! I nearly panicked. I was a character in a movie, surrounded by unknown perils, cut off from the outside world. How could I survive without email, Google, and Wikipedia? Fortunately, the phone company had it fixed within hours.

The first week of quarantine was unsettling. The second, I settled into the unreality of it and watched the movie play out around me. But the surreal turned bizarre when the world began to morph into my dystopian novel.

My yet-to-be-published dystopian novel takes place in the future when solar power has replaced fossil fuels, but it didn’t happen soon enough. South Florida has gone the way of Atlantis and autocrats build houses that can withstand Category 7 hurricanes. Books aren’t banned, but they’re obsolete. My heroine collects books on history and studies them to uncover lost truths. When information is stored digitally, it’s easy to rewrite history.

The federal government is weak and ineffectual and the US has been partitioned into autonomous regions, each with its own set of laws. When a killer hurricane strikes, Georgia closes its border to keep Florida refugees out. Hospitals are out of supplies and the sick and injured crowd the hallways and cover the floors. The poor are hit hardest and rich see opportunities to enrich themselves. Until the pitchforks come out…

 

My novel is a fantasy, a series of events that (I sincerely hope) won’t come true. Or will they?

Coastal communities are already dealing with sea level rise. Hurricanes are becoming more powerful. (My fellow Floridians really dread the advent of this year’s hurricane season.)

As Covid went viral in New York and New Jersey, and hordes of Yankees headed south to escape, there were rumors that Florida was setting up roadblocks to keep them, and their contagion, out. Hospitals are over capacity and undersupplied. An economic bailout has the rich corporations making out like bandits while the rest of us are being thrown crumbs.

I wrote my book long before all this became reality, and I never expected to see it happen. Each development has made me pause and reflect. Just coincidence. I’m certainly no prophet.

Then a government official gave out erroneous information and the website he alluded to was later altered to agree with what he said! Rewriting history is not a new idea. Remember 1984?

Now several states, frustrated by the failed leadership of the federal government, are forming regional coalitions to make pacts on how to keep their citizens safe while restoring normalcy.

But not all is gloom and doom. In my book, the heroes encounter good people, many of them have-nots, who share what little they can. Even some of the well-to-do show their charitable sides.

In the current pandemic, people are stepping up to contribute what they can to those in need. Mom and Pop restaurants are feeding the hungry. Ladies with sewing machines are stitching up face masks. It’s refreshing to see that compassion and service survive in in our present dystopia, as well as the fictional ones.

I’ll tell you, though, if any more elements of my book come to pass, (if the pitchforks come out!) I may just have to rewrite it. Maybe as a cozy romance? What could be the harm in that?

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Forest bathing, a form of Nature Therapy, has been around as long as people have lived in the woods. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It’s a great way to cope with stress. I’m sure that’s what made Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond so therapeutic.

A nice place to bathe.

Today, everyone blogs about how they’re coping with Covid 19. I follow several blogs. Some folks, who used to post weekly or monthly, have taken to posting every day. I suppose that’s how they cope, but I don’t have time to read them all. You might say I cope with my bulging inbox by ignoring some of them. Sorry, fellow bloggers.

I follow all the health guidelines, but I don’t obsess about the virus. It’s been years since I had a cold or flu. Not because I haven’t been exposed. The past two flu seasons, I’ve gone to the elementary school to work with the children’s school gardens and found half the staff and student body out with the flu. Most of the teachers wore masks. They offered me one, but I declined. Although children hugged and touched me all day, I didn’t get sick. (I just hope my luck holds out!)

Several things keep me healthy. One is my well water. Sometimes people who come to the house mention the taste or smell of sulfur, but I’m so used to it I don’t notice. Sulfur water is good for you.

Another is gardening. Besides the enjoyment, there are scientific reasons why gardening makes us feel better. Healthy soil has bacteria that interact with our bodies, boosting our moods and immune systems. How these bacteria get into the body, scientists aren’t sure. They may interact with the skin or we may inhale or ingest them.

One organism they’ve studied is Mycobacterium vaccae. Scientists have fed M. vaccae to mice and found they have less anxiety and perform better in mazes. They’ve isolated a fatty acid in M. vaccae that binds with receptors in immune cells, locking out chemicals that cause inflammation. They think they can use this to make an anti-stress vaccine. But don’t wait for a vaccine—you can buy M. vaccae supplements!

When we garden together, the children get their hands in the dirt. This contributes to their health. Presently, schools are closed and parents are trying to homeschool their offspring. I hope when they get tired of them underfoot, the parents send the kids outdoors into the sunshine and fresh air to get dirty.

Another thing that keeps me healthy is living in the middle of five acres of woodland. Although confined at home, I have freedom. Forest bathing is an everyday thing for me.

My house in the woods.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was busy with many volunteer activities. So busy, at times I threatened to go back to work so I could get some rest! Or I wished the world would stop long enough to let me catch my breath. Be careful what you wish for.

At the beginning of the month, my calendar for March and April was so full I barely had a day each week to just stay home. Church, Garden Club, Master Gardeners, Writers Alliance—all had demands. This doesn’t include personal and family things, and writing.

I made to-do lists. Lots of lists. On one piece of paper I had five lists. On another, six.

Stop the world! I want to get off!

I was kidding! Really. I just wanted a little relief, some time to myself. Could I be personally responsible for this worldwide shutdown?

Leaves of three–don’t bathe with me!
Poison Ivy

Overnight, everything was cancelled, through April, maybe May, or beyond. No meetings. No plant sale. No school gardens. No granddaughter’s softball games. No church services. (These are being broadcast over Facebook, but I don’t have to go anywhere, just stay home and watch.) Days and days without obligations, nowhere to go, no one to see. I’m an introvert, happy to be by myself with my thoughts.

Virginia Creeper is a good neighbor.

Many people have problems with social isolation. Not me. But I’m not totally isolated. There is telephone and internet. I’m in contact with people every day and there’s still work to be done: approve the Garden Club budget, field questions and information, tend to Writers Alliance business that must go on, etc. I stay busy, but it’s so nice not to have to go somewhere every day. I can wear old clothes and forget makeup and deodorant. I take naps. I’m a hermit. I love it.

I can’t sit still long enough to binge on Netflix. I may watch an hour or two a night, or I may just read. I also listen to self-improvement podcasts. That’s where forest bathing entered the equation. Towards the end of one podcast, the guru said. “Now go out and do some Forest Bathing.” Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?

I write outdoors as much as possible. I’m writing this on my laptop on the porch. I’m moving my houseplants outside. I’m making attempts at vegetable gardening, even though last year the wildlife harvested more than I did. I walk the quarter mile down my driveway to the mailbox. Even though I’m mostly in the shade, my skin is showing signs of tan.

My driveway

But when I googled Forest Bathing, I realized I was leaving out an important factor: mindful meditation. I shouldn’t just scurry around getting my hands dirty. I need to make mindful contact with the soil, breathe deeply, close my eyes, feel the sun on my skin, listen to the birds and beasts that share my little paradise. Smell the wild azaleas.

Native wild azalea.

 

But many of you are still in the throes of winter, or you live in cities where you can’t get out in nature. What can you do? Get a houseplant. Start a tomato plant on your windowsill. Open a window for a few minutes and drink in fresh air. Use your mind to forest bathe. Imagination can be powerful. Close your eyes and picture yourself in the woods. Take a hot bath and pretend you’re basking in a hot spring in the mountains. Make plans to get out into the wild once this is over. Hold to that possibility. This, too, shall pass.

You can also read a good book that takes place in nature. I have a suggestion: Trials by Fire. The story will take you out of yourself and into a wilderness far, far away.

Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

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