A professor at the University of Virginia encouraged people to journal their pandemic experience. So, here it is. The new “pandemic” tag. Welcome.

Because yes, this is a thing now. While we are months into the existence of COVID-19, it was declared a pandemic on March 11. On March 13 we had our first 3 cases reported in Manitoba. The province of Manitoba declared a State of Emergency on March 20.

I am at the end of week 1 of social distancing, or not-sick-person self-isolation. Like many with chronic illnesses existing with degrees of immuno-compromise, as a person with severe asthma, I’m staying home. Even if you’re generally healthy with no underlying health conditions, we’re pleading with YOU to #StayHome, too. We aren’t learning our new vocabulary terms “social distancing”, “self isolation” and “self quarantine” for nothin’, here.

Unlike many, my post-pandemic, social distancing, self isolation life is perhaps not too distant from my regular work-from-home, very remotely from my coworkers who also work from home but in BC. Except post-pandemic life is regardless different. I don’t leave the house. I could go for a walk, but like, what if I see a cute dog I want to meet but how the hell do I stay six feet away from their human then? This is a problem of social distancing, and I lose self-control around doggos. Also, because nearly everyone else is social distancing, I’ve already had 2 virtual game nights, spent St. Patrick’s Day watching the Dropkick Murphys play to a camera crew in an empty venue (the 17th was the l went out: I had to get a Shamrock Shake from curbside McDonalds), and got to enjoy Drew Brown doing a basement acoustic concert.

Unlike others who are newly working-from-home and feel they have all this newfound time not lost in their commute, my days are the same except for watching the morning press conference from Justin Trudeau at 10:15 and then the one from the Government of Manitoba around 11 each morning. The pandemic news cycle is exhausting, but try as I might, I can’t avoid looking all damn day even though that’s what I advise others to do. I’m a news junkie and I have been since Donald Trump got elected because WTF? I scroll Facebook like the rest of us do, and read, and validate, and share. I try to share the good news. And I try to share the really good, and funny things arising of people’s social distancing.

Social distancing, self isolation, and self quarantine are making for some really damn good internet, I have to say. Like the sports commentator who no longer has sports to commentate on and instead is commentating on mundane life activities. These people who made a parody of If I Had A Million Dollars about COVID-19. Basically, I have learned this week that pandemics are distracting.

I’ve also been providing random observations, like I do, of the daily Trudeau press conferences. In case you’re reading this far in the future, recall that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, also known as Justin Trudeau’s wife, has been diagnosed with COVID-19. This means that Justin is also self isolating at a distance in Rideau Cottage. (Justin, are we on a first-name basis? Thanks.) As such, the press briefings are outside.

Here is what I have observed so far. He still has a few days of self-isolation left as far as I can calculate, which means there will probably be some more things to comment on:

  • Friday, 03/20 – When Justin Trudeau has to do a press conference from outside his home due to self isolation, occasionally you hear a crow in the background!
  • Saturday, 03/21 – Justin Trudeau forgot to take out his earphones (Bluetooth) before he left Rideau Cottage. He began his press briefing, and then realized and removed them to put on the podium
  • Sunday, 03/22 – Justin Trudeau has to inform not one, but two reporters calling in by phone that their line is on mute. (There was also some banging during which he expertly paused before answering the reporter’s question, while simultaneously looking like nothing was happening.)
It is now a daily goal to record these odd observations for those who are not tuning in to the press conferences (also for Americans who need a more peaceful and even pandemic press conference experience). As well, I have been “determining” (ie. making up completely) which cabinet ministers are assisting JT with random tasks during his self isolation. So far Patty Hajdu (Health Minister) is wiping down the doorknob after he returns inside, Bill Morneau (Finance Minister) is helping him dye his hair which I cannot give any real rationale for, and when my friend Bill (not Morneau) asked whose job it was to be the crow executioner earlier today, I have assigned this to Joyce Murray, Minister of Digital Government, as the crow is clearly disrupting this process.
On weekdays, I usually watch the press conferences and go about my work life as normal. Archery ended the week before last, so a few days before we were in full on social-distancing mode. The last bus I took, on the way home from archery, had so many sick people on it, I got off two stops early and when I got in my mom’s car she informed me I was not taking the bus again till this was over. That was a Thursday. Friday the 13th was the day that everyone started buying up all the friggen toilet paper here. There was a line down the entire front of Costco waiting to get in (Facebook shows me, anyways). So Saturday the 14th we went to see the shelves. No toilet paper in sight, and that has continued in many stores around the globe.
Which is friggen bananas, in all realty. This is a respiratory virus. What do y’all need all this canned food and toilet paper for? It’s not a GI bug or a snowstorm. Now stores have begun to institute per person limits on many items, and in some cases are engaging in price gouging.
Also Jill in Ottawa spotted a guy with a cart at Dollarama full of rope, tarps and lightbulbs, so 1) I friggen hope he is building a shelter with those supplies and 2) the disconnect between lightbulbs and extreme prepper shelter building in a pandemic is perplexing.
Also speaking of doomsday preppers, I’ve been wondering how these people are doing. They’re surely laughing at the rest of us us (while medical professionals are or will be in desperate need of their masks).
Also I put this rainbow in my window today. I’m not sure if the kids are looking for rainbows or Easter eggs in Winnipeg’s treasure-hunt-social-distancing-go-for-a-walk game but I’ll add the easter egg soon.

Current stats in Manitoba: 11 cases confirmed, 9 probable cases, 0 deaths.
Canada has a total of 1430 cases confirmed, 41 probable cases, and 20 deaths.
STAY HOME.
(You can follow my day-to-day social distancing/self isolation updates on Instagram.)

Back in September, probably sometime between campaigns, I sent a note to the team at Atmotube, asking if I could review their product. They quickly said yes, and within a couple weeks I had an Atmotube Pro device clipped near-constantly to my belt loop, where it’s been most days for the last 2 months. 

Atmotube is a personal air quality monitor—it tracks humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, particulate matter (10 and 2.5) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We’ve had a lot of time to get acquainted, as when after a month of use I’d planned to write this, I got a lung infection and blah blah blah. Not why we are here (but it will come up).

There are two models of the Atmotube, the tube-looking one and the Pro, which is the version they sent me. There are some functional differences between the two, but for me, I was most happy with the battery life on the Pro. I have mine set to test the air quality every 10 minutes, since I’m usually at home. As I understand it, it also does on-demand tests when you hit the button, so when I’m curious, that’s a good option too. 

Pressing the button illuminates the multicoloured LED present just above the button—the colour displayed corresponds to the colour the monitor associates with the air quality, from blue [great] to red [poor] with green, yellow and orange in the middle. It also does an on-demand air quality test. Opening the app gives you a greater sense of what your environmental air “looks like” at a given moment in time. Here’s one from as I’m editing this article:

I should really move the air purifier to the kitchen. More on that shortly.

First days with the Atmotube Pro
I sent a lot of messages to friends during the first few days with the Atmotube—this thing is COOL. I wore it out the first night I got it, but was outside most of the evening in great air quality, so my results were as expected. The next day, though, is clear in my mind. Here’s what my day looked like:
Noon – Left home to go to Staples and Shoppers Drug Mart.
12:45 – Shoppers drug mart asked I come back in an hour and a half for my flu shot.
1 PM – Arrived at a nearby apartment building to canvass for the federal election.
2 PM – Completed canvassing 2 floors, walked back to the mall.
2:10 – Went to the food court for a root beer
2:15 – Arrived back at the pharmacy
2:45ish – Returned to the apartment building, chatted with seniors, finally began canvassing again.
4:40 PM – Left apartment to walk to meet my parents for my mom’s birthday dinner. Immediately upon opening door (my hand was still on it!), the Atmotube app IMMEDIATELY alerted the humidity had dropped past the set threshold. My mind was BLOWN how fast it was.
5:05 PM – Finally get to near restaurant but we are not going there anymore. Get in the car.
5:15 PM – Arrive at Mongo’s Grill, an open-grill Mongolian-style stir-fry restaurant if you couldn’t guess.
5:20 PM – Atmotube continues to freak out about high particulate matter for the duration of the meal.
6:30 PM – Arrive home, where the air quality is consistently decent-but-not-great. 

Here’s what the graphs look like from that day:
 

Beyond everyday use
Within a week of getting the Atmotube, I headed off to Philadelphia. The device itself stores data while not connected to a smartphone, so being on the plane didn’t hinder my data collection (although I think it was still connected). The air quality was surprisingly good on all 4 of my flights, which I found interesting—and shocking! The hotel also didn’t cause me any asthma issues as they sometimes do, and the air quality there was also consistently good! 

My friend John also has an Atmotube, and he noted the air quality in the hospital he works in isn’t great – when I went to Urgent Care a couple months ago, I forgot to take the Atmotube with me, which is disappointing because I was sort of looking forward to that experiment! 

What I’ve learned from the Atmotube
I’ve learned a few things from using Atmotube. Here’s the most interesting one:

I very quickly noted sharp drops in air quality when cooking. I checked out a Government of Canada document that notes running the stove exhaust fan when cooking to be helpful for promoting indoor air quality (by drawing the particulate matter out of the house) – I’d love to speak to how the data from Atmotube Pro actually changes but I assume there are many variables involved that would make this complicated for my non-scientist brain to wrap around—ie. duration of cooking, what is being cooked and how, when or whether the exhaust fan was turned on, and device proximity. I can say the effects are a consistent drop in air quality with most stovetop cooking, though (as first noted at Mongo’s). As I wrote this section, my dad was just making food on the stovetop (with the exhaust fan on), some sort of grilled sandwich, as well as making coffee in the percolator. When I opened up the app a minute ago, the air quality score was about 50 – but the sensor is down the hall. Now it’s 66, sensor still down the hall, about 12 steps away.

The next is that some buses appear to have worse air quality than others, even when riding on the same route. I am curious if this is bus-model specific, but haven’t yet been able to determine reliably. It’s fascinating (but also sucky?). 

Oh, and this will surprise no one: It’s true – hockey arenas have poor air quality.
So do food courts. 

Changes I’ve made
Related to the stove exhaust, we try to run it more frequently when cooking on the stovetop.  I have purchased a “pluggable” “air sanitizer” (mostly because it was on sale for $30) made by Germ Guardian that is apparently good for minimizing cooking odours—it wasn’t running when the above food related numbers were cited. Of course, it’s really difficult to tell how well it works because “food odours” are pretty subjective, and I’m going to assume, the particles released are perhaps not super uniform.
But check it out—here’s a small peak in particulate matter during food prep time:
 

Though generally our house air quality scores are quite good overall, I also ordered an air purifier on Boxing Day (a JS FLO). And damn, I can tell you, the Atmotube says that thing actually works—here are the graphs. The first 2 are from the first time I turned the air purifier on. The third is from the day where I heard you should run the air purifier for a couple hours before you go to bed (makes sense, no?) so I left the Atmotube in my room with it.

If it isn’t clear, air quality score (AQS) should go up, VOCs (and particulate matter) should go down. 

Problems I’ve had with Atmotube
The problems I’ve experienced with Atmotube are pretty minimal.

The first, with the LED, you have to hold the device at a very particular angle to see the actual corresponding colour to the current air quality—if you move the device around, you see different colours. For this (and for the greater amount of data), I prefer to use the app.

The device also comes pre-calibrated, and states it does not require regular calibration as it will continue to calibrate as it works. In mid-November (coincidentally, just as I was getting sick with that lung infection), I was getting consistently lower readings. This is also right when it got colder, and I assumed, when the furnace was running more—so, having asthma, I attributed this to why I was feeling cruddy. (As determined later, it was a lung infection leading to the asthma issues.) I did hit the recalibrate button. The change in results (which improved), of course, lead to questioning on my part of the accuracy of the device—it’s generally been consistent . I’d love to do side-by-side comparisons between two devices, such as with another Atmotube Pro, or a different personal air quality monitor (I think there’s maybe one other on the market right now), to see if results are consistent. I still think given my experiences—ie. poor air quality on buses with doors constantly opening and closing in traffic, realistic responses to humid environments and temperature changes, and so on—that the device is reliable.

There’s also a barometer function that I really don’t use—the scale goes from “stormy” to “very dry”, and it’s always apparently “stormy” with low pressure. I don’t know much about this, but I certainly know it’s currently cold but calm outside! 

Oh and this isn’t really a problem, but more of a funny: the Atmotube always alerts me to poor air quality when I do a nebulizer treatment. The particles are likely 5-7 micrometres, which is near certainly registering in the atmotube as an influx of PM10 (which is particulate matter 10 micrometres or less in diameter. I will maintain that the Ventolin I am inhaling is good for my lungs and not a pollutant!

What I’d like to see
While the Atmotube has already given me so much more data and insight than I’d have expected possible—seriously, this thing is cool—the main thing I’d really like to see from the Atmotube app is actually a bit more different information. It does a good job of really concisely saying what you can do in general to improve indoor air quality, but it’d be nice to see, for instance, some information tailored to what you’re experiencing. “Hey. Your PM2.5 is increasing. If you’re cooking, try running the hood fan.” “Hey, your house seems pretty dry. Here’s what can help right now and over time.” (My house is apparently too dry all the time. Other than buying a humidifier, which I don’t want to do, I still don’t know what to do about that.” While I will say it has told me to get plants to increase my household humidity, I’ll say I’ve only been successful at keeping my cactus alive for several years… and it’s a cactus.
More actionable alerts rather than generalized articles would perhaps actually encourage people to do things to alter their indoor air quality, humidity, or so-forth. Like right now, I’d like to know where the heck the elevated VOCs are coming from causing the app to “alarm”!

I can also think of a number of great quantified self projects when I decide to dig into playing with the CSV files a bit more. But that is a nerdy pursuit for another day!

Who Atmotube is for
Are you a nerd who likes checking a device you’re wearing all the time? Do you have a health condition, like asthma or heart disease that makes it more important for you to know what you’re breathing? Are you willing to put some time in to devise patterns, do some research, and make your own inferences from the data the Atmotube is getting you? If yes to any or all of these (all = me), and you can make the financial investment, I’d say yes. I’ve found using the Atmotube the last several months fascinating and illuminating to what, exactly, is in the air I’m breathing. 
Even if that happens to be Ventolin and it tells me its pollution. We can’t be totally perfect. 😉 

Disclosure: I reached out to the makers of Atmotube, who sent me an Atmotube Pro device to review honestly (and keep) with no strings attached beyond just writing this article. They were fabulous answering my many questions, sending a reviewers guide, and being patient in all my delays getting this article out—thanks, Ariuna and Daria!

I posted this on Facebook earlier today, after I left the pharmacy. After a few requests to make it public so friends could share, I did—and it seemed reasonable, 12 shares, 45 reactions and 59 comments later—many shocked that this happens in Canada—to post it on my blog, too.

—-

Do you know why Canada needs true national Pharmacare?
I do every day, but especially on days like today where I leave $642.01 behind at the pharmacy counter just to function for a month, for just 4 of my 7 meds. 

Did you know that despite being self employed and having two part time jobs, I can’t get insurance in Canada that covers medication for my preexisting conditions? Okay, actually I can, but it would cover $500 in medication: less than one tenth of my annual medication costs. Less than I just paid today. 

  • I can survive without Vyvanse for my severe ADHD, but I can’t thrive. That’s the expensive one, and it’s not an enhancer, just a sort-of equalizer. 
  • I require four different inhalers to manage my moderate-to-severe asthma. (One of those I’m on right now isn’t covered for asthma under Manitoba Pharmacare, so I pay out of pocket. Despite how well it works, I’ll switch it for another drug in not-winter to save money.) This is to BREATHE, which is not exactly optional.
  • Barring other radical intervention for my fibroids, I’ll need to stay on oral contraceptives for another several decades–and this is the only drug I may have a forseeable end date on. Despite my persistence, this is not optional. (And also, even if I were using them for contraception, does the province not realize paying for the pill for a decade is cheaper than probably just getting a baby born? Never mind making them a good human?)
  • Oh, and on top of the asthma medicine, I have allergic rhinitis, for which I consider the drugs “the optional ones”, but only because my sinuses aren’t super impairing–note, my doctors disagree with the optional-ness of daily nasal steroids, and support the use of singulair as an add on. 

I am productive and mostly healthy because I have these medicines. I’m lucky I can afford the deductible which is thrown at people like me in a lump sum at the beginning of the fiscal year. I will have another pharmacy trip or two where I leave a not-insignificant amount of money behind. Just because I can afford this now–with minimal expenses, living with my parents–doesn’t mean I’ll always be able to. 

Am I happy to have some provincial coverage? Yes. 
Do we need to do better? Unquestionably yes.

We need this for every person who needs to choose between food and medicine. For every person who cant financially handle a $500 emergency—40% of Canadians. For the parents who forgo their meds to let their kids play soccer–and for the ones who can’t play soccer because their parents need medicine. For every would be enterpreneur who could change the world but is stuck at a job because of benefits.

We need this to be a better Canada–that place where healthcare is a right because we take care of each other and we take pride in that. Except we stopped short, leaving patients who are still patients after they leave the doctors office often fighting to survive. We need more than “gap filling” solutions, we need Pharmacare for everyone, all the time. 

Canada, we can do better.

—-

Do you have a story about inadequate access to medication or medication coverage in Canada? Please SHARE IT so others know why this issue matters. One way you can share your story is to reach out to my friend Bill at FacesOfPharmacare.ca. You can also send your story to your Member of Parliament (find them here), and most importantly, VOTE in October for a candidate who supports a true national Pharmacare strategy for all Canadians.

Snapseed.jpg

I got an e-mail Monday about a secret flu shot clinic for employees of my health region, including Disability Support Providers (me). It was a ten minute walk from my house (where I got led into an Authorized Personnel Only room), convenient as I am also high risk because of my asthma. Also it is basically next door to 7-Eleven. And a lovely morning for a walk.

It is the first day of Fall, the people of the internet (aka my friends on Facebook) are telling me. It’s kind of hard to believe given I got back from beautiful California less than a week ago where it feels like summer and is generally pretty. Alas, my favourite season—Fall—is upon us, and I engaged in an (iced) pumpkin spice chai at Vancouver airport at probably ten-something PM on Monday night.  (Pumpkin spice chai is amazing. I was getting ehhh about normal pumpkin spice lattes, honestly, and I am thrilled by pumpkin spice chai lattes.)

And is obligatory on the first day of Fall, listening to Come Winter by Daphne Loves Derby (on repeat), as has been my general habit since about 2014, if not earlier.

If you’ve got Apple Music, here’s a link to a slightly different EP version that I’m enjoying.

Fall is my favourite season not just because of pumpkin spice. I enjoy the cooler weather, the jeans-and-hoodies combo, the foray into toque-season (without the brutal cold associated with toque season), the fact that Goalball starts soon (and archery!), the fact that my lungs generally like Fall, and the fact that I get back to a bit more solid of a routine—for the lack of routine I generally have, even in the non-Summer months. Despite some of the worst moments of my life happening in the beginning portion of Fall (looking at you, 2013 and 2014, and even 2016), these have all come with resolution attached—“part of a change for better” (I Swear This Place is Haunted, A Skylit Drive)—or at least a piece of resolution that produced a change I can, at least now, feel positively about.

https://i1.wp.com/farm5.staticflickr.com/4499/37249027431_720587ecec.jpg?resize=500%2C375&ssl=1

This year, again, fresh off a return from Stanford Medicine X, and subsequent #MedXHangover and ongoing recovery, I feel that sense of renewal, that sense of recharged passion and purpose for creating change, both in myself and in the world. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got some other advocacy-related travel opportunities in the works (travel may exhaust people but it energizes me), or that I met so many amazing people last weekend at MedX. It doesn’t hurt that the people I met and the experience I had at IDEO for the Medicine X – IDEO Design Challenge re-inspired me to think differently, creatively, in terms of “How Might We”s and innovation and possibility and better. No, spending a glorious two days with one of my favourite people on earth, Stephen, in Santa Cruz to relax and recharge even prior to embarking on the Medicine X whirlwind of inspiration, that didn’t hurt either. Meeting a dozen Canadians at MedX reminded me that things are possible, change is possible, even in our slow-moving, lack-of-progress medical system (although I maintain Toronto is more receptive to change than Winnipeg/Manitoba/our ridiculous healthcare-killing Conservative Government is). I am ready to do more. Batteries recharged.

I am re-energized. Re-inspired. Thanks both to California, to the MedX Family, to friends, and to the crispness of Fall.

Well, I’m sure another pumpkin spice chai latte wouldn’t hurt, either.