About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

The Breath of Life

Last month, as I discussed COVID with my sister who is a registered nurse, I mentioned the large number of cases without symptoms. She rolled her eyes, and replied:

All cases have symptoms.

Then she said some medical stuff I didn’t understand.

This week we were talking about our dying parent, whom so many of us have traveled to visit. Reasonably, some were concerned about whether anyone was showing symptoms of COVID. So my sister, the RN, shared about the various positive cases amongst her co-workers and the inaccuracies of the rapid tests.

Given the exposure these medical folk have to so many, the known presence of COVID in their work environment, and the inaccuracy of rapid testing, the nurses have taken to testing the one measurement they’ve seen change for all COVID patients, even those who are supposedly without symptoms:

The amount of the body’s hemoglobin that is carrying oxygen.

We all grew up taking our temperature. Many of us have been taught how to take a pulse. But few of us had a device at home to test how much oxygen was in our blood. But it turns out you can get such a device, a pulse oximeter, for less than those rapid forehand thermometers so many of us have.

Normal is in the 90s. If the reading is only 90 or even less, then your breath is not giving you sufficient oxygen. This is the symptom my sister and these other nurses find to be correlated with true positive COVID diagnoses, even when other symptoms are not (yet) present.

Knowing whether or not your ability to absorb oxygen is compromised doesn’t protect you from COVID any more than a clean STD test protects you from getting a future STD. But it can provide a level of comfort in this uncertain time where COVID infection rates are rising in so many places.

Meanwhile, I recommend taking precautions and obeying local laws, much as you might do to avoid STD infection. You are free to choose what you wish, but you are not free to reject the natural consequences of your choices.

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N.B. – %SpO2 stands for peripheral capillary oxygen saturation, an estimate of the amount of oxygen in the blood. Specifically, it is the percentage of hemoglobin containing oxygen compared to the total amount of hemoglobin in the blood measured at your fingertip, detected by the pulse oximeter measuring how red your blood is at its brightest, using infrared light. It gets your pulse by detecting how often the red changes per minute. Alas, since you need infrared light for this measurement, this isn’t something a phone app can measure, since phone cameras only use visible light.

Thoughts on Summer Travel

One of my parents was recently found to be riddled with cancer. The oncologist declined even doing a biopsy, as no treatment regime would extend life and any treatment would either accelerate death and/or incur unnecessary pain.

As a result, many members of my family gathered in Utah for our final time with this parent. Happily, each member of the family has individually been cautious, though not always for the same ideological reasons. Our parent was declared uninfected by COVID as part of the hospital visit that determined symptoms were partially attributable to widespread cancer. 1

Road Trip versus Air Travel: We chose to primarily travel via roads, though we sent two folks home early via air.

When traveling via air, it appears masks are required and efforts are made to distance family groups as much as possible. You clearly have no control over the status of other passengers (regarding those who might be infected but are not yet obviously infected). I can imagine that people might pull off their masks when attendants aren’t watching, much as people used to use their electronic devices when attendants weren’t watching. As folks become more willing to travel via airplane, flights are beginning to fill up. This is great for the economics of airline companies. But this means you can’t count on having any significant distance between yourself and unknown parties of unknown status.

When traveling thousands of miles via roads, it is at least necessary to stop for gas. Credit cards and gloves can minimize any need to interact with unknown individuals or touch surfaces that could be contaminated. One member of our party was particularly concerned about avoiding contamination based on a loved one at home with compromised health, so this individual minimized use of public bathrooms.

On the way to Utah, we had enough drivers to avoid any need to stop to rest. On our return, we stopped in motels, booking in advance. We were informed several budget motels we hoped to stay in were sold out. The hoteliers said there was no specific event – just that people started traveling in droves around June 20.

Church: While we were in Utah, Church meetings resumed. They were limited to a short opportunity to partake of the sacrament, and the opportunities to show up were split to ensure no congregation was larger than 50 persons (masks required, family groups separated by 6+ feet, procedures for administering the sacrament to minimize any possibility of people touching surfaces that could be contaminated). I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to add my visiting self to their load. The first meeting extended family attended reportedly included only 15 individuals. I think the second meeting that day included 38 individuals. It works out so each individual would effectively be able to partake of the sacrament once a month with the new protocols. Under these practices, it would be unlikely for an individual would get COVID at Church meetings in Utah (speaking only for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

To Mask or Not to Mask: My immediate family had a cache of comfortable, home-made masks. I further made masks as gifts for a couple of birthdays that occurred while we were in Utah. On the other hand, some members of the extended family refused to wear masks and cited believed dangers (oxygen deprivation, carbon-monoxide poisoning). 2 While traveling, we saw signs claiming masks were required, but no one appeared to be enforcing these signs. We saw numerous instances where masks were worn in a manner that did nothing to cover nose or mouth. When we were interacting with persons outside our family, we wore masks. But we didn’t wear our masks inside our car while driving.

Quarantine: Once returning home, we are observing various levels of quarantine. The individual concerned about their vulnerable child showered immediately upon returning home and wore masks for days. But when the vulnerable child drank from their cup in an unguarded moment, this individual decided to end extreme measures. For the rest of us in a different household, we have resumed our pre-trip practices, mostly remaining at home, and wearing masks when venturing out. For myself, we have only just entered “Phase I” of returning to work, and they are only allowing a maximum of 20% of individuals to return to our shared office spaces. So continuing to telework is still acceptable and even encouraged.

Where to find truth: During out trip I learned about the 91-divoc website. This website allows you to sift through a couple of different data sets (JHU (US and entire world) and the Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project (US only)) and view the data in a number of different ways. One of the interesting visualizations is the one showing your “community” as a grouping of 1000 persons. Depending on what state you live in, it appears there may be only a handful of individuals with COVID in that group of 1000 (presuming a majority of those with symptoms have been tested).

Even when discussing the same data, some obviously feel the vast majority are perfectly healthy and all these precautions are silly. Others may liken this to a cup of cooked rice with only ~20 maggots, making care with individual instances worth the bother.

As to Truth, we who believe in an omniscient God can presume that God knows Truth. If you believe in a final judgment, you might imagine that God will share at least that portion of Truth that affected (and was affected by) your life. I hope none of us will be found to have force-fed the equivalent of maggots to our fellows. I similarly hope none of us will be found to have limited others without sufficient cause.

Notes:

  1. Other symptoms were related to a readily-curable condition other than cancer or COVID.
  2. Various reputable news stories insist there is no danger of oxygen deprivation or carbon-dioxide poisoning if wearing a home-made cloth mask.

Black and White

This post is about the current discussion of race in America. But I’m not talking about two different races in the title. I’m talking about the way that some people want to see the world, as divided between those who are either completely good or completely bad.

When I was in college, I studied Jean Anouilh‘s play, Antigone. This was an 1944 version of the classic tale of how the daughter of Oedipus defiantly buries her two dead brothers against the orders of King Créon. The 1944 Antigone insists on seeing all things as either wholly right or wholly wrong, expressed in the original production by her wardrobe consisting of only white and black. Her refusal to yield results in her beloved and her mother dying, as well as her own execution.

In the 1944 play, Antigone tragically only realizes that some situations are neither wholly black nor white after all is destroyed. Jean Anouilh symbolized this by portraying Antigone dying with a multi-colored belt.

King Créon ends the play in conversation with a young page who is awed by the power of his ruler. In response, Créon says, “It would be better to never be king… [but] I must put one foot in front of the other, like a laborer at the doorway to the beginning of their day.”

All too many are now acting like Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, proclaiming that every past life and each current act ought to be judged according to their narrow interpretation of right and wrong.

The past is not black and white. There were nuances and difficult, heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Nor is it clear that moderns eager to destroy/deface icons of the past are acting based on an accurate understanding of past events.

Back to Jean Anouilh – his was a great feat, to produce a play under Nazi occupation of France that (properly understood) was a biting critique of Nazi rule.

Idealism unencumbered by humility or wisdom was arguably the great flaw of Hitler’s regime. Let us neither be guilty of the same, nor let us lash out of those so guilty and in so doing become also guilty of the same (as depicted in Eugene Ionesco‘s play, Rhinoceros).

Breathe. Love. Forgive. And live justly.

Count Your Blessings

There are times when our outlook on life can be very negative, times when the things that comforted us in former days have lost their luster, or when the things that comforted a different generation never comforted us in the first place.

One of my sisters felt that way about the song, Count Your Blessings.

The lyrics to Count Your Blessings were written in 1897 by a Methodist minister, Johnson Oatman, Jr. The tune we all know would also have been written around that time by E. O. Excell, who also composed the tune we use for Amazing Grace.

My sister told Eliza Porter about her wish that there were another tune. Eliza was the drum major at the high school my sister attended. Eliza composed the tune sung in the video above, telling my sister that the tune came effortlessly. The adapted lyrics and new tune are sung by daughters of Darrell Brown. 1

I hope you enjoy this updated version of Count Your Blessings. At the least, I hope it will give you a few moments to reflect on your blessings in a way the time-honored song perhaps has not.

Notes:

  1. All five of the “Brownies” are Darrell’s daughters, but this Darrell Brown isn’t the famous musician Wikipedia talks about.

God’s Truth v Our Opinions

I’ve been bemused in the past several weeks (actually years) to hear folks debate as though their pronouncements change Truth.

This is not to pretend that I know Truth in its fullness. Mastery of Truth is the domain of God. Or for those doubting that there is a God, hypotheses regarding Truth are the domain of those who can objectively measure some aspect of Truth.

I’m going to avoid talking about the current pandemic in this post. But I will liken our many internet discussions to two discussions occurring in my extended family.

The more present example of grossly wrong opinion comes to me from my autistic child, who persistently asserts that I am her brother-in-law, that I and my husband are not her parents, and other bizarre assertions that fly in the face of objective, provable truth. Her memories of past events are often distorted. Sometimes her recollections are so vastly distorted that it strains imagination.

Her perception of current realities can be frustrating. When I encourage her to shower, for example, she’ll almost always challenge me. “How do you know [I need to shower]?!?!?” she will yell at me. The response is often a variation of “Darling, because I can smell/I can see.”

This kind of obtuseness was frustrating enough when she was in grade school. Now that she’s an adult, it is still frustrating.

And yet I love her.

Another example is my relative Riley. 1 After much effort and expense [and after Riley had sent roughly $1.2M to scammers], the family was able to get Riley protected by orders of guardianship and conservatorship. But as is Riley’s right, they are petitioning for these protective orders to be terminated. While Riley has been under conservatorship and guardianship, their health has improved and they assert they have not suffered further losses to scammers. Riley believes this improvement and lack of loss means everything is better. They are willing to incur tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to free themselves from protection.

This is frustrating. And yet we love Riley.

Though I will not draw the parallels between my two domestic situations and larger concerns about Truth, I hope these parables of my reality will prick any excessive self-confidence you may be nurturing. For an instant, imagine that certain confident pronouncements you make could be as wrong as pronouncements voiced by my child or by Riley.

I submit that a key tenet regarding Truth is that God loves all of us. Or that even if there were no God, we ought still act as though an omniscient, omnipotent being will hold us to account for hateful thoughts and deeds regarding ourselves and others.

I also submit that another key tenet of Truth is that there is one sole truth (albeit complex and multi-faceted). Your opinion about truth has no power to alter that truth. Those who act contrary to objective, known evidence will not have the luxury of being lauded by God or history for their obtuse ignorance.

Now I’m off for a bit of self-reflection regarding which of my cherished convictions are in painful conflict with God’s Truth and which actions are inconsistent with God’s Love…

Notes:

  1. Not their real name.