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  • Andrew Casteel

Once the Puzzle's Done


There have been a lot of puzzles in the past week and a half, it's been that kind of a week and a half. Probably the hardest week and a half we've had since shelter in place started.

To start things off, I tore my meniscus. My right knee had been hurting for a while so I did the usual Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation for two weeks. It was starting to feel better so I thought I could start working in some leg exercise again. On the very first jumping jack I heard a pop and it started to hurt worse than it had two weeks previous. Urgent care doc confirmed it was a meniscus tear and told me to stay off it until I could get my primary care doc to approve an MRI. Messaged my primary care doc and only heard back a week later from a nurse that he had been promoted out of doing primary care. Would have been good to know before I needed him. So I basically spent about 2 weeks without my usual regimen of 15,000 steps or 14 miles of biking a day, which was the thread that was holding my sanity together (my sanity is sweat and solar powered). I finally saw my new primary care doc today and he let me know that the tear wasn't too bad given the level of pain I was experiencing so I could start to work in some walking and biking again.

While this was happening, my son's preschool announced they were reopening. At the beginning of shelter in place, this was the ray of hope I was focusing on as a symbol of some return to normalcy in the future, but given where we're at now in terms of Covid 19, we couldn't justify the risk to send him. We see my parents, who are at risk, about once a week. And I myself have been worried about Covid since they started reporting that some patients, even younger ones, have been having strokes caused by Covid. Having experienced a minor stroke from the gamma knife surgery on my brain tumor, I'm doing everything I can to avoid having to go through that again. If you're young and feeling less worried about Covid killing you, let me tell you that there are worse things than death. Try waking up each day and taking an accounting of what's not working for you anymore. My stroke was extremely mild. It looked like three little popcorn sized areas of dark grey, where a real stroke is more ping pong ball sized or larger. It still gave me double vision and took away my balance to the point I couldn't ride a bike (that's actually how I realized something was wrong). When I asked my neurologists how long it would be to recover, they could make no promises about how much could be recovered. I spent 6 months in physical therapy to get back 80% of what I lost. I can ride a bike again though I'm not the badass, scofflaw, hell on wheels I was and I only get double vision about once a quarter in the mornings after I wake up for 5 minutes at most. I'd do anything to not have to go through that again.

I spent about a week mourning the loss of preschool for our family. I love that school and cherished the chance to work in the classroom once a week with my son and his friends. I hadn't realized how much I was looking forward to that until it was taken away. It made it worse knowing that it would still be happening but that it was too much risk for our family. The FOMO is real. Took a while for me to process through it and come to accept that what I missed was school before Covid. School after covid would be nothing like it. Everyone masked, trying to keep preschoolers from touching each other (good luck with that) and keep their masks on. Ended up doomscrolling through all the articles about what had been happening in day cares and preschools in terms of covid, but found nothing but anecdotes and no real data. I'd usually unplug with a nice bike ride to the beach with my son, but that was unavailable.

While all that was happening, my son was having a real rough week. Ironically, he is hard to motivate to get outside, even though he loves it when he finally does. With me unable to walk/bike, we had a lot more time indoors and a lot more screen time. This wrecked his sleeping pattern as he wasn't getting enough exercise. Bad sleep shortened his temper and there was a lot of hitting over the last week and a half. This happens a lot for four year olds, especially when there is a change in their daily patterns. It didn't make the decision to not attend preschool any easier. Our administrator is a kid whisperer who helps us each time my son is having issues like this.

The end result was about 2 weeks worth of slothful despair. Here are the numbers:

- 5000 pieces worth of puzzle completed

- Lego Millennium Falcon built

- Made 3 batches of chili oil and 2 hot sauces

- Sorted about 6000 Magic the Gathering cards (I even picked some extra commons and uncommons up off craigslist. Met the dude in a parking lot and exchanged cash for an unmarked box like it was a drug deal...it kind of was. I'm addicted to cardboard)

- Built 17 pauper decks and 3 commander decks for magic the gathering.

- 0 steps, I took off my fitbit because I couldn't figure out a way to get it to do the opposite of what it usually does and encourage me not to walk around on my jacked up knee.

- 1 sorted garage

- 2 trips to donate old clothes

- 6 graphic novels from Isotope finished (my second favorite form of retail therapy)

- 1 season of Preacher finished

My therapist helped remind me that this wasn't bad for a rough time. In terms of harm reduction, $30 worth of magic cards is not the worst excess to indulge for some self care.

This weeks been better. We found a family who is in a similar situation with similar risk tolerance to do weekly play dates for our kids and got the green light to work in some walking and biking. I can't wait to get back out with my son for some more bike and hikes. It's the form of meditation that my creative process requires. Haven't been inspired to do many haikus without it.

Coming out of a rough time, I'd like to share a little gratitude to the folks that help me keep it together. It's impossible to do an exhaustive list, but I'll try to capture as much as I can. If you haven't done this, give it a try. The glass looks much fuller if you measure what's still in it rather than what's been spilled.

Thanks to my wife Lexi for understanding me so well and sharing her strength whenever I need it. We continue to learn how to move gracefully through this dance of life, supporting each other and leaning on each other in turn with the beat.

Thanks to my son for letting me take breaks in his four year old world full of rainbow unicorns flying space ships. Beats the hell out of the real world most days.

Thanks to my family for adventuring with my son while I couldn't. Those two trips to the beach where I sat in a chair while you ran around with him and biked with him helped us both so much. That's worth so much more than school right now.

Thanks to my friends for getting me out of the house for socially distant company. I'm looking forward to the time we can hug again after this is all over.

Thanks to my staff at Laughing Monk for pivoting our business to survive Covid. You all were able to turn us into a delivery company to try and weather this storm.

Thanks to my friends at the Auxiliary Commander Brigade who made it possible for me to keep playing my favorite game which helps me keep my sanity. Can't wait to play in person again soon.

Thanks to my grandmother who taught me how to cook before I could read. Now my kitchen is my temple where I can go to lose myself in an act of creation even in the worst of times.

Thanks to my friend Phelicia Jones and her organization Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community for rekindling my sense of purpose. We'll keep fighting for justice until we get it.

Thanks to the artisan community of the Bayview for continuing to inspire me. We'll keep lifting each other up until we're out of this Covid mess. Can't wait until I can share a beer with you all again.

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© 2019 Andrew Casteel