AZD-1222: Pandemic Pioneering

I am participating in the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial.
Behold, the evidence of injection. I don’t know if it was THE injection or an injection, and won’t for another two years, but I have my suspicions…

My head hurts.

Is it allergies? Is it stress from the white-knuckle madness of Los Angeles traffic? Is it the two glasses of red wine I drank last night?

Is it a cellular response to a self-inflicted invader? The harbinger of Immunity.

I won’t know for certain for two years.

Yesterday, I enrolled in the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Phase III Clinical Trials (AZD-1222), volunteering my blood and guts to fight the greatest threat to humanity since the Cold War: SARS-CoV-2, which has infected 60 million people worldwide since December 2019, killing 1.4 million of them.

As opposed to the sexier mRNA-based vaccines developed by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, the AstraZeneca vaccine is vector-based: It uses a common cold-type virus as a Trojan horse to introduce an altered gene for the coronavirus protein into my cells in hopes of training my immune system to recognize and destroy COVID-19.

Or not.

It’s a double-blind trial, so I will not know if I got THE shot or merely a shot for two years. Until then, I will wallow in hypochondria – or at least for the next 48 hours. The clinical trial nurses advised me to watch out for certain side effects during the first two days:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Diarrhea or nausea
Test kit
I gave blood and urine samples, learned I wasn’t pregnant (duh), and had the back of my skull scratched with a swab. Yay me!

I will spare you the gurgling details, but my stomach is upset.

Is it a side effect of THE shot? Or merely a symptom of yesterday’s truck stop feast of Lays Limon-flavored chips, Oberto peppered beef jerky, orange-flavored Gatorade Zero, and Australian Licorice (assorted fruit flavors)? Don’t judge.

Enrolling in the trial was a breeze: Sign up online and wait for a call.

AstraZeneca is still recruiting volunteers and especially needs African-American, Latinx, and Native American participants. It’s important because people of color are historically underrepresented in clinical trials – in part because these populations have been victimized by unethical practices, see Henrietta Lacks, Tuskegee Health Benefit Program, et al, and also because lazy researchers didn’t actively recruit and study populations that reflect the diversity of our nation. Most critically, African-Americans, Latinx and Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 – and are more likely to die from it – so volunteering for the vaccine trial can help scientists identify differences that may not be apparent if a bunch of white people like me show up.

Apparently if they don’t spark tears, they aren’t doing the COVID test right. Ouch!

My left shoulder hurts. My knees bend audibly. Intermittent pain steals through my joints: Are these the aches they warned me about? The physiological echo of an existential battle inside my cells?

Or is it just a by-product of being a 48-year-old woman who has crashed her mountain bike on more than one occasion?

My day started at the appointed 8 AM in a nondescript doctor’s office in Phoenix. They reviewed the 26-page consent form, which I had read prior to my visit and which detailed my rights as a volunteer: I can withdraw at any time, no questions asked. If I contract COVID, they will funnel me into a different study and manage my care. I will have two shots spaced 29 days apart of either the real deal or a placebo, and 66 percent of volunteers receive the real deal. I will have seven visits to this doctor’s office over the next two years and several phone calls as they monitor my progress.

Sign here and here and here. Initial there and there and there.

Then the delightful Matt did a blood draw, from which they’ll extract my genetic material for study.

Nice stick, Matt. I told you I was a bleeder.

Then I got a physical exam from the doctor and walked down the hall to meet my destiny.

Somehow, it seems like Nurse Ratched should be manning this room, but actually, the nurses were AWESOME. An easy stick… but was it the real stick?

The nurses walked me through the consents again and reminded me of the aforementioned symptoms to monitor for the next 48 hours. I went to bed at 8:30 last night and slept soundly until the splitting headache awakened me at 4:27. I got winded climbing the stairs then fell asleep in the hammock this afternoon. Are these the telltale signs of vaccine-induced fatigue? Or just symptoms of middle age?

I won’t know for another two years, but even if I learn that I got a shoulder-full of saline solution, at least I’ll know I did my part.

Ouch!

Tormund, the Hero We Deserve

And now, our watch is ending.

And yes, we’re all in a tizzy about it. Many words of anguish have been spilled over this final season of Game of Thrones, most of which boil down to three well-worn threads of rage:

  1. This isn’t how George R.R.R.R.R.R.R.R. Martin wants his books to end (Though he may end before the books do, ergo, this might be the end we get. Seriously, dude, eat a salad. Take some statins. Write a little faster).
  2. Dany’s not crazy. Yes she is. No she isn’t. Yes she is. No she’s not.
  3. Jon Snow Targaryen is about the dumbest leader and worst military tactician ever. (Not going to debate you on that one, but his hair sure is luscious).

Most of this anguish stems from the sunk-cost fallacy: The more you invest in something, like say, an epic television show, the harder it is to abandon it even after it has jumped the fire-breathing shark.

We’ve spent eight years with these characters (and yeah, we get it, some of you read the books starting back in 1996 – AND THEY’RE STILL NOT FINISHED, but, as a non-reader, that ain’t my problem) and just when we think we’re going to be paid off with an Avengers: Endgame-like spectacle, we get Jar-Jar Binks, or as I like to call him, Euron Greyjoy.

Before we go any further, I will offer the obligatory defense of the fact that I haven’t read the books: It doesn’t matter. We’re not debating the books. We’re debating the TV show, and I know from good television. After all, I am a veteran of seven special guest-star turns on a Daytime Emmy Award-winning cooking show. Don’t believe me? Check out my IMDb page.

As I was saying: There’s a point at which we should have abandoned the show, and followed its true protagonist to the exit, stage left: When Tormund walked away with Ghost and said a hearty eff-you to Jon Snow and his Aunty-Queen, we should have walked right along with him.

You see, Tormund is the true hero of Game of Thrones.

I know, I know: When you first started watching this show (not reading the books), you probably thought that the protagonist was Ned Stark – good guy fighting against a rigged system… then he died. Then if you’re anything like me, you thought, well, maybe it’s Robb Stark’s story – avenging his Dad’s death, earning the respect of his countrymen, being voted “King in the North” by his senior class… then he died. You might have given a passing nod to the idea that Bran was actually the true hero of this story… then Hodor died, and we wished that Bran and his three-eyed batshit-crazy bullshit would’ve died along with him.

And then you thought, well, maybe it’s Dany’s story… or maybe it’s Jon’s story.. or maybe it’s Jon and Aunty Dany’s… or maybe it’s Tyrion’s story… or maybe Sansa’s… or Arya’s (until she ended up in the slog that was the House of Black and White).

By this point it’s Season Whatever, and you’re too entwined with the story to give up, because HBO gives you just enough character development and gratuitous bloodshed to carry you over for another production year… because you are so face-down in sunk-cost fallacy and so knee-deep in FOMO that you can’t resist because you have to see how it ends (and then talk about it with your friends).

Truth is, Game of Thrones was over two episodes ago. Really, it was over after the Battle of (Darkness Fell at) Winterfell, but we just needed our hero Tormund to tell us it was over, right after Brienne tossed him over because the producers thought they needed to throw an anti-feminist bone to the Brienne-Jaime ‘shippers… because, why not? Who cares if it’s out of character, we only have three episodes left!

Heading into the finale, Tormund is really the only character who has had a complete arc: He starts out living free beyond the wall when this whiny little bitch Jon Snow and his Night’s Watch Crows come along and try to enlist Tormund and freefolk in their little war. Tormund resists: He wants to be free; he ain’t bending no knee to no one. Then Tormund fights an epic battle against the undead and realizes the whole “Live Alone, Die Together” moral of the story and joins up with Team Crow to battle the Night King whose only motivation seemed to be to stand ENTIRELY TOO LONG IN FRONT OF BRAN TO GIVE ARYA TIME TO GET FROM THE GREAT HALL TO THE FREAKY TREE TO KILL HIM.

Then, in the smoldering aftermath of a battle that seemed spectacularly short and incredibly lame for THE EXISTENTIAL BATTLE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH THAT CLAIMED TO BE, Jon tries to get Tormund to enlist in one final fight and Big T says, “Peace out, Crow. This ain’t my battle. You go bend that knee, bruh. Imma take your fine direwolf and ease on back north of the wall and be a free man… and maybe that sweet Brienne will see the light and come with.”

If I had turned Game of Thrones off when Tormund left the building, I could have abandoned the sunk-cost fallacy and fled the (dragon) Fyre Festival that was the penultimate episode (I also would have avoided watching the producers turn Ser Brienne the Brave into a mewling wench which was more of a dagger in the heart than anything Arya ever delivered).

Instead I will watch tonight, not so I can revel in the glory of Walter White’s demise, or laugh hysterically at Bob Newhart’s pillow talk, or weep with Alan Alda on the helicopter, but so I can bitch and moan with the rest of us as we decry our drowning moments in the sunk-cost fallacy, while my homie Tormund laughs and laughs and gives Ghost a belly rub.

A Super Day without a Stupid Bowl

Today, we are boycotting the so-called (and trademarked) “Big Game” because we are fans of the egregiously wronged New Orleans Saints. If you were watching the previous two weeks of Stupid Bowl hype (we weren’t), you’d think there’d be nothing to do on Sunday, February 3… but you’d be wrong. Here’s what we’re doing to pass the day without offering Goodelldermort one thin household rating point:

  • I’m going bra shopping. These girls can’t support themselves, and they sure as hell aren’t supporting Tom Shady, Bill Belicheater and the New England Hatriots or extremely handsome Sean McVey and his Los Angeles Scrams. I might look for something in black and gold.
  • We’re going to eat Chinese food in a restaurant without a television. In Scottsdale, Flo’s is having happy hour ALL. DAY. LONG. Look for us during our re-appropriated FOUR HOURS OF SADNESS AND ANGER as we drown our bitterness in extra spicy red curry, crab puffs and larb.
  • Speaking of eating, like true Louisianans, we are stuffing our rage down our food holes. We started this morning with waffles, bacon (natch) and mimosas (THANK GOD THE STUPID BOWL IS NO LONGER IN DRY JANUARY). Yesterday, Pat went to the store for provisions, which included two scratchers, a Powerball quickpick (net $24 profit!) a sack of gummy LifeSavers, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup, a dozen wings, a frozen meat-lovers pizza and vodka. We also have two gallons of gumbo that we made and froze last weekend. And three more bottles of Champagne: Dry January is over, bitches.
  • I might do my taxes… and while doing so, I’ll contemplate the fact that up until just five years ago, the NFHell was a nonprofit organization.
  • I will definitely do laundry… and even fold and put it away.
  • We would go outside and play, but it’s raining in Scottsdale, so going to the deserted Waste Management Phoenix Open to Xerox the most glorious Stupid Bowl of our lives is outta the question, but I think our odds for a repeat would be excellent if we wanted to brave the rain.
  • We will likely binge-watch The Punisher and imagine the Lombardi Trophy at the end of that sledgehammer.
  • We will wear our unofficial Saints logo gear ALL. DAY. LONG. (Once we change out of our pajamas… It’s 1:12 PM MST – 3 hours, 18 minutes to kickoff, as I’m writing this).
  • The good news is, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WATCH THE GAME. Goodelldermort doesn’t care who wins as long as your eyeballs are weeping the sweet nectar of TV ratings points (Los Angeles, #2 television market in America… Hmm). So if you’re conflicted and you can’t figure out whom to hate, REMEMBER: WHEN YOU WATCH, GOODELL WINS. So how does a Fixer Upper marathon sound, America?

And Now My Watch Has Ended: TGen

My last day was December 4 — the end of a four-year adventure at TGen and the start of a new journey for me.

TGen, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, explores the human genome to find the causes of and develop treatments for complex diseases. A nonprofit biomedical research organization, headquartered in Phoenix, TGen hired me as its first marketing director.

I don’t think they or I knew what we were getting into, but it was a hell of a ride. Every day, I got to work with some of the brightest minds in science and medicine, and they let me tell their stories… in small words and big type so everyone could understand.

And so everyone could celebrate and, more importantly, support their achievements. 

Along the way, we made rap videos and time-lapse installations. We wrote e-newsletters and created ad campaigns. We promoted fundraisers, gave tours and posted patient-stories on social media. We launched a podcast — TGen Talks — to give voice to the people behind the discoveries.

The scientists invited me into their laboratories and lab meetings, and they gave me grace and patience as they answered my (repeated) questions and (painstakingly) explained their work so I could share it with others. They showed me that failure is always an option; that the answers found aren’t necessarily as important as the questions asked or the work put in to achieve the goal; that you can stand in awe of the mysteries of the universe while working doggedly to solve them; and that you can do great things and also have fun along the way.

I am grateful to my friend Troy Richards for introducing me to the organization that saved his life. I owe my eternal thanks to my boss, Galen Perry, for giving me a chance, and I am honored to have worked alongside the hardest-working team in the building, the MARCOM team (an army of seven, of which I was a department of one). I am humbled by everyone at TGen that put their faith in me to tell their stories.

So why did I leave?

It was not an easy decision to make, but growth doesn’t come easily. I have been invited to lead my own team at Barrow Neurological Foundation. I will still be supporting science and working to inspire donors to a cause greater than myself. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid: It’s daunting, but if we’re not afraid, we’re not growing.

My first day is December 17. 

Winslow

January 30, 2004 – August 12, 2018

Winslow supervises the Pacific Ocean

We have no dogs in our house anymore.

For the first time in our marriage, we are two instead of five, or four, or three. Winslow, our sweet old pit bull, died Sunday at the age of 14-and-a-half.

Winslow was not the “Best Dog Ever” — that title will always belong to Coolidge. She had no patience for fetching. She did not grovel for belly rubs. Squeaky toys annoyed her. She was indifferent to treats.

She did not care for walking, but when we insisted, she always paused to press her nose into the same white trailside flower, and she always made a full stop and raised a paw for medical assistance if a thorn brushed against her or an errant fleck of gravel touched her toe.

She was particular about where she sat — her bottom only touched carpet, never tile. She grumbled and grunted with maximum disdain if you were in her spot on the couch, and she leapt at that warmed cushion if you got up to refresh your drink. For being only 60 pounds, she had a knack for maximizing her surface area on the California king, pushing both Pat and me to the margins.

She was a strict enforcer of bedtime: At 7:30 PM (in Arizona or California), she departed the living room for our bedroom with an insouciant sniff. At 8:30, she began to bark her commands to turn off that television, brush our teeth and get in the bed. And if she had to get up in the middle of the night to relieve herself or celebrate the Supermoon, she made sure you knew that the dog door was “exit only:” It was our responsibility to let her back inside and put her back on the bed… which we did at 2:30 in the morning.

With her discerning sniffs, she made sure we did everything right: From pumping up our bicycle tires to administering her many medications with the correct (and most generous) Pill Pocket-to-pill ratio, to packing the car for our road trips and ensuring her maximum comfort therein.

No, she was not the Best Dog Ever, but she was a Good Dog. Instead of being a slobbering pleaser like Coolidge, she was a cool companion, grateful for our place in her world, and we were grateful that she was our friend.

Winslow loved to luxuriate in a pile of fresh laundry, still warm from the dryer, and she built mighty pillow fortresses on our bed. She enjoyed a good flop on the cool grass, as much as she reveled in roasting on the hot rocks in the gravel beds. In her youth, she joined Coolidge in defending our backyard with warnings to the joggers on the sidewalk beyond our fence. As a middle-aged den mother, she welcomed us home with enthusiastic howls, “Roo! Roo! Roo!”

Her howls had grown mostly quiet since Coolidge departed this mortal coil last year. Her world grew smaller, circumscribed by hobbled hips and muffled hearing and the general indignities of being 90-something in dog years.

Since Coolidge passed, she didn’t come to greet me when I returned from work each day. I could always hear Pat through the door saying, “She’s here! She’s here!” and I’d be lucky to get a head cocked in my direction as she lounged from her bed beside Pat’s desk.

This brindle shadow was Pat’s workday constant in the year since Coolidge died. Winslow would stand then sit then lay in a melancholy vigil by the front door when he went out for an errand or a walk, leaving chopped-liver me (in her spot) on the couch by myself.

Yesterday, after Dr. Rachel at Scottsdale Animal Healthcare had assured us that we had done our best and there was nothing more to do, we came home to a silent house. We took off on our bikes to burn off our tears in the desert sun, and she did not greet us at the door when we returned.

She wasn’t there to lick the sweat and tears from our cheeks. 

Our house is quiet now. It has no dogs. We’ll welcome others when the time is right, but as with Ruby and Ink and Red Puppy and Coolidge, it will be different. When you give your heart to a dog, you will always end up heartbroken, but it will always be worth it.

Winslow