Streetlight Effect


This pandemic is teaching me something important about myself. Too often lately, I’m falling prey to the Streetlight Effect. (If you’re familiar with it, you can skip this next part and go to “Human beings…”)

What is the Streetlight effect? Here’s the usual story that explains it:

A policeman is walking by a bar one night, and he sees a drunk man crawling around on the ground beneath a lamp post.

“What are you looking for?” the cop asks the drunk man.

“I’m looking for my house keys,” the man says. “I lost them around here.”

“I’ll help you,” the cop says. Together, they begin to look around under the streetlight.

But after a few minutes, neither one of them can find the keys.

“Are you sure this is where you lost your keys?” the cop asks.

No, I’m not sure of that at all,” the man says. “I might’ve lost them in the alley.”

“Then why aren’t you looking in the alley?” the cop asks.

“Well, this is where the light is,” the drunk man says.

Human beings tend to look for the truth in the places where it’s easiest to search, rather than the places where it’s likely to be.

I’m guilty of this. And in these crazy days of the coronavirus, we tend to look to our favorite media and the people we trust (our streetlights) for the truth. But given the confusion and lack of real knowledge that exists about the virus, we need to be careful not to be too sure of ourselves. Because nobody really has the answers. Right now, it’s all guesswork.

Case in point: On Wednesday, I read a long scientific paper stating that it could take 10 years before we know if the coronavirus is something we can actually protect ourselves from, either from a vaccine or by catching it and building the antibodies that will stay with us for the rest of our lives — if indeed they will. Even the experts really aren’t sure.

In the meantime, do we continue to stay home until the cases throughout the country peak? Until a vaccine is developed? (President Trump is promising one by the end of the year, but the experts say it won’t happen until next spring at the earliest.) And while we wait, there are children to educate (not to mention hold and hug), jobs to do, people to take care of, lives to live. How long do we wait? And just how flat does the curve have to be?

On Thursday, Gene and I had socially distant drinks with a couple we know from business. He’s a cardiologist and, like many doctors, speaks with a very authoritative tone. I asked him where he stood on the coronavirus and whether people should begin venturing out. He talked about the folly in trying to totally avoid the germs all around us, that only a very small percentage of the people who come down with COVID-19 die from it, and they, for the most part, are already not well.

His attitude seemed so cold and objective. I think he was speaking the truth, but his apparent lack of concern for the vulnerable was troubling. I guess there are those who feel that most of us should simply go about our business, and let nature take its course.

He made me think, and that’s a good thing. But I don’t want to disregard my humanity in exchange for practicality. Surely there’s a way to proceed that acknowledges the need for people to work and support themselves and their families, but also protects the vulnerable.

So what is the way? A lot of people on both sides of the aisle are trying to figure that out. And in the meantime, I’m going to do my best not to judge how others choose to deal with that question, providing they’re taking a thoughtful approach. Because we won’t know for a long time what the best course of action may have been.

I’m going to do what’s comfortable for me, and within reason, allow others the same right. And I hope they will do the same for me. After all, we’re in this together.

Life with Parkinson’s


Some days when I wake up, I can’t see the time — on the clock on Gene’s bedside table or the one on my phone. My right leg is twitching , my toes are cramping and feel glued together, my back is stiff and achy, and my balance is … well, It’s shit. I must look drunk on the way to the bathroom.

But I take my meds, brush my teeth, and have a cup of coffee. I may be shaking on the right side, but within an hour, I’m doing pretty well. And if I stick to my schedule, the meds keep my tremor under control.

Such is my life with Parkinson’s. And yet, when I got an automated call yesterday from my health insurance provider, I answered “very good” to the question about my current state of health because, except for the Parkinson’s, it is very good. After all, when asked if I had this health issue or that one, I was able to answer “no” to every one of them. That’s because they didn’t ask me if I had Parkinson’s — or any movement disorder, for that matter.

The truth is, I can do pretty much whatever I want to, thanks to good medicine (doctors and chemicals) and lots of exercise. Like Alan Alda, my motto is “Keep moving.” And so I do. I work out with a trainer on Monday and Friday, go to a boxing class on Tuesday,  attend a Dance for Parkinson’s class on Wednesday, walk, hike, and garden.

This is my trainer Matt Jarvis, with me. Under normal circumstances, I work out with Matt twice a week, in a group.

On Thursday, I attend Tremble Clefs, a choir of people with Parkinson’s (and a few care givers), directed by a music therapist. You see, Parkinson’s tries to make everything controlled by your nervous system smaller — your movements, your handwriting, even your voice.

Having lived in San Francisco, Seattle, Faribault, MN, Phoenix, and Tucson, and having worked most of my life, I have lots of friends. And being in the Phoenix area with our five children (Gene’s two and my three) and 10 grandchildren, there is, under normal circumstances, lots of interaction with people of all ages.

This is my husband Gene and me with our nine grandchildren. The 10th, a baby boy,
was born 2 months later.

So I go about my days like anyone else, constantly aware of my disorder, but pretty much ignoring it. Even in this surreal time of COVID-19, life is good. And I am grateful.