End of Year Message From Dr. Maral Skelsey

One of the most extraordinary achievements in medical history is the rapid development of the coronavirus vaccine.  With truly breathtaking speed, a novel technology has been harnessed to create a life-saving intervention. It will be several months, however, before most of us are vaccinated—and even longer before we can resume life as we knew it. This holiday season—like Thanksgiving- will not involve leaving town to visit extended family. I love to travel and am not excited about the prospect of another “staycation.” Who doesn’t want to get away and leave pandemic madness behind? But where is there to go? Like nearly everyone, I want to escape the drumbeat of bad news and the monotony of the same routine and landscape. A few weeks ago, as I walked along the river, I realized a boat could be the ticket out. Kayak rentals are now closed so I needed to buy one. I was a little worried about how much space it might take up—as city dwellers without a garage, that’s always an issue. But when I saw someone neatly fold up her kayak like origami, I learned about the world of foldable boats and headed straight to Amazon—the online version, not the one in South America.

It turned out that there are a lot of choices for portable kayaks; the priciest are collapsible. Since I only hit the water a couple of times a year in “before times” I thought it was a bit extravagant for my needs. But then I hit upon a very reasonable inflatable kayak that came with its own pump and backpack. Jackpot! I could see myself walking down to the river with my backpack for a peaceful sunset cruise.

After a few weeks I almost forgot about the order until a box the size of a small Volkswagen Bug arrived at my front door. I pulled out the massive plastic contents, which may have weighed as much as a VW. Maybe walking to the river with the kayak in a backpack was not going to be so easy. Perhaps I’d made a mistake. Perhaps I should reconsider and make sourdough bread instead. But I was committed- mainly because my family thought it was a crazy idea. I wasn’t going to let this end up in the basement with my other unused purchases like the pasta machine, bread maker, ice cream maker, waffle maker, fondue pot and sous vide machine. The last kitchen device I really embraced was the Easy Bake Oven, although I did start using the Instapot once I overcame my fear of causing a massive explosion.

I was ready to put this together. How hard could it be? I do surgery on complex skin cancers and operate sophisticated lasers. Surely I could put together a kayak that came with an illustrated instruction manual. And it was only 19 pages, two thirds of which were written in foreign languages that I am purported to speak. Easy peasy in comparison to a laser manual!

Most of the pages, however, were filled with  caution symbols  and dire warnings (“Paddle sports may involve serious injury or death”). DEATH? Although it sounded like inflating this thing might cause transformation into some kind of evil genie, I carried on. It was a beautiful Saturday and I loved the idea of paddling around, looking at some new scenery. Back to the manual- whose diagrams, unfortunately, bore no resemblance to the unwieldy folded plastic contraption in front of me. Instructions helpfully pointed out: “NOTE: the pump may look different from yours. It is for illustration purposes only.” Right about that. I carried on, inserting the pump into what I hoped was the right port as the manual was explicit that the “Floor chamber must be inflated before the main chambers.” I guessed that one of the 8 likely ports was the right one and started pumping away. EUREKA! It worked. With a little elbow grease, the kayak would be ready in no time. After fifteen minutes of strenuous action, however, and I had reached only about 10 % of my goal. This was definitely more than I bargained for. In a touching gesture of concern my son came outside and said, “I think you’d better stop before you have a heart attack.” I would have loved to have stopped but I remembered the shelf of partially read parenting books by my bed, admonishing parents to encourage Perseverance! Resilience! I wasn’t about to model a quitter. On the other hand, I recognized how embarrassing it would be for a teenager to admit that his mother dropped dead trying to inflate a plastic kayak, so I gave him a shot at the pump, rendering the last 90% a breeze.

And just like that I became a boat owner- ready for a quick getaway. Not exactly ready for an extended river cruise, but the entire process gave me a very welcome escape. Sometimes a box from Amazon can provide enough of a change of pace to refresh one’s outlook until a trip down the real Amazon is possible.

Stay safe, stay home and have a peaceful and happy holiday season.