“Contagion” With Dr. Allison Arwady

Since the Siskel Center reopening in August, they screen so many interesting films that I want to be there every other day! One of the series is called Chicago Favorites, and last Saturday, they screened “Contagion” with special guest Dr. Allison Arwady. It was a little bit surreal to see her live after seen her on-screen almost every day for the past 18 months :), and the conversation was exceptionally interesting. At the time when this movie was filmed, she worked as a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, just as Kate Winslet’s character in the movie.

People asked Dr. Allison how close to reality things are presented in the movie and whether at that time she thought that such things could happen for real (her reply: absolutely, it was not the question of if, but when). She mentioned that quarantining Chicago in the situation described in the movie wouldn’t make sense and that as for the movie’s food shortage, she said: we grow our own food! So although the supply chain disruption is real as we see it, it won’t end up in the food shortage and people breaking into the stores (that happened for different reasons!)
You know what I like about Dr. Arwady? She is in front of people almost every day. She is never falsely optimistic, but she also never panic, and her explanations of the Chicago Health Department policies are clear and making sense. That e-being said, she is very optimistic about our future, and she says vaccines work exactly like expected, and we couldn’t even hope for such an outcome, And we will get through it.

And I trust her!

The Health Coverage

Mom received the approval letter for the Illinois Health Choice program, and I still can’t believe it’s all over! Too good to be true.

It was a ridiculously complicated process, and if it weren’t for Igor, nothing would happen.

From the first day in the US, mom used Access To Care, which is a charity to provide routine healthcare for those who, for any reason, are not eligible for Medicaid. or any other insurance. This program operates in Northwest suburban Cook county. When I told mom’s doctor that we are moving, she said they also cover Evanston and Rogers Park. But it turned out that our zip code is not eligible, and we had to look for alternatives.

After some research, Igor found that program mom could be eligible for: the program for older immigrants who spent less than 5 years in the US and are not yet eligible for Medicare. 

 I tried to submit my mom’s application online. Still, I got weird errors, and I had no time to continue during work hours when we could get customer assistance. 

So Igor spent two hours of his time to complete and submit her application. Later, however, she received a letter that they need her proff of income and some other proof of her status. With her income, it was interesting because we could only provide a statement from a Russian bank (in rubles), but that was all we had. Not relying on the mail, Irog went to their office and dropped the copies.

A week passed, and nobody called back. When a financial counselor from the emergency room called me, I explained the situation. She said she would follow up with the office. Only after that, the Health office called me back and asked what roubles mean and what’s the exchange rate!  

Ten days later, mom got yet another letter asking for proof of status. Since we already sent it twice, I called the office and left a message. They returned my call the next day, looked through mom’s file, and said: oh yes, she has everything! And proof of residence! You

are all good. 

So what it was, I have no idea, but yesterday, mom finally received a welcome letter! She has a doctor assigned, and this doctor is a ten-minute walk from her home! And this State program is tons better than what she had before!

Last Night

Yesterday was the last day Boris was here, and it was one of the most productive days of his stay. Even though he had to leave to the airport at 6 PM, and even though we slept a little bit (by my standards :)), we did a lot! It would be a great day, except it ended with my mom on her first trip to the emergency room.

Igor took her to Devon market for shopping, and somehow she tripped on something on the floor and fall just the moment Igor looked away in search of the shopping cart. She had serious bleeding on the left side of her face. Somebody got her a bandaid, and she even continued shopping; however, she felt lightheaded. When Igor called me, I told him we need to take her to the emergency room to check for a concussion. It ended up alright: the nearest 24-hour emergency was not far away, and we didn’t even have to wait long. She got a CT scan, and she had no concussion, and the doctor put pain-relieving patches on her back and chest where she said it hurt and a stitch on her face. But even with everybody being very efficient, we left the hospital at 11 PM and had to wait for Uber and then drop her off first, and then me.

I am glad we took her to emergency and that I do not have to worry for days whether it could be a concussion, so I won’t even say that I planned that evening differently 🙂


On top of what’s expected, like packing, trying to get rid of the stuff I do not need, and painting, I am also doing one more implant. 

I should have started it in November, but then I thought I was too busy with the book and work. As a result, I am doing it now, when I am even busier!

Today, I went for a tooth extraction. Since the dentist had to restore a part of the bone that deteriorated, I have to wait for four months till the implant. 

Although that is not my first implant, I did the previous ones with another surgeon. I liked this new dentist the moment he started talking to me during the initial consultation. So nice and kind! Not only he explained to me what should be done and why, but he also followed all his actions with verbal explanations of what he is doing at that very moment.

As you would expect, he gave me the paper with all my dos and don’ts for after the surgery. There was his cell number at the top of the page, and he told me to call him directly if anything. But what really shocked me was that he called me at 8 PM today to check whether I am feeling OK. Not the nurse, but the doctor himself… I do not think that ever happened to me!


On Monday, my vaccination group (1C) finally became eligible in Illinois, which meant that I could start to participate in these endless waiting rooms on the Cook County Health Care department. Starting from last Sunday, I already did three of them, and each time with no luck.  

I heard from other people how they would spend hours on the phone or online trying to find an appointment. And I started to think that having everything that’s going on in my life, I will have to wait until the vaccine becomes more available – I have no time for than hunt.

On Thursday, I received yet another text alert about the release of appointments and was ready to start trying again when I decided to check my personal email. I do not have much time for that during the workday, not like I am not allowed, but I do not have time. For some reason, I looked at it that very moment (and it was April Fool, mind you:)) and I saw a Palatine Township newsletter. There could be absolutely nothing urgent, but for some reason, I opened it. 

The first paragraph read:

April 3 Vaccination available for seniors (65+)

and their caregivers (55+)

While the first part was no news, the second part was, and I could not believe my eyes. There was a phone number to call, and I did. There was no wait, and there was a person, a human being, who answered. I sheepishly started to ask whether that’s true and whether the caregivers indeed are eligible. She asked for my date of birth and said – yes. She put down all my information and said that the vaccination center would call me and please pick up the calls and check my emails.

Twenty minutes later, my phone rang, and another human being was on the line to verify my information. 

I said that I do not want to cut the line, and I am not a full-time caregiver, but the lady said: yes, but you do take care of your mom! Of course, we want you to be vaccinated along with your mom! She told me where I need to go -a senior center on the North Shore, and she added that they do not know which vaccine it is going to be; it will be delivered that morning. But if I would need a second dose, she added, they would schedule it as well.

It all happened so fast! That was the end of my workday on Thursday, and when I came home, I found a consent form in my Inbox. And then it was Friday, and then – today. Everything was organized exceptionally well; there was no wait, the flow was smooth. However, the best part was that when I arrived, they told me that I would get Johnson & Johnson!!! I thought that it would be great, but not that many chances, and it happened! As my mom said, those who are above us realized how little spare time I have! 

Our athorities ask us not to post selfies with vaccination cards anymore amidst the fraud concerns, so here comes a picture of the goodie bag I got in the senior center 🙂

Chicago’s Austin community and the complexities of COVID-19 vaccine equity

For the most part, Illinois is till currently in Phase 1B of the vaccination program. In order to get inoculated, you have to be 65 or older, or (with a few exceptions) an essential worker, or a teacher, or (in most parts of the state) be an adult with some kind of a long-term health issue. This means that most adults and none of the kids still can’t get it.

For the most part.

In the end of February, the City of Chicago quietly launched the Protect Chicago Plus initiative, where the city is offering vaccinations to everybody age 18 or older who live in certain community areas and set up temporary vaccination sites. The idea is that the majority-black and majority-Hispanic neighborhoods have seen higher-than-average number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but also have fewer opportunities to get the vaccines. For example, the Lakeview neighborhood up on the North Side has a number of doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies. In North Lawndale, you can count those on two hands and still have fingers left over.

The city decided to set eligibility based on community areas, which makes sense. Neighborhoods come and go, their borders shift, and there isn’t always consensus on what they’re called and borders even are, while Chicago community areas have endured, with very few changes, for almost 100 years.

But it does create some interesting wrinkles.

Continue reading “Chicago’s Austin community and the complexities of COVID-19 vaccine equity”

Getting Tested In Helsinki

Two weeks before I left for Helsinki, I started to research where I can take a COVID test prior to my return. All my online searches ended the same way. After finding a place end trying to see how to schedule an appointment, it would bring me to the page, which would require identification with the local bank card (that’s how people in Finland get access to their medical records.
Natasha called them, and they told her that I do not need to go to the airport. I can call and schedule an appointment in the city. The cost of the test and certificate will be 265 euros, which is 315 dollars.
I came to Helsinki on Saturday, and on Monday morning, we started calling. Yes, the nurses speak English, but the automated system speaks Finnish :).
On the second try, we figured out what were the hours of operation and called later. There was a new message :), which asked – press one to call back. There was no option to “remain on the line.”

All was good, except we had no idea when they will call back, and Boris had to teach online for three and a half hours on that day. That was the reason why I chose Monday to meet with Natasha.
As we expected, they called during the class, but thankfully they called back one more time, and I was able to schedule an appointment for Wednesday. On Tuesday, we walked there to make sure we know where the place is. It was a good call because the testing lab and the medical office were in two separate buildings.

On Wednesday, I went for the test. On the phone, they asked me to bring a passport to put the passport number on the certificate. But they didn’t do it when taking the test; they only checked it to see that that was me :). Also, they told me that I would need to pay when I am picking up the certificate. And that I should not come back until I know I have a negative result.
All of this left me slightly worried – what if the result won’t be there on Thursday morning? However, Thursday morning, Boris received a text message: login to view your test results. Ha. I can’t log in! I do not have the banking identification!

We called them again; and, again, pressed one for a callback. An hour later, somebody called. I started to explain that I can’t view the results, and a lady said: yes, that’s why I am calling. Your result is negative, and you can pick up your certificate. But first, tell me your passport number so that I can put it on the certificate.

I went there, paid for the certificate, and we even stopped in the Fazer cafe for some salmon soup – that was the only day I was officially out of the quarantine, and also, we found a cafe where every other place was marked as “do not sit here.”

Funny story. When we were already back home, the medical center called back: did you call us? It turned out, that the nurse who called us in the morning, didn’t “call back,” but just called, because she knew I won’t be able to view the results 🙂

Everything was great. We stopped to buy some bread and dairy for me to take back to Chicago. Then we came home, and I went for one more short walk before starting my half-day at work.

I planned to start working at 4 PM (8 AM Chicago time) to do some coding before my first meeting at 9 AM. I printed the attestation copies, which are now required to enter the US, and took my certificate out of the envelope. I looked at it and saw that my last name was misspelled!!! Three characters off, which is not a surprise with the last name as long as mine!

I looked at my watch. It was 4:05. Boris said: three characters are OK for the airlines, but… I said: yes, not these days! The Aavo center was still open, and I hurried up there! It was -3F, and ai had to put layers and layers on myself. Fortunately, the tram came right away, and when I arrived, they told me to go to the second floor to the nurse. The whole thing took less than fifteen minutes, and I hurried back with the new certificate. On the way back, the tram driver saw me running to the stop and waited for me. I opened the apartment door at 4:58 🙂

Vaccination One More Time

They called me three times on Friday! First, to confirm mom’s appointment for Monday. One more time, because they forgot to remind me that mom needs to bring her ID to verify her age so that she won’t be turned down. And the third time – from her doctor’s office, because they didn’t receive that information yet, and they wanted to make sure we know about the vaccination. It was very touching, but I can’t stop resenting it took so long to figure things out!

On the same day, I received a message from my health care provider that the vaccine is available to the patients and that everybody will be contacted individually when there will be a turn for their age group. Once again – great, but why in the world it took co long?!

About The Vaccination

All this vaccination thing in the Northwest Suburban Cook County is so disorganized! I knew for several weeks that my mom is in the priority group 1b and will become eligible starting on January 25. The date was approaching, and nobody knew anything! All the officials were like, “please be patient!” And I am fine being patient, but I wondered why there couldn’t be a normal wait line like they have in Finland. 

There was literally no information at first. Then, the Tribune published the URL where everybody was supposed to register “to receive updates.” In Lake County, everybody could see their number in line, and even in Chicago, it seemed easier to find a slot. 

I messaged mom’s doctor in Access to Care, and they replied that they do not provide the vaccination yet and that I should try to sign up mom with Cook County. I did and received a UUID with which I could theoretically sign her up, but in both vaccination centers, all slots were full. At the alternative providers, the situation was the same. 

Also, they had endless lists of Walgreens, Jewel Oscos, and Walmarts, which would have the vaccine, but once again, “all slots full.” And what I do not understand is why they can’t have some centralized place to sign up for all Oscos or all Walgreens. Instead, you have to try to sign up with each store individually, only to find out that there are no slots available.

On Sunday, mom received an email from the NW Suburban Cook County Health Department that they have more doses and people can sign up. My understanding is that they sent this message to everybody who signed up to be in line, without any priorities. Because when mom forwarded this email to me, and I tried to sign her up, there were once again no slots available. 

In the city, the situation seems better, but you need to have a city zip code. Vlad, Igor, and I discussed whether we could pretend that mom lives with one of them :).

All of a sudden, today at midday, I received a message that Access To Care started to vaccinate and that mom can sign up. Which I immediately did, signing her for next Monday afternoon – the first appointment available. 

Now, I am cautiously optimistic, but I will believe it when I see it!

Multiple Reasons To Be Upset

Over the past seven months, I was praising Metra commuters for wearing masks and keeping the distance. 

However, tonight, on my ride back home, two middle-aged guys in the car were sitting in front of each other with no masks talking and drinking beer. I didn’t realize they were mask-less until I got up to exit. When I saw it, I told them: guys, you should wear masks on the train! It’s a requirement! They ignored, and the next passenger leaving the car said something about assholes, referring to them. Again, they didn’t care, and it was really upsetting. 

Yesterday, when I talked to Mom, I found out that she forgot that I gave her Kindle for her birthday, and she even forgot what the Kindle is. Fortunately, she found it, and I took it home to copy a book she wanted to read. After work, I stopped by her place to return her Kindle and make sure she knows how to use it. We practiced several times, and she just emailed me, “thank you for your gift.” I am very tired and upset each time I talk to her, and I do not understand why. It does not take a lot to listen to her for half an hour, and I do not understand why it.

Also, it’s a lot of work at work! And I mean just urgent work, which needs to be done, I am very sorry that people need to wait for days for me to do small things, but I can’t squizz more in my days than I do now.

And a vaccine. The disorganization is above and beyond anything I saw before. With Mom being eligible, I still can’t sign her up. I know that I need to start taking her to places because otherwise, her brain will die. But now, that vaccine is so close; you do not want to expose her till she is vaccinated… 

Also, one of the very important Postgres people emailed me about our “not enough” licenses on our data sources in the postgres_air database, and I spent the rest of the evening (after mom) putting these licenses together. 

Why is it that objectively, I am on the peak of everything, but subjectively I feel really exhausted?