I got addicted to cappuccino when I worked in coffee houses and bought my first espresso machine, a Jura Rio D’Oro with built-in grinder, when I was still living in student quarters at Uilenstede. Later I bought a secondhand Quickmill 820 and a separate grinder, and finally my La Pavoni Professional.
These lovely machines have been made since the early sixties and are popular machines, mainly due to their simplicity. The only electric part is the heating element in the boiler, everything else is mechanical.
Without going into the whole history of La Pavoni Europiccola / Professional machines, there are basically two versions of the machine: the Europiccola, which is the version with an 0.8 liter boiler; and the Professional with a 1.6 liter boiler and a pressure gauge.
There are also luxury versions, like the Stradivari, but all these lever machines basically work the same way. You fill the boiler with water, wait until the machine is heated up (15 minutes), put coffee in the portafilter that you screw under the group, place a cup on the drip tray, lift the lever to mechanically use the vacuum in the group to fill the group with hot water, wait until the first drips fall into the cup signalling that the puck of coffee has been pre-infused with water, and pull down the lever to push the water in the group through the coffee into the cup.
Pre-Millenium and Millenium machines.
After 1998, La Pavoni made a change in the group of the lever machines, enlarging the group from 48mm to 51mm and installing a teflon sleeve in the new larger group. The newer models were called Millenium and the older types with the smaller groups were called Pre-Millenium.
If you open up the bottom of your Pavoni, you will see a sticker under the drip tray with the manufacturing date. Mine says 2000, but has the small group, which initially confused me since I thought that every machine made after 1998 had the larger group. However, I found out that in-between the two models, between 1997 and 2001, they made a Pre-Millenium model with the small group and a teflon piston.
I bought my Professional secondhand and found out that the previous owner had replaced the teflon piston with the brass piston of the older models. So, the most important part of determining whether you have the Pre-Millenium is the size of the group, not the date on the bottom plate.
Since my Professional is a 2000 machine, the heating element is steel, not brass, and has a fuse to prevent the element from overheating, as on most Millenium models. Before you attempt to change boiler gaskets, you have to find out what gaskets you need, depending on the age of your machine, and whether the heating element is the older brass version or the newer steel version, which have different gaskets.
I send pictures of the underside of my machine to a Pavoni parts store where they pointed out which gaskets I needed and where to place them.
Before you do anything, make sure to take detailed pictures of the schematics, so you can assemble the machine correctly!
Disassembly of the machine is a pain in the ass, mostly because of the flange holding the boiler. There is a factory tool to remove the flange, but that costs 100+ euro, which was way over my budget. So I bought a 5 euro oil filter removal tool that did the trick. I don’t have pictures of removing the flange, but this is how you do it:
Pull the plug on the machine, unscrew the bottom plate (in my case a secure torx screw under the drip tray) and remove the bottom plate.
After taking picturs of the electric circuit, you pull the wiring clips from the element, unscrew the bolts and gently remove the element from the underside of the boiler. Important to note that one of the bolts held down the ground wire, which is why the schematics photo is so important!
After removing the heating element, you have to use penetrating oil (I used Lubra Rapid lock oil) in and around the flange and let it sit overnight. The flange has holes all around that you can squirt oil in to reach the old dried-out gasket underneath.
I used the waiting time to put the heating element in a bowl of descaling liquid, making sure only the element itself hung in there (the part that is usually submerged in the boiler), not the part with the wiring.
The next day, you take a hair dryer and heat up the flange and the boiler. Heat and oil should soften the gasket and help unscrew the flange. With the oil filter key in the slots, I used the long handled wrench to put pressure to unscrew the flange counter-clockwise. My first attempt didn’t work, so I oiled the flange and gasket again and let it soak for another few hours, then heated it up with the hair dryer again and tried again to unscrew the flange. Using a rubber mallet I tapped the flange around the rim, put the oil filter key again and wiggled the handle of the wrench to jog the flange. Still no movement. Don’t despair, removing the flange is the hardest thing about changing the gaskets and it requires patience.
If you’re the impatient type, don’t even try to change these gaskets (now you tell me?).
On my third attempt, after heating the flange and pulling the handle of the wrench towards me while I used my other hand to steady the base and keep the oil filter key in position, the flange started to move.
I made sure the threads of the boiler were oiled, so I could unscrew the flange and remove the boiler from the base.
Since this was probably the first time the gaskets were going to be replaced (yes, I only started when the boiler started leaking moisture), the hot boiler had hardened the old gaskets. The upper gasket between the boiler and the base broke into hard pieces, but the lower one between the base and the flange had fused with the base. I had to heat that gasket with the hair dryer, chip away at it with a dull knife and a drill with a polishing brush to remove that gasket.
I also screwed a plastic lid from a choco pasta jar under the boiler and filled it with descaling liquid, which I had to do three times before all the scale was gone. Like i said, this is a job for patient people who don’t mind leaving stuff soaking overnight.
After cleaning all the parts, the assembly with new gaskets was much easier than the disassembly had been.
It’s important to know the order of the gaskets. The gasket on the left goes between the boiler and the base, I will call this the Boiler Gasket. The gasket on the right goes under the base between the boiler and the flange, I will call this the Flange Gasket.
The third gasket is a thin one that fits in the rim of the heating element.
First, you install the Boiler Gasket, dry. This gasket is not oiled!
Next, you grease up the Flange Gasket, put the upside down base on the upended boiler and fit the Flange Gasket.
And grease the inner thread of the flange and the threads of the boiler to screw the flange onto the boiler threads by hand.
Hand-tighten the flange and check if the boiler and base are in the correct position, then put the Oil Filter Key on the flange and tighten the flange.
The flange has three holes with copper threads for the bolts of the heating element. They have to be in the correct position.
Lightly grease the element gasket before fitting it to the heating element, so it will stay in position when you put the element in place.
The bended copper tube of the heating element has to curve around the electric cable, or it will damage the cable when it heats up.
Now you plug the wiring back in. First the wiring around the fuse.
Then we unscrew the bolt near the drip tray, place the ground cable over the hole and reinsert the bolt and tighten it carefully, making sure the ground cable angles away slightly from the heating element.
And we use the schematics photo to put the wiring clips back on the heating element.
Now we can cover the underside with the ABS bottom plate again.
Now we grease the steam knob and install it, using a 14mm wrench.
Grease the gaskets of the piston and push it into the group until the hole of the shaft is in the highest position.
Screw the copper water tube in and put the shower and O-ring in so your group is ready to be installed again.
Install the lever in the correct position.
Fill the boiler.
And the machine is ready to be plugged in.
Enjoy your clean machine!
If you have comments and/or if you want me to put a step by step manual on how to maintain the group, let me know in the comments.
My Corona Diary was getting a bit long, and was nowhere near over, so I decided to break it off after my return from the hospital and document my convalescence.
You can find the first part of My Corona Diary here.
You can find the second part of My Corona Diary here.
FYI, all measurements are Dutch/European. My normal body temperature is 36.5 Celsius. Normal glucose levels are between 5-8 mmol/l. Normal blood pressure for me ought to be 129/85, but I usually have 135/90.
(April 30th) I slept fairly well, no coughing bouts and only one early morning toilet break. At 07.30 hours I woke and switched off my oxygen, then measured my saturation, which was 88% but climbed to 92% within minutes. So I left the oxygen off and sat at my desk doing breathing exercises. Probably will be sent home this afternoon, so I better prepare to have energy for packing my bags. I will ask for the hospital to arrange transport back home though. It’s about ten minutes by car, but I don’t want to accidentally infect a taxi driver if it can be avoided. Although I’ve been tested negatively for Corona twice. So I told them I needed oxygen during transport, and they would arrange for transport by ambulance.
I was told the ambulance would be there by noon, so I packed my bags — a heavy one with my Kolibri typewriter and all my writing materials and the photos and my maps with poetry and the DRONE draft; another slightly less heavy bag with my regular stuff, like my vaporizer, headphones, the camping lamps, extension cords and adapters; a daypack with my toiletries, eyewash, medication, et cetera; and a bag with my sheepskin and bathrobe. Plus my sling bag with my valuables.
They put a wheelchair near my room and I told them it would be quite a strain for them to use a wheelchair to cart me with an oxygen tank and five bags to the exit.
Ten minutes to noon I was ready and waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. At ten to one, one of the nurses told me she’d bring me to the ambulance taxi. A small Moroccan woman to push a wheelchair with a man weighing 96kg, plus five bags. I asked her if she was sure, but it looked like she had no choice.
With both heavy bags on my lap and the sling bag hanging from my shoulder, and the two lighter bags hanging from the handlebars she pushed me to the exit. I inquired about the oxygen, but she said I didn’t need it for the wheelchair ride to the exit, and the ambulance should have its own supply.
After she got me outside, it turned out that the ‘ambulance’ turned out to be a van without an oxygen supply… No surprises there.
The medics who helped me were friendly and carried my bags into my house, so no complaints there, but they told me nobody mentioned me needing oxygen…
But, hey, I’m home again and reunited with Mingus.
My friend M arrived around 17.45 hours and the cleaner S some ten minutes later. We spent about an hour talking through my situation and what I needed, then S went to clean up the kitchen, toilet and bathroom and vacuum the house. He’s fairly young and has been working as a ‘thuishulp’ for six or seven weeks, but he’s capable and friendly, so I’ll probably ask the service for him to be my regular cleaner.
When it became time to go to bed, I still hadn’t be able to figure out how to connect the oxygen cylinder to the air converter, so I took two cylinders, put them next to my bed and connected the oxygen tube straight to the flow meter.
(May 1st) Sleep didn’t come easy — I had lots of lung spasms when I lay down on my flat futon bed, without the ability to raise the headrest. After I fell into a fitful sleep, plagued with nightmares, I woke up with severe cramps in my back and a blocked nose. My saturation was 77%, despite the oxygen.
I woke up my friend M, who could look in my bathroom cabinet for my nasal spray to unblock my nose and to rub my aching back. It took me another hour to get back to sleep.
I woke up the next morning at 08.45 hours without oxygen because the cylinder ran out, so my saturation was at 83%. I woozily switched the flow meter to a fresh cylinder, friend M by my side while I waited for my saturation to stabilize above 92%. Even with 1.5 liter, it took almost ten minutes to get back to ‘normal’ saturation levels. From my knowledge of oxygen, I knew it was better not to kickstart my saturation with 2 or 2.5 liters, because that would cause my saturation to drop sharply if I disconnected to take a shower.
With M’s help I weighed myself at 97.2 kg and measured my glucose at 11.6mmol/l. I took a shower without oxygen and M waiting outside the bathroom. After my shower my saturation had dropped to 83% again, but it rose quite quickly once the oxygen was reconnected at 1 liter.
With M’s help I made myself breakfast, then called Westfalen Medical about my inability to connect cylinders to the converter. Which turned out to be hilarious, because I didn’t have to connect anything to the converter. The six cylinders were for emergency air in case the converter broke down and they would need time to come over and repair/replace the converter. Or if I had to go outside for groceries or hospital visits with my own oxygen. Also, the operator told me I could call 24/7, because the operators were available from 08.00 – 20.00 hours and from 20.00 – 08.00 hours the calls were rerouted to an emergency service.
With the converter running I could have a continuous supply all over my house with the long oxygen tube. So I put the flowmeter at 1 liter and spent the rest of the day hooked up to the machine so my abused body could recuperate and build on its reserves. My kidneys still hurt from the lack of oxygen.
I called the OLVG to complain about the ‘no oxygen’ transport and demanded to speak to whomever had gone against my reasonable wishes. Turned out that Sylvana, the nurse from yesterday, had both nixed my oxygen transport — because I could clearly handle walking around my hospital room without oxygen! – and she has also cancelled my request for Thuiszorg (home care) because ‘I was capable enough’.
I spoke to the lung doctor, Ronald, and told him I was going to file a complaint with the hospital about the (lack of) treatment and the abuse of power, both for Sylvana who deliberately screwed up my transfer and Hilde who on April 22nd had tried to ‘punish me for smoking weed’ by radically lowering my oxygen from 4 liters to 1 liter.
He thought I sounded ‘angry’. Damn right. I was furious. And I hadn’t been able to express my anger while in the hospital, for fear that my ‘insolence’ would earn me even worse treatment than I had received. This type of abuse of power should infuriate anyone, especially those who run victim to such small medical despots.
After I hung up, I called the hospital again, this time to speak with the eye clinic. During my stay I had requested a visit to the eye doctor several times, but it had been denied by the staff of the lung ward. This time I spoke with the secretary and she had me called back by the eye doctor. The eye doctor who called me back during her hectic schedule explained to me patiently how the unit could only see eight patients per day, and those patients were selected on the gravity of their complaints. She suggested that I used the carbogel more frequently as it could take a day or two for my eye to go back to normal after the dehydration it had suffered and to call back if the situation worsened. If I didn’t call, she would call me back on Wednesday to check up on my situation, but if I felt any indication that my vision was seriously at risk, I should call and they would take immediate action.
Such a relief to talk to a doctor who takes you seriously.
I spoke to my huisarts (GP) next. She was appalled at my story of being mistreated and being denied services, hoped I would recuperate at home now that I got my converter going.
On my request, she prescribed sachets of 200mg Acetylcysteine that would help me to cough up the slimy sputum remnants left by the virus in my lungs. Since I was in a ‘weakened condition’ and the side effects of the Acetylcysteine could be severe on a weakened system, she suggested I’d take the solution only once a day (instead of three times daily), preferably after breakfast, when I was settled.
Plus she would have her assistant call me Monday morning to arrange a Thuiszorg nurse to help me every morning to start my day.
I called the pharmacy to make sure they had the Acetylcysteine and friend M went to pick it up before closing time.
Time to get some rest.
The afternoon went better than the morning, especially from having consistent air supplied to me as I walk around the house, but I still feel like a broken puppet on a lifeline leash.
My friend J arrived around nine with pizza and potato wedges. It was so good to talk to her again in person. Calm and focused, I felt so much more at ease. Around 23.30 hours we went upstairs and she gave me a long backrub massage that got all the kinks out of my overstressed back muscles, which had been cramping up from the lung spasms. It was so good to be touched with care and love after seven weeks of hell.
A hug a day keeps the doctor away — going without any loving touch for seven weeks has hurt me more than I realised, even though I’m a shiatsu practitioner myself.
(May 2nd) I slept like a baby, instead of like the dead. Woke at ten to six to go to the toilet, got back into bed and slept to 09.30 hours. This supports my own theory — I suggested getting oxygen at home at April 16th (the day I was taken to the hospital for the third time and was sent home without oxygen).
Those thirteen days at the hospital they did nothing for me except give me oxygen (and fuck about with that, giving me stress and anxiety). I received on additional medication or procedures. Not even an extra lung x-ray or CT scan. They took my vitals — blood pressure, saturation, heartbeat — every few hours, but that also is something I could easily do myself. My saturation meter gives accurate readings of saturation and heartbeat, I have an automatic sphygmomanometer to monitor my blood pressure, I have a glucose meter to monitor my diabetes…
Of course, not every patient is skilled or medically adept enough to keep track of their vitals like I can, but just giving me the oxygen and having me filling out the Corona Check App once a day would have been cheaper and much better for my healing process than thirteen days of hospital stay.
Good friend FR expressed in a chat, responding to my angry phone call to the hospital yesterday:
“I definitely know/understand the necessity of restraining one’s emotional displeasure when in a vulnerable situation (when the ‘authorities’ can make decisions counter to your well-being and preferences). It is survival, quite literally. Once free, it takes a while to get back to doing what you know and want, and insisting on proper responses.”
I could feel myself tear up at her message. She is so right and this is not how it’s supposed to be.
Friend J helped me through the morning and went away around 10.00 hours. I spent a few hours by myself, quite happy, and Friend ID came around 14.30 hours with groceries and gifts. She made curry for me and we watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Before bed, she gave me a relaxing massage, then went to sleep in my daughter’s room.
(May 3rd) I woke at ten to six to go to the toilet. My saturation was around 87%, but sitting up in bed and doing some deep breathing boosted it to 94% and I went to the toilet downstairs, then slept again until 08.30 hours, when ID came to check up and me and curled up next to me, caressing the pain from my back. We had a leisurely morning and I took my second Acetylcysteine sachet, together with vaping cannabis through my PlentyRippa.
I hawked up some sputum from my lungs, but not much. Maybe the 200mg is not powerful enough (it’s basically the dosage for children), but maybe I’ll try to take another sachet this afternoon when I have to vape again.
My friend ID got me some final groceries and left at 15.00 hours. I haven’t used the oxygen tube since then, walked around, made tea and sandwiches, and sat behind my laptop working. The improvement I’m making is measurable though. Two hours without oxygen supply and my random saturation testing reveals 96-97% saturation at rest. Which is three point above yesterday and four points above the day before yesterday.
I’ve also been making plans to exercise outdoors by carrying a canister of oxygen in the front crate of my transport bicycle, so I can have extra oxygen while cycling outside.
I just went upstairs, took the laundry from the washing machine, put it in the dryer, cleaned the dryer’s lint filter, started up the dryer, went downstairs to the kitchen, made myself two sandwiches and sat down in my easy chair again. Saturation 94-95%. Yay! My recuperation time is seriously decreasing. Of course, it’s late afternoon and my energy drops in the evenings, but still, I’m happy.
I went to sleep around 23.00 hours and woke briefly at night from a whistling sound that was the air tube, which had slipped out of my nose. I put it back in and resumed sleeping.
(May 4th) I woke around 08.30 hours, feeling pretty good. The air tube was wrapped loosely around my neck, so I must’ve rolled around a bit during sleep, but not alarmingly so.
I used the oxygen to go downstairs and use the toilet, but upstairs I hung it on a peg and weighed myself (97.2kg, same as yesterday), and checked my glucose (10.2mmol/l, 0.5 points lower than yesterday). I took a shower and after that checked my saturation, which was at 87%, but shot up to 93% as soon as I paid attention to my breathing. So, I switched off my converter, but took the long oxygen tube downstairs to hang it in the entrance of the living room. I have to train my lungs again to saturate my blood by themselves without any help.
Around half past three, after I had some lunch, I decided to get some exercise and loaded a bottle of oxygen in the crate of my bicycle, to ride around town for the first time eight weeks.
I was pleased to notice that I rode about 12 kilometers without needing the oxygen bottle and with my saturation staying over 91%. I got back home around 17.30 hours and made a microwave dinner. Didn’t touch the extra oxygen at all. Yay!
(May 5th) Liberation Day. I slept with oxygen, but switched off the converter after getting up. Weighed myself at 96.7kg, glucose a bit high at 11.7mmol/l, but I feel pretty good. My kids are coming over this afternoon and my daughter wants to go to her (open air) kung fu class, so after breakfast I took her bicycle to the repair service to get the front tyre fixed. I also got the pedals of my own bicycle replaced, then rode to the supermarket to get croissants and other groceries. No extra oxygen needed.
My kids came at noon and were ecstatic at being home. The cat was almost hugged to death and we had lunch with croissants. I went with Nica to the repairshop to get her bicycle and at 15.30 we rode our bicycles to the Herenmarkt, where Nica had Kung Fu in the playground and Tycho played with the other kids, while I did some tai-chi and sat on a bench watching them play. We went home around half past five and my ex collected them at six. Such a lovely afternoon. I had taken my oxygen bottle, but didn’t need it.
The only problem I had during the day was blurry spots in my vision again, which I treated with eye wash and carbogel, but it didn’t help much. Maybe I just strain my eye too much.
My evening was peaceful, I watched part of Apocalypse Now Redux, and I only took oxygen again when I went to bed.
(May 6th) Slept quite well, woke at 07.30 hours, switched off the oxygen and went back to bed to snooze while listening to music. Woke at 10.00 hours and measured a saturation of 86%. So it’s quite obvious I cannot go without oxygen if I cannot consciously breathe deeply.
I didn’t have a relaxed morning, as I had to talk a suicidal friend down from the ledge — she’s been in therapy for almost two years now, but it’s still going nowhere. Terrible. I’ve called the caregivers with the message to call me back and discuss her therapy, because the therapist she’s seeing now is not helping her, but making her situation worse.
I also got a copy of the discharge letter from the hospital. Again, the lung doctor, who should know better, referred to me ‘smoking weed’. Stupid asshole. I called the hospital lung ward and told them that I do not ‘smoke weed’ but ‘vape medical cannabis under prescription of my eye doctor’, so they need to change the file so I won’t be regarded as a ‘pothead’. This may sound trivial, but judging by the attitude of some nurses in the lung ward, the distinction is important. I’m a glaucoma patient using alternative medication, not someone who is deliberately risking his health by smoking pot.
A friend sent me an article in the NY Times from Richard Levitan, a doctor at Bellevue:
“We are just beginning to recognize that Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call “silent hypoxia” — “silent” because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs in which the air sacs fill with fluid or pus. Normally, patients develop chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems. But when Covid pneumonia first strikes, patients don’t feel short of breath, even as their oxygen levels fall. And by the time they do, they have alarmingly low oxygen levels and moderate-to-severe pneumonia (as seen on chest X-rays). Normal oxygen saturation for most persons at sea level is 94 to 100 percent; Covid pneumonia patients I saw had oxygen saturations as low as 50 percent.”
“We are only just beginning to understand why this is so. The coronavirus attacks lung cells that make surfactant. This substance helps the air sacs in the lungs stay open between breaths and is critical to normal lung function. As the inflammation from Covid pneumonia starts, it causes the air sacs to collapse, and oxygen levels fall. Yet the lungs initially remain “compliant,” not yet stiff or heavy with fluid. This means patients can still expel carbon dioxide — and without a buildup of carbon dioxide, patients do not feel short of breath.”
This is exactly what happened to me. And why I’m so furious about not getting oxygen at home when I asked for it. I urge anyone not feeling well to get an oximeter and track your saturation.
I spoke to the eye doctor and she’s going to see if she has a spot for me this week to come over to the hospital and have my eye checked out.
Meanwhile, I had to ride my bicycle to the other side of town to get a free food package from Guerilla Kitchen at 14.15 hours. As a friend of mine lives nearby, I shot him a message I was going to be in his neck of the woods, so we arranged to meet up at GK. Just before I left home, the hospital called and said they could fit me in for an eye examination at 16.00 hours.
T was waiting at GK and we went from there to Monks, where we got cappuccino that we took to a nearby park. It was good to sit on a bench in the sunshine with a cappuccino and a good friend.
I left at 15.20 hours, took the food parcel home and went to the hospital to have my eyes examined. As expected, the dehydration was severe while I had been cleaning and moisturizing my eye continuously. Part of the dehydration could just be the COVID-19 infection, as these viruses have a tendency to dehydrate. The doctor gave me an ointment that was thicker than the gel I was using during the day and told me to apply it before going to bed, as the ointment would be so thick that I wouldn’t be able to see through it, but like a dressing it would keep my eye moistened throughout the night and hopefully help to hydrate it enough to take away my blurry vision. She also saw a tiny spot that could be a pigment flaw, but she wanted to discuss that with my regular eye doctor, who was currently doing administrative duties only as chief of the eye clinic.
From the hospital, I rode around the park some more, then went home to have some dinner and watch the rest of Apocalypse Now Redux.
(May 7th) Before I went to sleep, I put the ointment on my eyes. Felt good.
I slept till nine in the morning and went through my morning ritual of weighing myself and measuring my vitals. 96.8kg, 11.6mmol/l, 94% saturation, and blood pressure 118/84 < very good for someone with ‘high blood pressure’. Made myself breakfast and took Metformin. Now I’m heading out to the park with my bokken, to do some kata training in the open air.
I had a great time swinging my wooden sword around in the pavilion of the Oosterpark, working through my battojutsu kata.
Afterward, I went to visit my friends at Speeltuin De Waag, the playground where I volunteer. So good to see them face-to-face again.
I also went by my local comic book store, Lambiek, where I got some books set aside for me weeks ago.
Then I went home to get some lunch and take my Metformin. I notice that my saturation, which hovered around 91-92% a week ago, is now hovering around 95-96%, so there’s definitive improvement in my health and stamina.
(May 8th) This morning, I had a Thuishulp (cleaning lady) helping me out. I had some things that were too heavy to do by myself, like airing out my futon and changing the bedsheets, washing the windows of the living room, and vacuuming and mopping the floors. So I can look through clean windows again and my bed is clean and fresh again.
After she left, I packed my bag and cane, and went on a long bicycle ride, taking the ferry to Amsterdam North.
I had a cup of coffee at Cafe Zamen and rode around Vliegenbos (Forest of the Flies) which was mercifully devoid of flies.
I love being out of quarantaine — you never miss your freedom so much as when you’re forced to stay inside. Riding around the forest, smelling the earth and the leaves, the fresh air… everything was much more acute and alive. I listened to Philip Glass and Erik Satie on my phone and felt a profound sense of peace.
I took the ferry back to the city centre and rode around the familiar streets, meeting friends and having face-to-face chats. I went home around five, so grateful I hadn’t needed any extra oxygen.
My next door neighbor welcomed me back, telling me she was afraid I might die, every time the ambulance took me away, but she was overjoyed that I was back and getting better. I always got along pretty well with my neighbors, but this pandemic makes this neighborhood even more cohesive than before.
In the evening, I wanted to write some poetry, but my eye started getting blurry again, so I went to bed, put on some music, put ointment on my eyes and lay there in the dark, listening to Seventeen Seconds by The Cure and speaking poetry into my voice recorder.
(May 9th) Another beautiful day. Got up around eight, took a leisurely shower, weight still around 97kg, glucose an all-time low of 8.1mmol/l. Around eleven my buddy MP came over and I made the cappuccino he likes so much. We talked for a while, then went together to Nieuwmarkt, where I went to Jacob Hooy to get Zinc tablets. MP went to the Chinese supermarket and I stood outside, watching over the bicycles and flirting with some women in those summer dresses that don’t leave much to the imagination. One of them was really interested in whether I still had an eye under my patch and she looked a little flustered as she told me that I looked like a pirate biker. Then her boyfriend came out of the Chinese supermarket and dragged her away.
I went for some groceries myself at the regular supermarket, made some lunch, then took my swords to train at the park. As I was stalking around the pavillion swinging my wooden sword, a tourist came up on the pavillion and took a boatload of pictures. I ignored him and just kept training. After he wandered off I wondered if I should’ve given him my card and asked him to mail me the pictures, but I was too late.
I went home to write out the poetry I recorded last night, then made myself some baked potatoes with lettuce and cold roasted chicken flakes.
After dinner, I rode around some more, enjoying the warmth of the evening as I rode around the park. Then I went back home, watched a movie and a documentary on Charles Bukowski. And went to bed around one.
(May 10th) Woke up early, half past five, and knew I wouldn’t sleep anymore. Sometimes you just know. I snoozed for a while, but got up around six, took a shower. Glucose was at 8.8, not bad.
I made myself breakfast, reading while I ate. Around eight I packed my swords and cane and went to the park, where I met a friend who took some pictures and filmed me doing battojutsu and cane–fighting.
I went home around lunchtime and soon after the weather turned colder, so I spent some time working on typewriters.
Just before dinnertime my daughter Nica arrived and we baked potatoes and curry chicken, and had some peas with that. Nica was happy to be home and we had a relaxed evening. Since she didn’t have to get up early — she had Monday and Tuesday afternoon school and Thursday and Friday morning school — so I allowed her to stay up until ten, gave her a massage and she went to bed.
I read some more and went to bed around midnight.
(May 11th) With my daughter’s return, life seems to get back to normal – we took it easy in the morning, my weight was stable at 97kg, and she was interested in how my glucose meter worked, wanted me to check her glucose as well. So we measured hers as well – mine was 10.7, hers 4.9 – and she went to eat her breakfast while I took a shower and washed the ointment from my eyes.
It was a windy cold day today, so I rummaged around the house until she went to school, then rode around on my bicycle and picked her up from school at three to do some grocery shopping. The playground was closed, so we went home and she played Sims while I wrote on my draft. We made dinner together, her favourite pasta sauce with tortellini, and she showed me what she made on her computer before it was time for her to go to bed.
Life starts feeling ‘normal’ again.
(May 13th) Although I’m still not 100%, I feel much better. This morning I woke up at half past six with clogged sinuses from the oxygen. I disconnected the tube and cleared my nose and went to bed again, where I slept until I woke at 10.30 hours. My saturation was good, 97%. And my glucose was 9.8mmol/l.
With all these good signs of my recuperation, I think I don’t need to add more to this convalescence diary. I will have to go for a CT scan of my lungs near the end of May to check how much my lungs have improved, and I will report on that and all relative information on my convalescence.
Thanks for reading this and I hope my diary has been informative. If there’s one important thing I found in battling this virus, it’s the importance of checking your saturation — ‘silent hypoxia’ is a real killer and virtually undetectable without proper equipment — so if you are at all worried, buy yourself a pulse-oximeter to check your oxygen saturation and go to the doctor if you notice unusual fluctuations.
Love you all, thank you for your support.
Feel free to comment on this diary, I love to hear from you. And if you wish to support me in any way, read my novels!
Even though GHOSTING was published years ago, I still get emails and letters asking when the fifth novel, DRONE, will be published. So, here’s a typecast explanation on my long, long hiatus.
I’ve been using a Storz & Bickel “Mighty” vaporizer since 2016, vaping microdoses of Bedrocan medical cannabis six times a day for my glaucoma. Vaping six times a day was rough on my throat though, despite the vapour not containing solid particles like smoke and the use of a glass mouthpiece I bought separately for increased airflow.
To cool the vapour more and make inhaling smoother, I recently bought a Little Rippa EasyFlow bubbler bong and an adapter to use the Mighty to make a MightyRippa bong. Fantastic combination — the upended Mighty balanced quite well on the rubber Delta3D adapter, enough to put the Rippa away without fearing the Mighty flipped out of the pipe stem.
I was checking for Storz & Bickel parts secondhand on Marktplaats and someone offered a S & B “Plenty” vaporizer for 150 euro (retail 199 euro). The Plenty is a hybrid vaporizer, basically a cross between the desktop Volcano and the portable Mighty, the Plenty has such a powerful heat exchanger that — like the desktop Volcano vaporizer — it requires an electric outlet. However, unlike the Volcano and like the Mighty, the Plenty is handheld and can be used in any position: horizontal, vertical, upended.
To cool the vapour, the Plenty has a metal coil whip between the heating chamber and the mouthpiece. Pull out the plastic mouthpiece, leave the tube sleeve on the end of the coil, and insert the whip in the pipe stem of the bong and presto, a vapour machine with double cooling (coil whip and bong) is born.
As I don’t lug my bong around, the Plenty’s main disadvantage (requiring an outlet) is not a problem anymore. On the other hand, it’s like a Mighty on steroids, with a larger capacity oven to bake enough cannabis for a family of four or six, and an unlimited power source.
Drawbacks of the PlentyRippa combination are the necessity of using two hands — one for the bong, one for the vaporizer — and the inability to put the combination away without pulling the Plenty from the bong, making the combination a lot less elegant than the MightyRippa. Also, while the Plenty’s huge oven is great for parties, someone who medically microdoses cannabis can inadvertently take way too much cannabis due to the coolness of the easily released vapour, so 2-4 hits from the Plenty are about as potent as 6-8 hits from the Mighty.
The intense effect of the pure cloud of unadulterated vapour produced by the PlentyRippa muted my chronic pain enough that I can fall asleep without needing Tramadol. Which, I might add, is such a huge advantage that it’s well worth the money (I ended up paying half the asking price, 75 euro for the unit) and the drawbacks. Briefly having to use two hands to vape my cannabis is not that much of a problem, and there’s a ‘reducer’ on the market that reduces the Plenty’s huge oven to the size of a Mighty’s, with the addition of a dosage cup that snugly fits the reducer and minimizes resin fouling up the Plenty’s insides.
If you use cannabis recreationally, this combination will easily serve 4-6 people sharing one “Plenty”. The vaped cannabis is evenly brown and can be saved to use in edibles.
One thing that annoys most current typewriter enthusiasts is the availability of typewriter accessories, or rather, the lack thereof.
Tipp-Ex white-out paper and correction fluid is virtually impossible to find, silk black/red ink ribbons have to ordered at the office supply store (because they rarely stock them), typewriter erasers are thin on the ground, and — of course — typewriter pads have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Typewriter pads serve multiple functions at the same time. They protect your desk, they provide an anti-slip surface so the typewriter doesn’t skid all over your polished desk, and they dampen the vibration (and the noise!) of your typewriter.
Since the original typewriter pads are no longer made and the commercial alternatives are not very cheap (I think 12-24 euro for a single pad is expensive), I experimented with all kinds of pads, from cork placemats from a cooking store (for underneath hot pots) to all kinds of rug runners and anti-slip bath mats. Some didn’t provide enough anti-slip, others were too soft or too thin.
I didn’t try the ‘cutting up a yoga mat’ idea, because good yoga or pilates mats aren’t cheap, but that last suggestion did give me a better idea.
Hardware stores often sell ultralight foam tiles that have jigsaw sides to join together in a large floor mat that you can use as in your garage or tool shed, as a gym mat or even under a washing machine to dampen the vibrations. Sold in packages of six squares, a single tile is often 40×40 centimeters, big enough for an Olympia SG-1 or similar desktop typewriter, so it can also easily support a smaller portable machine like this SM-4.
Every package has strips to cover the jigsaw sides and if the floor mat is too large for your taste, you can easily cut them down to size. They’re often available in a variety of colours (although I’d go with black), they are anti-slip, hard enough to support your typewriter, but soft enough to dampen the vibrations. Plus they’re cheap — a package containing six 40x40cm EVA foam tiles will cost you about 6-10 euro — and since they’re meant for work spaces they can handle an awful lot of abuse, so they will last very, very long. And I think they also look pretty cool/rad/industrial under your typewriter.
Since readers know that I type drafts on manual typewriters, I regularly get questions about what typewriter to get. I enjoy manual (mechanical, non-electric/electronic) typewriters, so I decided to write a post on Quora that I decided to post here as well.
If you don’t own a manual typewriter yet, but want to get into writing on typewriters, don’t go for a pre-war machine like this gorgeous 1938 Erika ‘S’:
“Why not? It’s pulling at my heartstrings!”
Yes, I know. That’s why I collect these machines:
And the thing is, they are marvellous typemachines. Ifthey work. These Erikas do, but they’ve been lovingly maintained by someone who knows how to service and repair these machines. If you don’t know how to replace a drawstring or adjust the carriage or unstick sticky typebars or re-align the type, you’d have to outsource the servicing and repairing and that would be a pain in the ass, because there aren’t many typewriter shops anymore. Even the regular use of these machines can be difficult.
For instance, check the spools on the Erika ‘S’. Beautiful open metal spools. If you buy ribbon, it comes on cheap plastic spools and you’d need to re-spool the ribbon onto these spools, because apart from looking ridiculous on these machines, plastic spools are made for modern machines, not these pre-war machines, because they require heavier, more balanced metal spools.
“So, what should I get?”
Get a segment-shift typewriter, made between 1955–1969, from a brand like Royal, Remington, Smith Corona, Erika, Optima, Olympia or Olivetti.
To print capital letters, you need to shift the type to use the upper part of the slug (the print part that hits the paper). Typewriters basically have two ways* of shifting: by lifting the whole moving carriage up (carriage shift) or by lowering the ‘basket’ with the typebars deeper into the machine (segment or basket shift). The latter is way less strenuous on your pinkie fingers, which — if you touch-type — handle the shift keys.
If you don’t have strong type-fingers yet, go for the segment-shifted 1969 Olympia SM9:
Rather than the carriage-shifted 1959 Olympia SM4, especially one with an extra-wide carriage:
Nice mechanical machines for a beginner, while still being appreciated by professional typists, are Olivetti Lettera (portable) or Studio (desktop), Olympia SM9, Erika 10, pre-1970s Brother, Smith-Corona, Royal, and Remington. Most of these brands have been around since before 1955, so pay attention that you get a segment-shifted model.
Don’t buy a typewriter made after 1970. With the introduction of the personal computer, many typewriter factories tried to compete by using cheaper materials and mass-production, so the quality of typewriters, even those made by renowned brands, deteriorated sharply.
*Most pre-war machines, like the Erika 5 and S above, have carriage shift.The Erika on the picture far left is the Modell M and it has a partial carriage shift in the sense that only the platen (the rubber roll with the paper) is lifted, but that’s unusual.
My Biggest Mistake Was Writing A Book.
Although I should qualify that statement: my mistake was attempting to write a book from start to finish, in reading order, from page 1 to 500. I started with the opening chapter, I wrote every chapter in sequence, I edited it while I wrote, I bumped into obstacles that totally destroyed the pace, I kept pounding my head against the walls of the scenes that just wouldn’t come out of my mind, I got stuck in frustration on finishing an unwilling chapter before I could start on the next, and I exhausted myself before I finished.
And then I found out that the second storyline sucked and had to be removed, leaving only one side of a zipper without a corresponding side that could be zipped together into a coherent story. So I wrote another storyline that had to be inserted into the existing storyline.
The result was a lumpy, lopsided mess that brought me to despair. And since I’m an autodidact writing suspense fiction in my second language, I had no peers around.
Then I found a writing website, now sadly gone, called Thoughtcafe, where I found my peers. People who read my stuff, told me it was incredible and worthy of all the attention I could muster to polish out the lumps and make it run smoothly like the zipper was oiled with eel’s snot.
My second novel practically wrote itself. I didn’t give a shit anymore about the order in which to write, I wrote the draft for myself without any regard for punctuation, grammar, and spelling, and I kept my inner editor locked away in a dungeon until I finished the whole rough draft.
Only after I wrote the draft of the entire novel did I sit back and reread it while highlighting problem areas and adding notes on how to fix the flaws.
Which is why I always tell beginning writers: ‘Don’t Write a Book, but a Draft‘. Write the scenes in random order, assemble them in a sequence that pleases you, see what’s missing and fill that in until the story flows, then get your editor to help you iron out the wrinkles.
The first draft is ‘For Your Eyes Only, Only For You’. Not to be shown to anyone else until you turned it into a manuscript, which will be read by your betas and editor, who will provide you with feedback to improve the manuscript into something publishable.
But the writing part? That’s yours, and nobody should touch that.
I don’t recognise myself in the ‘struggles’ of my peers, who complain about blocks or not knowing what to write, or the arduous task of editing. I also don’t get bored or disgusted with re-reading my own work for the umpteenth time.
I’m convinced that just because you want to do something, it doesn’t mean you will be good at it. Not everyone has aptitude for writing. Face it, if it was actually that easy, then everybody could be a writer. And despite what people might say to encourage those who are floundering, not everybody can become a writer.
Nobody who knows how to cut a turkey develops ambitions to become a surgeon, but somehow people who got a B+ on an essay in school imagines they could become a writer. Just being facile with words doesn’t make you fit to become a novelist. Stringing words together in a sensible sentence is not an indication for future professional prose.
To become an actual writer requires a confluence of several different talents to come together. And knowing how to write is actually quite low on the totem pole. Your ability to spin stories is much more important, as is your understanding of humanity – psychology, anthropology, psychopathology, interaction, communication. Observation is a crucial skill, as is curiosity. And having the ability to adopt a unique perspective also goes a long way towards being a writer.
If these skills/talents are missing from your palette, you will struggle. And because you don’t know any different, you will assert that writing is this onerous task, a steep uphill battle to put one word after another. While, in fact, you might have committed to a task that is not totally suited for your skill set. While this sounds like a ‘Know Your Limitations’ answer, take heart. You can learn these other skills, and there is no shame in battling uphill to write your book. It’s damn courageous, and I mean that.
And while a talent for writing often goes together with aptitude for the art, the published writer is not always the one with the most aptitude, but the one who perseveres. Perseverance can trump aptitude, easily.