La Pavoni: Replacing Boiler Gaskets

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.

You can clearly see the 2000 sticker and the black fuse housing in the middle of the heating element.

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.

Yup, that’s moisture from the leaking gaskets.

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.

The disassembled machine with the wrench and Oil Filter Key to the left.

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!

Boiler Gasket installed dry on the upended boiler.

Next, you grease up the Flange Gasket, put the upside down base on the upended boiler and fit the Flange Gasket.

Flange Gasket with food grade grease

And grease the inner thread of the flange and the threads of the boiler to screw the flange onto the boiler threads by hand.

Underside of the flange (part that fits against the gasket) with greased thread.
Underside boiler with lubricated Flange Gasket installed.
Flange screwed by hand onto the threads of the boiler.

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.

Lightly greased gasket in the groove of the heating element.
Heating element in the correct position.

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.

Copper element tube curving around ehe electric cable.

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.

Ground cable re-installed under the bolt

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.

Greased piston – use only your little finger to put grease between the gaskets, not on the piston outside the gaskets.

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.

Lever bearing in the hole.
Lever installed, see the position of the holes!

Fill the boiler.

I use this stainless steel filling aid.

And the machine is ready to be plugged in.

Enjoy your clean machine!

I put the cup upended over the boiler cap to warm it up. If I want to warm up two cups I put a second cup over the piston rod.

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 – Convalescence.

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.

My saturation after my shower, right after I connected the oxygen again.

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.

All similarities to any women, living or dead, is purely circumstantial.

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 canefighting.

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!

My Corona Diary – Hospitalization.

My Corona Diary was getting a bit long, and was nowhere near over, so I decided to break it off just before I was going back to the hospital for the third and fourth time.
You can find the first part of My Corona Diary here.
You can find the third 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 16th) It’s past midnight. Thursday is garbage collection day, so I carry my garbage bag through the courtyard to the gate where I add my bag to the garbage heap, then empty my mailbox and walk back. The night air is cold but fresh. I don’t return straight to my house, but walk unsteadily around the deserted courtyard, my cane ready to support me should I lose my balance. It’s ridiculous how infirm I feel, like an asthmatic old man, panting from the exertion of strolling around this courtyard. I feel so weak I feel like crying, but I will not wallow in self-pity.
I go back inside, feeling tired but not sleepy. I sink in my chair, gathering strength to climb the stairs to my bathroom and bedroom. I’ve been sick for four weeks now. Four exhausting weeks. And my convalescence might take another two weeks. I remember how the first reports were that for most people, getting corona would be like the flu. How wrong they were. This is nothing like the flu. It’s a prolonged battle against a mercurial virus and for many people surviving corona is a toss of the coin. Some will win and live on. Many will lose and die. Please, please, if you read this, don’t think too lightly about this. And hug your loved ones. My heart aches at the thought that I haven’t been able to hug my children for four-and-a-half weeks. I have to stop thinking about this, or I might lose my composure. Good night, everyone.

I got up around eight. Temperature was 36.8, glucose was 8.8, and my weight went down to 98.1. I felt weak and exhausted, skipped breakfast and just took a banana with my medication. Around eleven, the postman dropped off a package with my saturation meter. At first it didn’t seem to work, but it turned out that there was still some plastic around one of the battery poles. After fixing that I could measure my saturation, which hovered around 89%. No wonder I was so tired.
With effort I managed to get it up to 92-93% if I sat real still in my chair. I called my GP to be put on the call list. She called me back around 13.00 hours and conferred about my measurements with the lung doctor at OLVG. She called me back and told me an ambulance was on the way to take me back to OLVG.
I couldn’t keep it together. I was crying with despair, calling my ex to tell her I had to go back to the hospital for the third time, while I was throwing stuff in an overnight bag again. I just couldn’t take this anymore. Four fucking weeks of laborious breathing, fevers, being prodded and tested, bloodclotting in my nose from the oxygen, and being so tired, so tired.
The ambulance took me to OLVG again and I was put into a separate room again. Got another IV tap in my arm, vials of blood taken and a painful needle rooting around in my right wrist again to draw blood from my arteries to check the oxygenated blood.

I took my cannabis while I waited, listening to music from my iPad, trying to stay calm and keep my composure. I had forgotten my water bottle again, but this time I knew to ask for a carafe of water. The battery of tests continued.Again big machines were wheeled into the tiny room to make a heart scan, then another lung photo. 
Around 16.00 hours I told the nurse I needed to eat and take a 850mg Metformin. She gave me two sandwiches with cheese and my pill. Not only is my appetite at an all-time low, but the tasty sandwiches tasted like cardboard. I worked them down and took my pill. 
The lung doctor came and told me that my lungs looked better than April 10, and my heart was strong and beating well. The saturation was a problem, but like he said, COPD patients regularly have lower saturation levels (70-80%) when active, and the important thing was to take a lot of rest and get the saturation levels back up. I told him that if I wasn’t in danger, I preferred to recuperate at home. He conferred with another lung doctor and agreed that I could stay at home, but I had to warn if my saturation dropped to 80% or if I wasn’t able to get it back up to 92% at rest. He complimented me on my fortitude, struggling for breath for weeks now, and told me to hang in there. 
We also talked about being contagious. He told me the dyspnea would take several weeks to clear up, but if I didn’t cough for 24 hours, I could get out of quarantaine and hug my kids again. 
However, since I was still coughing a few times a day, I was transported home by ambulance, not by taxi. The nurse who strapped me in, asked me how I was doing. I told him I was pretty much at the end of my tether, being sick since March 18th. When he joined the driver in the cabin of the ambulance, I heard him tell the driver that I was sick for a whole month and the driver looked at me with a look filled with pity. 
Back at home I sat in my chair and tried to get my saturation back up from 85%, but it wouldn’t go higher than 88%, even with cannabis. I looked at my arm, bruised from the needles and wept.

I went to bed, too tired to think about dinner, but I took a banana and two muesli sandwiches up to my bedroom. Too exhausted to undress, I crawled into my bed and tried to rest, but couldn’t breathe deeply. Not on my back, and certainly not on my sides. I remembered reading an article about turning dyspnea patients on their bellies to easy breathing, so I put my memory foam pillow under my chest and laid down with my forehead on my pillow, creating a gap for my face so I could breath. That did make breathing easier, but I couldn’t sleep and my saturation remained below 90%. Around 21.30 hours I was roused from my slumber by an alarm to vape cannabis, but my vapes were downstairs. I ate the banana and took Metformin, struggled out of my clothes and tried to sleep.

(April 17th) I woke at 04.45 hours, my heart racing, gasping for breath. I couldn’t get back to sleep, sat for a while meditating to get my heart rate down. Saturation meter showed 85-87%. I put on my bathrobe and went downstairs, where I vaped cannabis and watched Blade Runner 2049 to distract myself from the dyspnea. Around 06.30 hours I felt a bit calmer and went back upstairs again, where I slept until 08.30 hours. 
I got up, skipped the shower and measuring glucose, but I did weigh myself at 97.2kg. Dressed myself, then sat for a while getting my breath back and went downstairs, where I sat in my chair for 20 minutes before I had the energy to make tea and yoghurt with muesli. I had to force myself to eat, I need the energy and I had to take my meds, but after five or six spoons of the muesli I just couldn’t eat any more. 
I opened the window for fresh air, but my legs got too cold, so I put on my lined HH pants to keep my legs warm. Saturation still low, but maybe it will improve as the day progresses.
I managed to finish my bowl of muesli, but felt awful weak. A friend got me a microwave steamer meal, but my appetite was nowhere to be found. I wanted to steam with camomile but when I went upstairs for a towel, my heart was racing when I came back downstairs and my saturation dropped to 75%. 
Steaming didn’t really help that much. Around 20.00 hours I went to the toilet and felt warm, so I took my temperature, which was 38.0C. Fever again. I took two Saridon and decided to call the huisartsenpost. They sent a GP, who conferred with a lung doctor, so I had to go back to the hospital again.

They took another Thorax X-ray and took more blood. The doctors are worried about my inability to sustain saturation levels, so I have to stay the weekend and then they’ll decide how to handle my convalescence. At least, an oxygen tank at home is now an option. 

(April 18th) Someone was supposed to get me to transport me from the ER to C6, where there’d be a bed for me. At 3.00 hours in the morning, one of the ER nurses decided to take me upstairs. I told the staff at C6 that I had to vape cannabis in the morning, but they had to put me in a four-bed ward and told me they’d sort me out in the morning on how and where I could vape. 
Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep. The other three occupants, an elderly man and two elderly women, were noisy all night. The elderly lady next to me started crying because she had to pee so bad, then when the nurse came to turn the lights on and put a bedpan under her, she couldn’t pee. This happened three times between half past four and six in the morning. And the elderly woman across from me couldn’t sleep either and was constantly asking plaintively what was going on and what the red button was for. The elderly man was just groaning and coughing up phlegm all night. On top of that my nose was getting severely irritated by the oxygen blowing in. I’m not complaining though, as I doubt I would’ve been able to sleep at home with the dyspnea I was experiencing without oxygen.
At six-thirty in the morning the night shift came to take blood pressure, temperature, and saturation, then the morning shift came and I had to go to the toilet. Since that wasn’t an option, I had to go on the ‘stool’ with a removable bedpan. I was luckily prepared with moist toilet paper, because they forgot to give me any. Defecating turned out to be such an exertion that I started coughing bad enough to feel nausea. I wiped myself and crawled back into bed, thinking I was going to throw up. My nausea subsided when my heart stopped racing, but when they came to remove the bedpan stool, I asked them for some receptacle for vomit, in case I had this again.
After breakfast and medication, the staff conferred on how to provide a space for me to vape cannabis, and they decided to move me to an enormous single room with another brilliant view of Amsterdam South.

(Oh God, I’m in the Psychiatric Ward)

Again, vaping cannabis turned out to be a salvation, or I wouldn’t have received such a wonderful room to recuperate from my ordeal. 

Dutch joke: Patient is not that crazy.

In the afternoon, the nurse came in with ‘bad news’. For a moment I was afraid they would take my room again, but it turned out she wanted to do another Corona test swab, which involves sticking a long wattenstaafje (Q-tip) deep into my nose and another one deep into my throat. Her reason was that the doctor asked for it, because ‘something had gone wrong at Amsterdam Medical Center (AMC, another hospital)’ and they wanted to do the test again. Since my nose is clotting with blood from the oxygen supply and my throat is sore from coughing, I told her that I needed a better reason for doing the test again. After all, as reported before, both my huisarts and the GGD told me the test wouldn’t be reliable after I’d been sick for so long and the test they performed on April 10th turned out negative, only for the CT-scan to prove that I had corona. The nurse seemed a bit miffed about my non-compliance, but understood my reasoning, so the doctor will have to explain why he wants the test. And what the results would mean – was a positive a sign of re-infection? Was a negative a sign I wasn’t contagious anymore? As no doctor appeared for the rest of the day, I assumed there was no urgency to re-test me. 
I was reading on my e-reader around seven in the evening when it signaled the battery was going low and I found I didn’t bring a micro-usb charger. Luckily Terrence had a charger and Annemiek jumped on her bicycle to bring it to the hospital – another show of how great my friends are in my time of need. 
Since I had problems with blood clots in my nose, the nurse put a water bubbler between the oxygen tap and my tube. I immediately noticed the smoother air, but the bubbler sounds like a noisy aquarium filter system, so it took me some time to get used to it. I was in-and-out of sleep, then roused at three for a check-up, after which I slept again, fitfully.

(April 19th) Woken around 06.30 for another check-up by the night shift, and I heard her say my blood pressure was close to normal. So is my high blood pressure perhaps also a symptom of my diabetes or corona?
I looked out the window at the sun rising over Amsterdam.

I don’t have a proper toilet, but I have to go on the bedpan stool.

However, since I noticed how they changed the bedpan, I took out the bedpan and put it at the door, so the nurses don’t have to suit up just change my bedpans. 
Also, I weighed myself today and I’m at 96.8kg. Despite three meals a day, I’m still shedding weight. I asked for a towel, so I can wash my face at the basin, but just brushing my teeth after breakfast was so exhausting that I’ll rest for a while before I’ll over-exert myself.

Since my hospital stay might be longer than expected, due to the oxygen saturation in my blood not getting much better, I asked my friend Alf to go to my house to get me my vitamins and my writing materials so I can continue writing the draft for DRONE.

I feel fortunate having such good friends and neighbors to help me through this ordeal. Now with my typewriter in my room, I don’t feel so useless. At least now I can continue my work, whenever I have the energy to do so.

(April 20th) I had a good night’s rest and got up at 06.30, after the 6 o’clock check up (I joked with a friend about being in hospital confinement is a bit like being in a very friendly and benign prison), because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep and my eye was seeing better. Before breakfast, I wrote two pages on the DRONE draft. 

After breakfast I spoke with the nurse about getting an eye-wash bottle (like they use for first aid in situations with chemicals), so I could clean my eyes. The screen of my phone was covered with a light film of dust, blown into the room by the closed air conditioning system. Of course the screens of electronic equipment attract more dust, but I have no doubt the burning sensation in my eyes is part dehydration, part dust and debris.
Having my Kolibri waiting for me at the table gives me a lot more energy to face the long dreary day. At least I can express myself creatively instead of surfing the web or passively watching movies.

Just had a talk with the lung doctor. They want to PCR test me again (the test where they sample the back of your nose and throat), because the CT Scan shows that I have two lung issues – one of the issues is a viral infection which could (considering the pandemic and my own symptoms) very well be COVID-19 (which is why I was marked CO-RADS-4); but the other issue is something called RBILD, which is a smoker’s disease. I don’t smoke, but I do vape cannabis and according to the lung doctor, the slight RBILD could be a result from vaping anything (including e-cigarettes). The RBILD would disappear after I stop vaping, but for now I just have to continue vaping cannabis, as there is no better alternative. However, it’s interesting enough that after I’m recovered, I will become a lung patient at the OLVG, requiring regular tests and scans to see whether the RBILD becomes a problem. Right now, it’s not problematically present and the presence might have been exacerbated by the viral infection, COVID-19 or otherwise, but that’s the reason they need another nose and throat swab to test for the rarer lung diseases that might have caused the viral infection.

Uh oh. Just found out why this former Psychiatric Ward is now used for Corona patients. The nurse (a surgery nurse who has just begun working again after surviving Corona) told me that the C6 ward is reserved for palliative corona care – patients who are sure to die and who will not (or want not) to receive Intensive Care, but are made as comfortable as possible. Since this ward has three badge-controlled doors dividing the ward in different sections, it’s easier to allow visitors to visit their dying relatives, and easier to put a security guard at the outer door to prevent unauthorized persons to enter the ward. And since I told them I absolutely do not want to be intubated or reanimated, I’m right at home here. Except that I’m not dying. Which explains the extremely friendly personnel and why they like taking care of me, the sole non-dying patient….

Being in a hospital feels a bit like a writer’s retreat – basically, writing is pretty much all I can do here, so I drafted seven new pages for DRONE.

I hope tomorrow will again be a productive day of writing.

(April 21st) Again an early morning – after the 06.30 check-up, getting back to sleep is pretty hard, so I got up and started my day. Like yesterday, the weather was bright and sunny, like the world pestering me with my forced isolation. How I would relish just walking around in the sunshine…
I put these thoughts aside, as one has to accept that which cannot be changed. After checking through my social media and emails, I started typing a scene that was difficult to write and kept me busy for several hours, interspersed with breakfast, check-ups, and lunch. 
Out of the blue, my daughter Nica called me in a video chat, asking if she could move back to Amsterdam if/when the schools started in May. I had to disappoint her – I’d probably still be too weak to be home and care for two kids. But we had a long, very pleasant chat, and I felt glad that she called.
I had some other phone calls to make, one with a friend who’s an expert on technology related things. I had written a scene involving the detection of a USB stick with a hidden tracking device, and my scene was sound, except for some minor details I can easily resolve in the editing stage. 
I had also written a poem, which I photographed on the Kolibri.

I had a conference with the lung doctor, who told me he’d put in a transfer from the hospital to a nursing home, where I could be nursed back to health, as returning home in my condition is not an option.
A little later I was called by the transfer-nurse, who told me that the nursing home would be in the Amsterdam area and would be a single room, like I have now at the hospital, but it might have a window I can open (also handy with vaping cannabis), which the hospital doesn’t have. Might help with the low moisture content in my room dehydrating me. Transfer could be as early as tomorrow or the day after.

(April 22nd) I had a good night’s sleep, because the night shift decided not to wake me at 3 in the morning for the check-up, since my levels didn’t fluctuate that much. So I got my 6 o’clock check up and slept until 8 o’clock.
Today I will learn about my transfer. Looking forward to showering and having a normal toilet again, instead of washing myself with Swash single-use soapy washcloths and defecating on a bedpan chair. I feel a bit like some scaly reptile dehydrating in an aquarium, haha. I’m constantly draining half-liter bottles of mineral water, some 8 bottles a day, but that’s no wonder with kidney stones, diabetes and cottonmouth from cannabis. So, I’m also hoping I get a room where I can open a window to let some fresh air in.

Just had another conversation with the lung doctor. The transfer to a nursing facility seems like a bad option. I’ve had a severe infection of my respiratory system, which could very well be COVID-19, but they cannot say that for the full 100%. So, if I go to a corona nursing ward and my lung infection was something else, I’m liable to contract COVID-19 on top of my current dyspnea problems. And if I go to a regular nursing facility and I do have COVID-19, I’m liable to infect the other patients.
However, the room I’m currently occupying is in demand for palliative care patients, so I have to be moved. 
The plan now is that I’m going to be moved to the Lung ward on the eight floor, where I will be housed in a single room like this one, and where I will be weaned from the oxygen. And the expectation is to discharge me on Friday if I can manage without extra oxygen, and supply me at home with home care to take on the more exhausting tasks like cooking, washing dishes, vacuuming the house, changing the bedsheets and doing laundry. 
And check that on a weekly basis to slowly become more and more active in these household chores. Regaining my former condition and stamina will most likely take months, as I basically had double pneumonia, and regaining full lung capacity is a slow and arduous process. 

So, I’ve been transferred to a single room on ward B8 for lung diseases, and my oxygen has been lowered from 4 liters to 1 liter. Quite a step back, but the room is fine. Same general size as the one I occupied on B7 on April 10-12, with my own toilet and shower stall. 

With a table in the corner I can set up for my writing.

Of course, the view more limited because the windows are quite small, but it’s still magnificent. 

So now I’m going to trim my beard and take a long shower, which I think will make me feel much better. And the ability to relieve myself on a regular toilet should not be underestimated. 

Interesting developments. After this active day – packing up all my stuff, getting transferred, unpacking all my stuff, taking a shower without extra oxygen – I noticed that I didn’t feel well. My energy was low, I was drowsy, and I noticed I started making mistakes while writing on the typewriter. Something was definitely off, so I called the nurse on the phone and Hilde responded weird. She told me that if that happened, I should’ve used the red button earlier. However, she told me to up the oxygen to 2 liters and she’d be by later for the check-ups and would check on my oxygen then.
When she came by later for the checks and asked me about my dyspnea, I told her that maybe the ’cutting down on oxygen’ wasn’t going as gradual as the lung doctor had prescribed and that I was at the ward to build up my depleted reserves or I wouldn’t be able to go home on Friday afternoon.
”As far as my dyspnea was concerned,” Hilde said disapprovingly, “maybe that’s just the toll I have to pay for smoking cannabis…”
And I realised, this woman was punishing me for doing something one shouldn’t be doing on a lung ward. Holding tight to my fudoshin in order not to become angry, I explained to her that I was not some pothead who was so addicted to weed that doctors allowed him to smoke on a lung ward. I explained to her that vaping medical cannabis, prescribed by the leading eye doctor of her hospital, was preventing damage to my one remaining eye, a medical necessity that the lung doctors understood and therefore allowed on the ward, a decision that wasn’t hers to judge. I showed her what vaporising cannabis entailed and the differences between vaping and smoking (and e-cigarettes), so she would be informed about why I ‘risked my health’ vaping cannabis, because the alternatives were worse. 
Thankfully, I could see that she understood her mistake, and she brought me cappuccino and promised to make a note for her colleagues so they too understood that I wasn’t allowed to flout the rules of the ward, but was a patient with alternative medication. 
So my oxygen stays at 2 liters now and won’t be halved until that feels OK to me. I’m happy I was alert enough to realise what was going on and to be able to explain the dilemma I’m in, having to vape cannabis while contributing to a slower healing process of my lungs. And explain it well enough to turn her antagonistic attitude around. However, this is also a warning for those who use alternative medicine – sometimes the medical profession’s ignorance and prejudice could result in an abuse of power. I shudder to think what attitude some of these nurses might have towards people who have a lung disease from decades of smoking. Will they tell them they should stop whining, because everybody knows smoking is bad for your health? 
I know that a lot of doctors are also ignorant about medical cannabis use and the differences between smoking and vaping, but this prejudice can be dangerous. And I’m grateful my eye doctor was open to experimenting with alternative methods to prevent harm to my one remaining eye, and prescribe cannabis even though he didn’t have any experience with doing so. In view of the myopathy of so many medical ‘experts’, his openminded attitude is all the more impressive.

Later, when I tried to go to sleep, every time I went horizontal I got what felt like lung hiccups that prevented me from going to sleep. I had this same issue April 16th, when I couldn’t get to sleep either. So I rang the nightshift nurse and told him my problems and how I thought my oxygen had been decreased too drastically, so he upped my oxygen to three liters and we had a conversation where I expressed my frustration at being regarded a pothead who knowingly fucked up his lungs, whereas the RBILD was an unforeseen side effect of my medical cannabis use, which I couldn’t stop on account of risking blindness in my remaining eye. He was sympathetic and understanding and told me he would write down my explanation to go into my file, so the nurses wouldn’t see me as someone who was deliberately risking his health. 

(April 23rd) I slept fitfull and was woken around 7 for my check-up. The hospital seems adamant about discharging me tomorrow afternoon, so they screwed the oxygen down to 1 liter, but I don’t feel positive about going home so soon. I should recuperate in a clinic, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. I called with my huisarts to arrange for help with household chores like cleaning my house, but I had to call that service myself, explained my situation and they’re looking for an emergency solution as a request for this usually takes some 6 weeks of administrative time before they can become active. And I don’t have six weeks.
The transfer nurse called me and cannot do much more for me that arrange a shower chair for me. They can maybe arrange a physiotherapist for me, but not much more. I just need to convalesce, but due to corona, no clinic will take me. Best thing really would be for me to stay here on the lung ward for another week, but the hospital wants me gone because I don’t need active medical care. And I don’t feel able to live alone without any assistance, not when I’m so short of breath that simply taking a shower is so exhausting that I have to sit down for ten minutes just to get my breath back.
My oxygen supply is taken off around ten in the morning. Meanwhile, I have to make calls all day to arrange help around the house and on top of that my Mighty vaporizer stops working. I call my neighbor Simone who goes into my house, gets my Plenty vaporizer and brings it over at 13.00 hours. So I learn at 13.35 hours, despite me asking the nursing staff to bring me the vaporizer as soon as it arrives, as I should’ve vaped at 10.00 hours. When I call they bring me the Plenty fifteen minutes later with the excuse that they were on their lunch break. I’m getting so sick of this, it feels like they’re pestering me, for some unknown reason.

Yesterday, I asked for new Optrex Eye Wash. They would arrange for it, but it wasn’t coming. Today I heard that they don’t have it and cannot arrange it. I call my own pharmacy, which has one bottle left. A friend will pick it up and get it to the ward. I ask him to write “URGENT” on the bag and tell me when he drops off the bottle. I tell one of the nursing staff that I arranged for a new bottle Optrex and ask him to bring it to me as soon as it comes in.
My friend drops off the package at 15.12 hours. I don’t say anything and wait how long it will take for them to bring me the package. After all, it’s marked Urgent, so they should bring it over right away, right? At 16.12 hours I call them and tell them an urgent package I’m waiting for has been delivered an hour ago and still hasn’t been brought to my room. They tell me they will check with security. Ten minutes later it’s delivered to my room. No excuses, nothing.

Evening falls and I cannot do much calling anymore, as the offices are closing. Why do they have to discharge me right before the weekend? When everything will take twice as long, since on weekends many business are closed in this pandemic town? But there is nothing I can do about it.

After my dinner, which I can hardly eat because I have no appetite, I put my saturation meter on my finger. 92% it says, falling sharply as I take my dinner tray and carry it six steps to the door and put it on the ground behind the door so the nurse can pick it up without having to don without having to put on all the protective gear.
When I walk back, my saturation has dropped to 79%. I turn on the stopwatch on my phone and do my breathing exercises to get my saturation level back up. It takes 9 minutes and 36 seconds before I hit 92%, the bare minimum.
After that I turn on my iPad and watch a movie, feeling myself getting more and more despondent. The dyspnea is back in full force and I notice I’m panting with exertion just watching a movie. I put on the saturation meter and it shows 88%. And I cannot be more at rest while awake, just sitting still in a chair watching a movie. I get up and walk to the bathroom. I walk back again and see the saturation dropping to 84%. Even with my breathing exercises, I cannot get it to go higher than 88%.
The nurse comes to check up on me and I tell her how I feel and that my saturation won’t get up to 92%. She checks my vitals and my blood pressure is up and my saturation hovers at 88%. No fever, nothing. She calls the doctor, who is on an emergency call, but tells her to measure again, now with putting the saturation clamp on my ear. We do this while I’m horizontal, because I tell her that when I’m horizontal my lungs cramp up. The measurements stay below 90, so she puts me back on the oxygen, setting it at 1 liter. I tell her that I think it’s an irresponsible action to discharge me when I feel like this. If only I could stay a few days longer, lift me over the weekend, and discharge me on Monday, when I might be able to arrange for someone to help me clean up my house….
I’ll try and get some sleep…

(April 24th) I went to bed around midnight, but as soon as I went horizontal, my lungs cramped up and I got into a vehement coughing bout that resulted in coughing up white sputum. The air supply was bothering me more than helping me, so the nurse hung it within reach and we put up the head of the bed to avoid me going fully horizontal. I managed to get to sleep and woke at seven with abdominal pain and backpain and a saturation of 83%. I went to the toilet at half past seven and when I got back in bed, I put on my saturation meter and monitored myself for half an hour, not getting my saturation higher than 85%.
The dayshift nurse put me back on 3 liter oxygen, which blew so hard into my nose that the blood clotting in my nose came back. After an hour with no appetite, I asked if I could lower it to 1.5 liters, because I was feeling worse instead of better. I have no appetite, but drank a protein drink and ate a banana. Trying to get a small bowl of yoghurt inside, but it’s hard when you feel more like throwing up.

The weird thing is that the Emergency doctors (including the lung doctor) didn’t want to let me go home on April 16th unless I could keep a saturation of 92% or above, but the lung doctor seems to want to discharge me while I cannot keep my saturation stable and over 85%. I’d feel a lot better about this if I could keep my saturation above 92% for 24 hours before being discharged.

Lo and behold, how things can turn around. Instead of Dr. Arrogant, the lung doctor who came to confer with me today turned out to be the same friendly doctor I met when I stayed at B7 from April 10-12.
I was literally flooded with relief, as he sat down and we could just speak about the situation and the options. I told him about how professional household help services wouldn’t help without a guarantee that I was no longer contagious and since the hospital couldn’t guarantee something like that, was it any wonder my own friends, family and neighbours didn’t dare risk exposure assisting me with household chores. We talked about how I had basically been hospitalized April 17th with unstable saturation and how nothing has really changed. I felt slightly better at C6 and started to recuperate, but my health deteriorated when I was transferred to the B8 and rushed into returning home. This friendly lung doctor told me that with my unstable saturation going home wasn’t an option now. And he would make contact with the revalidatiekliniek (recuperation facility) for a spot, because if I wasn’t contagious and needed 24/7 observation until my saturation stabilized, the revalidatiekliniek would be the ideal step to take before I could return home.
So, I’m not going home today but will stay over the weekend and we’ll decide after the weekend (probably Tuesday, because Monday is King’s Day national holiday) whether I have to go to a clinic or if I was fit enough to return home with extra care.
I’m still too nauseated to eat lunch, but I’m incredibly relieved that I can stay and rest. The difference a doctor makes….

Being much calmer, my stomach cramps came to rest and I could eat dinner. Later in the evening, I felt coughing coming up, so I sat at my desk with an empty cup, coughing up white sputum and spitting it into the cup. I knew that every bit of sputum I could lift out of my lungs and into the cup would give me more breathing capacity. It was hard work, my head felt like it would explode and I had to take paracetamol against the beginning headache. After some forty-five minutes of coughing, I filled about one-third of the cup with heavy sputum. Then I took my mind off by watching the movie Superbad on my iPad. After the movie I wrote another few pages of DRONE and went to bed, cranking up the headrest at an angle so I could breath easier.

(April 25th) The friendly nightshift nurse took my vitals around four and woke me again around six-thirty to measure my glucose. After that I drowsed, but couldn’t get to sleep anymore, so I leisurely arranged the chair near my bathroom so I could take a shower as comfortable as possible. It is such a relief to be able to shower that despite not being able to use my oxygen supply, I still showered probably twice as long as I do at home, just holding on the braces in the walls and enjoying the hot water massaging my back. The next best thing to getting a real massage…
The dayshift nurse was pleased that I was already up and sitting at my desk, freshly showered and ready for the day. After breakfast I turned back to my draft of DRONE, thinking up new scenes to write.
The main problem seems to be the incredibly low humidity in the room affecting both my breathing and my vision. My eye dehydrates faster than I can moisturise it and again my vision blurs and my eyes burn. In the end, without other options available, I took to running the cold shower with the bathroom door open in order to increase humidity in the room.
In the time that my vision was too blurred to read, I put on my sunglasses to shield my eyes from harsh light and sat at my desk trying to cough up as much slime from my lungs as I could, hoping that this would increase my lung capacity.

I spend a lot, maybe too much, time on social media and I notice a tendency of healthy people complaining about the quarantine. I get it, but you have to realize that your inability to socialize with friends in the neighborhood pub, go en masse to the beach, and enjoy the gym or the cinema, or go out to dinner is nothing compared to the inability to breathe properly, te be forced to live in a small room having not much choice what you eat or drink, to be woken at three in the morning to have your vitals tested, to spend your spare time coughing up slime from your lungs and to be tethered to an oxygen tube 24/7 which makes blood clots in your nose.
You can walk to the fridge and get a ginger beer. If you feel cooped up, you can open a window and breathe the soft spring air, heck, you can go for a stroll outside as long as you practice social distancing. You can exercise in your home. You can order delicious food, you can make your own coffee, you can still rule most of your own life.
I’m not complaining. I’m not wallowing in self-pity, even if I cried yesterday for missing my children. I still count my blessing of being recuperating. I may have dyspnea for months and that terrifies me, but at least I’m not intubated at the ICU. I’m being cared for, I’m being fed, I can shower again, I have my iPad and wifi to stay in touch with my loved ones, I have my typewriter and writing materials to continue with my books and poetry.
I count my blessings every day.
Maybe, when you feel self-pity for everything you‘re missing out on, think about those poor souls whose lives are in peril, who have no choice in the matter of how they live because the virus saps their strength and they have to be on medical machinery in order to not die. For now, I leave this poem I wrote today.

(April 26th) Woke up this morning with a stuffed nose and a mouth as dry as the Gobi desert. I turned on the cold shower in the bathroom to moisten the air in my room – the low humidity is wreaking havoc with my health. Not only my eyes burn, but my skin is flaky and my throat so dry I drink liters of water.
Since the idea is that I can go home when I can sustain a resting saturation of 92% without extra oxygen, I turned off the oxygen during breakfast and start measuring after I placed my tray outside the door to my room.
Sitting back down after that ‘exertion’, my saturation was down to 83% and took over ten minutes to slowly rise to briefly touch 92% before slipping down to 90% again.
Another try. I went to the toilet on the other side of the room. When I returned, I was panting and my saturation was 77%. For the next half hour I tried to get it back up to 92%, but I didn’t get it any higher than 88%.
So I put the oxygen back on, 2 liters for one hour, then 1 liter for the rest of the day.

I also want to write about something that occurred last Wednesday, when I was moved from the C6 palliative ward to the B8 lung ward.
Before I got installed in C6, staying in the four-bed ward with the elderly patients for one night and getting moved to a private room at the end of the hall the next morning, I didn’t know the ward was for palliative care. I only found out about 1-2 days later.
So last Wednesday, when I was moved from C6 to B8, I knew that most of the patients were dying. As I was moved out, I was parked temporarily near another single room while a palliative patient was being moved into my room. The single room I was parked next to housed an elderly man hooked up to an IV drip with (I suspect) morphine to make him comfortable. There was a big glass wall separating us.
I must’ve drawn his attention, the bearded pirate in the bed outside his room, and we locked eyes. I greeted him with a namaste and he slowly raised his right hand to about shoulder level before it sank back to the bed. His eyes remained on mine and I just couldn’t look away from his drugged but still inquisitive gaze. And I knew this man was dying.
Then the nurses came to take me away and as I moved away from him, I nodded to him and he nodded back.
The rest of that day was so intensive that I almost forgot about him, but I later that night when I went to sleep, his face appeared before me again and I wished I had been able to give him some comfort other than my mute sympathy.
Today, as I posted on Facebook about people complaining about not being able to get a haircut due to the pandemic isolation, his face appeared before me and I couldn’t hold it together. Here’s this poor man dying alone in a glass room, watching me in mute incomprehension, while outside this hospital people are whining about not being able to get their nails done or go to a ball game. And I feel bad for resenting them for their pettiness. I want to scream at them that people are dying and they worry about their fucking appearance. And I know that writing this isn’t going to change their minds or attitude, but I cannot forget his face and his eyes searching mine. I’ve seen some bad shit in my life. I’ve seen people dying, often unnecessary, so why does this man’s death affect me so much? Because I may have been the last of the regular people he has seen before he died? I hate that there was this glass wall between us, that I couldn’t have held his hand to comfort him.
All I can do is remember him, remember what is happening in hospitals all over the world because of this fucking pandemic.
People tell me I’m tough, I’m a fighter, I can beat this sickness, they pray for me and wish me well on my long recovery. But I don’t feel tough. I feel like a mess, crying for this stranger dying alone in his glass room.
I’m not religious, but if you are and you want to pray for anyone, pray for his release from this mortal coil.
I feel so powerless.

This evening, around nine, I tried to go without oxygen again. It went fine for about two hours, slight fluctuations from 92 to 90 and back again, but after that I couldn’t keep it up and had to go back on the oxygen again. I’ll have another try tomorrow.

(April 27th) Today was one of the bad days. I woke up without my oxygen tube in my nose. When I measured, my saturation was around 85%, so we had the oxygen upped to 2 liters and left it there the rest of the day,
Most of the morning and afternoon I felt tired and not at all hungry, so I had to force myself to get breakfast and lunch to have some energy.
This lasted until well in the evening, so better luck tomorrow.

(April 28th) I got up at seven-thirty, removed my oxygen at 10.00 to check if I could get back to 92% at rest. Had a shower and breakfast. Saturation dipped, but came back to 92-93%. So, that is promising Let’s see if I can keep this up for the whole day.

My saturation seemed stable until bedtime. I was feeling pretty good, walked around, ate lunch and dinner, wrote 8 pages of draft for DRONE – a murder in the hospital scene – and went to bed around midnight.

(April 29th) After midnight, when I lay in my bed, the lung spasms came back and I sat coughing up sputum until a quarter to one. I measured my saturation at 89%, but since I had been coughing vehemently, I still went to sleep without extra oxygen.
I woke up at 04.38 hours to go to the bathroom. Before I got up, I measured my saturation, which was 79%. I relieved myself, got back into bed and took another reading. Despite not lying down, my saturation fluctuated between 77-79%, but I figured that I’d leave that for now and see how I’d feel in the morning.
I slept like the dead until the nurse woke me at 8.00 and asked me what I wanted for breakfast. I had to drink some water before I could answer and told her the same breakfast as yesterday – wholegrain bread, tomato, cheese, egg, ossenworst, coffee and diabetes lemonade, and extra water. I got up and sat in my chair behind the desk. She took my vitals, which were pretty good, except that my saturation sitting up was 85%.
She asked me if I wanted the oxygen, but I told her that the idea was to see if I could maintain 92% at rest and sitting up over a period of 24 hours, so I opted to wait, eat breakfast and check my saturation on my own meter.
My appetite was very low and looking at breakfast was making me nauseated, but I ate the banana to have something in my stomach when I took my meds.
I was monitoring my saturation and doing deep breathing exercises while drinking my coffee, the lemonade and two bottles of water, but not only did the saturation stay under 89%, my kidneys and joints started aching, and I felt a headache coming up, so I took two paracetamol.
When at 09.15 hours the saturation still remained under 90%, I gave up and connected the oxygen tube again, starting with 2 liters for twenty minutes, then lowering to 1 liter. My pain dissipated – either from the oxygen or the paracetamol – but my appetite didn’t return, so I got a cappuccino and more water and put the uneaten breakfast back in the hallway.
At 10.15 hours the nurse came to tell me the doctor would be by later today and that he wanted me to switch off the oxygen if the saturation was good enough. Saturation was at 95% with 1 liter, so we turned off the oxygen.
My oxygen saturation was 90% at 10.40 hours and 88% at 10.55 hours. I took a shower and afterward my saturation was 83% at 11.25 hours, creeping slowly to 89%. Ar 12.20 hours the doctor came, again a lung doctor who didn’t care much about my low saturation and found me fit enough to go home. Or go to a ZorgHotel (CareHotel), which I ‘had to arrange myself’.
I told him I was worried about going home alone and he told me he’d ask the social worker to talk with me about that, because my fear was irrational, as I ‘wasn’t in any danger’. I told him that his assessment was based on a very limited knowledge about my condition and home situation, where the efforts I exhibited in my hospital room would be tenfold at home. And I’d have no help as nobody dared enter my corona infected house.
I won’t be sent home today (they asked me about dinner, so…) but if they do want to send me home, I will need extensively more care than they now offer to provide.
And a private facility like a ZorgHotel is way out of budget for someone living on Welfare, so that’s not an option. I’m getting so sick and tired of having to argue that low saturation might not be considered ‘dangerous’ to them, but if my kidney starts malfunctioning because the lack of oxygen in my blood, I might get kidney stones again. If their assessment is wrong, I might have to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital for the FIFTH time. All because they prematurely discharged me the first few times. Which is also why my friends and neighbours don’t trust their assessment of my contagiousness. And why should they? They sent me home prematurely three times already….

I had a second discussion, now with two lung doctors. I explained to them that in my opinion, low saturation was a problem. Not just because I notice mental trouble in the clarity of my thinking when the saturation goes below 90%, but also because I have a kidney stone problem and my kidney might start making stones due to lack of oxygenated blood.
”Well, I don’t know about that,” the other lung doctor said. Before he could continue, I said, “Exactly. You don’t know. And all I know is that the low saturation gives me pain in my kidneys that I do not feel when my saturation is 92% and over. So let’s not assume anything, but just make sure I have a way to bringing my saturation levels up by providing an oxygen machine in my house.”
They could arrange that. And I told them about my personal feeling of safety in the home alone at night would be assuaged by having a panic button, so I could sound the alarm with a press of the button, instead of having to call 112 and explain what I needed. As I might be in such respiratory distress or coughing that I couldn’t speak. Again, a panic button would probably be unnecessary, but if its presence eases my anxiety about being home alone, it’s not that difficult to arrange. They readily agreed to both the oxygen machine and panic button and checking how much care I could receive in the home, while I arranged for the cleaning service to go into action as soon as I tell them when I’m coming home.

While all this sounds pretty amicable, the stress generated from having to argue with doctors to just get the proper care at home is extremely draining and unnecessary. I’m lucky that I’m an expert in risk management and negotiation, but what if I hadn’t been? I shudder to think about how less capable communicators would fare against such ‘opposition’.

One troubling thought was that the doctors remarked that if after all these precautions, if my home recuperation failed, they would have enough evidence to support the notion that I should’ve gone to a revalidatiekliniek care facility….

Anyway, since I’ve been thrown back to my own devices again, I’ve spoken with Westfalen Medical Supplies, who will bring an oxygen converter to my home tomorrrow morning and I arranged for my neighbour to hang up a note by the door to ring her bell, so she can let them in. The panic button they were supposed to arrange, couldn’t be arranged by the hospital, so they gave me a telephone number, which answered that the service line was not in use at the moment. So I will have to try that again tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’m fortunate to have friends. One friend will come over tomorrow evening and sleep over, so she can watch over me. Another wil come over Friday evening to do the same.
I feel asleep watching Kingdom on my iPad, so I measured my saturation, which had dropped to 88%. So I hooked up the oxygen and set it at 1 liter, so I would have a steady supply of oxygen during the night.

(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…

To avoid making these blog posts too long, I posted the rest of my story in a third blogpost documenting my convalescence.

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.

Upgrading your vaping experience.

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.

EasyFlow “Little Rippa” bubbler bong fitted with a Delta 3D adapter and a Storz & Bickel “Mightly” vaporizer.

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.

“PlentyRippa”: Storz & Bickel “Plenty” vaporizer inserted sans mouthpiece into the pipe stem of the EasyFlow “Little Rippa” bubbler bong.

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.

Typecast: My Royal FP – Steampunk

Press the magic button and the machine opens to reveal its innnards…
1957 Royal FPS with Ransmeyer-Rodrian Imperial Elite typeface
Most FP serial numbers end with E for Elite or P for Pica, but this one had S for Special!
Close up of the typeslug with 84 and the Rodrian symbol I initially mistook for Royal. (And, yes, I cleared out the crud now. Jeez, don’t keep going on about it!)

Typewriter Pad Alternative

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.

SM 4 on floor mat

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.

What Typewriter Should I Get?

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.

Writing: “The Biggest Mistakes Writing Your First Book?”

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.

WRITING: “Why is writing frustrating for some and fun for others?”


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.