The Omicron Diaries
Early Treatment, Brisket, and the Nectar of the Gods
Returning home from their first day of school after Winter break, our boys reported the inevitable: Omicron had arrived. Many staff were absent, as were many students. And there was talk, at one of the schools, of going back—temporarily, we were assured!—to remote learning.
“Remote learning” is of course a euphemism, for while it is most definitely remote, there seems to be, at least for many people, precious little learning that takes place in this mode. For more than a school year, that was all that was offered here. These teenagers—admirable young men, both—who attend two different schools in Portland, Oregon, have already had far too much of their youth disrupted by this pandemic.
Pandemic. I hesitated there. Is that the correct noun to be using? Have my children had so much of their youth disrupted by a virus, SARS-CoV2? Or has the disruption been due to a disease, Covid-19? Or perhaps has the disruption been caused by the public response to the virus and the disease?
It’s the latter. SARS-CoV2 is real and almost certainly a human-assisted construct, perhaps even a chimera. But it didn’t cause most of these disruptions. Similarly, Covid-19 is real and sometimes deadly, although the risk of a bad outcome from it is much higher the more comorbidities you have. In contrast, the chaos of the public health response to the virus and the disease that it causes—that’s where most of the blame for the destruction and despair lies. Is it a confused and mangled response? Or an intentional and despicable one? Or perhaps some of one, and some of the other?
There is much value—to some one or some thing—in keeping us fearful. But there is no virtue in it.
There is also much value in keeping us helpless. But there is also no virtue in that.
Those who are constantly adding fuel to the fires of fear and helplessness are doing something of value for some one or some thing, but these people are not virtuous, and they are not doing right by the vast majority of us. Far from it.
So when our children came home and told us of all the absences, and that Omicron was the presumed culprit, we increased our diligence on the supplements we’ve been taking for months now: vitamins D and C and zinc and magnesium, and usually quercetin, too, but we had run out. More on that later. And I suggested to all that we start using a neti pot once a day, which we have had in our arsenal since before the boys were born. Nasal irrigation is not pleasant, especially the first couple of times that you do it, but one does get used to it, and it has a long history in several medical traditions1, even if many modern M.D.s don’t see much use in it. Given that Omicron seems to be a disease of the upper respiratory tract2, and that the point of entry is typically the nose, and even that nasally-administered vaccines3 have been increasingly recognized as potentially more effective than a shot in the arm for some diseases, clearing your nose out frequently while regularly exposed seems a smart choice.
We had, all four of us, been on weekly prophylactic Ivermectin for many months in 2021, but had stopped taking it months ago. It is remarkably safe4, and demonstrably effective against many viruses5, including earlier strains of SARS-CoV26. (Oh, and it seems that maybe the U.S. government knew that all along, about both IVM and Hydroxychloroquine.) Still, it wasn’t clear what the natural end point should be—what would decide when we would stop? None of us are on any drugs for life, nor do we have any intention of being on any drugs for life. I was concerned about effects on the gut microbiome from long-term use. So we had stopped.
On Thursday of last week I left an early morning appointment, at which I had been asked about symptoms of Covid (nope), and went to a drug store to pick up some more zinc and supplies for an upcoming trip. Standing in line behind a guy holding only a 12-pack of beer, the elderly female employee who was directing traffic rather than working a register asked the guy sharply “how many do you want?”
“Excuse me?” He asked her. She looked mildly annoyed at him.
“How many do you want” she repeated crisply, clarifying nothing. He turned around and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and gave an exaggerated raise of my eyebrows. I also had no idea what she was on about. She looked at us both in what seemed to be growing disdain.
“These,” she said, pulling a rapid Covid test from behind the counter. “We just got them in. Maximum four. How many do you want?” As she finished, as if on cue from a Covid stage manager, a dozen people came spilling into the store. More soon followed. There was a clamoring. The elderly employee relaxed, smiled. This is what she had been looking for from us, the beer-guy and me, but we were extras in this play, uninformed about the plot. We weren’t there for Covid tests. We hadn’t known there were any Covid tests.
“I’ll take four then,” beer-guy said to her, before turning to me. “Over Christmas, my brother said we couldn’t come visit until we had negative test results. There weren’t any tests available. There are never any tests available. I told him I’d like to be a pro athlete too, but that wasn’t going to happen either.”
The elderly employee was managing the crowd now, a job she seemed well suited to. A line of people now snaked behind me through the cosmetics and crap-food aisles. She turned to me and asked again, “How many do you want? Maximum four.”
“Four,” I said, and beer-guy nodded approvingly.
“Why not, right?” he said.
I felt like I had won a lottery that I didn’t want to be playing, and had thus far opted out of. But offered this precious—and expensive—loot, it felt foolish to reject it. Look at all the people in line behind me who had come here just for this! I too have been hearing of the shortage of tests. We all have. But I have also been hearing of how unreliable they are, in both directions, especially in detecting Omicron. And I have no idea who if anyone is doing quality control on them. Funny how we still have unreliable tests two years into the pandemic (that word again), but it took less than a year to get vaccines. Oh wait—they’re unreliable7 too.
I walked out of that drug store, and felt a tingling. Instinctively, I put my hand to my throat. Uh-oh. I used to be plagued with frequent throat illnesses, strep and laryngitis and all of it. It’s been a while. But there it was: a sore throat. I said something aloud, testing. I was already getting hoarse. Then I sneezed. Aaaaaand: a headache. All at once.
I aborted my plans to work in a café, and went for a walk instead. Then I went home. The headache worsened, and the sneezing persisted, and now I had a weird buzzy all-over body ache that felt unlike anything I had ever experienced before, except in February 2020 when I brought home from LA something exceedingly dark and grim. I talked about it a bit on our very first DarkHorse livestream, and won’t reiterate the gory details here, except to say that one night I fell to my knees while making the bed, literally unable to hold myself upright. I had changed the sheets because I thought I was through it, but the pathogen came roaring back, and later that night I literally woke up gasping for breath. It was terrifying. In retrospect, it seems likely that what I had then—and gave to one of our sons—was Covid. And this, the all over body buzz, sharp and jagged at the edges of consciousness and sometimes right in the middle of consciousness, felt like a very weak, very distant relative of that experience.
But this time, the sore throat and the hoarseness, unlike any other time I’ve ever had a sore throat, when it has persisted longer than all the other symptoms—this time it went away within hours. Odd.
Our boys came home later that day and one of them had the same symptoms—the same son with whom I had been so very sick in February 2020. Bret and our other son were then and remain now symptom free. Perhaps they are among the lucky few (or perhaps it is the lucky many?) who are asymptomatic with regard to Covid. Perhaps “asymptomatic” is a garbage category that fails to elucidate the many ways that a person can be exposed to a pathogen and not come down with the disease.
The two of us with symptoms upped our dosages of all the supplements I already listed, and added NAC, of which we have one bottle, and added a tiny bit of iodine to the neti pot along with the salt (which, if it works, will likely increase false negatives on tests that rely on nasal swabs). We took two of those rapid tests that I had happened in to earlier in the day. Both negative. Sure. And we began a treatment dose of Ivermectin, of which we have an ample supply on hand. I felt better within an hour of taking the IVM, but who knows. There was nothing blind about any of this.
Next day, Friday, I was feeling largely better, but still quite buzzy, and with some borderline early-psychedelic visuals, too. Still, I walked around outside for a while, as the sun was briefly shining through the trees after torrential rains for much of the week. It seemed a good moment to clean out a newly rock-and-mud clogged drain at the top of our driveway. It was rewarding, actually, and the dog certainly enjoyed it, and didn’t even object to me hosing her off afterwards, even though the weather had by then reverted to more typical January conditions, manifesting in a light drizzle and temperature hovering around 40 degrees F.
All the while, I needed to be working on a talk for the following week, still in some hopeful denial that this was not Omicron. I was doing the right thing by other people—staying out of public places—but if this was Omicron, then I couldn’t travel to the conference I’d been looking forward to for months. But my brain was a bit foggy, honestly—kind of a match for the low-level jagged buzzing in my body—so instead of working on the talk I turned my attention to quercetin.
A Brief Aside for Brisket
Quercetin is found in many fruits and vegetables, including apples, cranberries, and blueberries; onions, tomatoes and tea. It is a flavonoid, a class of molecule widespread in plants, particular types of which variously provide color to the petals of flowers, aid in Nitrogen fixation, and filter UV light. Quercetin has several distinct biological properties that may improve both physical and mental performance8. It appears to have anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties, and may reduce risk of infection from several kinds of pathogens9. It is also a zinc ionophore10, meaning that it facilitates the entry of zinc into cells.
In my quest for quercetin I went to consumerlab.com, and found that quercetin—like so many things—is better gotten through your food. In supplement form it mostly passes right through you. They also suggested that quercetin is mostly found in onions, kale, and capers. In fact, the list of dietary sources of quercetin is considerably longer than that, but again, I was a little foggy, so I accepted that short list at the time. I have little use for capers. And I like kale well enough, having created bacon kale pasta early in our boys’ lives, which became a staple and a favorite for years, until the kale craze happened, at which point I switched to chard or collards or whatever other greens were available because I have an aversion to being fashionable.
But onions, now, onions I can get behind.
I had also, as luck would have it, just special ordered a six-pound grass-fed brisket that was now sitting in our refrigerator. And the recipe that we use for brisket calls for not two, not four, but eight onions. Bingo.
Brisket was traditionally immigrant food. It’s a tough cut of meat from the chest of the cow, which requires long slow cooking to break down the collagen and turn the meat succulent. Briskets tend to be large, and cheaper than other cuts per pound, which make them perfect for large gatherings of people with more time than money. Brisket was specifically the food of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants, in part because, being from the front half of the animal, it’s kosher.
Everyone who likes brisket has an opinion about how to do it right, and I’m not here to settle any such disputes. But I will say that the recipe we use leans heavily on the browning effects of both the Maillard reaction and caramelization to create a complex, deeply oniony, melt-in-your-mouth brisket that you won’t regret making if anything about that description appeals to you.
Since Bret and I talked about brisket on DarkHorse, we have had several requests for the recipe. From Rosso & Lukins’ 1989 The New Basics Cookbook, we make Nach Waxman’s brisket of beef, which can be found in slightly modified form here. I do things a little differently yet—I use more carrots and garlic, and replace the corn oil with avocado oil, and use gluten-free flour. The 1989 recipe also specifies that the onions should be thickly sliced and separated into rings, which is both an enjoyable task, and one that leaves such a gargantuan volume of onions—especially if you started with large ones rather than medium ones—that the degree to which they melt down is all the more impressive.
The Plot Thickens, in a (mostly) Totally Predictable Way
I took another one of those rapid tests, and it too came back negative. I wanted to believe it, but I didn’t. The symptoms were too spot on. Omicron is everywhere right now, including especially in the schools that our boys are attending. So we called on a doctor we are friends with. A front line Covid-19 critical care doctor, in fact, with whom you may well be familiar—one Dr. Pierre Kory.
Dr. Kory had a number of things to say to me and to us, among them that I was at liberty to share anything I liked, regardless of outcome, because, he said, “I am a physician and accept all consequences of my efforts.” Damn. Would that all doctors were so inclined.
Over the course of two phone conversations and several written exchanges, three main conclusions emerged:
The particular description of symptoms that I had (including more than I have shared here), including the rapid onset and then offset of the sore throat, was, for him, definitive. Specifically, he said that this was one of two remarkably distinct paths he was seeing with Omicron, the other being intense strep-like burning in the throat that persisted for a while. Yes, I had Omicron.
The visual disturbances were not likely to be due to the virus, however. He thought them likely to be a very rare side effect of Ivermectin, which he had seen only once before in treating hundreds of patients. He thus recommended that I switch from IVM to Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), both to alleviate the disturbances in vision, and because:
Against Omicron, HCQ seems to do a better job than IVM in early treatment.
To point three, we heard the same thing from another doctor who has been courageous and vocal in treating patients with Covid throughout the last two years. I’m not naming him here, but he specifically argued that, given what we know about mechanisms of action of HCQ and IVM, and what we know about Omicron and earlier variants, yes, we should expect HCQ to be more effective against Omicron than IVM is, or than IVM was against earlier variants. He also directed us to this video of Dr. Mobeen Syed discussing mechanisms of action, which concludes in part that Omicron is different enough from what came before that the virus causing it should be called SARS-CoV-3.
So I have Omicron. It’s not a big deal to me in almost any way, at least directly. In fact, given its far more trivial health consequences than the variants that came before, if having it provides immunity against said variants (and hopefully against future ones), it could well be effectively the (admittedly highly infectious) vaccine the world has been waiting for. But indirectly, the disruption it has caused, due to public health policies, has made it a fairly big deal to me.
On Sunday Bret and I were supposed to fly to Miami for the conference I alluded to earlier, a conference that had already been rescheduled twice due to Covid, and which we were both very much looking forward to. I was supposed to give a talk on the evolution of sex and gender differences. Bret was to be talking about public health and moderating discussions with a handful of some of the best people to rise to the top during this crisis: Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Pierre Kory and Dr. Ryan Cole and Mathew Crawford (who just had his own run-in with the ‘cron). And I was really really really looking forward to being in Florida, just for a few days, a place that by all accounts feels normal (the conference itself promised to not be normal, by standard metrics, and I was looking forward to that, too). But I could not get on a plane having had Omicron, as trivial a case as it was. And Bret could not get on a plane having been exposed to me, as trivial a case as it was. So we had to cancel those plans.
And on Saturday, January 8, we were due to have our first livestream in three weeks. We did it, but DarkHorse livestream #110 was odd. It was important to us to protect our children’s ability to go to school, if they were not sick and if the schools remained open, so I was on camera in a different room than usual, isolated, as per CDC guidelines. Note that neither of us believe in or have respect for CDC guidelines on this topic at this point, but we, like many, are walking a number of fine lines, not all of which can be public, hence the unfortunate reality of some confusing messaging in all of that.
Nectar of the Gods
On Friday, while in the kitchen peeling and chopping onions and garlic and browning the meat with my son, we also had honey lemon tea. It’s not actually tea, but I’m not sure what else to call it that doesn’t sound overly precious or clinical.
The recipe is this: Put a very large tablespoonful—or more—of excellent honey into an insulated drinking vessel. Slowly add boiling water, melting the honey while you do so. Add the freshly squeezed juice of one large lemon. Stir. Drink. It is the nectar of the gods, or tastes so under some circumstances. Those circumstances, I posit, are ones in which your body is responding to either the honey or the lemon, or both, with a visceral reaction that amounts to “oh now this is precisely what I need,” which in turn translates to it tasting like the nectar of the gods.
When I was deathly ill in February 2020, Bret made me some of this. I was at that point so sick that sitting up was a challenge, but when I had my first sip it was a revelation. My world opened again. “This tastes like life,” I said to him then. It really did feel like drinking it granted me more life.
Honey has many health benefits, including being anti-inflammatory, and having an inhibitory effect on many species of bacteria, and at least some fungi and viruses. It is used to speed wound healing and to diminish scars, and also to treat coughs and sore throats. Hippocrates also thought it useful in preventing both baldness, and pregnancy11, but I suspect that he may have been wrong on both of those counts.
Lemon, of course, is full not only of vitamin C, but of so many other things that I’ll just encourage you to take a look here12 if you want to see what science has thus far discovered about the health benefits of eating lemon.
The point being: honey lemon tea tastes like the nectar of the gods, particularly when it is providing your body something that it desperately needs.
Trust your cravings, so long as you are not craving fake food, like Pepsi or Peeps or Pringles.
If, on the other hand, your body is yelling at you to consume pickles or brisket, kimchi or honey lemon tea, consider giving your body what it wants.
I’m basically fully recovered now. The visuals went away once I switched from IVM to HCQ13, and all the rest of the symptoms faded soon thereafter. Omicron is less dangerous and more transmissible than its predecessors. It does take some people down, for sure. But we could be giving people the information and incentives to get and keep themselves healthy in the first place, and provide early treatment if they do get sick. That almost sounds like an actual public health program.
With regard to that lottery I won, being in the right place at the right time to get some tests I wasn’t looking for, I do believe that maintaining a focus on testing, while not having enough tests, and having the tests that we do have be fantastically unreliable, is helping keep us in a state of fear, helplessness, and chaos.
Many people are just throwing up their hands in despair. Even many who have held on to their dignity and analytical minds are just about at their wit’s end. I have been there. December was hard. There is no separating all the factors, of course—the darkest, wettest, greyest part of the year is never easy. But the gaslighting and the incoherent public messaging and policies and the being accused of being all sorts of things when actually what many of us are doing is what we always do—trying to make sense of complex systems—it’s awful, and it feels insane. But it feels like someone else’s insanity. It feels like someone else’s insanity that is being imposed on us, and we are being told that it’s ours to live with and adopt as our own. Well, no. No thank you. There are many of us who are not insane, who never even flirted with the insanity, telling it how pretty it was and what a great job it was doing. The lies were never noble. Many of us did not hide, and we will not be disappeared.
Minor details have been changed to protect the innocent and stifle the stupid.
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Fandino and Douglas 2021. A historical review of the evolution of nasal lavage systems. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 135(2): 110-116. I will repeat here a recommendation I have made before: If you are not affiliated with an institution of higher education, but would like access to the published research that was largely funded with your tax dollars, try sci-hub.
Peacock et al 2022. The SARS-CoV-2 variant, Omicron, shows rapid replication in human primary nasal epithelial cultures and efficiently uses the endosomal route of entry. bioRxiv: 2021-12.
Mato 2019. Nasal route for vaccine and drug delivery: features and current opportunities. International journal of pharmaceutics, 572: 118813.
Ōmura and Crump 2014. Ivermectin: panacea for resource-poor communities?. Trends in parasitology, 30(9): 445-455.
Heidary and Gharebaghi 2020. Ivermectin: a systematic review from antiviral effects to COVID-19 complementary regimen. The Journal of antibiotics, 73(9): 593-602.
Bryant et al 2021. Ivermectin for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection: a systematic review, meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis to inform clinical guidelines. Preprint DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/dzs2v
Mallapaty, S., 2021. COVID vaccines cut the risk of transmitting Delta—but not for long. Nature News, 5. Honestly, this is about as mainstream and on-narrative a source as possible. Even the editorial branch of Nature, one of the world’s top 2 science journals, recognizes how lackluster—at best—the Covid vaccines are.
Davis, J.M., Murphy, E.A. and Carmichael, M.D., 2009. Effects of the dietary flavonoid quercetin upon performance and health. Current sports medicine reports, 8(4): 206-213.
Li et al 2016. Quercetin, inflammation and immunity. Nutrients, 8(3): 167-181.
Dabbagh-Bazarbachi et al 2014. Zinc ionophore activity of quercetin and epigallocatechin-gallate: from Hepa 1-6 cells to a liposome model. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 62(32): 8085-8093.
Eteraf-Oskouei and Najafi 2013. Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: a review. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 16(6): 731-742.
González-Molina et al 2010. Natural bioactive compounds of Citrus limon for food and health. Journal of pharmaceutical and biomedical analysis, 51(2): 327-345.