The Lockdown Diaries: Week 6

by Janice Nigro

You would think I would be running out of things to write about after a month and a half in lockdown and feeding my soul (eating chocolate). But the world out there keeps on giving me something to ponder on the page, even though I have limited interaction outside my apartment.

But I didn’t have to leave my apartment this week to experience a few moments of excitement a.k.a. terror. No, it wasn’t a crazy dream this time. I woke up in the middle of an earthquake. It was the shaking kind, the kind that goes on for a few seconds. Just after midnight in that vague phase of consciousness, am I dreaming? Then realizing I wasn’t dreaming and onto oh my god, are we prepared for a disaster within a disaster? No one is on top of their game right now. I didn’t move. It stopped and life has gone on.

Progress maybe

I walked four miles again to the gourmet grocery store up the hill. I wanted a roast chicken. They have the best ones, but I also thought maybe I would swing by Target to get my desperately needed toilet paper, a brand I might recognize.

As I was wandering around the gourmet grocery store, I saw another customer with some real toilet paper. I ran to that aisle. It was half filled with paper products. The most I’ve seen in the paper aisle in five weeks in any store. I got my package of 4 Charmin mega rolls. This is the end of my discussion on this topic.

I’m no longer sure only essential businesses are open in my area. I’m not going to say more than that, but it looks to me that even in the liberal state of California people have had enough.

And I so wish I had a car. No cars on the roads in LA and gas is cheap (under 3 dollars here). This might be progress of a sort, although it means something else. If I had a car, I would just drive around to say I drove around Los Angeles in record time. Hey, people are getting speeding tickets in New York City probably just because they can. Now that’s a souvenir from the lockdown that might be worth talking about.

Dumb ideas

Yes, I looked up the word disinfectant this week. The definition: an agent that frees from infection.

This definition is not explicit in what that agent might be. But the media defined it and everyone jumped on that ship to criticize the person whose comments sparked all that so-called stupidity  (and concern).

The president’s statement: I see disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?

Key words: Something like that. Asking whether something like that could be done to kill the virus quickly inside the body? That’s not so stupid. That’s an obvious goal. If you stop for a second and think about it, something you could breathe in that would destroy the virus before it latched onto your lung cells would be amazing.

I immediately thought of drugs that are delivered through inhalation, such as naloxone and asthma treatments. But those are not disinfectants in any sense of the word. Pentamidine is. WebMD states that pentamidine works by killing the organism that causes the infection. Usually it is given with a nebulizer but it’s also injected. It’s inhaled in the lungs to kill opportunistic pathogens (pneumocystis  pneumonia) in people with suppressed immune systems.

I also discovered that there is a cocktail of molecules under clinical investigation as a potential therapy for Covid-19. It happens to be an inhalation therapy containing ligands that for one thing stimulate lung epithelial cells to, guess what, produce a host of molecules that will kill invading pathogens. That’s cool. And by the definition it’s a disinfectant.

By that definition, that’s what an antibody is.

I’m a cancer biologist so it didn’t take me long for my mind to race through a list of toxic chemicals medical professionals inject into human beings with the hope that they will work against the disease. Sometimes they do work, but they have many side effects. One day, as a colleague once said, we will look back on the treatment of cancer patients as barbaric. I hope so, but until then it’s what we have.

If you aren’t convinced about the toxicity of chemotherapy, then there’s also radiation.

Radiation is also used in sterilization of inanimate objects, as is UV light (in some cases). UV light isn’t good for plastic, but biologists use UV light all the time to disinfect surfaces in special rooms and hoods in the lab. No one should ever look directly into that UV light or stand in it. It kills by damaging DNA. That’s why pathogens are destroyed. That’s why cells die. That’s why you get a sunburn.

UV light and radiation are natural sources of energy on Earth. To a certain extent, our bodies have evolved ways to cope with our harsh environment (outside of our apartments/homes). Any living organism has a variety of molecular systems to deal with DNA damage. Like more melanin in darker skin. Or the many molecules responsible for the accurate replication of DNA through each cycle of cell division. Too much of it though, and death comes sooner or later.

UV has been with us from the time even before homo sapiens. And Western culture forgets that there was a time before antibiotics. I too didn’t think about that until I came across an article titled “Ultraviolet irradiation of blood: “The Cure that Time Forgot”. The article is a history of the exploration of UV light as a treatment for different diseases in the 19th and 20th centuries. And it worked. The only reason it never became the standard of care was that antibiotics were discovered around the same time technology was under investigation to treat infections with UV therapy. It’s easier to prescribe a pill.

How did it work? Blood was removed and UV irradiated. Scientists and physicians discovered that only a small volume of blood needed to be UV irradiated to have an effect. One of the effects it has is to activate the immune system.

The wide use of antibiotics have caused their own unintended consequences, including resistance and allergic reactions. This article raises the question of whether UV treatment of blood should be again considered as an option for the treatment of some infectious diseases. By the way, the article is from 2018.

I could go on but I’ll leave you with just one more weird thing people inject into their bodies under supervision from a health care professional: Botox. Botox is a toxin derived from a bacteria that paralyzes. That’s a cray-cray idea as a friend of mine would say.

My lesson from all of this is, the media have no imagination. Science is not a straight path from one brilliant thought to another until the brilliant Nobel Prize winning finding at the end. Science is years of hard work where nothing might happen and then some crazy idea brings it together for you. Sir Isaac Newton thought of the law of gravity when an apple fell on his head. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in a plate of bacteria contaminated with mold.

Even I was on a team of amazing scientists who made a wacky discovery that one reviewer rejected outright. “It’s artifact!” they wrote in the review. Years later the work was confirmed in many labs around the world. It turned out to be a phenomenon that is more general and now recognized as a novel regulatory mechanism in biology.

One final thought, presidents come and go one way or another. But based on the current two major party presidential candidates, no matter who is elected in 2020, I’m guessing the subject matter of press conferences is not going to get less bizarre. So good luck with the trajectory the media are currently on.

What have I learned?

There’s no shortage of politics, still, in the middle of a pandemic. I have divorced myself from most social media platforms and news outlets. When a reporter asked several weeks ago if Americans should get their medical advice from the president, I had to shut it off. When was that ever a good idea? And why would you even ask that question?

Or maybe none of us has enough to do.

But here’s an idea. No pay checks or TV appearances for any of our politicians until they have a viable plan for bringing us back into the real world. The science is there. The logistics for screening 330 million people on a routine basis is not.

Meanwhile, I’m jealous of the French couple in my building eating lunch out on their balcony with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

My favorite literary quote of the week: One reason cats are happier than people is that they have no newspapers. Gwendolyn Brooks from “In the Mecca”

And calories still count even during lockdown.


That’s it for this week. Stay safe and stay away from crowds. Happy cocooning.


©Janice Marie Nigro/

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer ResearchPLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.


2 thoughts on “The Lockdown Diaries: Week 6

Add yours

    1. Thanks Jill! I had to write it. I’m not a fan of the way the media works today. They take the easy way out to fill their papers/websites. I’d rather see more solution based articles, but that takes some effort and thought.

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