season three greetings, new beginnings despite Coronavirus, because Spring too is in the air…
Looking back, it’s hard to understand why the experience took so much out of me. After all, I was not the patient. We’d been surrounded by good intentions and ten days after Mum was admitted to hospital, I was allowed to wheel my mother from the ward to the car and drive away.
The antibiotics had worked. Going in each day to feed and water my mother had prevented the doctors fitting a peg feed—a tube through the wall of her stomach that dribbles liquidised food. If there were bedsores on her sacrum—the place where the spine meets the bottom—and her feet had been wrapped in bandages to protect blisters two inches across that were open wounds, we’d come through, we’d beaten the system…
We interrupt this podcast to bring you news from the current situation with the Corona crisis…
How odd, how bizarre, how completely strange and unexpected it is, at least to me, to see the rest of the world go into lock down. We’re now on Day 13 of our own little lock down. And I haven’t been beyond the garden, not once. Not even for a walk down the road. That’s maybe sensible because it protects Mum, and indeed my sister and I, from infection, but that’s not the real reason. I just don’t want to. I don’t want to see what a worldwide lock down looks like close up on our streets, for our shops and pubs and chemists and doctors and parks. I want to believe it’s all as it was before Corona. I want to think of the outside world as I’ve always thought of it since I’ve been a carer; as the antithesis of lock down, open, free, exciting, and waiting for me.
How tragic too, that an event so surprising to me has all along been predicted, even promised, by scientists and epidemiologists who understand the potential of a virus, made of a single strand of RNA, to sweep the world leaving death and destruction in its wake.
In reality of course, I too knew of these predictions and ignored them. We all knew, even if only through disaster movies good and bad, believable and utterly ridiculous…say, Contagion by Stephen Soderbergh and Independence Day directed by Roland Emmerich. The first is about a virus pandemic. The scientific community have generally approved the film for its accuracy and when my sister suggested we watch it on a Saturday evening, eleven days into our own lock down, I thought I was strong enough to watch a concocted story around a scenario very similar to the one we’re all living. All I can say, is I wasn’t and I can’t recommend you do such a thing at home either.
The second movie, Independence Day, is about aliens in space ships intent on destroying humanity by burning up millions of lives with their destructive beams. There’s a lot of fuss and bother, death and general mayhem, until, on July 4th, our hero David works out that the only way to defeat the aliens is to infect their systems with a computer virus. Oh, and a nuclear bomb. The idea of infecting the aliens with a virus, albeit of the computer variety, should come as no surprise since the concept of viral infection has always been with us in the natural world and a constant in life. The nuclear bomb should also be predictable as a coup de grace, because the film is made in America, as are most of the world’s nuclear weapons.
Then there are Ted talks titled ‘Eight Ways the World Could Suddenly End’ that have been on YouTube forever, and new cousins called things like ‘Why Corona Virus is Our Future.’ If they sound extreme, they’re not. These talks tend to be based on thorough science and given by experts. I’ve put links to these two on the website because they’re worth watching. Again, only if you can bear it.
Personally, I’m highly conflicted about how much information and from what source, I really want at any one time. Because the oddity of this lock down for me, is that it really hasn’t altered my life very significantly at all.
That’s not to say there’s no change. As a full time carer for Mum I’ve always had the support of professional carers coming into the home two or three times a day to help with washing and showering, changing incontinence pads, getting up in the morning and preparing for bed in the evenings. We no longer have carers because we have to self-isolate completely. Every day was punctuated, time-marked, by their comings and goings. Carers were the bulk of our social life, but no longer. In some ways, it’s liberating that there is no fixed routine, even though more time and effort goes into the actual care.
We’re lucky, I’m lucky, that we can self-isolate because my sister is here, so there are two of us to look after Mum. I couldn’t do it alone, or maybe I could but I couldn’t do it well and Mum would be at risk because hoisting and turning her alone is dangerous. There’s no one visiting, neither carers nor family, and naturally, we’re not going out, not even to shop, because we can’t risk coming into contact with the virus through some chance encounter on a shopping trolley handle or some other source of infection.
Before my sister came to live here, something we’d long talked about that finally came true because she got a buy-out at work and decided the UK felt more like home than Canada, I had care visits, but I could not go out for more than half an hour. I had a new freedom to take hours off, to go to the gym or the shops or to visit my daughters, but Corona has taken all that away, and whilst I miss those privileges, not having them is nothing new. I’d got used to our own version of a lock down, only I didn’t call it that. I called it caring for Mum alone.
With some experience of lock down, the Corona crisis and the social distancing measures being taking to ameliorate the spread and severity of the disease do not feel as uncomfortable for me as they may do for others. No, what is freaking me out is the fact that the rest of the world, everyone, rich and poor, east and west, men, women and children everywhere, are now locked down with me.
This fact has had an odd effect on me. My sister is here. I could go out. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to see the closed up shops and restaurants and cafes and pubs or the empty streets, deserted by cars and bikes and people walking. Ever since I began to care for Mum, I was aware of another world beyond ours where there was the buzz of life, of human activity revealed in sounds and smells and sights. Even though I used to feel cut off, removed, deprived and alone, knowing that all that life outside has gone for now, does me no good at all and brings no comfort or satisfaction. It just makes me sad.
Is anyone old enough to remember the film Papillion with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman? There’s a scene at the end of the movie that made a huge impact on me at the time and that keeps coming back to me now, as I potter around with our newly acquired grow bags wondering if the frosts are done for this year and the tomato plants can go out and stay out all night long.
I’m going to recount the scene from memory, because memory is often more vivid than a movie or a lived experience by virtue of being polished and preserved through time. McQueen, who plays Papillion – a character based on a real person and the book he wrote of his experiences – is determined to escape the island prison that has held him for many years. He’s tried over and over and over again, and paid the price in solitary confinement for long periods. Hoffman is his buddy, protected by Papillion from the prison bullies and once desperate to escape himself. Only times have changed and when Papillion comes to him with a last ditch attempt to get away involving throwing himself off a cliff and using a bundle of coconuts to keep him afloat in the sea, Hoffman declines to go with him. He’s got a garden. He’s even got a pig. He’s made a life even in confinement and the outside world has become a frightening prospect, no longer missed or desired, but a place to be feared and forgotten.
Naturally, jumping off a cliff and relying on a bunch of coconuts to keep you afloat, may have influenced Hoffman’s character to stay put. In all fairness, I could just jump on by bicycle and coast downhill to find myself in the midst of things. But as I say, I just don’t want to. Not right now. I will, but all in good time. I will because I have to, otherwise, like Hoffman, with his bottle-bottom glasses and nervous ticks, I may never want to leave the bungalow again. And that would not be good.
So, as always, one has to find a middle road. The occasional outing for exercise or to pick up necessary things like a prescription or food, but not a travelling autopsy conducted from a bicycle. Some news on television or on the radio, but not a deluge of information and opinion that threatens to swamp my capacity to go on. Contact with loved ones via the phone and the internet, but allowing oneself to experience being solitary without a sense of panic setting in.
None of us are used to these conditions, none of us would desire them given a choice. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t welcome the new perspectives being forced upon us all by Corona.
I have to be careful here. People are dying and more will die before all this is over. Not only that, but this will all happen again if the scientists and epidemiologists are to be believed. And we should believe them, because this has all happened before with SARS and H1N1 and Ebola and HIV Aids and Spanish Flu and all the way back to Smallpox epidemics and Polio and medieval plagues, and if we choose to put our heads in the sand again and crack on with buying shit and owning shit and competing to get bigger shit than other people who only care about shit, guess where we’ll end up?
So, new perspectives…let’s name a few before the fog of forgetting shrouds what’s important from view…nurses matter more than bankers. Not their lives, but their jobs. We should value public service. We should not value money, or at least we should not value those who strive to have more money than others and more money than they need. We should not value celebrity because celebrity is not a virtue but an accident built on marketing and ignorance and envy. We should value talent, because great talent is always accompanied by commitment and hard work and whilst it may sometimes lead to celebrity that is neither desirable nor important.
We should value the planet and the animals and plants and insects and people who share the planet. We should not allow wet markets to trade with impunity in wild and poached animals and fresh fruit and vegetables with no effective health and safety measures. But they’re part of the culture of some countries runs the argument. Maybe so, but they are also killing people and that’s not good. Chinese wet markets in particular, became widespread in the late 1970s when large parts of the human population faced famine and the authorities introduced so-called reforms to allow the harvesting of exotic wildlife. Starvation is not a good thing either, which leads to another perspective we might want to think about changing; the sheer number of human beings on the planet. We wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a virus by those visiting aliens now would we?
Starvation itself is an odd notion when you realise that the world’s farmers produce enough food already to feed one and half times the existing world population. That’s ten billion people. We’re currently at 7.6 billion, and climbing, and though we’re told the rate is slowing, it’s perfectly clear that our ability to share resources equitably, is shrinking. For instance, the world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people on the planet. 735 million people live in ‘extreme poverty’ and almost half the human population live on less that six dollars a day.
So, we should perhaps put a value on equality and learn that inequality isn’t just the rich having yachts when the rest of us don’t, it kills and maims and destroys the lives of billions of people. Being rich isn’t a crime, but perhaps it should be.
And we might want to take a new perspective on borders too. The kind that have been closed to others in case they infect us with their version of the virus. Of course, we’d have to learn to live without wars and capitalism, both of which rely on borders and inequality, but we might just want to revisit the idea that inside your borders, you can do what you like and act with impunity because you rule the roost and the rest of humanity can go hang.
But perhaps the most critical change in perspective we need to consider, is changing our attitude towards the planet itself. Maybe it’s time to stop admiring Greta’s precocious ability to confront world leaders and start taking the idea of annihilation seriously. Because anyone who believes that Corona and inequality, starvation and repression, profit and environmental ruin are not linked, inextricably linked and the result of our actions and our values, is kidding themselves, and not just kidding themselves, but killing us.
Right now, I don’t much want to go out. I’m tending my growbags and looking after Mum. I feel acceptance concerning the lock down, because I’m used to lock down and because I believe the restrictions are effective in halting the spread of the virus. But I’m angry. I’m angry because we have made this situation so much worse than it need be, by being careless, short-sighted, and selfish. And I’m getting angrier every day because I don’t want a set of values I don’t support or the careless action of others to kill me or mine. And I know I’m not alone.
So, this is my hope. That we can all use the lock down and the slow down and ruination of our lives as we’ve known them, all of which will cause so much hardship and pain to so many, and kill many, many people, as an opportunity to reflect on where we are and how we got here. I want us to change our ways. I want us all to press the reset button together.
Reflect. Reset. Revive.
Normal service will be resumed next time…