These days, when imagining my blog, most subjects strike me as beside the point or self- indulgent. There’s a plague and a recession thundering right outside my window. Though I’d dearly like to be out in the world, volunteering where I can, I’m 77 and know I should stay home. So I thought that I might at least begin a conversation to break up the isolation that threatens many of us.
Let me say one thing first: I will try to speak only for myself. However isolated, I am still privileged. I have the means to support myself and am in relatively good health. And I know that millions of people have neither. My heart goes out especially to them, and I hope that they, too, can take some small comfort in joining together in conversation during the time of the plague.
For several days now, as we walk or drive on empty streets, and peer through the windows of markets with barren shelves, Franny and I have notes how surreal it feels, like something in a horror or a science fiction movie. Most of my life has been lived in a bubble. I have encountered threats before—illness, accidents, divorce—but not something that is so overarching, so large, so impersonal, and yet so immediate and personal.
Sure, there was polio before the vaccine. I remember the 1950’s, and how worried my parents were. There was the Vietnam War. Would I be called up? How could I avoid fighting in a war I hated—and dreaded? But I managed to avoid the draft; others fought in my place. I have experienced very little that commanded my attention so completely that and required me to change my way of life as the current Corona plague has done..
Like most of you, my life has been increasingly absorbed by the disease we call Covid-19 or Corona virus. For a month or more, the virus has been out there—in China—and very interesting, a little horrifying, but now it is closing in. Then Iran and Italy. Moving westward into Washington state. It’s moving eastward, moving inexorable in our direction.
Like you, I’ve become a virologist, an epidemiologist, a public health worker, reading graphs and absorbing article after article to learn about the trends. How the explosive growth followed by massive response in China differs from the more indulgent course of treatment in Italy. How we have to “flatten the curve” to make sure that the growth of the disease isn’t so rapid that it overwhelms our health care systems. I’m practicing my diagnostic and clinical skills, noting every nuance of self-care, making sure that I follow the rules just right—even though I generally hate rules. I’ll be a good citizen this time by keeping my distance from others—even from my children and grandchildren.
And I’m grateful that I’ll never have to make life and death decisions—to treat or not to treat—like doctors in Italy and Iran are making, and like some US doctors are already imagining with fear and revulsion.
As it draws closer and closer, the plague has taken me over, like some extraterrestrial being I can’t comprehend. I read every article I can find. I am glued to TV news. There’s a fascination that sometimes borders on the morbid. How many people are ill. How many people are dead. How many will die. How our society will recover, and when.
Part of the fascination is political. Trump’s lies, his denials and misdirections. His focus, as usual, on himself, his election prospects and his businesses, not the suffering of others. But I try to tear myself away from my Trump obsession that has already lasted for three years. There’s a health care crisis to deal with.
Part of my fascination is with the brilliance of some of the public health doctors and the courage of journalists who journey into the most dangerous places so that we might understand what’s going on. I find myself envious of their ability to help.
More and more, each day, the Corona virus has begun to dictate how I live. Who I see and how I see them—more “virtual” visits now. Franny and I have accepted our quarantine. It has affected how and what I eat. Last Thursday, Franny and I bought enough canned and dried goods to last a month; but now we wonder if we should go out to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. Probably not. We are gobbling immune boosters. Except for our daily walks, we spend almost all of our time inside at home, looking out at the sunny days, as though we live in a bunker.
Stepping back I’m inclined to say thatw my words are hyperbolic, alarmist. But it’s not hyperbolic. It’s just a description.
Of course, each of us responds according to our nature and our experience. Those of us who are over 60 or 70 can’t help but be more nervous than are younger people. But our responses still range from terror to sanguinity, from following every defensive rule to blithely ignoring most of them. On one hand, “I’ve settled in for a long siege. Here’s hoping everyone is as responsible as I am.” On the other, “I’ll visit with friends at a bar or at Starbucks if I want. Damn the sissies.” My children caution us to stay in. We’ve heard of other people’s children who want their parents to continue to live in as close to their usual way as possible.
I could go on and on but that’s enough for now. Please take this as an invitation: Share your experiences and your thoughts, so that we can weather this storm together.