The Virtual Recluse becomes an Actual Recluse as the world continues to self-isolate.

Firstly, my apologies. I realise that we are perhaps all at coronavirus information overload, that nobody really needs yet another amateur blogger airing their views about it, that there is possibly nothing new I can add and for all these reasons I sincerely did refrain from writing about this subject for a very long time but as both an avid reader and a writer, it would feel supremely abnormal to me, not to mention, document or at the very least make note of for my own posterity, perhaps one of the most globally significant and unusual circumstances to occur in my lifetime, thus far.

If you choose not to read on, having long become weary of unnecessary anecdotes about this situation, then I perfectly understand.

I won’t do my usual of a considerable pre-amble for we are all abundantly aware of how this unimaginable situation has quickly developed around us.  

Whatever you may believe at this point, whether you believe this is simply a naturally occurring animal transmission that has created a new novel virus which has migrated to man, whether you believe it is Mother Nature finally taking revenge on the scourge of mankind and our long list of abhorrent offences against the planet, whether you subscribe to the many conspiracy theories that are circulating about a man-made biological virus unleashed on the population in a bid to cull the poor and the old in their masses, whether you believe it is the collective aim of the current world power to keep us (the general public) locked away for several months of ‘quarantine’ in order that they can implement a number of unfavorable changes to society for a New World Order, maybe you believe it is an Act of God almighty himself or you believe that this is simply the result of some truly revolting eating habits of the Chinese population, that should long have been abandoned for a far more agreeable and acceptable conduct.

Whatever you believe, however it is that we arrived here….we have ultimately ended up in the here and now and many believe that this is still just the start.

We are already abundantly aware of how many things have now changed in the space of just a few short weeks, the many things that we ordinarily took for granted are now apparent to us, our freedoms, our liberties, our incredibly comfortable and cossetted lifestyles and not to mention, our continued health!

I, like many of you, have read the numerous chilling dispatches from health workers, doctors, nurses on the frontline, first in China, then in Italy, in Spain and France, and now in the UK and the US and rapidly spreading as countless other countries begin to fundamentally realise that even just a few hundred cases is already too many….the endless, daily reports of the overwhelming situation that  COVID-19 is having on our frontline services.

I have watched the videos hailing all of the heroes in the medical professions, the spontaneous rounds of applause from people stuck in their homes, the lighting of candles in their honor, the tireless social media posts reminding us to ‘spare a thought for all of those helping to fight this war’.

And so I did.

I stopped whatever aimless musing I was doing about what to prepare for dinner, my one and only focal point of activity and purpose that I really have in each single day in our ‘isolation’ and I sat and I thought long and hard about what it must be like to be a doctor, a nurse, a carer or anyone in the medical profession at this current time.

My conclusion was that it must be absolutely terrifying, nothing short of utterly horrific.

Put simply, a genuine nightmare of epic proportions.

To be a medical professional at the best of times, is a saintly vocation rather than mere employment, something you can not simply switch off from at the end of your shift. The caring for other people’s loved ones. The hours of unpaid overtime that eat into your own personal life as the long day continues to stretch ahead and the genuinely needy keep on needing. The placing of everyone else’s needs before those of your own, the countless ‘just one more patient, then I’ll take that five minute break I’ve been promising myself for the last eight hours’. Feeding patients who can’t feed themselves, whilst your tummy rumbles because its now six pm and you haven’t eaten since your breakfast at seven o clock this morning, just before you left your home.

The knowing, then watching as patients slip away from you, despite all your best efforts and the knowledge and skills of countless esteemed specialists and some of the best medical brains in the world.

As I said, this is what it is like at the very BEST of times.

Now, imagine throwing a global pandemic at this already stressful and fragile situation. A virus that will occupy every one of your Intensive Care units a hundred, then a thousand times over. A virus that is adding ever growing numbers to it’s ranks by the day, not only claiming the lives of countless patients around you, both young and old, every single day, but one that also threatens your own fragile human existence and that of your family, as you return home at the end of each long, exhausting and spirit breaking shift.

A defiant virus that as yet refuses to be beaten.

The sheer desperation to help those struggling for breath, watching the fear and panic in their eyes, over and over again. The drone of the flat-line monitor, signaling yet another lost soul. The hopelessness, the constant influx of people and then more people behind them, needing your help, your expertise, your courage, needing a scarce bed and an even scarcer ventilator……..needing above all, a fucking miracle.

Imagine going home to any sense of normality at the end of all that.

Imagine waking up each day, with the full gruesome knowledge of the previous day’s events and still getting dressed and heading in to work.

Imagine, walking into your place of work and reliving the nightmare all over again.

Don’t just read…….. really, truly take a moment to Imagine.

It’s horrifying isn’t it.

It really puts into perspective, our own generally, trifling concerns or grumbles about this situation.

I swear, I will squarely punch in the face the first person I hear complaining that they can no longer get their preferred brand of ‘insert product here’.

So, having imagined just for a moment what it must be like to be a medical health professional in this current hell, imagine then hearing that the leader of your country is talking about letting the general populace develop ‘herd immunity’ (Boris Johnson, UK) or that the ‘coronavirus is a fantasy and not a serious threat’ (Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil)  or that ‘we currently have 15 cases and in a weeks time we hope that will be more or less 5 and then pretty soon after that, zero’ (Donald Trump, USA). Whilst not very recent, all of these statements were made well after the outbreak in China and considerably into the increase in infections throughout Europe.

The abject fear and dismay that no-one else seems to be fully appreciating the gravity of the situation, least not those running the show, can now be added to your daily horror of dealing with the outbreak.

Whilst I’m sure that it provided many warm feelings of unity, appreciation and gratitude across the nation for the unanimous support of the health services, let’s be really, abundantly honest about it that neither ‘applauding’ the efforts of those brave people on the frontline from the comfort of your own home, nor sharing a blue balloon on Facebook or a picture of a pretty Nurse with ‘I HEART the NHS’  has any real affect in the current situation. It is utterly futile.

The only thing that will really genuinely help, is many, many more ventilators and ICU’s, more essential equipment to protect anyone who is still helping to keep the countries afloat and, of course, for those that with all the best will in the world can’t be of any genuine, practical help in this equation, that they just stay at home and 100% observe the full rules of a lockdown so as not to become part of the problem. These drastic measures have not been implemented to make your life a little worse, they have been implemented to make the lives of those doing the real work, a little better.

Like many people, I personally would love to be able to do something practical to help, I’m frustrated at my lack of abilities to be able to contribute, I’m a little embarrassed that as an intelligent, efficient problem solver my greatest and most valuable input in all of this will be to just sit on my arse and hope to avoid the carnage and contagion, thus not adding to the overwork of others.

To be a good citizen by effectively doing nothing and sitting this one out.

In that respect, I feel like I’ve been practicing for this role for a very long time and it has the effect of making me feel like a pretty stupid person.

Why didn’t I have the foresight to use all that free time I had to learn a helpful skill that could possibly have made a difference in the face of a biological apocalypse? Why haven’t I taken a hobby course as a virologist? I have a keen, analytical mind. I could have proven to be really good at something like that, but, like so many things…..I never even tried!

I was too consumed with the idea of perhaps going viral in another way with my part time efforts at blog writing. 

So unless they want a scarily bad ambulance driver or someone to endlessly mop the floors, I truly can not think of one practical skill that I can bring to this properly fucked up party.

The only thing I could genuinely do is to donate some money, but to who? To where? These people are not dreaming of a fully paid luxury holiday or a slap up meal when this is all over, they are dreaming of the day when they don’t have to watch a continuous stream of people struggle for breath or die.

There are deeply disturbing videos from both Italy and Spain surfacing on social media of reports of the overwhelmed health services having to daily choose who lives and who dies. Allegedly, in Spain, respirators are being removed from the over sixty-fives in order to be able to provide the equipment to younger, more viable patients and those people from whom they were removed are subsequently heavily sedated until they eventually die, comforted only by a stranger in a mask. No family can be present as naturally this increases the risk of an ongoing march of infections.

There are increasingly worrying reports of a growing civil unrest in parts of Italy, people who have run out of money and thus food and essential supplies. There is a mass exodus from the cities in India where the mass lockdown was issued with just a few hours notice, leaving many itinerant workers stranded or facing long journeys on foot with little in the way of any supplies.

I said, rather glibly, several weeks ago and before the lockdowns started, that this was a situation that would almost certainly result in curfews and martial law, especially if areas saw food shortages and civil unrest; that there would undoubtedly be an upward trend in crime and an ensuing and possibly very rapid breakdown in social structure but even as I intentionally spoke these words to several people close to me, to forewarn and somewhat prepare them for the possible coming reality, I don’t think that I, myself, truly believed that it would actually really come to this. I said it from an intellectual standpoint, from the situation of having foresight and being slightly ahead of the curve, rather than from someone who really, truly believed that this was where it was ultimately heading.

Now, the very idea scares me far more than it should for someone who supposedly already saw this coming.  In many ways, the breakdown in society scares me more than the virus itself, though, let me be abundantly clear that I have no desire to acquaint myself with COVID-19 anytime soon.

This is no longer something that is happening ‘somewhere else’ this is already happening pretty much everywhere and our fate will be no different to any other modern, well equipped, well organised corner of the world.

A virus does not care what race you are, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are an atheist or devout to your chosen faith, whether you are a good person or whether you are a total scumbag, it only cares that you are a human host.

It has no conscience or understanding and in the words of Kyle Reese from Terminator:

“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead”.

For those still wishing to compare this to the ‘flu’, then you should at least be reasonably factual and compare it to the flu outbreak of 1918-1920, in a time before we had a hundred years knowledge of the flu virus, in a time before we had vaccinations for several prevalent and recurring strains.

So yes, if you want to compare it to the ‘flu’ then compare it the influenza pandemic that claimed countless millions of lives and infected almost a quarter of the worlds population.  I do understand completely that shortly after the first world war, people were perhaps not in peak condition, immune systems were low, food was scarce for many of the poorest people and that these circumstances certainly would have helped a global pandemic kill off large swathes of the population, but to compare this novel coronavirus with our current knowledge and advancements with the flu would be imprudent to say the least. From EVERYTHING I am reading (and I can safely assume that it is not all misinformation) this is NOT comparable to the ‘flu’, unless it is only a very mild infection of COVID-19.

When it is a severe infection that results in an infection of the lungs, the symptoms are life threatening to all infected people, not just the elderly and those with underlying health issues.  In the absolute most severe cases, it is actually the release of cytokines in the bloodstream that cause the worst outcomes as this results in damage to vital organs, most patients are actually dying of systemic organ failure, first a strain on the heart, then kidney failure, then the liver, for those that that are lucky enough to recover from the severe acute respiratory infections, the recovery period is much longer, hence people hogging intensive care units for several weeks, but even post-recovery the resulting damage to the lungs could have lifelong implications. 

This is a new virus, don’t forget that as yet we have no armor against it, no antibodies, no protection.

Until we have in our possession a viable vaccine and some improved methods to treat those most heavily affected, it can not be stopped, it can only be slowed so that the infections are more gradual and as such, never before have we so frequently used the terms ‘social distancing’ or ‘flatten the curve’ but it’s possible even that the virus may mutate and become more virulent, bringing an ever greater challenge and more violent future outbreaks with an even greater death toll.  

Never before, in our reasonably comfortable lifestyles have we faced such a grave and desperate situation, whilst in reality, many of us are only experiencing this from the safety of our armchairs and as such still remain so far removed from the drama that even now, it feels almost unbelievable, surreal. 

We are now watching disaster films like Outbreak and Contagion, not for mindless, thrilling, titillating entertainment but almost as a survival guide as to what we can expect next.

When we think back to the things that distracted us last year, the things we argued over, the things we felt were so important, it is almost laughable that we could become so wrapped up in our differences when we now find ourselves in the horror story that is 2020.

It has leveled the playing field for everyone; man, woman, child and anyone who still chooses to remain without denomination.

The figures at the time of writing this are 803,752 infections worldwide.

We already know that this figure is utterly dependent on how much testing each country is performing, in some cases thirty-thousand tests per day are being carried out with a sliding scale all the way down to zero tests per day, but we are all well aware that any figures being reported as ‘actual known cases’ are likely to be far less than the real number of infections, for example, most mild cases will continue to go undocumented until these people with mild or asymptomatic infections trigger more violent infections in others.

Even the number of deaths is still incomplete and thus highly inaccurate, as some countries are not reporting suspected COVID-19 deaths ‘at home’ or in ‘nursing homes’ only the actual occurrences of deaths within hospital facilities that are known as having tested positive for coronavirus are being reported as statistics. This then vastly reduces the figure and we can assume that the real number of deaths currently attributed to COVID-19 are much higher and even now there are still many rumours circulating about the cover up of the true death toll in places like Iran and China, for example.

However, the current number of reported deaths worldwide at the time of writing this is 39,070.

The first few reported deaths in China occurred on 22nd January and in the two months between then and 22nd March the number of worldwide deaths rose to 14,640.

In just over a week since that, this figure has increased to 39,070.  

Lockdown has been in operation in many parts of Europe for two weeks which means we are just about to start to reach the peak of infections from the estimated two-week incubation period, we hope that following this the number of infections and deaths start to drop off , we’ll soon see, but in other areas of the world, lockdown has not yet been implemented which means that the spread continues everyday that people are still moving about and contaminating surfaces and each other, with a two week period before those infections will be reflected in any statistics.

In one to two weeks time it is conservatively estimated that global deaths resulting from COVID-19 will already be above 100,000, beyond that, who knows.

I won’t be the first person to have said this, but the painful truth is that behind everyone one of those ‘death statistics’ was a real person, a person with a life, with friends, with a family.

It is easy to become complacent about a number on a spreadsheet or a graph, especially as that number grows exponentially without any direct link to any reality for many of us, but to think of these numbers as real people, people that now no longer exist, people that won’t be returning to their homes, that is the difficult part.

Again, I offer my apologies. This is a far departure from my usual lighthearted and sardonic blog writing and despite that I always try to inject some humour into my posts, I can’t in good conscience employ much levity in this scenario.

All I can really do is to say that I have found it helpful to remain pragmatic about the situation, humans are nothing if not adaptable and it won’t help for us all to carry around the amassed grief of the entire world within us. It is a truly awful and highly impactful global occurrence that surely will continue for some time to come but we must endeavor to somewhat ration our very human emotional reserves for those times when we find that they are needed most, there is no point becoming overwhelmed at the very first hurdle.  It is going to get much, much tougher.  

I stay positive by concentrating on all the things that I still currently have in my life, like a fuller, more grounded appreciation of the simple things that we can so often take for granted, time at home with my husband, even if we are running out of things to talk about, a full plate of food, sleeping safe in my own bed every night and, not least, a pair of working lungs.  

These are not merely glib or smug remarks. These, I now completely understand,  are genuinely some of life’s true luxuries.

I’m going to finish this post with a very recent quote from Donald Trump, perhaps the single, most intelligent thing I have ever heard leave his mouth (a mouth that incidentally looks like it has been grotesquely fashioned from the anus of the still warm corpse of a ginger cat).

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory has been won,” Donald Trump

This rather uncharacteristic eloquence strongly suggests that it is not something that he thought up for himself, perhaps he has lifted it from a great American history book, General Custer or some other such hero figure of his.

His grasp of the vernacular is usually more akin to a five year-old trying to show off to a more impressive counterpart in a playground, but nevertheless, I shall credit him with this quote and with an unexpected excursion into wisdom but I daresay before the week is out, he will have stripped himself of any such reverence by uttering a string of frankly cretinous and ludicrous outbursts whilst continuing to congratulate himself on his brilliant handling of the entire situation and his overwhelming knowledge and total understanding on just about everything imaginable.

Take care everyone.

The Virtual Recluse