It’s hard not to feel panic or at least anxiety when faced with an unknown virus. Coronavirus can get into you and leave you feeling mildly unwell, but you can carry it to someone you know and they could die.
It’s the stuff of science fiction novels, but it’s our reality now.
One thing has truly disturbed me – beyond shoppers brawling over toilet paper – and it’s this sense that coronavirus is “only” killing those with low immunity and those over 70. No one is saying they are happy to lop off this part of the population, but there is a palpable sense of relief among the rest of us. It won’t get us. Phew! God knows, if the death toll was more indiscriminate a lot more of us would be self isolating already.
There is though this sense that “something has got to get us all” and if someone in this age bracket gets it, well, maybe it’s “their time”. I’ve even heard people say it about their own mothers! It’s not that they don’t love them, and spend loads of time with them, but “you’ve gotta go somehow.” Gasping for breath and coughing is not my preferred way.
Since I changed my career, I’ve met and really got to know people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. I have had hours of deep conversation with this “at risk” group while I turn that conversation into the story of a life.
These are amazing people, extraordinary in an ordinary way. They are filled with fabulous stories, information and wisdom. They are looking to the future still, planning. They’ve lived a life, but they aren’t done yet. The things I’ve learned from them have been insightful and enlightening. Even the frail 96-year-old, perched in an armchair, could speak at length about an era I did not know. She spoke of hitchhiking through Europe with girlfriends. She had a laugh and she made me laugh too. She still had something to give and receive. Talking to her, and others like her, has made my heart feel fuller.
It’s been distressing for there to be no clear leadership, advising people how to best care and stay in touch with ageing relatives. No sense that it might be hard to be apart from a parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle. No sense that this is a loss, not only to the relative, but to ourselves. In one of his first addresses on coronavirus France’s President Emmanuel Macron said it would be hard not visit the elderly, but necessary.
“Our absolute priority is to protect the people who are the most fragile in the face of this virus,” Macron said.
“The nation is behind our old … during this epidemic and we need to limit our visits as much as we can,” he said.
I don’t get this sense of urgency for our “old” here.
Instead, those with parents weakened by age are scrambling to take their own action. I have a friend who is so dismayed by this malaise that she is preparing to remove her mum from a nursing home, fearful that systems are not in place to protect her mum from the coronavirus. When she first started agitating there was no screening of visitors, no sign in book, no way to follow up if someone is subsequently diagnosed with covid-19, no assurances that staff were screened for general health and no assurances around overseas travel by staff.
Not surprising really, it took until May 3 for the Federal Government to start talking about aged care lockdowns in nursing homes. And that was only where there was an outbreak, but no word on prevention at that time. It felt like pot luck, not good management.
My parents are still young, technically in their 60s, although not for long. My in-laws are quite a bit older, but I’m keeping my children away from all three sets of them until they get over their sniffles. We don’t know anyone with coronavirus, but even if it’s only the bout of rhinovirus that’s going around, I’m not prepared to risk them reducing their grandparents’ immunity in anyway. I want my parents, stepparents and in-laws to have decades to come, because they, like my life story telling clients, have a lot to give and I love them.
Yes, if I get sick, I’ll get better but I wouldn’t risk someone else getting it. I couldn’t live with myself.
Right now, people seem to be thinking “I’m alright, Jack.” But this situation is not alright.