How are you doing with the pandemic, Chris?

March 22nd, 2020
by Chris

That’s been a fairly common question from friends either on facebook or “in real life” recently. So, yes, I am in the group which the government has “strongly recommended” after this coming weekend to self-isolate completely for at least 12 weeks (I strongly suspect that it’ll be a lot longer). Although I’m a few years light of 70, they recommend the same regime to anyone who customarily gets a free ‘flu vaccination, and I qualify for a free ‘flu jab on four grounds. The really significant ones are that I have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and three blocked coronary arteries, currently managed with medication. And, despite it being idiocy of the first water, I still smoke.

Yes, getting something like COVID 19 would be a very serious prospect for me. For the last few years, getting a bad cold or the common ‘flu has been a serious prospect for me, as either of those has tended to turn into pneumonia, and I’ve as standard been prescribed steroids and antibiotics, the latter as a preventative to avoid bacterial pneumonia developing – and probably as a result I’ve not had pneumonia for the last three years. This virus, though, produces viral pneumonia, and that might be treatable with steroids, but it isn’t preventable with antibiotics.

Some friends have wondered why I’ve not completely self-isolated before now, as at Sunday 22nd March. This is not entirely due to my substantial lack of fear of death, which is in part informed by mystical experience and in part by the observation that I’ve had a pretty decent life and am now notionally retired – an “old age pensioner” and thus not as productive or “useful” as I might once have been. Also, in part, because I really ought to have been dead in 2006 (I certainly intended to be), and as a friend has said, since then I’ve been “playing with house money”.

No, in substantial part it stems from the observation that if I had the virus now, the local NHS is not overloaded (there are very few identified cases, though this could be partly down to lack of testing), and I could expect to get really good treatment; if I get it later, the likelihood is that the system will be overloaded, and in conscience, were I triaging cases, I would select a 40 or 50 year old before me without hesitation. I’ve no particular wish to get the thing, so I’ve already been being extremely careful, and (aside from generally leading a pretty isolated life at the best of times) have cancelled all of my meetings and social events, but if I have to get it, this would probably be a better time than later this year… indeed, looking at the curve in Italy compared with that here, a better time than in around two weeks. Having said that, I am not confident that the evidence shows that the virus reliably produces immunity to reinfection, and the evidence does show that it has mutated at least once, so immunity to one strain is not necessarily immunity to another.Thus getting it now isn’t necessarily a guarantee of not getting it later.

And, in conscience, I expect this virus to go from pandemic to endemic, i.e. something which, like the common cold, just moves around the population and can be caught by anyone, any time, so I expect that sometime I’ll catch it, unless I isolate forever. This article proposes an interesting “hammer and dance” strategy, but at the moment, it appears the government is falling short of implementing it as forcibly as the model demands. That, in essence, is why I expect it to become endemic.

Sometime, therefore, I expect to catch the virus. I’d just prefer that to be when the hospitals aren’t overloaded.

So, to date, I’ve been doing shopping pretty much as normal. Actually, rather more frequently than normal, because the panic buying has made it that bit more difficult to find the things I need to keep us stocked at normal levels. It’s probably been pretty safe, as there are very few identified cases in my area, despite being 14 miles from where a couple of the earliest cases in the country were identified (with the same caveat as to testing as earlier). I’m going to stop doing that as of now (luchtime on Sunday 22nd) and isolate more fully, and the likelihood is that as and when there get to be substantial numbers of cases locally, I’ll be avoiding all human contact – oh, apart from my wife (well, probably apart from her…) – and encouraging her not to go out as well. She is not in any of the high risk groups, but is disabled on physical and mental health grounds and as a result I’ve been doing almost all the shopping and other errands for some years; she could probably manage to shop for a while, with considerable additional strain on her, and much increased risk of her becoming really ill in non-coronavirus ways, but once the risk of her getting infected goes up, I’ll almost certainly ask her for that to stop too. By that time, she’ll probably heave a sigh of relief!

And we are fairly well provisioned. We’re almost always fairly well provisioned, to be honest, bar milk, bread and fresh produce which we get every couple of days; there hasn’t been any need to go and try to get multiple months’ provisions, so I haven’t been contributing significantly to the empty supermarket shelves, though I have had moments of guilt at taking the one item I needed (the last or nearly the last remaining on the shelf) knowing that the local food bank needs that kind of produce and that I could at a pinch do without…

We also have offers of going out and shopping for us, though we took up on that yesterday and found that a number of items just weren’t available, including (unfortunately) milk, which we get through a lot of. I’ve managed to repair that this morning, though it took a trip to two shops. Tesco had a queue to get in – they were restricting numbers in the store as well as items you could buy, and it was a little bizarre queuing for 15 minutes to buy two bottles of milk.

I’m not remotely afraid of not having things to do, either. Frankly, I have too much to do, even pruned of meetings and trips to the shops. My editing work is piled up, and I have a couple of practical projects which have been getting nowhere for rather a long time and which could use some attention. In addition, I’m currently involved in a couple of online courses, have another book which needs me to make a start on writing, and the forced inaction elsewhere has spurred a lot of people into a frenzy of productive activity on the web which I frankly can’t keep up with.

However, I am not feeling at my best psychologically (and neither is my wife). I seem to be permanently anxious, and anticipate that the bits of my brain which I have no conscious access to are scared stiff of the virus, and of dying as a result (I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder anyhow). Consciously, I’m also aware of feeling trapped and powerless, and neither of those are feelings I find it easy to deal with. Rationally, that’s rather silly, given that I don’t leave the house very much anyhow (two or three meetings, a church service and maybe three or four trips to the shops in a week is about the limit of my “getting out”, and the shopping trips involve virtually no social interaction). It isn’t very much at all to lose – but, it appears, psychologically the gap between “very little” and “nothing at all” is bigger than that between “very little” and “loads”.

And I suspect that that inaccessible area of my brain is also doing catastrophic thinking; I know I’m prone to that anyhow (chronic depression), but have in general successfully banished such thinking from my consciousness. Have I just suppressed it, for it to raise it’s ugly head more forcibly later? I don’t know. I do know, however, how to monitor my mood, and how to ask for help.

And I know how to contemplate and meditate, and I’ll be doing a lot of that in the weeks to come.

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