I wanted to share a couple of personal experiences in order to try and help put the current coronavirus crisis in context.
The first is a recent occurrence to do with a health emergency. A tiny surgical test led to me being hospitalised with potentially fatal sepsis a couple of weeks ago, and I learned a great deal (and am still learning) from that. Having been healthy throughout my life — I had gone for over 40 years at one point without seeing a doctor and the last time I was in hospital as a patient was back in the ‘60s when I was a child— the whole thing was quite an eye-opener.
What was alarming was the suddenness of it all: one minute I was in pain but coherent, the next I was plunged into a fever in which my whole body trembled uncontrollably, and stringing thoughts together became difficult. Had it not been for fast action on my wife’s part in getting me to hospital and then even faster action on the doctor’s part in pumping me full of fluids and antibiotics, I would not now be here typing this or doing anything else. With sepsis, what happens is an infection spreads rapidly throughout the body through the bloodstream and the body’s normal defences are overwhelmed. Unless some assistance is given using antibiotics, major organs begin to shut down and death can ensue pretty quickly.
Recovery took a few days, during which fever struck again and again with frequent temperature spikes and a great deal of discomfort. But gradually, as the hostile bacteria were eliminated, the body’s systems were able to return to normal. After various scans to make sure that there were no surprises waiting, I was allowed to go home and to work on building up strength and stamina — things I’m still working on.
Reflecting on all this, though, was almost as important as enduring it. I’ve written elsewhere of my admiration for the National Health Service and its personnel, whose attitude towards helping others was revelatory to me: I saw nurses in particular rushing towards danger and crisis, when every instinct of ordinary mortals would have been to run in the opposite direction; I saw sanity and compassion and quiet devotion to duty everywhere I looked; I saw human beings being valued and treated with dignity regardless of their apparent ‘worth’ or place in society as a whole. I heard no negativity; I saw no strife.
And this seems to bode well more broadly. Because I see much the same kind of thing being acted out now on a social scale with 2020’s virus crisis: alien and hostile elements threatening to overwhelm existing structures, but compassion, sanity and targeted assistance flowing in at all levels, locally, regionally, nationally. I see a similar determination all around me to that which I saw in the hospital — a resolve to deal with the situation presenting itself, no matter what; a treasuring of normality, a projection of dignity.
I was part of something similar back in the ‘80s. Working on the front line of mental health at the time, I was part of a volunteer group which had its own practices and routines. In moments of real crisis, though, I was privileged enough to participate in something special: normal habits and structures would fall away, to be replaced by an underlying ‘crisis response’ framework. Different personnel would step to the fore; the usual command structure would recede into the background. Whatever it was that was causing the problem would be dealt with, sometimes over a couple of days — and then, almost undetectably, the usual patterns would re-establish themselves and within a day or so it would be as though nothing untoward had occurred at all.
I suspect this is what will happen on a global scale over the next few months: crisis crews and operating procedures will step up to the plate; decisions will be made, actions taken, results achieved; and then almost indiscernibly, things will slip back to ‘normal’ and move on.
It will take time, but, as Macbeth says, ‘Time and the hour run through the roughest day.’ I hope to have enough strength to contribute to the forward motion in some way.
Take care of yourself and those around you.