Musings On Coronavirus And Other Disasters…
The original plan was to write and post on this blog every few days. Then THE VIRUS struck. And my world, along with everyone else’s was thrown into chaos….
As things got progressively worse and businesses were forced to close, two of my three part-time jobs put me on furlough. That left only my least favourite bit of employment still open and operating.
In a retail food shop.
Don’t misunderstand me.
I like the people I work with. I like my customers. Most of them anyway. And I recently began training new staff, which I did actually love.
But retail is notoriously poorly paid. The work is not creative or intellectually stimulating. The shifts are long and tiring. And in my own case, quite often physically painful. One of my weekly shifts also goes into what are considered ‘unsociable’ hours – which means that I do not get home until 10 pm on a weeknight and I work every weekend.
That’s ok when you’re 20.
Not so desirable when you’re over 50 and need a nap after dinner.
I work in the food hall of a large retail store. (I know – hard to believe I’m not being paid to sit around and write all day, but there ya go…)
My department is located in the basement, so there is no natural light, and because we are a food hall it’s generally cold as its full of fridges.
I work in a cold concrete hole in the ground.
I hate it.
But it pays the bills. And its only a few days a week, between my other jobs. So I try to suck it up.
Then COVID-19 arrived.
And suddenly, my retail job became ‘an essential service.’ My co-workers and I found ourselves thrust onto the front lines. Right up there alongside doctors, nurses, health workers, transport workers, cleaners, teachers, etc.
We were now ‘key workers.’ We were being relied upon to ‘feed the nation’ in this unprecedented time of crisis.
Cut to me…
There is a cruel irony in the fact that some of the lowest paid, least appreciated jobs were now deemed ‘essential.’
The world had turned upside down. All those important white-collar ‘professionals’ got to continue work from the safety of their homes. While dregs like me had to confront an insidious, invisible, and highly contageous foe out in the big bad world.
We had to face a large mix of humanity in an enclosed area, and a maddening number among that mass did not take this whole ‘virus thing’ very seriously.
In the early days of what became a worldwide pandemic, my store – like most – had little to no personal protection in place for its staff. No sneeze guards, no hand sanitiser, no gloves, no social distancing, nothing. In fact, it was against store policy to even have hand sanitiser at your till point, long before this virus existed in the human world.
Now times were different.
As the virus took hold among the UK population, things got progressively more serious. The first rounds of panic-buying began, with double the amount of shoppers instore, and no limits on what they could purchase. My colleagues and I found ourselves face to face with hundreds of people every day, as they filed by like an endless conveyer belt of consumer greed and privilege.
Panic buyers didn’t care if the little old lady who shopped with us regularly and lived alone got her spaghetti – as long as they got their 18 packages of it. Some people were rude, some anxious, and all of them were in a hurry (unless it was their turn.)
The dark side of humanity in a crisis was rearing its ugly head.
While people were stocking up on things like toilet roll, pasta, baked beans and baby wipes as if the zombie apocalypse had finally arrived, they were still taking their lead from the laissez-faire attitude of the British Government. As a result, in these early days, most were not taking the immediate threat too seriously. This meant shoppers were in close proximity to one another and to us, the shop staff.
There was no social distancing yet.
There were no face masks (we were told you only needed them if you had the virus.)
No one was wearing gloves. And although people tried not to touch their faces, they didn’t seem too worried if they forgot.
But I watched it all with growing unease.
I had good reason to be anxious.
I have a weakened immune system – due to a past viral experience. And now here comes Coronavirus…a new and deadly bug, that’s easy to catch.
Add to that the fact that my partner is a heart patient…
Who still smokes. (I know, right?)
Welcome to Vulnerable-ville. Population: me and him.
The virus I endured two years ago, (which is what left me in my current susceptible state) was a common one. It did not usually cause severe symptoms in the people it infected. Some did not even know they were sick.
In my case, it made me very sick indeed. At one point I genuinely thought I was dying. At another, I gave up completely and waited for it to happen.
I could not eat or sleep, couldn’t even keep down much water – for several months. I was weak, severely dehydrated. I had a fever and nausea. I had body pain. I could not rest but was bedridden, as getting up made my head spin with vertigo.
And it never let up.
I made several trips to the Emergency department of my local hospital, sitting/lying for hours in a crowded waiting room, only to be given intravenous fluids and paracetamol and sent home again. But I did not improve.
Things came to a head when – after a night of dry heaves and dizziness – I collapsed in my bathroom. I was taken to hospital by ambulance, suffering from low blood pressure, laboured breathing, weakness, and a host of other symptoms.
At first they figured I had a kidney stone. Then it was diverticulitis. Then something else. They took blood and urine work. They put me on an IV. They sent me for scans. They considered exploratory surgery, but decided against it. My mind spun in a disorientated blur. It was at that point a virologist was called in.
The virologist, a leading consultant who was lovely, kind and patient (not to mention handsome) ran extra tests, and eventually came back with a preliminary diagnosis – though confirmation would take a further week.
He informed me he believed all this was down to one little virus – an undetermined species of CMV (Cytomegalovirus.)
CMV is an umbrella genus. That means it houses several different species of viruses under the same family umbrella. CMV is the same happy group that brought you such popular favourites as mononucleosis/glandular fever, pneumonia and the Epstein-Barr virus.
My symptoms had likely been worsened by the fact that I had suddenly stopped taking all my usual medication, as I could not keep it down. So that resulted in sudden and dramatic withdrawal, on top of my other symptoms.
It was hell. Absolute hell.
In the end I was off work for a total of three months. I rarely left bed, except to use the washroom. I had periods of delirium and didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes at a tie. It was a long recovery and that virus will remain in my body for the rest of my life. It can also reactivate given the right stressors.
Now we were all facing a new threat.
Coronavirus had some alarming similarities to my CMV. I heard a familiar refrain….’most’ people would have mild to no symptoms, some might not even know they were ill, it could be re-activated after recovery….
But the topper was the chilling realization that those who did get the severe version of Covid-19, would almost always die.
Oddly enough, alarm bells did not seem to be ringing for others the way they were for me…
‘It’ll all be fine,’ the UK Government was saying, ‘Just wash your hands, cover you mouth, bin your used tissues…’
Stiff upper lip and all that.
Valuable time was squandered. The theory of ‘herd immunity ‘ was floated. There were were even trite comparisons to the seasonal flu, and the dismissive proclamation ‘everyone will get it at some point…’ as if that was in any way reassuring to those of us at most risk of serious complications or death.
But COVID-19 was not ‘like the flu.’ It was much more complicated and dangerous.
It was unknown, highly contagious, and deadly. We were learning more about it every day, and none of it was good. In fact the more we learned, the worse things looked and the more questions we had.
We had time to see what was coming. But few gave it serious thought, at least in the beginning. After all Ebola had showed up in Africa several times in the proceeding years, and experts had managed to contain it.
So the prevailing attitude was ‘the same will happen with this…It will be stopped. It won’t reach us…’
The nightly world news however, was giving us a very different version of events from the one the UK Government was pitching. And the outlook grew steadily more grim each day…
Footage showed the virus fanning out into the world. China’s death toll still increasing in the weeks after its lockdown. Italy’s streets deserted as their hospitals too became quickly overwhelmed. Historic buildings and empty event centers converted into temporary morgues to hold the overflow of bodies….It looked like there were more dead than survivors.
There were reports that the virus was mutating into different strains, evolving to reproduce more effectively in these new human hosts.
And there was still no evidence that – should you be lucky enough to survive the initial infection – you would become immune or build up any resistance via anti-bodies.
All we did know for certain, was that people with specific ‘underlying conditions’ were definitely at higher risk for ‘complications.’ (ie; hospitalization, fighting for your life…)
Him and me, we had risk factors.
And here I was, working in food retail, face-to-face with a constant flow of strangers.
I was not happy.