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 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, 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 after 10 pm on a weeknight and I work every weekend.
That might be ok when you’re 20.
Not so much 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. It’s only a few days a week, between my other jobs. And, as I have said, I like the people. 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 care workers, transport workers, cleaners, teachers, etc.
The powers that be christened us ‘key workers’ and informed us 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.’
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 down 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 the usual shoppers in store, and no limits yet on the items they could purchase. My colleagues and I found ourselves face to face with hundreds of people every day, as they filed by us like an endless conveyer belt of consumer greed and privilege.
Panic buyers didn’t care if the little old lady who lived alone and shopped with us regularly got her spaghetti – as long as they go their 18 packages of it. Some people were rude, some obviously anxious, some simply selfish, 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. And yes, it was just as mindless and self-serving as the mob panic we have come to recognise in every disaster\pandemic film ever…
Although people were stocking up on things like toilet paper, 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 actually taking the immediate threat too seriously. The stockpiling was more of a precautionary measure. But this meant shoppers were still 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. And 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. The CMV family is the same happy group that brought you such popular favourites as mononucleosis/glandular fever, pneumonia and the Epstein-Barr virus, to name a few…
My symptoms had likely been worsened by the fact that I had suddenly stopped taking all my usual medication as well, because I could not keep anything down. This resulted in a 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 in that time, except to use the washroom. I had periods of delirium and didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes at a time. It was a long recovery and that virus will remain in my body for life. It can also ‘reactivate’ given the right stressors.
It is the gift that keeps on giving…
Now we were all facing a new threat.
Coronavirus had some alarming similarities to my CMV. The Government briefings were chanting a familiar refrain: ‘most’ people, they said, would only have mild symptoms, some might not even know they were infected. And, it could be re-activated after recovery. Such declarations were way too close to my CMV experience to reassure me.
These were early days. Our knowledge of this virus was still in its infancy, despite having thousands already infected in China and now in Italy.
But the topper was the chilling realisation 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 your mouth, bin your used tissues…”
Stiff upper lip and all that.
You could be forgiven for thinking they were talking about the common cold.
Valuable time was squandered. The horrifying theory of ‘herd immunity ‘ made the rounds. Although the Government officially claimed it had abandoned that approach, I was not entirely convinced. Not by the actions they were currently taking, which I believed to be far to passive.
There were even trite comparisons to the seasonal flu, and the submissive declaration that ‘everyone will get it at some point’ as if that was in any way reassuring to those of us most at risk of serious complications.
Just lay down and hope you survive kids, cos you have no hope of escape…
Covid-19 was not ‘like the flu.’ It was much more complicated and even more dangerous.
It was new, highly contagious, and deadly.
We were learning more about it every day and none of what we learned was good. The more we discovered, the worse things looked and the more questions we had.
The UK itself had some time to see what was coming. But it seems few gave it serious thought – at least in the beginning. After all, Ebola had broken out in Africa a few times previously, and experts had managed to contain it. Perhaps a bit of this geographical complacency was also at work now. It was a Chinese problem…It will be stopped. It won’t reach us…
But the virus did not feel such limitations. It had been born into a world where humanity could cross large distances quickly, especially when symptoms did not become apparent for a period of time, or maybe not at all despite infection.
And slowly, steadily, the nightly world news began to show us all a very different version of events from the one our conservative Government was pitching. The outlook grew more grim.
Footage showed the virus fanning out into the world. China’s death toll still increasing in the weeks after its lockdown. Then 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. Was the strain that infected China the same one which was now attacking Italy and moving into Spain, Germany and France?
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.