This has to be the worst of times, certainly not the best. Not only for me and mine. For you and yours. For everyone on this planet. It’s hard to think or talk about anything else. Conversations focus on one topic only.
When I was little and first heard the word ‘germs’, those tiny microbes that live in the air unseen by human eyes, those pesky things that can slip into your mouth when you least expect or scoot into your blood stream through a cut or broken skin, I took comfort from the idea that the germs that travelled around in my body were the same as the germs that travelled around in the bodies of my parents and siblings.
Therefore, I imagined it was okay for me to share my cup with my sister, my knife with my brother, my toothbrush need not be reserved for me alone.
This loose view of germ transmission has stayed with into adulthood, but I’ve had to revise it of late.
When I read my children the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, that beloved soft toy of a small boy named which in my memory was lost or contaminated with the scarlet fever germ and had to be destroyed, I was relieved we were past such epidemics.
Such stories muddle around in my head along with the nursery rhyme Ring a ring a roses, a tishoo, atishoo, we all fall down.
I only discovered the significance of that story, again a response to some other epidemic in adulthood. Likewise, when you sneeze and someone responds with ‘God bless you’.
God bless you presumably because your sneeze signifies disease and potential death.
Scary times from the past are with us now fierce and ferocious and getting worse.
I tell myself to take it one day at a time. I tell myself to stay calm and sensible. Not panic. But from time to time the daydream turns into a nightmare.
Someone in my household cops it and we’re confined to barracks. Not only that, the contaminated one must stay away from the non-contaminated ones to prevent the spread.
How to divide up the house such that the sick person can have space enough not to go mad in isolation but also so that others can manage to share the house but also in isolation.
Then the fantasy shifts again, and I’ve copped it. The hospitals are too full to take me in and I must die at home alone.
When I broke my wrist and the ward assistant wheeled me into the prep room to wait for surgery the surgeon was delayed. I did not know why. No one spoke to me. They left me in this barn-like room with a series of beds side by side.
A young woman was later wheeled in, her family gathered around her bedside. She was distressed and wanted to go to the toilet. Her husband and a nurse accompanied her. Their English was marked with thick accents and I had the sense they were in a foreign place.
Just as I was in this foreign place even as I spoke the same language as the nurse.
I waited and waited. The young woman and her entourage moved on, she to surgery, me to wait.
And I continued to wait. An hour passed. I knew from the television screen propped on a wall to my right.
I watched a series of David Attenborough films. I watched in horror as this young lizard popped out from the ground, a hatchling that skittered across the sand as a string of black slithering snakes circled around one another, around and around in sideways motion.
They tried to engulf the lizard which time and again managed to escape. I held my breath as the tiny creature slipped out from under the coils of snakes and raced up to higher ground under rocks and out of sight, free at last.
I started to cry. Quiet tears of desperation, tears of not knowing what was happening to me. When I would go to surgery. I worried for my family. I worried they might worry that I had not yet come back to them to report the surgery was over and all was well. I worried that all might not be well.
A nurse came by and noticed my distress.
‘The surgeon’s been delayed,’ she said. ‘The man before you broke both his wrists in a fall and one of them is proving more complicated. Not long now.’
To know the reason for the delay brought relief but not enough to get past my anxiety as they wheeled me into theatre. Just as the anaesthetist jabbed my arm, I heard the nurse administering the drip,
‘Your blood pressure is over 200,’ she said.
What was I do to do? What could I say beyond a feeble apology,
‘I’m sorry about that’?
Then I was waking up with my wrist in plaster and my head filled with the cotton wool of anaesthesia.
I dislike hospitals at the best of times. We need them though.
I’m glad my mother is no longer alive to live through such times. The worst and the best.