Some of Our Enemies Are Invisible and Some are Viruses
As much as the COVID-19 panic has taken over our lives in recent weeks, I really didn’t want to write about it. As a nurse and first responder, I am used to dealing with scary diseases. I have always had to worry about coming in contact with yucky stuff and always had to worry about bringing it home to my family.
When I first started out in health care, 9/11 was fresh in our minds and hearts and we were still worried about bioterrorism. You know, anthrax, smallpox, germ warfare -- all that good stuff. A lot of my training in the fire service emphasized disasters and other "what if" scenarios. How to prepare, how to behave, how not to.
Handwashing and infection control is also a big deal in nursing school. You spend a lot of time practicing how not to cross contaminate. Nurses are really good at it. Considering what we work with on a daily basis, we don't get sick or make other people sick very often.
Health scares come and go. AIDS, cancer from eating grilled meat, equine encephalitis etc. Someone is always reporting something that is going to kill me. And then something that might actually kill you, alcohol, for example, is so pervasive in our culture that, if someone chooses to drink very little or not at all, they are a weirdo. But I digress.
In 2009, there was H1N1. That swine flu was pretty scary! It ravaged the country for months and no one outside of health care gave a crap. I remember taking the temperature of every kid who showed up at the residential school where I was employed as an evening nurse. The hospital unit I worked on nights was filled to capacity. Our call fire department had extra face masks and gloves for EMS runs and the college where I was a per diem EMT had plenty of PPE “just in case”.
At home, I had four children (one with cerebral palsy) who were constantly coming home sick with something because everyone else was sending their rug rats to school with fevers and coughs and diarrhea and vomiting. I remember queueing up in November to get the H1N1 vaccine for my special needs kid (I had to queue up a second time for the other three). They only got the vaccine because their brother was “at risk”. Again, no panic, no school closings, no dire warnings from the news media.
Of course, the economy was already in the crapper so we didn’t have to worry about it collapsing. In 2010, I had to leave my hospital job because I was calling out too much because my babysitters or my kids were always ill. H1N1 started in the Spring of 2009 and kept going strong for a year. It’s still around, by the way. Thousands of Americans died, babies and teenagers included, and nobody seemed to mind.
Luckily, my children and I muddled through. No one in my immediate family died, although shift work and sleeping four hours a day for almost 10 years nearly killed me. I lost the house in 2011. I can't think of a time in my adult life when I felt more shame and guilt. Somehow, we survived the Great Depression of 2008-2016 (Recession, my arse). Things finally started getting better for us in 2018.
There were other health panics after H1N1 -- MERS, Ebola, West Nile, Zika, every seasonal cold and flu that clogs up Emergency Rooms annually. You should see how people freak out when they get a stupid tick bite! Quite frankly, as someone whose last chest cold put her in the hospital, I don’t really understand what truly makes COVID-19 different from any other scary, mutating virus that kills debilitated elderly or smokers or people with lung disease.
I do understand the virus skulks around in asymptomatic people and, therefore, spreads more insidiously than your average cold or flu. Like people who give sexually transmitted diseases to multiple partners because they are jerks and refuse to wear a rubber and stop behaving like baboons with their fannies on display, a person with coronavirus can unwittingly infect other people if they don’t have obvious symptoms. Of course, can you blame them if they don’t know they are sick and don’t realize going to work or the grocery store is dangerous to some old fart?
So thus, we have implemented draconian measures to keep everyone at home. We have brought a thriving American economy to a grinding halt and put a bunch of “non-essential” people from all walks of life out of work. It sucks. Unlike 2009, I am blessed to still have a full-time job (for now) and can pay my bills (for the moment), but that makes me a jerk if I don't care about what is happening to other people.
Just because I still have a paycheck coming in doesn't mean I shouldn't give a crap that my kids who work in the private sector are now unemployed or have had their work hours reduced. It is not right that a family down the street is now cut back to part-time or no work and is stuck at home with a bunch of kids and doesn’t know how they are going to pay their rent or mortgage this month.
Just because I don’t happen to be cursed with a drug or alcohol or domestic violence problem doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give a crap about people trapped for weeks with nowhere to go and no end in sight. Just because, this time, I won’t be on the verge of homelessness with four underage children doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be pissed about what is going on in this country.
I would like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I darn well hope this is not bioterrorism from the Communist Chinese. I hope the reaction of our federal, state and local governments to “flatten the curve” is not an exercise in government control. I hope all the politicians and media operatives really are just worried about our health.
Maybe it is a public health “Come to Jesus” moment where we have all finally realized that, in order to protect the vulnerable, it is important to wash one’s hands and stay home when you are sick and not go to the Emergency Room for stupid stuff. I don’t know. I would like to think shutting down the U.S. economy is not nefarious.
I would like to think we just learned something from 2009 and we don’t want to see 12,000 Americans die again unnecessarily. Maybe we want to prevent 24,000-62,000 annual deaths from the regular flu.
I can hope, can’t I?