Tag Archives: fear

My First Pandemic

coronavirus

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If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.

The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.

“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.

Someone on the plane has a fever.

A poster at a bus stop, beside a nurse who was coughing profusely.

We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.

“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.

We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.

Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.

Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.

I’ve got a temperature.

My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.

“Do you need another ski holiday?”

“It’s not for long” he replied.

I said goodbye on the 1st of March.

“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.

He phoned NHS111.

“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.

The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.

sagrada familia

We never get ill. Not like this.

Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”

“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.

“You must isolate.”

“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”

Day 3:

“How are you?”

“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”

loo roll lockdown

On Saturday 14th March the panic started.

It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.

I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.

Boots nearby? sold out.

Boots in town? sold out.

Superdrug? sold out.

Argos? sold out.

John Lewis? didn’t sell them.

Online? sold out all over England.

This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?

Because we never get ill. Not like this.

The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.

A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.

“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.

“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.

I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.

star wars corona 1

A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.

I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.

Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.star wars corona 2

Only £94 sick pay.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.

“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”

“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”

I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.

My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for one item. Preparation is vital for your one authorised shopping trip a day.

Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.

I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.

I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was  actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.

The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.

But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. The police have cordoned off all countryside car parks and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. Tomorrow my sister is off to the front line, with no guarantee of masks or extra clothing. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves for protection.

From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better.  His sore throat eased, he no longer had a temperature.

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. As the inflammation reduces this is returning now. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.

The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people are classed as having few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.

Help others more and read the news less.

Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus on to their hands. The chance of this is so unlikely, but why take that chance.

People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.

The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.

One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.

Do you think she’ll get worse?

A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.

There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.

“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.

“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.

“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.

“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”

“Well no, that’s true.”

“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.

“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”

“Will I get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”

“Well have you got a good immune system?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”

“No.”

“You should be fine then.”

She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.

A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.

A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.

Walk with Jonny's mum

The beautiful Pigeon Tower above Upper Rivington Reservoir in Lancashire. Copyright literarylydi

I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.

No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.

corona chaos 1

That land is now shut.

On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read

“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.

At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.

I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.

There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.

There was a video of the actor Antony Hopkins playing the piano with his cat on his lap.

corona cuteness

Classic FM/Instagram / @AnthonyHopkins

I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.

No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.

But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.

We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.

Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is good to keep in mind: “if you can keep your head, when all about you. Are losing theirs[…]you’ll be a Man, my son”.

My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.

As they said in another war: “Keep calm and carry on.”

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Thoughts on Chronic Illness

Daughter fall asleep waiting her mother in hospital

Recently a friend told me that she might have cancer.

Two lumps had appeared, one small, one big. The doctor immediately sent her for a biopsy. The cells were abnormal and treatment is needed.

The doctor was worried because she used to be a heavy smoker and overweight, two known risk factors.

She said the worse part was the torment of not knowing.

doc

Once she has a diagnosis, she can plan, but for now she has to wait, thoughts churning around about the future.

We discussed how she could manage it and even speculated as to what the result might be. I tried to reassure her, but there isn’t much I can say or do, other than telling her that I will be there for her, no matter what. She was experiencing an emotional storm of frustration, anger, sorrow and fear. She is a strong woman both mentally and physically, but nothing can prepare you for the shock of being told you have a long-term illness.

My friend is courageously dealing with an uncertain future. She said that her illness had helped her gain more focus and she will now attack her bucket list with a renewed vigour.

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In times of difficulty we need the courage to draw on our inner resources and access support networks. We may need to evaluate our perspective. In Buddhist philosophy, adversity is seen as the best teacher, a chance to learn from experience and emerge a stronger, wiser person.

So what have I learnt from the experience of my friends?

Firstly, the importance of living in the moment.

No one has a crystal ball. If we speculate about the future we only create fear and worry. This destabilises us and prevents us from being fully present to support friends in need. Everything is easier if we take a moment, slow down and just float on the river of life, wherever it takes us. Not accepting our reality is like trying to swim against the current; it wastes our energy and is futile.

Secondly, I need to be grateful.

We spend so much time focussing on what we do not have. We are constantly unhappy with the present and want more. We forget just how lucky we are. There is so much suffering in the world and, whilst we all experience peaks and troughs, somehow we escape the worst of it.

I would like you to take a moment to be grateful.

Be thankful for all the people in your life who guide and support you, your cheerleaders. Be thankful that you have mental and/or physical good health. But most of all, be thankful for the love and kindness of family and friends. Against all odds, love conquers all.

love

 

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Thoughts On Turning 30

30. It sounds like a scary decade. Or at least that’s what my boyfriend thought as I reminded him that 30 is the marriage and kids decade.

It is strange to think that in ten years time that could be my reality.

If I don’t have children it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would  be heartbreaking because I’ve had maternal urges since the age of 18.

This sums up how I feel about being broody.

I know it’s just biology reminding you that your eggs are ready for fertilisation, but it is an unsettling feeling when you aren’t ready for kids – the biggest decision of your life. I go through intense broody phases every couple of years. I used to cure them by watching One Born Every Minute. Even that doesn’t work now. I find myself thinking yes, it looks like a horror movie, but after that she gets a beautiful bundle of joy to love forever.

Copyright: One Born Every Minute – Channel 4

Now I cure broodiness by watching Super Nanny. It should be compulsory viewing for potential parents.

“They won’t fear you with the naughty step. They will fear the punishment.”

When you see a couple going insane for two torturous hours putting little Freddy back on the naughty chair, you realise why so many parents resort to violence. It’s the easy way out, just like plonking them in front of the TV is easier than reading to them.

Copyright: Super Nanny

It was easy to see how parents could lose it when a child screams and screams…and screams. When a friend’s cat cried constantly from when I arrived to when I gave it food I was guilty of snapping at him. I raised my voice and told him off. He then avoided me for the rest of the day and I felt incredibly guilty.

You see it time and time again on Super Nanny. The screaming from parents to children, from children to parents, the slaps. One couple were even shutting their toddler out on the patio like he was some kind of animal. On the other extreme there was the complete lack of discipline, leading to children up all night running wild, children who are tired and cranky the next day. You could see how the couple were creating the nightmare they lived in. On the website debate.org 60% of respondents agreed that there was no such thing as “good” or “bad” kids,only bad parenting. Yes, some kids are just naughty, but who does the child copy? Their parents.

Think about it – by slapping your kids, what do you teach them? You teach them that you solve problems with violence. You teach them to fear you. Sometimes you even see the kids reflecting the parents behaviour, hitting their siblings.

Of course children need to learn that there are consequences for bad behaviour, but is control through fear what you want? Or would you rather control through punishments like the naughty step?

As Super Nanny wisely said in one episode: “They won’t fear you with the naughty step, they will fear the punishment.”

 

No child wants to be ignored and isolated and that’s how this control method works. Part of the reason I watch Super Nanny is that I am fascinated by the way the lady works with the child’s psychological perspective to get into their head and onto their level.

I saw my cousin successfully use a similar technique on his son. He asked his son to go out of the room for being cheeky and the child stomped his feet and had a tantrum. His father patiently let him do this and firmly repeated his request for his son to leave the room until he did so. He then asked his son if he was ready to come back in. The child said he was but continued to be naughty. His father told him to leave the room again. The boy cried and wailed at the perceived injustice. But my cousin did not falter, he simple asked his son if he was ready to come back in and behave again. The child said again that he was and this time he complied.

I have done work experience at nursery so I’m aware of the reality of kids. The endless questions and demands for stories, the tears and the tantrums. Toddlers have to be the focus of attention 24/7. As soon as you look away they are there in your face, thrusting a soggy book at you with that wide-eyed look that you just can’t say no to. There are only so many times you can ask a child what number comes after three. Even the fingers on my hands didn’t help – the kid was convinced two was the answer.

Too many would-be parents think of the cute pink baby and its massive eyes, of the love they’ll feel for this little beauty, of how that baby might somehow make their relationship stronger. As if sleepless nights and endless poo and vomit might somehow create some kind of unbreakable bond.

Too many parents find out later that actually, what seemed like a solid relationship pre-baby wasn’t as strong as they thought, as sleep deprivation and drudgery take their toll.

A study of 2,000 couples in Germany found that the happiness of parents decreases temporarily after the birth of their first child. It even causes 10% of parents to decide that they do not want to have another child.

Knowing all this, I am slightly terrified about the idea of having children and I know my partner is too. I know it’s something I want and I hope he does too. But could I handle the stress?

It’s not just me that is worried about the idea. My mum had a nightmare last week about me being pregnant. She asked again whether I was definitely just overweight and not expecting. She said in her dream, her and dad were panicking, wondering what they could do. I know it would be tough, because I find it hard to function with less than 7 hours of sleep and I would be reluctant to give up work to become a nappy-changing milk-machine.

Scientists have discovered that how well we tolerate sleep loss is actually written into our DNA. Nothing can change that, and if all those affected remained childless, this gene would have been bred out in a kind of natural selection. But people are prepared for the pain and the sacrifice of children. As a friend said: “The sleep loss is only for two years and it’s worth it”.

I think I want to leave it at least five years. When I said this to another friend she warned me about fertility – we have been told that levels decline from the age of 37, or maybe even 35. I want to have two children, so I don’t want to wait too late.

Before I have children I need to be living with my boyfriend and preferably married. At the moment we are no further forward than when we met four years ago, because we are not even living together.

It’s only now that I’m 30 that I’ve started to worry about our current inertia. Suddenly I am aware of the fertility clock ticking in the background.

We women are born with all the eggs we will ever need. They just grow older every year until they become genetically damaged, increasing the risk of conditions such as Downs Syndrome. Genetic code starts to be eroded by the passage of time.

What if we leave it too long and it’s too late? This has happened to other couples. Women who have left children until they were ready and financially stable have found that they cannot conceive naturally anymore and some don’t even have any luck with IVF. What seemed like such a sensible decision in their twenties backfires. The fertility clock has stopped ticking and their time is up. They will never have children naturally or even with assistance, and they have to make the difficult decision to adopt or remain childless.

If I can’t have children naturally, I doubt I will bother going through the long, frustrating process of IVF. I’ve been into an Assisted Conception Unit and the room was full of miserable, defeated and exhausted couples. I promised myself I would never end up there. I’d rather adopt and help a child less fortunate than myself to have a stable, loving home to grow up in. I feel like I have too much love just for my boyfriend. At the very least I would need to get a pet, something to fill this child-shaped void in our relationship that is becoming more and more apparent as I get older.

Who knows what the future holds. Hopefully our relationship will survive whatever fortune throws at us.

If you’re thinking about having children please consider the reality first, think about the practicalities.

Discuss who is going to do what and how you are going to manage the extra responsibilities. Think about how the child will impact on your current lifestyle. If you don’t have sufficient time to devote to your children then don’t have them. It isn’t right to leave them in the care of others almost 24 hours a day.

You need to be prepared to support and guide each other through what is the most intense, stressful yet rewarding time of your lives. Or at least that’s what parents tell me.

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Don’t just stand there, do something!

TRI24.Iron_swim

This afternoon I went swimming with a friend. I hadn’t seen her for ages and was really looking forward to it. We had a good gossip and remarked at how busy the pool was that session. There were people selfishly ploughing up and down and almost into us.

I left the pool to get my goggles from my locker. When I got back I saw to my horror that my friend was struggling to keep afloat in the deep end.

The key rule being "kindly refrain from lane rage". We saw a lot of that today!

The key rule being “kindly refrain from lane rage”. We saw a lot of that today!

There were about 15 people in the pool and they were all at the sides just gawping at her. It was awful. I was about to leap in myself, what were the lifeguards doing? I looked to my left and they were also standing there staring. It was like someone had paused a film. I announced “my friend needs help” and suddenly the play button was pressed again and the lifeguards leapt into action. I jumped into the pool too and hugged my friend.

She was really embarrassed and said she “felt stupid” for “making a scene”. But I said the onlookers should be the ones feeling embarrassed for just looking on instead of doing something. I hugged her, she was clearly shaken at the ordeal. She had been struggling for several minutes crying for help and no one did anything.

This seems to happen often now. No one comes to the rescue in an emergency for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they don’t want to get involved or they think someone else will. But sadly, it’s nothing new.

According to psychologists, the phenomenon is known as “bystander effect”, when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.images (4)

It first came to public attention in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was stabbed and raped in the streets of Queens, New York. Reports at the time claimed that there were 38 neighbours who heard her screams and that none of them did anything, even when the killer returned to finish the job. A more recent investigation suggests that there were perhaps only “6 or 7 witnesses”. One of them “did not want to be involved” as he was drunk, and so telephoned a neighbour asking them to contact the police.

rotorua-attack-pregnant-123Another more recent example is an assault that happened in New Zealand, where a pregnant lady was kicked and stamped on in front of 20 people. Only two witnesses called police and no one physically helped. But according to the psychologist quoted in that news report, once someone steps in, others tend to follow.

“It just needs someone to take the lead,” he said.

“Someone needs to break free of that social phenomena of the bystander apathy and stick out, be courageous.” Which  I suppose is what happened when I broke the stunned silence of onlookers today.images (5)

I had reacted a bit slowly as I expected lifeguards to do their job, but once I realised what was happening I am glad I did  something.

The reason that witnesses don’t respond is because of confusion, fear and uncertainty. Perhaps they are not sure if it is their responsibility. It’s easier not to act. If it’s safer not to that is understandable. But out of 20 witnesses of the serious assault in New Zealand, just 10% reacted and called police.

Alzheimers-WomanSomeone I was at school with, Hassan, was walking along the street when he saw an elderly lady wandering about, clearly lost and confused. Everyone else just walked past her, but Hassan, a doctor, couldn’t ignore her. He discovered that the lady had wandered out of her nursing home. He took her to hospital, as the nursing home insisted the lady was still in bed. He was hailed as a hero and he was. But this is something that we all should do. He may have saved her life.

There was the shocking neglect at Stafford Hospital, which included patients being so desperate for water that they were drinking from vases. Everyone thought it was someone else’s duty to ensure basic needs were met.

What today taught me is that I am a lady of reaction rather than inaction. In an emergency the difference between these two responses can mean life and death, if not for you then for someone else.

People have died when they could have been saved.  If we don’t act we all have blood on our hands. So don’t just look the other way and don’t just stand there. Be the person to make a difference.

bystander-effect

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