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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 a single cabbage.

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. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.

My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.

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

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. 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 have 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 onto their hands. It 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.

brainyquote

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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Ecstasy? I’m high on life!

Shy FX doing his magic

Shy FX doing his magic

On Friday I went to a drum and bass night.

The most popular reaction I have when I tell people I appreciate this genre is that I “don’t look like someone who likes d ‘n’b”. By this people mean that I’m not a hoodie-wearing law-breaking drug taker.

Unfortunately these events are dominated by illicit substance fans. It seems people are either addicted, feel peer-pressured, or claim that ecstasy helps them to appreciate the music, that sound turns into colour.

I have always appreciated the genre and have never needed anything extra to enjoy it. I sometimes went out with people who dosed-up beforehand. Most of them respected my choice not to mess with my internal wiring. One asked me why. I told him that I want to avoid the damage it causes, and he still did it. Takers will boast about its effects, but they rarely talk about how they were up  for two days or how they bit their tongue so badly it needed stitches. Like smokers, they seem to ignore its ill effects.

alcohol-composite

Then there’s alcohol, another misused substance, and a massive problem with my generation. When I was younger it was cool to drink in excess and then tell proud stories about what you or others did under the influence. You had a badge of respect if you’d manage to blag a beverage underage. At university there would be drinking competitions. In my halls the annual challenge involved running to the four corners of the main square and drinking as much as you could as fast as you could of different beers. Losers would start gagging and run off. The winner got their name on a silver plaque. People did “Centurions” where a group would drink all day aiming for 100 units. A member of my family tried it and “lost”  – luckily he threw up.

Alcohol

I’ve heard of a heavy drinkers who got cirrhosis – liver damage in their 20s. The government thinks they can help by raising taxes on it and imposing limits, but it’s the culture that needs to be addressed. With 10.5 million of us drinking to excess, alcohol misuse costs the NHS billions every year. It has been suggested that teenagers should be introduced to alcohol early on in small amounts, so that it’s not seen as something forbidden and therefore exciting. This was an attitude I encountered among drug users. I think if it was legal like it is in the Netherlands perhaps it would not be so popular or exciting, and could be better regulated. It was good that drug testing kits were available, just as needle exchanges are.

I wonder why Brits feel that we need alcohol and drugs to release ourselves and have a good night out. I was enjoying the beats on nothing but Red Bull. Everything in moderation though – I had 7 in a row once and ended up twitching as if I’d been electrocuted, and was wide awake until the sun came up. I never did it again, just as someone who knocked himself unconscious on a weed never did. Hopefully if we do overdose on a substance we know not to go back there. But sadly in a BBC series, Junior Doctors an A and E doctor told how regular users sometimes returned.

I took this watching DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I took this – DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I like the drama and atmosphere of drum and bass, its melodies interlaced with a beat I enjoy dancing to – it’s all about jumping to the snare! Its liveliness, energy and frivolity appeals to me. I like most aspects of a beats night. Most ravers are friendly and non-judgemental. You can dance however you like and plenty of people do.

It’s like no other music night and that is what keeps me coming back, other than the talent of the DJs. If you have ever tried beat-matching at that speed you may understand (beat-matching is where you get two records running at different speeds playing at the same time, one record in each ear). You have to be careful of flying elbows and people standing on your feet, and if someone’s had too much it’s best to stay away as they have very little control of their body. I’m also different from most ravers in that I always wear ear plugs, and wax ones. That way I hear the bass clearer and don’t get tinnitus, which a friend got after one too many club nights.

I took this - Andy C,, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

I took this listening to Andy C, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

From a non-substance perspective, the dance floor was heaving with enthusiastic, bug eyed, love-sharing, sweaty swaying ravers. They probably didn’t know who was playing and perhaps they wouldn’t care.

I have been to raves since 2005 and this was the first time I had seen it. There I was bouncing away to Shy FX when there was a commotion next to me. A guy was on the floor. At first I thought he’d fallen over, until I saw the convulsions. He was white and his eyes were shut. I was looking for a bouncer when one came charging over. They put him in the recovery position. He was then carried off unconscious. A pill-head asked me what had happened. When I told him he yelled “there’s always some that take it too far”. I shouted “I don’t understand it, I don’t need drugs to have a good time”, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. To think that I could just go to enjoy the music seemed like an alien concept to him.

Again it’s the culture. Drugs seem on a level footing with alcohol now. They’re taken socially to enjoy the night.

smokers-lungs-comparison1

Where is the line between social drug-taking and addiction? It’s similar to “social smoking” perhaps. But a smoker can laugh about the tar collecting in his/her lungs and say that life is short and that everything kills you in the end. An ecstasy user has made changes to their brain. Why do both feel so good? Because they’re altering chemical levels in the brain. Smokers become dependent on nicotine, the relaxant and ecstasy users to serotonin, a “happy” chemical. I’ve seen both smokers and ecstasy users being jumpy and twitchy in anticipation of their next fix. Ecstasy depletes serotonin meaning that users can suffer depression. Regular users are more likely to get it for longer.

The question is, what can we do to treat substance misuse problems in the UK?  We were all taught about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but education is clearly not enough to impact on a culture which seems here to stay, and more prevalent than ever. A Leeds taxi driver told me he had seen a sharp increase in cocaine users in the past 5 years and that they were from all walks of life, from CEOs to students. He was shocked that people were taking this substance which electrocutes the brain as if it was normal. Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out causes permanent damage. It also alters personality. I once dated a guy who earned more money than he knew what to do with. His brother took coke so he thought he’d try it.

Side_effects_of_chronic_use_of_Cocaine

Before long he was going out to parties doing it every weekend, and became depressed and tired. When I asked him why he did it, and told him how damaging it was he said “yes but have you tried it”. I told him that as you can get addicted from two goes I wasn’t going to chance it. I prefer to live in reality.

I once saw a video on YouTube by a Buddhist monk where he said that the Westerners’ love of drink and drugs was because we were scratching an itch. They were temporary pleasures, in doing it people scratched the itch but it didn’t cure it, it just made it worse. He suggested that people need to look at why they need to take drugs/drink in the first place, what were they trying to escape from?

Trying to escape from a feeling or a thought means that it’s still there in our mind. The saying goes “turn the dogs of fear on fear itself”. When I worked in law a client took heroin partly to escape memories of her traumatic childhood. This caused her to lose her children and sucked her into an addiction spiral. Have the courage to solve your problems or move on, don’t try and deal with them by distraction.

But my point is this. Is a night of pleasure really worth the risk and damage, permanent or impermanent, to the body and mind?

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