Bulletin From A Hot Zone
The ramping of Covid-19 from mild flu to pandemic killing machine has taken a while in the UK, which was complacent after relatively few deaths and the national trait of bolshiness that encouraged street socialising.
I suspect the PM’s rather eerie ‘Not Quite A Lockdown’ speech has a hidden agenda. Since it is hopelessly unenforceable it’s clearly there to act as a deterrent to those in certain parts of the country who are ignoring rules. Many of the invulnerable young appear to be behaving badly.
I find myself surrounded by emerging stories, usually created by the combination of two unfortunately timed events; a neighbour who has died leaving his sick wife vulnerable, a niece with health problems in the middle of a difficult pregnancy, a midwife who needs an urgent operation, a builder who must work or lose his business and his right to stay in the country. My cleaning lady, who has been with me for 40 years, also works in a hospital, and the three members of her family live in three rooms. I’m paying her to stay home and protect herself but she sees it as her duty to at least continue at the hospital.
And now I have joined that group of challenged individuals. I spent much of last week queueing in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, running from one cancelled appointment to the next, always ten minutes behind closing doors and changing deadlines. Eventually everything was cancelled as confused health workers, awaiting further instruction, shrugged and told me to go home. At any other time the need to organise serious emergency surgery would be straightforward. Now it’s…challenging.
Yesterday I went to hospital twice, once for an appointment that no-one had told me was cancelled, once to collect a prescription that nobody could find. As this massive nurturing system stretches, breaks and reconfigures itself there are inevitable stress fractures.
A star emerged; my new young NHS GP, who feared I was slipping between the cracks and began plugging the gaps in services. He called me several times yesterday to check on my wellbeing because he felt it essential that I could see a way forward and not feel hopeless – this from a man working in an overwhelmed service. He’s promised my tests will be combined to form a full prognosis. I’m assuming it’s a good sign that it will arrive on my birthday.
Meanwhile, I need to isolate – but hospital trips mean exposure, from getting there to waiting in packed wards. Food shopping yesterday was fine but crowded; UK shops are not built for distancing. Compromises inevitably have to be made. My neighbour, just returned from Singapore, found that the country let her in without testing, and she’s on her own cognisance to isolate. The message is; Look after yourself – the government will try to help. It’s not quite the nanny state we once knew.
Meanwhile, already compromised by my age and pre-existing conditions, I await emergency surgery at the soaring zenith of an epidemic. Not something worth thinking too deeply about when you’re a writer of worst-case scenarios. My solution; to open a bootle of the good wine and start writing like a son of a bitch .
Perversely, London is having the most beautiful spring it has ever experienced. Without planes in the skies or the heat of people and urban industry every day is a clear-skied blaze of turquoise glory, forcing buds to bloom and filling the streets with the kind of snowdrifts of pink cherry blossom you associate with Japan. (A massive number of cherry trees were planted because their urban and hardy and grow fast.) The air is clean, the light Mediterranean. Looking out, you’d almost think it was a normal day.