Apocalypse already?

Like most of the world, I have been watching and reading the coronavirus news with mounting alarm. Obviously, any new virus which is capable of causing fatalities is frightful. One to which there is as yet no vaccine (it being a new strain) is worse. And one which has the potential to initiate a global recession is worse still. All this is known. The cherry on top is the the uncertainty in figuring out just how bad things might get. Epidemiologists and other experts are either being properly cautious in their forecasts, or predicting that (as I saw over the weekend) coronavirus will be like the common cold; everyone will catch it at some point, but not everyone will be symptomatic, and only a few of those will progress to the full-blown disease. (There is a good article which I stumbled on, 12 myths about the coronavirus, that contains some good information in an accessible form.)

Like everyone, the unfolding news about the coronavirus affects me in a particular way. Before all this happened, my beloved was planning to going to Paris towards the end of March. I was to accompany her, and we would go somewhere in  Europe afterwards. But where? We were attracted by the idea of a cruise: just making one booking, and only unpacking once. None was available, though, it being just too early in the year. As time progressed, it became less likely that she would get to attend the meeting anyway: it was a long way to go for one-and-a-half days. The year was starting to look a bit crowded already, weirdly, with other things we had planned. So 2021 began to look like the earliest I could contemplate another overseas trip. Then the coronavirus news started trickling in, making what seemed only probable into a near certainty.

Given that (to put it bluntly) I may not get many more opportunities, an overseas trip is fairly high on the bucket list. So anything that defers it is unwelcome; the more so if the period of deferral is as indefinite as this. No-one seems to have the definitive formula for how people can minimise their chances of infection. For me, however, one precaution stands out: stay out of situations in which you are in forced proximity with a lot of people. An international flight and a cruise seem therefore like exactly the things to avoid.

Being a cancer patient by itself doesn’t mean you have to avoid all risk of infection. (An exception is people who are actually undergoing chemotherapy, who are encouraged to avoid opportunistic infections.) And I feel generally very well. Having had chemo and radiation treatment, though, does undermine one’s immune system. Consequently, I make sure to have a flu shot — all the more given the coronavirus infection peak may coincide with the flu season. So, while you can’t avoid risk altogether, you can sensibly minimise it. This means taking precautions that people who aren’t cancer patients may not bother to take.

My situation is fortunate in several ways. Being retired, I no longer have to undertake the daily commute on increasingly crowded trains or trams. Because my main income source is an indexed super pension, I am rendered fairly immune from the effects of an economic downturn. If I want to take a less risky trip, there are plenty of places to go in Australia with my beloved. (She is the one who will really need the holiday.) Many people would gladly swap their existential anxieties in the face of the coronavirus for my concerns. Saying this doesn’t make the latter go away — it just puts them in a context. 

On this note, some of you will have seen the article which fortuitously appeared in The Guardian this morning “Young and forever sick“. This piece gives an account of some young people’s experiences with a chronic (and acute) medical condition. The focus is on the concept of mortality salience — how a serious illness can change your view of the world. I have written about this before, so won’t repeat myself other than to say that I think this is an important discussion to have. Olivia Gee’s experience of serious illnesses in her twenties adds a layer to this already gnarly topic. Getting a life-changing diagnosis when you can reasonably expect to have most of your life in front of you would be tough indeed. (To say that it is tough at any life stage is not to negate her experience.) Medicos and mere mortals alike need to remember that their patients still have things that they want to achieve. This existential shopping list will be different for everyone.

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