Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
Illness, Death, and Life
Our Humanity is being reshaped by Coronavirus Disease. Covid-19
March 14, 2020
The world is slowing down, for the time being, bringing people closer to their geographical and inner homes. It is time to be vigilant, practice moral obligations to support one another, those we know and don’t know, everything and everyone we may impact knowingly and unknowingly.
Let’s heed the warnings not as doomsday but as a test of our moral responsibility and social compassion.
This is not only about us. It is about the vulnerable people close to us. On a wider scale, it is about all the people we don’t know or may never meet, who we may save by simple acts of our kindness. Our social interdependence is being tested as we stretch our social compassion muscles, perhaps in a way never done in our life time.
My son, at 11 years of age, may not be immediately considered a part of the vulnerable population for Covid-19. What we have heard reported are the elderly, in the range of 80 years old, who have succumbed to the new virus mainly due to their underlying health conditions. There is advise for those over 60, even 50, to be careful, or those with a special list of underlying conditions to be careful. These conditions include the heart, lungs, immune system that’s compromised, diabetes and cancer. There are rare, unknown illnesses, not getting media coverage during normal times. People within those communities wonder what this all means for them.
My son has ME/CFS, Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, an illness that is systemic, affecting the person at varying levels of difficulty, from functioning to bed bound. While his worst symptoms, sleeping 20 hours a day without being able to be aroused, are behind us, he is still symptomatic enough that he needs to rest in bed longer than a healthy person needs. He needs to pace himself throughout the day. He has been homebound from school since the middle of last school year.
What concerned me, however, is that he has been asthmatic since age 2. He has been under the care of top-notch doctors in a city that is known for its medical advances. Still, he was in the PICU at age 4, hospitalized 5 times, visited the emergency department close to 2 dozen times. During one of the visits to ED, he was considered to be an ICU patient, but the hospital PICU (Pediatric ICU) rooms were full, so he had to be treated at the ED as an ICU patient for 2 days, before being admitted to the regular floor. Another time in the ED, the doctors and I were at the edge of our seats for four hours whether to have him admitted to the ICU or not, before he finally turned the corner. There is no way to be nonchalant witnessing your child struggle, his little heart overworking so hard to compensate while the lungs are not able to fully breathe.
I am a relatively young widow. My husband died five years ago from a rare illness, amyloidosis. It was diagnosed at a very late stage. There was no known cure, only ways to delay the end, and the doctors had only six weeks to apply them before his body gave in. My parents both died from cancer. All of them treated at the impressive hospitals of Boston, by capable doctors, and who all had to give up, at different times, on these loved ones’ healing, because there was nothing else left to do. Seeing an older loved one become ill and die is heart breaking. It may be the first time we touch into our fragility and irrevocable mortality. Seeing a spouse be hopelessly ill and die is life altering.
In the case of a virus that is known to affect the vulnerable in our society, knowing that we have a capacity to flatten the curve of medical response, and give more people a chance to live, should indicate to us our social and moral obligation to respond. We may never know the people who will be saved and perhaps never even get ill. We may never know the people who receive enough medical interventions without a bogged down hospital system, to give them a chance to recover. Does it matter whether we know the persons we are impacting? They are still someone else’s loved one. They belong to our human family. Every life is precious.
To surprise of some, I took the measures of self-isolating myself and my son 6 days before the rest of our country and community rang the alarm bells. I planned two weeks prior buying extra toilet paper, yes, dried pantry food, and most importantly a refill of his asthma medicine, hoping that we will never get to the point of using them. I could not wait for the head of the country or medical directors or anyone else dictate to me to wait. I also could not trust the Coronavirus carrying state of anyone coming and going into our home, because there is no real way of knowing who each would come in contact with in the course of a day. I had to ACT on what I knew, with a clear head. I planned for the possible worst outcome that may occur. I also continued being hopeful for the drastic measures to play out without actual crisis occurring in the end.
For us, staying home is not new. My son has missed being at his school beyond your imagination. Last week, he was playing Mine Craft online with other children who are also homebound with ME/CFS. While they play, they also chat on Discord. Being a software engineer and having worked in IT for over 25 years in my previous career, I am grateful and appreciative of technology enabling connecting people, such as these young ones, giving opportunities for team building and cooperating, while dispersed across the country. Back to last week, while they were playing, I heard my son dictating on the chat server that he misses school so much, that he has not been to school for 1.5 years. The rest of the kids started chiming in. I felt that I should not break into their private circle and so left him alone to chat with his friends. My son has always been a social creature. He thrives on communing and communicating with others. He has also been living with what is, accepting his current norm with ME/CFS limiting life. He has been repeatedly amazing me on his being with his illness. Being with it but not being consumed by it.
As much as it is hard to be socially isolated, he has accepted this for the time being and lives within this parameter of life. Rather than repeatedly focusing on what is lacking, he is focusing on what is working. When I told him a week ago that we were going to be self-isolating, and that perhaps the rest of the community and country may follow suit, based on what was happening globally, he responded by saying “That’s ok. I can play with my friends online.” We went outside a few times; on the days he had enough energy. We will also keep doing that, when we can, to get fresh air, be in the sun (when there is sun), and be close enough to others, from a distance, to reinforce to ourselves that we are part of the larger community. Most people need this social connection. The part of the anxiety with Covid-19 related isolations may be that people don’t know how to be out of the society. Yet, how often had you been next to a family member or a friend and rather than speaking with them, fiddled on your phone, taking their presence for granted? Neighborhoods in Italy showed us how creative we can get, by singing and playing musical instruments from their confined balconies, and still feeling a part of their community.
Our school district was the last one in the joining cities and towns to announce school closures. Some of the local parents, and distant friends whom I follow on Facebook, started announcing play dates, getting a few close friends together, and even their older kids offering baby-sitting services. I had to scratch my head. School closures are in order to curb spreading the virus to not simply us or our loved ones, but the most vulnerable in the society who we may or may not ever come in contact with. Having play dates or small social gatherings are simply defeating the purpose. I am not thinking only about my child.
I am thinking of anyone who I may never come in contact with, who may catch this virus and not have enough medical interventions, who may die needlessly, desperately, because the society has failed to unite. Is social altruism possible in order to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable? I surely hope so. In a society in which we believe we are fully plugged in and connected; we have in fact been isolating ourselves from the reality of many who suffer needlessly. So, perhaps as we physically isolate for a brief time in history, in an unprecedented way in our life time, we turn towards the full spectrum of our society as a whole, how we can impact the well-being of everyone. And without the belittling sentiments of few who may call us liberals, bleeding hearts, and the weak. The globe is on fire. Compassionate, loving actions to unite and serve each member of the society is an imperative for the survival of our humanity. Isolating via stratification, social privileges, turning away from the real suffering that takes place daily is a more deliberate weakness than turning towards the suffering and lifting up each and every member of the global society.
Why wait for illness, death, disasters, shortage of toilet papers in your local super market to come near you? Imagine we recognize every person’s lack of safety and basic needs, dispersement from homes of refugees, death, illness, accident, war crime, gun violence that is affecting our world community? Could COVID-19 inspire us to begin doing so? Every Single Life is Precious. We need to be diligent to stay healthy to the best of our abilities, keep each other healthy and safe, for our local and global community sake.
We are each a part of this tiny blue dot from a distance. No exceptions.
A deep invitation
At some point for many,
It will stop us on our tracks, and
stop the time to ask,
perhaps: Can we
learn to care for the vulnerable in our society and
sacrifice our freedom to stay home a few days?
recognize that some people are concerned because
they have a vulnerable loved one?
learn to be kind and considerate not only for our but
for everyone’s sake?
learn to turn inward and focus locally,
while thinking of our impacts globally?
be with what is, as is,
what we can control and affect, and
what is beyond our control?
release at least some of
the fear that captivates?
be ok with
having less and economizing?
be comfortable in our own homes,
if we are lucky to have a home,
having more time to go deep within?
recognize our interconnectedness, and
our actions always impacting others?
creating and innovating
out of necessity that can serve all globally?
Yasemin Isler 3/10/2020