Covid Times

not a toilet roll in sight

My neighbour is an anaesthetist and he says the phrase going around the hospital is “we need to avoid going Italian.”

A man sitting in his car by the pool is talking on speaker phone. At first I think he is arguing with someone, but as I get closer I can hear him saying BUY, Buy and then SELL, sell. He is speedo clad and has a gut like something is residing within him. He is making money? Losing it?

There is no toilet paper on shelves and no handwash or sanitisers. I feel slightly contaminated even being in a shop as a child sitting, face-height in a shopping trolley, next to me in a queue coughs towards me. Normally I wouldn’t feel this vulnerable, this on edge. I wince – wondering what virus particles are invading me through my eyeballs.

I am still lecturing and I ask the students to practice some social distancing, but still they are bunched together in a way that makes me uneasy. The phrase “social distancing” dances from lips, a now heavily used term. I am waiting for the Uni to suspend the lectures, since they are all recorded anyway, but there is no call coming.

I touch my face endlessly.

A week ago I was still going to the US in a month, but within a few days the whole trip folded in, pack of cards-like. I sent a query on how the States was going to all my intended practitioners and all responded negatively and warned me to stay away. In the days that followed the travel bans went up and the conference cancelled too. Whilst there was a run on staples like pasta and tinned beans across America and world wide, Los Angeles had people queuing for hand guns.

What doesn’t change is dog walking. It can still be enjoyed as a sole and peaceful outing. The mutt is the same. He sniffs the same. He ambles and scratches and rolls. He kicks the dirt into the air. He, as always, takes no heed of possible infections that lurk on surfaces. In fact he prefers the stinky.

Apparently the virus can live for nine days on surfaces such as door handles. Nine days. It prefers men and even men in their thirties can be badly infected. It kills old people. Some people will require ventilation to survive if they contract the virus. But ventilators, like ICU beds, are of a finite number. Just like face masks and reagents for virus testing.

I wash my hands endlessly. Two rounds of the song Happy Birthday is supposed to be the hand washing length. Making sure each finger piggy backs the others. And don’t neglect your wrists.

On the drive way with the neighbours the conversation is circular, sitting 1.5 metres apart, about the virus and the plans already underway. Some of us can work from home but others are hospital workers and will be front line. All day they have meetings about the future impact despite the fact they are yet to have a confirmed patient. The children still go to school, but for how long and once school does stop how long should it stop for? Children are being taught about hand hygiene like never before, but getting the soap and the sanitiser is not guaranteed.

I still touch my face.

People have now in their vocabulary terms like “herd immunity” and “flattening the curve” – all have become semi-educated on the way a disease spreads and public health. Despite this they panic buy. Public health was a much maligned subject during our vet science degree but governments are seeking the advice of these experts now. No one is yawning when they speak. Everyone is learning some science through necessity and listening to Norman Swan for the low down. But if the science is explored it becomes very, very frightening. The numbers of deaths could far exceed past wars and plagues and the numbers of ventilators required would far exceed the numbers we have. It becomes somewhat hysterical, movie like. I think of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Already I am using Skype to conduct consults for revisiting clients in my effort to stay away from the animal hospital and to keep my clients from venturing out. It is working fine but imagining doing this for another 18 months is hard. I think my business will suffer but maybe still remain afloat. People will always have animals. Animals will always have mental health issues, just as people do. People will always want to care for them. Maybe my patients will find their lives improved with caregivers at home and at their beck and call. No longer will there be an excuse to not train your dog when he is with you all the time. My separation anxiety clients will fall away as people work from home. Their dogs will love that. My aggression cases will disappear too as people self isolate and their dog’s bubble is no longer pierced. My dog reactivity cases will evaporate as dogs stay home with caregivers who are too afraid to venture out. No one will be bitten because they took their dog to Highway to Hell like they did three weeks ago, as there will be no Highway to Hell like events being staged.

I touch my face.

The museums will fall silent and empty. Dust will gather. Instruments will go out of tune. The pubs will close down. The restaurants will go broke. The survivors will be food stores and manufacturers, chemists and drug suppliers, the medical scientists and the vaccine manufacturers. Shelf packers will work long hours. Online ways of delivering all sorts will become more and more the norm. Cleaners will keep their jobs. I will struggle more with being social as I go out less and less. I may never go to a party again. People with mental health issues will suffer. Hoarders will hoard and we will not be our best selves.

Puppies will go unsocialised and dog behaviour will worsen. Dogs will become more territorial and bark more at strangers who cross their path.

Today I have a man cleaning my oven and he too has had cancellations, but with more people cooking at home eventually more ovens will be blackened and require cleaning too. He can see an up side. He has a small yacht so he can always sail away and live in the middle of the ocean he says. The pool where I swim is closing from 8pm tonight and so for me the swimming will stop too. The bathers will lose their elastic. I was still planning on doing my laps as it seemed a safe thing to keep doing, but the decision is gone now. Stretching may have to suffice. How I will miss the water and the buoyancy to the spirit it provides.

After the oven man leaves I wipe down the door handles. I wash my hands. I touch my face.

As the world turns inwards and stays home how free of us must nature feel. Is she breathing a massive sigh of relief? She expands her lungs and she takes in crisp air. The water will be cleaner, the sky less polluted. Animals come into the cities to romp as the sun goes down. Moss grows with no one to tread on it. What will the grounding of the aeroplanes mean for the clarity of the air we breathe? What will the silencing of the cars on the road mean? Has nature sent us this virus to halt us? Did we need this so we would finally stop our polluting ways, breathe, think about how we are connected and our place in this world? Will so many of us die that the world has a chance to recover somewhat? Will the ocean temperature fall? Without us, of course the natural world would rejoice, the weeds would grow tall, the trees would no longer be logged, the buildings would decay away to dirt and rubble and in a very short time it would be like we were never here in the first place. Maybe this is nature’s plan.

6 Replies to “Covid Times”

  1. Beautifully written Nicole. Hugh leads us in daily fitness sessions, our in-house family trainer. The fire pit is smoking regularly and veggie garden tended, passata made and bread rising.
    A slower more meaningful existence?
    Then as walked from TAFE yesterday, hopefully for the last face-to-face interaction with students for a while, a small group greeted each other with high-fives, hugs and kisses, sigh!
    Thanks for writing down and documenting these mad and disconcerting times. Cluck.


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