Covid Times 3

when we were still allowed to gather, we spread out photo by Paul Kavanaugh

All day the helicopter drones on. It is checking on the cruise ships, hovering over ahead like a sticky fly. It is the background to an otherwise peaceful day. A man picks olives on the oval – last year there were groups of people doing this. Now, just one lone man with a tarpaulin. Then there is the drug-affected woman who is lurking in the driveway, then raiding the lemon tree of every green lemon – about thirty of them, then tipping the bins over and strewing the rubbish all over the verge. Fremantle. This could happen in non -Covid times too. It’s more a Fremantle thing.

I finish the spherical jigsaw and we call it the COVID globe.

Cases: 278 Western Australia, 3635 Australia wide.

Italy: 660 deaths in one day. More than 80 000 infected. We are still a long way from “going full Italian”.

The background noise of Covid is beginning to normalise. It is just there now. A dread, but not as urgent, or pressing as before. Everything is finding its new normal. Hand washing has become routinely diligent. I am aware of every time I touch my face. Soon we will be able to see if the social distancing measures are actually flattening the curve at all. Any effect to the rate of infection will take 7-14 days to be seen.

I can no longer bear the sound of Norman Swan’s voice – once so beloved to me. I have to switch him off. He is so foreboding. Too doomsday, although I think we will all owe him for marshalling us so obediently.

Our son does not need to learn to be socially distant – it is encoded in him. If anything he needs to learn to be able to hug, and be hugged, but it can’t happen now. As Uni has all gone online he has had the opportunity to make new friends taken away from him. Social isolation is enforced, but replaced with excessive contact with your parents. Not good for any teenager. Sometimes all three of us are like a boil about to burst.

Viral load – the new term I learn – how much virus you are exposed to at the point of becoming infected can effect the severity of the illness that follows – hence why you want to avoid being close to lots of infected people at the one time like what might happen in a hospital situation for doctors and nurses. You want your health professionals to be able to wear masks and gowns, to be able to protect themselves.


It seems that WA might be so good at their control measures that we flatten the curve so much that there will not be a safe time to release the pressure, or take the foot off the brake. So many euphemisms.

Pumpkin – so much pumpkin. We order a box of vegetables that are picked up from a nearby alley. There are heirloom tomatoes of all shades of orange, red and green. They pop in your mouth. But there are kilos of pumpkin too that when cooked is dry and tasteless. Covid food.

The daily infection rate has slowed considerably since the increased rules came into effect. First we are told to keep to the 4 square metres of space per person rule and venues work out the numbers of patrons they can have. But that quickly changes and they are forced to close. Now there can be only TWO unrelated persons together, outside of family, in social gatherings. Many businesses are asked to stop trading. We now maintain the distance between the neighbourhood adults but the frequency with which the children interact could make this null and void. Balls are still kicked, boomerangs still thrown and hands still held.

Spain overtakes Italy in a daily death toll of greater than 800 and the pain and exhaustion on the medical workers is hard to watch. Disused buildings become morgues. People cannot hold funerals.

In Australia and world-wide there is innovation as companies that used to produce something else now make face masks, gloves, hospital equipment. Takeaway containers turn to N95 masks. Ansell stocks go up in value. PPE – we all know what it stands for now. Gin distilleries become hand sanitiser manufacturers. 3D printers will make ventilators. Car manufacturers make respirators. Retired nurses and doctors are asked to rejoin the health system and the private hospitals will become public if needs be.

Our anaesthetist neighbour says the system is ready. Hospital workers have had their flu shots. Elective surgery has been cancelled. Now they wait. Check their facebook.

The Artania ship is docked and refuses to leave. As immobile as a toddler who has plonked down on the floor, unwilling to do what a parent has beseeched. She has 450 crew on board and wants to wait another two weeks before leaving. Our state premier sounds exasperated and wants her pushed off shore, like a paper boat sent down stream to fall apart on the rocks. The infected could overwhelm us if they all become ill. But they also can’t be sent to sea to die.

I now have a corona virus App and can see in a couple of clicks how many cases we have in WA: 392, Australia wide 4860.

Norman Swan is on Skype because he likely has a cold. We await his result. Italians seem joyful from their balconies. They sing. The Spanish too applaud their health care workers from their windows. Little European dogs wearing harnesses can be lowered to the grass below to relieve themselves and then be hauled up.

I am doing consults in a warehouse. Sometimes it is me and the client, the dog and then, via Skype, another related client and another trainer. It is cumbersome and a bit distracting. We talk over one another. It is not personal and feels detached. At the end of the consult when we turn off the technology the in-the-flesh client and I feel a sense of relief. Just us. I can make eye contact when previously I was intermittently screen watching. We can speak at a normal volume and without people watching, interrupting, looking strained and perplexed. As a friend said – being a veterinarian is about a relationship – not that easy remotely.

Hours are spent learning to use new technology for teaching and it is exhausting and largely unpaid. Animals will not be touched. Students will be required to learn by watching others and this is not ideal. They will need to catch up later when the world begins again. We are all waiting, as if at a bus stop for a bus that is not running and without it we cannot get where we want to go, but we can’t leave the bus stop or else we might miss the bus when it does finally come. So wait we must. Sigh we do.

TV shows watched: Better call Saul – with its long quirky shots, Kim with her school girl pony tail, adobes in Alberqueque ; Ozark – blue film, southern drawl, goldilocks Ruth, ice cool Marty, the duplicitous Wendy and the robotic Helen, cartel money. What a field day the feminists would have analysing this; Homeland – crazy eyes Carrie with her rubber face all contorted, Max gunned down in a long shot ; Hard Quiz – ridiculous silliness, sneering; Revelation – sinister priests with white false teeth loose in their mouths talking about jacking off boys. Middle aged men so damaged by the abuse they suffered that they are forever broken. News. 7.30 report. No sports news. Weather – what will Irena be wearing tonight? Jasper watches reruns of NBA best games ever, shows where NBA players compete against each other via video basketball games, Bad Grandpa.


WA 400 cases, Australia wide 5133. The number of cases being reported each day is falling and so therefore the curve is flattening. Less hockey stick. More hillock.

In the shops we are beginning to know the drill. To avoid each other. When confronted by a shopper not following the arrows on the floor you might step back, leer at them. At the check out there is a perspex screen between the attendant and the shopper. Everyone gives everyone else a wide berth and I wonder how permanent our distrust of each other will become after weeks to months of practicing this social distancing. The other day a client proffered a hand shake, out of habit, and I found myself recoiling. How strange it will be to handshake again.

The white cockatoos still screech. The clouds still make themselves magnificent. The rain still wets the pavement. The Artania sits still waiting. Petulant and refusing to move. From her bows and balconies messages saying, “Thank you Fremantle” hang. “We love you Fremantle.” But the love is all one way.


Walking the dog on a day where the season is changing. Mornings are cooler now. Sky pewter. There are many people out, as this is one of the things they can still do – with their families, or one other being. The river is quiet compared to last week when people in groups still took to the water in boats. Now single fishermen and stand up paddlers or canoeists dot the river. Dogs are loving this COVID nasty as their people pay them extra attention. At poo collection time there is the problem of not being able to moisten your fingers to rub the poo bag so it will open and then the problem of not being able to touch the bin lid to rid yourself of the poop bag. The playground is abandoned. The skatepark empty. The drinking fountains are switched off and this means no dog water either. Still he checks out the dry container and looks at me, perplexed. His single Covid worry.

Norman had the common cold.

Child care becomes free.

The Artania is allowed to stay for the two weeks she asked for.

WA 436 cases – 55 of them from the one cruise ship, The Artania. 18 people in intensive care. Compare this to New York City where there are over 630 deaths in one day. Make shift morgues. Field hospitals in Central Park. As the world becomes overwhelmed with the virus we are just in a waiting pattern. Our infection rate is low and the death rate piddling to other nations. Our isolation is serving to protect us. Our borders have become hard and we are asked not to even move between regions. We see our family, do our essential work and shopping and that’s all. I am learning to operate by telehealth. Our preparedness may seem overzealous but at least our health professionals may be spared the decision making that has been required in the countries whose systems have been overwhelmed. More and more it seems our doctors won’t need to choose between who is ventilated and who is turned away.

Covid Times 2

The street is quiet like it might be Xmas day, Anzac Day or Good Friday – the only three days of the year that the pool is closed. Within the pool confines I can see James, a senior life guard, going about some maintenance business. There are no swimming bodies to save. The extremely annoying and very loud door buzzer to the gym has finally been silenced. No ear piercing instructions from an exuberant aqua aerobics instructor are heard.

I think of Pam, a woman in her seventies with yellow hair, who is a pool regular in the deep end. Daily she bobs about in a brightly coloured bathing cap and is always cheerful. In the water she moves her legs effortlessly, but on land she lumbers with her osteoarthritic ankles. Only a few weeks ago we contemplated the virus, but both agreed it wouldn’t change this – this constancy of the pool. But it has. Out of the pool she wears a colourful kaftan that billows like curtains in a breeze, but she moves like a person in pain. In the pool her face is bright, her aches diminished. Her legs cycle and her hands make small movements as she watches the lap swimmers in the lane beside her, smiling at them if she catches their gaze. She speaks to the life guards and they stand by the pool and talk to her as she loosens her joints. How she must miss this, I think. I wonder what she is doing now with this void.

The children are becoming used to the pool being closed and bicycle on the road. Down the driveway of the now empty businesses careens Tommy. There could be a permanent cricket pitch on our cul de sac now.

A friend sends me a video of a rat gnawing at her laundry drain from within its dark confines. There is a maddening, incessant tapping of teeth on the metal drain that woke her in the night. The rat’s body is twisting and twirling while the teeth are determinedly working on the steel. She boils the kettle and then pours it down the drain to the screams of the rat. She didn’t know what else to do to make him go away. I can’t think what I would have done either. But I wish she hadn’t sent me the video. I can’t erase the image from my mind. She then ran the tap for minutes hoping the body would flush away with the water.

There are 1098 cases of Covid 19 in Australia as I write this and 90 in the State of Western Australia. They are contemplating turning Rottnest island into a quarantine station. The AFL season has been suspended after a weekend of farcical play. They started out with the usual handshakes but by Game 2 were elbow bumping and making hand gestures in the direction of one another instead. Weirdly the game sounded like any other suburban competition being played – the empty stadiums turning amateur the players’ calls. Even American audiences tuned in as there was a scarcity of sport world wide.

Trump keeps calling Covid 19 the “Chinese virus” in a tit for tat with the Chinese who say the virus was brought to China by American soldiers. What is wrong with his mouth? What a ridiculous way to move your lips while you speak. Either way the Chinese restaurants were downed first. Now everyone will hurt as pubs and restaurants are asked to close and soon will be forced to. For a week some attempt to do take away. The streets grow quieter and the traffic less. Children reclaim their suburban streets.

I am naming us the “covidees” – those employed and detained by COVID – run by Covid 19. In a sci-fi way we are all now acolytes of Covid. Things are changing by the day and by the moment. Now there are 231 cases in Western Australia and 2799 Australia wide. I have bookmarked the website. I can be there in a single click. Working was possible only two days ago, but now this has largely stopped too. The vets implore policy makers to be considered “essential” but everything is relative and we become less essential as the enormity of what the country faces marches on.

It is our war time. With no bombs.

Vet clinics are asked to donate their animal ventilators for the human use. They too are running out of gloves and gowns. Rottnest rids itself of tourists and holiday makers and prepares to become a quarantine station for the cruise ship arrivals. The cruise ships sit detentioned, just out of the port – ostracised – patiently waiting to be allowed to dock before unloading their passengers who are now considered highly suspicious persons. No one wants them to set foot on land. And certainly don’t touch anything. Previously, seeing cruise ships I thought of streamers and majesty, felt slightly longing and in awe. I always wondered what it might be like to sleep in a cabin with the ocean as your view. Now they feel infected, awash with fomites and supporting the virus on their surfaces for up to 17 days. Its horn sounds. Pleads with the landlubbers.

The streets get emptier as more people stay home. #stayhome. Nevertheless sirens are heard. At the university fellow covidees are learning how to use distant teaching technologies with names like blackboard. Its name suggests something familiar, nostalgic, but it is no analogue blackboard from your primary school. No chalk dust. No nail on blackboard screeches. No puffs of pink powder. Students will be faceless and voiceless. All icons and emojis. They will be somewhere else, as you will be too. The instructor suggests making your lecture appear as split screen so the students can see your quizzical talking head. “50% more engaging for them” he says, whilst pixelating.

I get a tax bill.

I still get frequent flyer emails and I wonder why these haven’t stopped since there are no planes flying and nowhere we are allowed to go. Do Not Pass Peel.

Our tenant loses his job.

The teenagers still shoot hoops, but I stick my head out the gate and instruct them not to handle each others basket balls. I get a knowing nod. Milly and Tom are playing under the hose in their yard next door like it is any other summer day. The white cockatoos are noisily eating the olives and have had no change to their summer routine. The football goal posts have been erected on the oval despite the fact that no one is playing any sport. Still the council mow the lawns.

The things we can do: puzzles, meditate, walk the dog, look at the sky and see it is the same as before but without the planes, run if we are able, swim in the ocean if we can cross the sand, use technology, watch reruns of comedy, watch documentaries, play the ukulele, make stuff, knit, write, do craft, cook, bake, train the dog, look at the internet, listen to podcasts (but not coronacast), dance in front of your son while he tells you to stop, watch the news, apply a face mask (Elsa!), clean, spring clean again, clean better, watch clouds, stretch, garden, paint a picture, breathe, sleep, try to sleep, worry, look at your bank statement, write a letter, look at the sky, sing (not in front of your son), see the tree and admire her torso as her bark turns golden in the light of dusk.

The things we can’t do: see people who are not in our family unless we are doing something essential, sit close on the driveway with our neighbours, hang out at coffee shops, bars, restaurants, raves (if we ever did?), nightclubs (can’t recall the last time), go to parties (never been a fan away), weddings, funerals, bands (can never see the band for all the people), music festivals (find the grass too hard going), book club ( haven’t finished the book), catch ups, markets, sporting events, community clubs, have a massage, go the the physio, visit the hospital, visit old people, visit prisons, have assemblies, dance close, swipe right (that’s a thing right?), stand close to people we don’t know, dance in front of your son, cough or sneeze on them, touch them or hand them money or have them touch you, hug someone whose dog has died.

Being an introvert makes some of these things easier.

Working allows a respite from thinking about the virus and its impacts. For an hour or two the focus is someone’s dog and their issues. For a moment they seem important and worthy of our time. The person needs us. The dog does too. We can make a difference, with our advice and our medical opinion. The brain slips into something it finds comfort in and something that makes sense. Then we are back again as a “covidee”, finding ourselves down the wormhole of what the modelling suggests. The last time I felt this anxious was when I was a newly paralysed person. I was finally conscious enough to grasp my reality and I began to question if my paralysis was fixed, or whether there was a chance it could worsen. As I lay in ICU, searchingly viewing the square of sky through a window, I began to pick at the idea of an advancing, creeping paralysis through idiopathic spinal necrosis and my depleting function over time. I could move my arms now but what if that changed? I could feel my waist but what if that changed? I could breathe now but for how long? I was adjusting to the thought of being a paraplegic but what if I had to imagine being a quadriplegic? Strangely being a “covidee” makes me think of this again and with a deep sadness I recall that chest tightening feeling of not knowing what the future holds.