Hey, you! You’re not scared, I know. But I’m scared, of you.
You’re strong and healthy and don’t have to fear this virus, I understand. Perhaps I could’ve been happy for you, if I weren’t so afraid of you. That’s not an accusation, it’s a fact. You scare the living daylights out of me. Let me explain…
First, I’d like to tell you about a past experience that was scary. November 2016: I was hospitalised with a terrible pneumonia and fought for my life. I spent the first 12 days on the intensive care and that’s now one big blur of oxygen deprivation, fear, pain, mucus, trying to stay awake, and hoping the nurses were in time whenever I felt myself suffocating.
I remember my mother being sent home by the nurses because she wouldn’t leave my side, and I remember begging to have painful tubes shoved down my throat because I couldn’t breathe. I remember my sister visiting every day, and I remember looking forward to my 7am x-ray because that meant I had gotten through another night. I remember asking my mother to watch me closely because my eyes were falling shut but I was too scared to sleep. I remember thinking “I’m not done, this won’t be it” and the unspoken fear of never leaving that room.
For a long time afterwards I kept setting alarms, all throughout the night, because I still didn’t trust my lungs to breathe if I wasn’t paying attention. In time I learned to live again, to put my fear away where it belonged, and to carry on with my old ways and old life.
Now, back to the present day: yes, I’m scared of going back and reliving those memories. I’m scared of this virus that one half of the people can’t stop talking about, and the other half don’t take seriously enough. I’m scared of what happens when I get infected and fall ill from it, and I have quite the idea of what that looks like.
Though it’s scary to rely on machines to breathe for me, it’s much more fearsome to think there might not be a ventilator available. Because I’m much more scared of not reliving those blocked out memories. Of not staring at the hospital ceiling, not having painful tubes in my nose and throat and neck and arm, not having my oxygen levels blaring every half an hour or so.
I’m scared beyond belief that I won’t be able to count on the care, medical equipment, skilled doctors, experienced nurses and all the drugs I had last time around. I’m scared of having to face that kind of sickness and not being able to be treated.
And that’s where you fit into the picture. By now it’s common knowledge that this virus is unlike anything we’ve faced recently, and it’s most definitely not just a common flu. We all know how dangerous this is, for the elderly or immunocompromised like me, but also for healthier individuals. We’ve seen what it looks like when medical capacities are overstrained, it happened already in too many places, and what consequences that holds. Yet somehow, you close your eyes for these truths. You keep clinging onto the thought that you’re healthy and don’t need to be afraid. You keep going out and continue to fill up your life with activities (and people) everyone begs you not to.
Today, you go to the beach. You feel fine. Though unintentionally you infect another beach-goer, who by the way also feels fine. This person doesn’t know they’re carrying the virus, but passes it along to the lady in front of him in line at the supermarket. This supermarket woman decided to go out to her neighbour for just a quick coffee. It will only take an hour or so and besides, she feels fine. That neighbour passes the virus along to someone at the grocery store. That someone is the husband of my caregiver, who will help me out of bed tomorrow. Now, even though I’ve been over the top careful and have followed all the advices (and then some), sadly it’s gotten to me. That picture of 2016? That’s what’s now waiting for me, if I’m lucky.
Even though you don’t see it coming, that wave of destruction will hit. Because of your selfish actions our health care system gets overloaded. And when you and I have both fallen ill from the coronavirus, and there’s only one hospital bed left, I know who would get the last one of our 1.125 ICU beds. Shhh now, don’t be scared. You will be treated. You’re right, you’ve got nothing to fear, because you’re strong and healthy.
You are enabling this virus to spread like it will. You are the reason the oncoming storm will demand too much of our health care system and our medical capacities will be surpassed. You help it spread and you are the reason so many will get infected, and then when push comes to shove you will be chosen in their place because of your superior health.
What does that leave me with? Bitter anger towards you, for being so self-centred and naive. And a crippling fear of not getting the crucial medical help I need, a fear that’s far more powerful than my fear of this virus itself.
A fear which caused me to completely isolate myself, request my sister to temporarily move out of the house, and disinfect everything in sight. A fear which has led me to dig deep into my savings and purchase an oxygen machine for €3.000. Am I going crazy? Maybe. But I don’t know if I can count on one when I show up on the ER. Of course, I thought I could lend it to the hospital unless I have need of it. I’m not you.
I’m dead scared that I won’t be able to be treated and I’m compiling my own little station with old antibiotics I still had lying around, some new ones my doctor prescribed me, two stolen feeding tubes, and my more-precious-than-gold Cough Assist machine. Will it be enough? Truth is, if I get even slightly as sick as last time, it certainly won’t be. But it’s all I’ve got.
No, you won’t walk out of your front door, get infected and die. Wake up! This is not a zombie apocalypse or Hollywood movie. But you can infect other people, who infect other people, who may indirectly die because of you. Those deaths are so easily avoidable, I want to punch a wall with my weak dystrophy-arms out of frustration. No one is asking you to march to the front lines and pick up arms. All that you’re asked to do, is please keep distance. Don’t let this virus spread so fast. How simple can your task be? By slowing down the virus’ progression, hospitals are able to keep up with it. You can help hospitals to remain functioning and being able to treat everyone. You could, quite literally, save lives. Lots of them.
We’re in this together. We, the less fortunate, are relying on you to do the smart thing. Mine and other’s lives are in your hands. Please stay inside, practice social distancing and self-quarantine. What’s so hard to understand? Let’s all have our biggest fear in this situation be only the virus itself. Let’s prevent having to fear being rejected health care. Let’s prevent an actual massacre. All it takes is some temporary distance and for you to wake up. This too shall pass.
As I said, this is not a zombie apocalypse or Hollywood movie. You’re not asked to travel to Mordor and slay Sauron. Neither is the ending set in stone. The script is still being written, as we speak. With small heroic acts, you can change this into a less tragic ending.