By Dr Siân Davies (Associate Specialist in Palliative Medicine)
This began because the young man on the news said, ‘I’ve had enough of this, why can’t we just go back to … normal’
I wanted to respond, in exasperation... ‘but, treasure, do you not understand ...we can’t!’ It may be because I work in Palliative Care that I hold this perspective. I see, something has died. I appreciate that sadly, tragically, people have died… and so have livelihoods, but something else has also died and we cannot go back.
We have, perhaps, lost the ‘old’ illusions of certainty and invulnerability, the ‘old’ innocence and naivety; somehow a glimpse of impermanence has reawakened the sense of our mortality in our individual consciousness.
For certain, this sense of impermanence existed in the very being of my parents, who had lived through WW2. We too now suddenly see the air that we breathe as ‘unsafe’; it may have always been polluted, but we didn’t necessarily see it as such. Now that we do, it cannot be unseen. And, I feel that this sense of loss of the illusion of ‘certainty’ may be true, even for those lightly ‘touched’ by the virus and its mortality or ‘long-covid’ consequences and those minimally affected by the impact of lockdowns. So if there has been a death of ‘certainty’, then we must all be bereaved; and grief and its Kübler-Ross-(ian) stages would be relevant to us all. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It would seem to me that ‘society’ is stumbling around and through these stages without direction or understanding. And, for whatever reason, our Prime Minister, like Michael Palin in the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch, has attempted to confirm that the Parrot of ‘Normality’ Will Live! …. ‘In 12 weeks’ time; by September’; ‘it’ll be re-alive by Christmas’…and indeed, it will be a ‘World-beating Parrot”… It seems he is lost in an interminable reiteration, somewhere within Denial and Bargaining….?
I then become weary of the ‘Absolute Deniers’… seemingly transfixed in their own particular stage, because I feel that there is a gap in the full circle that must be closed. I appreciate that it is not a simple example of ‘cause and effect’. However, we cannot ever escape causality or consequence entirely; or indeed responsibility and some form of moral compass.
This may not be the place for philosophising or theologising. But, but – less people would catch the virus if more people chose to take responsibility for their place in this; their place in increasing the spread of the virus. Our humanity, still acknowledges we have some moral responsibility; and that ‘just letting it happen’ is somehow, (though debated) wrong. So if more people continue to choose not to hold and cherish this responsibility for society, then there will be more deaths and grief; businesses failing, lockdowns and quarantines and this will go on and on.
I then come to why I am, personally, weary of the Absolute Deniers… It means that we return to another Season; of mists, mellow fruitfulness sliding gracefully to frosty morn and icicles hanging… and Winter Pressures. Last Easter was difficult for us locally in West London, and this was a position reached starting from a ground-zero of no infections. It was difficult, even with the enabled opportunity of ‘postponing’ pretty much everything that we did in the ‘old’ normal. I accept that some of the PPE issues and ‘test-track-trace’ may be improved and indeed, we may manage to circumnavigate the moon,… But, we then have the new challenges of post-Brexit supply issues; and the overwhelmingly morally-essential care for the entire population of ‘nonCovid’ people whose treatment is already foreshortened, delayed or denied; if they remain alive long enough to receive treatment and care. This is in addition to caring for those so sadly, and significantly affected by the infection itself.
How will our ‘green’ and ‘red’, socially distanced hospital corridors survive? Will it mean another Winter Pressure of dealing with grief and the utter desolation of those distanced from those they love? Or, standing on door-steps, ringing doorbells; in apron, mask and gloves, aware of the trepidation our every visit engenders; that we will bring ‘it’ in, in spite of our best intentions?
Of counting out the days, for us as individuals, often in multiples of 14 days, from encounters with the most ‘symptomatic’ COVID-19 patients, or the most ‘suboptimal’ infection control measures, we last experienced. Have I caught it this time?
So, finally, and at last; the other thing that may have died, is the interpretation, often, wrongly, placed on the phrase, ‘There is no such thing as Society’. Because we are joined and linked – like shipwrecked souls balancing on a raft – you tip one end, and the other is affected. We are all in the same boat.
Dr Sian Davies is an Associate Specialist in Palliative Medicine.This article was originally published in nhsManagers.net on 14th September 2020.