Sunday, April 12, 2020

Is It Safe? 

Image from the Todd Haynes’ film, Safe, which pretty much looks like someone practicing safe social distancing.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?... Is it safe?

Babe: You're talking to me?

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Is what safe?

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: I don't know what you mean. I can't tell you something's safe or not, unless I know specifically what you're talking about.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Tell me what the "it" refers to.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Yes, it's safe, it's very safe, it's so safe you wouldn't believe it.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: No. It's not safe, it's... very dangerous, be careful.

This is a scene from the 1976 thriller, Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider but it could just as well be a scene between the public and the public health authorities during a COVID-19 press conference. In truth, we only know what we know. What we know is the only way to beat a virus is to avoid other people who may or may not have or even know they have the virus. The only way to do that is to stay home and avoid other people. To me and those of my ilk, this is not really a problem. As explained often, I’m almost neither here nor there about seeing other people, even ones I really like. I have been accused of being incapable of making an “emotional connection”. I’m not sure about that but I do know that I do not have the capacity to love any one person enough to share a tandem bicycle, or even a two-person kayak. Basically, I’m like a low maintenance house plant, I’m here when you need me, but it’s alright to forget to water me for a week. To some, being separated from others is like sucking all the joy and sunshine out of the world.

I do know it doesn’t help your anxiety to watch/listen/read the news media about the current epidemic. It’s hard to even think reasonably about the risk being constantly reminded about the numbers of people infected and dying. In the last month, I’ve worked from home every day, gone grocery shopping four times, been to the pharmacy three times, picked up take-out food twice and I’ve been to one medical treatment. That might sound like a lot but in normal times I leave my house every day for hours at a time. It fact, it would be odd to not to have left the house. In a normal year I probably get a couple of colds but think of the thousands of people I would come in contact with versus the dozens I have in the last thirty days. In Ontario there are currently about 7000 cases of COVID-19, out of a population of 14 million; that’s 0.05%. Knowing that makes me feel a little safer. It seems there's still a better chance of catching the COVID-19 virus than winning the lottery but the chance of catching it without leaving my house must be close to zero. In the last decade I’ve probably caught the flu a two or three times, but I usually get vaccinated, generally I don’t take public transportation and when I don’t feel great I just work from home. I’ve evaded the flu without taking many precautions so by holing up in my hidey-hole I should be fine. Right?

Still, I do not go out. I look out and wonder, is it safe? When I do go out it’s all a bit much. A hat to cover my scruffy head, dark glasses to cloak my reddened eyes, a homemade mask that does about what you would think it does, gloves, all while wearing the loosest coat and pants I own. A few days ago, I scrubbed myself down, oiled myself up, put on genuine trousers and ventured to a clinic to receive an injection I’ve been waiting almost two months for. I was required to stay for observation for two more hours during which time, I read, listened to a podcast and napped. Most days, like most people, I stay inside, wearing the same hooded sweatshirt and loose linen pants as the day before (the only clothes I own that my skin can tolerate). Most days I work, attending meetings, maybe finding time for a fifteen minute nap (yes, it’s true), then supper, then television, take pills, perform ablutions and bed. I haven’t taken on long lingering projects, but have repaired a laundry hamper and a canvas deck chair. Yesterday, I did laundry, read, napped, made a decent ragu without the proper ingredients, made phone calls, watched a film, took pills, performed my ablutions and went to bed. I dress simply, eat simply and perform simple routines. In a way, it can be introspective, peaceful and monastic. In other ways, it can be thoughtless, dull and relenting. Now I find myself waiting and hoping the injection I got a few days earlier to take some effect. All the while wondering, when will it be safe? Until then, I will return to my simple monk’s life of waking, washing, clothing, sitting, reading, napping, watching, listening and above all, waiting for the day when it will be safe.

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