When this is over, will it be “over”?

by Carolyn Thomas    ♥   @HeartSisters

This week, author Charles Wu wrote a compelling piece in The Atlantic, in which he said:

“Human civilization – thanks to advancements in science, medicine, social and governmental structures – exists inside a bubble, protected from the kind of cataclysmic event we are currently experiencing.”

Wu makes a solid point about this “bubble”, particularly for those of us living with a chronic and progressive illness like heart disease, which makes us particularly vulnerable to the “cataclysmic event” called COVID-19.        

I must add that Wu is a Columbia University-trained corporate lawyer-turned-TV-writer-turned novelist living in California, so he might  be forgiven for omitting in that sentence what he really means: “human civilization in first world countries

Developing countries may or may not enjoy the advancement privileges that he (or I) enjoy, and it could be further argued that many neighbourhoods within his own United States do not take  privileges for granted either.

It can take a global pandemic to remind us that any modern advantage we enjoy exists only within this fragile bubble, described by Wu as having a “thin layer that pops easily”.

Now, events that were once considered inviolable – sending our kids to school, for example, or weddings, graduations, even funerals – are now postponed indefinitely. Lineups for both food banks and toilet paper hours long. Nursing homes filled with COVID-19 infected seniors whose families are not allowed to hold their hands while they are dying.

That bubble has popped.

But the centre of that bubble, the part that will persist long after current COVID-19 precautions are lifted, according to Wu, is the psychological bubble that many of us still cling to.

“What we really mean when we say that this pandemic feels ‘unimaginable’ is that we had not imagined it. Even as our stark new reality becomes clear, it remains hard to accept that ‘normal’ was the fiction. 

“It will take some time to let go of the long-held, seldom-questioned assumptions of everyday life: that tomorrow will look like yesterday, next year like the last.

“The current pandemic crisis and our responses to it (both individual and institutional) have reminded us that it’s not the unreality of the pandemic, but the illusions shattered by it: the grand, shared illusion that we are separate from nature, that life on Earth is generally stable, not precarious.”

Within a few short months, we have graduated together from a crash course that teaches us how unstable our life on this precious earth can indeed be, as precarious as it has always been for others who are “not like us”.

As many seem to believe, bad things are what happen to other people. And if they do happen to us (through death or divorce or a life-altering medical diagnosis), we will somehow survive by clutching at trite platitudes like “Everything happens for a reason!” or “God never gives you more than you can handle!”

What we’ve been experiencing during this COVID-19 crisis is a thin sliver of the catastrophic reality happening worldwide, far beyond the perimeter of our cozy bubbles: devastating droughts, famine, earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, war zones, refugee camps and other sources of fear and suffering that we mistakenly believe will never touch us.

Here’s a closer-to-home example: consider the people we see interviewed on the news whose homes are built in the middle of a floodplain. Decade after decade, tearful families share truly awful stories of being homeless after yet another devastating flood, as if surprised this could have happened to them. Again.

Julie Morse once interviewed her neighbours in western Washington state about this phenomenon. It’s an area so prone to flooding that rivers there have reached flood stage more than 1,400 times in the last 20 years. Yet people continue to rebuild their flood-damaged homes on floodplains (usually with the assistance of government-funded disaster relief programs) – as if they can’t believe they live on a flood plain. They cannot accept that reality.

Of course, we long for a return to the way our lives were, pre-COVID-19, but first we need to accept reality, and to learn what the countries affected before us have had to learn.

When physical distancing, stay-home protocols and travel restrictions are abandoned, this novel coronavirus will almost certainly re-emerge in a second wave, just as it is now doing in Singapore, China, and other areas. And an effective vaccine is at least 18 to 24 months away, despite the unfounded quickie promises of politicians who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Now is not the time to weaken important public safety precautions that are based on protecting the common good.

The end of the COVID-19 virus crisis won’t be like shutting off a tap, although we may dream longingly about how great it will be “when this is over”.

My five-year old granddaughter Everly Rose asks me, “When can we have sleepovers at your house again, Baba?” 

One day, precious girl, one day. . .

That dream will take time, likely far more time than we can even guess at this point. Do not be surprised to see that the COVID-19 news reports will continue to include scary lists of new confirmed cases, new hospitalizations, and new deaths as people begin too early to abandon public precautions.

For those living with chronic illness who have been white-knuckling through the weeks and months of self-isolation, scared to catch this virus, it’s especially important for us to acknowledge reality instead of politicized bafflegab.

First, hospitals and medical specialists, for example, will be busy playing catch-up, treating worsening medical conditions of those whose treatments have been delayed by more urgent COVID-19 priorities. See also: Empty beds: when heart patients are afraid to seek help

Charles Wu concludes his unique perspective in The Atlantic with a nod to the lived reality of the majority of the globe’s citizens:

“Things aren’t necessarily going to be okay in a reasonable time frame just because we want them to be.

To think otherwise is to succumb to the fiction, a sheltered, resource-rich mindset, presumably not shared by the billions of people who have long lived in volatile conditions and are thus under no such illusions.”

People whose expertise and experience have been built on global front lines studying how pandemics actually work will not be making idle promises to patch up that magic bubble for us.

Please. Stay safe.

Q:  Are we too willing to give up public safety COVID-19 precautions?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  I wrote much more about how heart patients manage health crises in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease.  You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).

See also:

It’s okay not to feel “normal”

Scary times: living with (but not IN) fear

Let’s all be palm trees together” in facing COVID-19

COVID-19: Can facts help to minimize fears?

CardioSmart  (a report from the American College of Cardiology on how COVID-19 affects heart patients)

11 thoughts on “When this is over, will it be “over”?

  1. Carolyn, I always enjoy your weekly articles. However this week you nailed it. It’s as if you were reading my mind.

    I am so thankful to know someone else sees so clearly what others are blind to. Thank you for sharing your insight.

    Stay safe, stay healthy and Stay The Course.
    Jo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Jo and thanks very much for this. I’m not a mind reader at all, of course – but I do believe that our reactions are so often more aligned than not.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a kind comment. Stay safe out there… ♥

      Like

  2. Thank you for this excellent post. I appreciate all your writing but this especially resonates.

    When a friend told me that I’d probably be sheltering until an immunization, I gasped, slowly absorbing this new reality.

    At the same time, I am in regular contact with the family I lived with in Peru during Peace Corps training 12 years ago. The fragility of their situation as well as their resilience in quarantine keeps me in perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sara – I too have been doing a lot of gasping, especially the first time I hear of yet another event being cancelled (“Whaaaat?! Another one??!”) It takes me a while for each new change or bit of sad news to sink in – even as I’m totally aware that these precautions are all for the greater good.

      Your experience with your Peruvian family seems like a good way to help yourself toward a unique perspective – I hope that witnessing resilience like theirs will help you in your own adjustment to sheltering in place.

      Please stay safe…. ♥

      Like

  3. For an Easter post on my HeART of Spirituality blog these were my prayers:

    I pray the lesson of sacrifice will not be lost when the world once again returns to work, play and interaction.  

    I pray we do NOT squander the opportunity for rebirth and renewal by returning to what was “normal” with the inequalities, prejudices, self-serving practices and intransient ideologies. 

    I pray this pandemic makes humans deeply understand we are ALL connected in ways known, unknown and, above all, SPIRITUAL.  

    I pray the human race learns that love and compassion is what binds us and ego is what divides us.

    I pray the loss and pain this virus has created gives us sustained focus & courage to make this a better world.  God has given us free will. Our choices determine our future.

    Stay safe and SANE Carolyn, we all need you.
    xxxxx
    j

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that Easter prayer, judyJudith! And also the name of your blog series “HeART of Spirituality” (I see what you did there….)

      I wanted to say something in response to that second part of the prayer (“squandering opportunity for rebirth and renewal by returning to what was ‘normal’ “) Hooooo boy, that’s a good one. And one of the most important ones, if we can only continue to remember these days.

      It reminds me of the really dismal stats on how many heart attack survivors slowly but surely, once the traumatic shock of initial diagnosis wears off, start smoking again, or stop exercising or taking their meds or any of the good things they were so desperate to start doing in the early stages when they were in the ‘bargaining’ phase of the trauma, e.g. “If I survive this, then I’ll _________” (fill in the blank with appropriate lifestyle improvements!) For example: a Canadian study (Teo et al, 2013) on over 7,500 survivors of cardiovascular disease in 17 countries found that:

      – 18 percent continued to smoke
      – 65 percent did not exercise
      – over 60% did not improve their diet

      So I’m trying very hard these days to imprint the changes I’ve observed and appreciated since self-isolation began so they don’t start vaguely dissolving over time…

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. Stay safe… ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I live in America and I see the vast immaturity and selfishness of those who are defying shelter in place recommendations…They will probably help usher in the second wave…and I shake my head.

    What was “cool”, taking one for the country, is no longer cool if it makes them too uncomfortable AND they can point to an immature selfish President to fan the fire of their views.

    It takes daily work to remain positive but realistic and not become disheartened. I was glad to hear some mature rhetoric this morning that let me know the protests are not as wide spread as the media portrays them.

    I believe that data and science need to guide reopening as hard and as long as it might take.

    Many lessons to learn in these days… don’t miss a minute of self-reflection on pretending yesterday will return.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for that perspective, Jill. I see the pictures of those re-opened Florida beaches and cringe. But that reopening wasn’t the result of a relatively small group of immature or selfish anti-restriction protestors – that’s an official government decision to deny reality. That’s what’s so horrifying!

      I embrace your definition of “positive but realistic”, and will keep trying to maintain that. I know that I have zero control over those spoiled brats at the beach or those marching in protests. All I can do is to keep doing what I can personally do to keep myself and my family safe for as long as it takes, one day at a time…

      Meanwhile, I choose to trust data and science. Stay safe out there… ♥

      Like

    2. Your comment would have had more clout if you had omitted the childish and trite dig at the President, who is doing a great job according to many people.

      Like

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