A personal brush with CoVid-19….

A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic. 
Attributed to Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference by the author Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko.
When one is writing non-fiction, the books one inevitably buys pile up. Last week an order of new shelves arrived and by Sunday I was ready to put up a few banks of them in the least cluttered part of my library and decant the tall forty inch piles collecting on my stairs and around my work desk into something I could access titles from. I’d been having a sense of tightness across my chest and occasionally sharp pains for a few weeks but as a long-term chronic asthmatic chest pain is not an unfamiliar experience. Just as I finished the work and before I started moving books I had a prolonged episode of intense pain and rested up to let it pass. By the following day and after some episodes of further intense chest pain, accompanied by jaw and neck pain and fainting, I called my GP and was given an interview at the surgery a lot of sensible distancing. After an treatment room electrocardiograph reading suggested the possibility of seriously unstable angina I was referred to my local A & E for emergency tests and after an x-ray and blood tests pretty much confirmed the diagnosis I was admitted to Cardiology.
However, the heart attack was, darkly speaking, pretty much the very best bit! I’ll quote what I emailed to a friend on the second day in the ward when I was devastatingly suspected of having contracted CoViD 19:
“Drama! My ultrascan testing was stopped in its tracks and I was recalled to the ward because scaring to my lungs was noticed as present on the X-rays from yesterday. I’ve just had the CoVid 19 swab test and everything is now on hold until the results come in (one day wait I’m told). I’ve been listening to the doctors talking about this and immediately cancelling my trip to the Royal this afternoon. It’s 23 days since I conducted the last history tour, 21 days since I saw my co-author as he’s travelling, and seventeen days since my visit to Ikea for a few new shelves for art materials. I’ve seen no-one outside of the home close up since. The medical professionals think it unlikely I’ve actually had an exchange with anyone infectious but have to check, and hold off on testing my angina until they know for sure.
But if by some freak I’ve caught it, the ventilators here are currently still all free….
So probably as good timing as can really be expected …… “
I was in isolation in a private room for about day, while the test went through, knowing full well that if I’d contracted the virus, with the heart attack, and my generally weakened state, and numerous vulnerabilities on the public tick list, it was effectively a death sentence. The test eventually came back negative and I was rushed instantly from the private room in the isolation unit back to a normal ward which I shared with two witty and interesting Antrim born octogenarians, and the battery of tests and blood samples for unstable angina continued where they had left off just a day earlier.
Finally I was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital (where I was born – it’s always a delight to be in a position to claim publicly in my Anglo-Irish accent that I was born on the Falls Road!!!) for an Angiography to see if I potentially had partly blocked valves and if stents were to be needed…..
During the procedure at the Royal I got talking to a nurse about Slugger “everyone here reads it! It’s the best.”….
A detail of the Angiography procedure I went through is that the dye used is “fish based”. I casually mentioned my rather serious sea food allergy, (this last tested at the New York premiere of a film I’d been a rather unimportant producer on, with a subsequent fortnight with a greatly debilitating allergic reaction), just as I was being wheeled to the operating theatre, and was told, “yes, I could have had a serious allergic reaction to the dye too” (“anaphylaxis”), causing dizziness, serious breathing difficulties or even a complete loss of consciousness!!! They luckily used the alternative dye of course on finding out…
The care on all levels was excellent and I’d almost forgotten just how really fine a teamwork the NHS can deploy. I’m told I just have to keep my blood pressure down in my Slugger comments, but considering my usual only just controlled “sæva Indignatio” and with numerous supporters of Westminster on Slugger casually recommending the polite, politically acceptable English version of genocide for the likes of me, in the form of the “Herd Immunity” policy, that might just be rather harder than usual……
On a more serious note, I’ve always recognised the great value of every individual life and believe that the “save as many as possible no matter what the cost” is the only acceptable strategy. I have been very lucky (so far!) but others will not be, and had I the authority I would move heaven and earth to save as many as can be saved, rather than endorsing a terrifying policy of attrition intended to build up a still questionable general immunity.
The debate publicly is being conducted with what are usually arguments over meta-narratives which abstract the real concrete experience of death and dismiss casually the tragedy of loss. As Stalin cynically pointed out in my lead quote regarding potential losses to the western allies, the shocking reality for each and every individual can casually be reduced to statistics, an asset of the state simply liquidated out of an ill-perceived necessity. Personally I feel I have a lot more research and a lot more analytic historical work to carry out, which I’d be sad not to fully complete, but the other people in the wards and the people serving the hospitals at every level each has a unique experience of the world which we collectively as a community are going to be all poorer for loosing. Every consideration must inevitably come second to the necessary saving of human lives, for as I’ve said elsewhere in Slugger in recent days, any economy can be revitalised as the recovery from many financial crashes and from almost unimaginable post-war chaos has oft-times shown us, but the dead simply cannot be brought back to us as easily.

Photo by Alexas_Fotos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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