Black Belt Mind – Notes From the Front Lines of COVID-19

April 6th 

DH’s brother, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, sends him an email warning of a possible shortage of certain types of blades. He recommends sterilizing and re-using them. Reading this, I’m uneasy about hospitals running out of brand-new and therefore indisputably sterile equipment. I’m also reminded that hospitals produce enormous amounts of waste, and wonder whether sterilizing equipment could become a viable and more environmentally-sound future practice.

The press continues to emphasize hospitals’ lack of protective equipment. I ask DH for an update. He tells me that his workplaces have managed their supplies in such a way to prevent them from running out. They’re expecting new shipments of masks. They’re also sterilizing protective equipment for re-use. I’m relieved that DH will be equipped to deal with the coming numbers, even while being guiltily aware that others won’t be as lucky as he.

April 8th

Wake up feeling under the weather with a stomach bug. I don’t understand where it came from since I haven’t been near anyone in weeks. It’s possible that DH passed something on to me. But he feels perfectly fine. This mysterious illness worries us.

I read a piece by Sandeep Jauhar in the New York times entitled “In a Pandemic, do Doctors Still Have a Duty to Treat?”.

I consider Jauhar’s question on a daily basis. Doctors are being asked to make the near-impossible choice of practicing medicine under unsafe conditions or not practicing at all.

I’m surprised to read that doctors have been in this predicament throughout history. Jauhar writes “During the Antonine Plague of A.D. 165 to 180, none other than the venerable Galen, one of history’s most famous physicians, fled Rome. Such behavior [sic] was so common that in 1382, Venice passed a law forbidding doctors from taking flight in times of plague.”

He writes that in 1986, the American College of Physicians and the Infectious Diseases Society of America issued a joint declaration that health care workers must provide care to their patients, “even at the risk of contracting a patient’s disease.”

Jauhar concludes that although doctors have an ethical responsibility to treat their patients, that responsibility is not unconditional. Society also has a responsibility toward its doctors. Citizens have an obligation to practice social distancing, for example. They also need to provide doctors with masks.

Jauhar writes: “Social order relies on reciprocity. Imposing outsize burdens on one group without sacrifice from others is unfair. Doctors and nurses and other health care workers may be heroes in this pandemic, but we will not be martyrs.”

When I bring up Jauhar’s article to DH, he frames the issue more darkly: “What good does it do to society to have a bunch of dead doctors?”

My inbox is filled with promotions. I’ve noticed that the crisis has narrowed my material desires. I no longer want to shop for clothes, for example. Under normal circumstances, I love clothes – a preoccupation that’s a constant source of guilt. I once read a passage in Virginia Woolf’s diary where she admitted to a passion for clothes; I felt duly relieved.

Lately, my wants have been narrowed down to food, affection from my loved ones, and the written word.

April 9th

I’ve recovered from my slight illness. DD now has my stomach bug. I continue to stay away from DH, wash my hands religiously, and tell DD to do the same.

Still trying to work out how to get work done. I’ve taken on two writing and editing contracts. Under normal circumstances this development would be fantastic. But now I don’t know how I’ll manage.

Contemplate getting up at 5 a.m., along with DH. Instead I get up at 6 a.m. and do physiotherapy and yoga. I’m determined to heal my hip by the end of the pandemic, at which point I’ll be able to return to karate full-time.

I have a hard time getting to work. I haven’t been sleeping well. I wake up regularly at 3 a.m. and use that time – quite productively – to worry about a number of issues: the world, DH, my children.

After yoga, I manage to do a little work, and put Mouche in front of the television, accomplishing a little more.

April 11th

Struggling with a lack of motivation, I consider cancelling our weekly hike. Our nerves are frayed. We could use some time apart. The other day, DS swore, loudly. When I admonished him, he protested: “you swear all the time!” I had to admit that he was right – although a little exaggerated. “It’s the pandemic,” I said. I promised him I would try to do better.

Today we’re hiking in the Durham region. Although the parking lot is closed, a sign informs us that the trail is open. I’m relieved: I’d been afraid of having to make the potentially unethical decision – not to mention an unlawful one – to hike on a closed trail.

The air is cold – we’ve taken our winter coats back out of storage – but it’s sunny. The trail is windy and hilly. Mouche asks me why it’s harder to go up than down, so I give him a lesson in the law of gravity. He flies down each hill, yelling, full of joy.

On our way home we listen to the All Songs Considered podcast’s episode on John Prine, who died this week of COVID-19. Angel From Montgomery is one of my favourite songs of all time. Grateful for the beauty of Prine’s melodies and the genius of his storytelling, I cry through most of the episode.

We return home, refreshed. The kids pick up their screens. We persuade Mouche to watch Curious George. DH and I resume our weekly habit of re-watching Battlestar Galactica, a show we consumed as graduate students years ago, before we had children.

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