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In Episode 42 of his new book Life in a Time of Plague, author Julian Roup notes a million fewer hospital visits for fear of Covid-19.
In case you missed Episode 41, click here.
Life in a Time of Plague
Sussex, 15th May 2020
By Julian Roup
The numbers of people attending Accident and Emergency departments at hospitals each day has halved, a medical spokesman reports today. He says the reason is largely fear of picking up the virus. So, heart and cancer patients who need to attend for regular check-ups are just not pitching up. There are also admittedly fewer car accidents, as far fewer people are out driving, compared to normal times.
A&E visits in England have fallen to their lowest figure on record, as people stay away during the coronavirus outbreak. Figures published by NHS England show that 917,000 attendances were recorded in April 2020, down 57 per cent from 2.1 million in the same month last year. The latest number is the lowest for any calendar month since current records began in August 2010. NHS England said the fall was “likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response”. So more than one million people, some doubtless in dire need of medical help, have stayed away from hospital. What a vote winner this virus and our Government’s handling of it will prove to be.
I am waiting to hear our Prime Minister claim that Britain has become unexpectedly healthy under his guidance, with a million less people needing hospital treatment. You think that’s outrageous? Just wait for it, it’s coming to a newspaper or radio station near you. Too cynical by half? If only!
A BBC London reporter, Sarah Lee, interviews nurse Louise Wigginton, who has been fighting to save the lives of Covid-19 infected patients. She says that it breaks her heart to see people so desperately ill, and at the same time, observe groups of young people outside the hospital where she works, simply ignoring the social distancing rule and meeting in large groups. She says: “We expect another peak. How many more people can we watch die this terrible death? For how many years will I hear the cries of the families saying goodbye over Skype? We can only take so much. We are not heroes; we have no special superpowers to deal with this. And if we fall, who will look after you then? “She pleaded for people not to let her and her colleagues’ trauma be for nothing.
As if by serendipity, I hear a spokesman for the psychiatric profession call for treatment of frontline NHS staff for post-traumatic stress syndrome [PTSD], a condition often suffered by soldiers on their return from war zones. I hope that Louise hears this too, and gets help for herself; and that her thousands of colleagues are treated too. We do not want them to fall.
I sit in the garden and type like crazy, driven on by fury and by the fact that I will be 70 shortly, and I feel the shadows on my lawn lengthen every day. I so wish to make 70; it has a nice symmetry. However, time is running out for me, whether through Covid-19, or simple wear and tear. So I want to finish this book. I want to leave my thoughts on this time for my kids and any future grandkids. It may well prove to be my best attempt to have a last word. So many voices have been silenced, so many. Some of them would surely have agreed with me that their lives were stolen from them as much by political incompetence as by Covid-19.
As I type, I am aware of the lovely scent of the yellow climbing Peace rose that scales the side of the stables. Its hard, bright yellow buds pale in time to a softer butter shade. I planted it with my mother in mind, as the Peace rose was her favourite. So, as I write, I am gently enfolded by a scent that reminds me of my beloved mother. In many ways, she is as present to me and in me as when she was alive, maybe more so. Her wisdom and humour, her irreverence and groundedness, her earthiness, are the things about her that I treasure. And for each of those qualities, I can think of stories that illustrate them. Stories that make me smile. If I have inherited my father’s mind, it is perhaps my mother’s soul that keeps me going. I can hear her voice as clear as a bell, and her comment on the issue of our time: “Ag ja ou wereld, wat is jou waarde? Al wat oorbly is stof!” (Oh yes old world, what is your worth? All that remains is dust!) She would tell me to be humble: “Wees maar die minste.” (Be prepared to be the lesser one, referencing marriage). And she would quote too, her favourite line from Revelations: “In die einde van dae, sal jy gesigte sien en droome droom.” (In the end of days, you will see faces and dream dreams).” And finally, as though it would cheer me up, she’d say: “Onkruid vergaan nie.” (You can’t kill weeds.) I learned some wisdom from her.
My father is here too in spirit, no doubt. How shocked he would be to see me now, at almost 70, grey haired, silver bearded. But his main interest would be a critical view of our current dilemma, and he would say two things I know for certain. He would minimise the threat by saying: “What looks like a mountain now will look like a molehill, looking back.” And he would also say, referencing lost jobs and lost opportunities “When one door closes, another opens.” And add:” Aanhou wen! (Keeping on keeping on wins the day). These favourite sayings of his have helped me through many dark days, no less now. And he would add in my mother’s Afrikaans, referring to our present leadership: “Trap jy in kak, dan stink jy.” (If you step into shit, then you’ll stink).”
Well, as a nation, we have sure stepped into merde with this lot. And we only have ourselves to blame. We can’t say we weren’t warned; we had years to observe Boris at work and play. He did not get into Number 10 by mistake, but by a landslide. And noting this fact, my Dad would use another Afrikaans expression about that election: ”Die wat nie wil luister nie moet voel!” (Those who won’t listen [to warnings], must learn [by feeling the pain]).”
He would consider the actions of the professional politicians who make up the government and he would add another favourite expression: “God save me from the professionals.” Usually referring to lawyers, accountants, doctors as well as politicians.
My father would want to know what I earned last year and how much the lockdown was costing me. He would want to know what I was making on Life in a Time of Plague, and would be shocked to know that no money had changed hands with BizNews, just the opportunity to publicise the book. That would puzzle him greatly.
By the time he was done with his cross-questioning, I would be exhausted. Being right so often does not necessarily endear you to a person. And he was more often right than wrong. I am still a beneficiary of his many shrewd financial decisions.
A short BBC story catches my attention: A group of macaque monkeys in the United States have done well on a new coronavirus vaccine, recovering well after being given the Covid-19 virus, and similar human tests are already underway. Help is at hand, the cavalry are coming, we just have to keep our heads down until they arrive. I hope those monkeys live long and happy lives, and that their carers love them.
As I walk into the house to make a cup of tea, I notice the marks the virus has left on our home. In the TV room there is a long gun chest in yellowwood, piled high with post for us and for Dom and Steph, decontaminating, and in the kitchen, the hum of the dishwasher is silent and the hand-washed crockery is piled high, and in the toaster down button, there is a wooden spoon stuck to keep the toaster on when needed – the one that caused the fire. Normally, this equipment would have been fixed with one phone call, but for now, that must wait, and we must make and mend and manage as best we can. There are greater challenges to face, but these small markers are a reminder of the rampaging bear outside the cottage.
It has been a beautiful day. Besides writing, I went to pay Callum a visit as I do each morning, down in his field below the cottage. This morning I found we were out of carrots so I grabbed a handful of cream crackers for him. He trotted over as usual, swinging his head but was not too sure about the cream crackers until I mashed one up in my hand and then he got stuck into them with a will. As he ate, I stroked his beautiful muscled neck, the skin like silk, but warm with it. This is a horse that loves being groomed and will drop his head in sheer bliss as the brushes move over him. I look forward to seeing the world once more from between his ears.
When next we next set forth out into the woods and the wide reaches of Ashdown Forest, it will be into a new world that we will be riding. But if I am once more astride this horse, the world can send what it wants; we will cope.
Click here for Episode 43.
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