Looking after your own

We are living in a moment when there is evident risk to every soul on earth. We worry for the people we love if not for ourselves. My good friend, young and healthy, has just spent a week in hospital and 4 days in intensive care in a personal battle with this virus. It is a depressingly passive experience lying with plastic lines and tubes, depending on oxygen, coughing discretely when others are around. All the while alone, removed from family and friends. Dying was a real possibility. We talked about it on the phone. The virus spread and wreaked havoc in her family. Her three children had both parents in hospital for a few days, all separated and unable to help each other. This was in Australia in a street near you.

Behind the face shields in intensive care, others hovered, their eyes concerned, concentrating but creasing kindly when looking into another. A gloved tap on the arm, and patience with the endless shuffling of bedpans required by a person whose dignity lives only in facing this dark unmeasured threat to their life. It is a kind of love. These caring people matter immensely. To all of us. Time will inevitably take quite a few of us to the edge of this slippery chasm held back by special people decorated only with gowns and gloves and masks. There will be no one else.

Meanwhile the children danced and played with some delight with a visiting aunt who, recovering from the disease, found herself taking care of energised children who were not allowed out. Their young bodies unaffected and one, despite coughing a little like the rest of the family, could not manage to give a positive swab to the persistent masked visitors in gowns. Like other children around the world, they were somehow protected from its power; the younger, the stronger even if afflicted with other conditions. Cryptonite of youth.

It is a wonder of this condition that the deaths that occur mirror almost perfectly the ‘natural’ rates of death in the community. It is for this reason that despite reaching 4,000 deaths in Italy, this virus had not taken a single life under the age of 30. The problem for all of us is that this ‘natural’ curve of human attrition is delivered over a period of 14 days, and the other health problems facing us do not go away. It is a massive impost on health care and society and a disaster facing us all. But it still has this compassionate element – to take we older folk in stark preference. We, who want nothing more than for our children to outlive us.

Health care workers, paramedics and aged care workers are now the farmers in the drought, the police on Saturday night and the firefighters of the summer. We are needed desperately, our attention, our care and compassion. We will be needed for sometime and it could be dangerous. Some are going to catch the virus. It is going to be tough, but it is going to be much tougher for the older members of our professions. The haunting image of an aged care home in Spain, abandoned by carers who may themselves have been sick, must guide our future.

I hear some of my colleagues saying they did not sign up for this, or they have a young family. This is stark. The younger you are, the safer you are. Society needs young health professionals to step forward and engage. Your older colleagues will be there with you but there will be no equality when the virus hits. This is a real test of civility, of commitment to society.

We sit under a cloud of adversity, wondering what will become of us, of our loved ones. Will we come through this, will we all survive? But we are your own. Please take care of us.