Be Smart, Be Careful, and Be Well: The COVID-19 Post

I just got a delightful voice message from fellow Lokean E, asking me to update her on the situation in my city and making sure I’ve got plans in place, etc. She ended the message by saying, and I quote, “I worry about you, you and the cats and Loki alone in your place- oh, [your city] won’t survive.  You can’t be alone with the cats and Loki for however long . . . that’s just a hot mess waiting to happen.” And I cackled loudly, because she’s right. I love the way her concern flipped from me to the very survival of my city in the span of a heartbeat. It was a beautiful thing to hear, and I listened to it several times to transcribe the above, and that moment of realization was hilarious each and every time. My cats and I are already threats to public decency. . . add Loki to the mix with a little cabin fever? Hmmmmm . . .

In any case, I was already halfway through writing the below when I got that message, so here we go, for anyone who’s wondering about what’s going on in my corner of civilization.

As a plague freak, I’ve been watching this coronavirus thing since December. For over 20 years, I’ve obsessively studied bubonic plague, and for over 10 years my focus has been on the influenza pandemic of 1918; my home decor leans heavy on plague doctor dolls and WWI imagery. In fact, the picture above is a commissioned piece I got from a local artist (shout out to Bobby Zeik, yo)  based on a novel I’ve been writing about a (fictional, duh) WWI plague doctor. My interests have a fun way of overlapping and merging together. And yes, yes that’s Danvers State Hospital in the background. Have I ever mentioned my bachelor’s degree in is clinical pysch? My college transcripts for undergrad and mortuary school are full of courses on abnormal psych, clinical practice, pathology, criminology, forensics and chemistry, theology, and infectious diseases — all of which are key themes in that novel of mine. My personal library is more of the same. My obsessions are never phases, they just evolve and morph into one another over the years. But plagues and pandemics have always been my thing, so I’ve been tracking COVID-19 info closely since December, when it started making international news.

Also, as a mortician, I’m pretty desensitized to infectious stuff (I still practice universal precautions daily, but once you’ve embalmed someone who was ravaged by necrotizing fasciitus, aka flesh-eating disease, with minimal PPE, you stop being panicky about things). Flu is something I’ve always taken super seriously, so all of the guidelines being put out by various officials are things I do during flu season anyway. It’s just business as usual for me and my family (my mom is also a pox-freak; I inherited my morbid fascination and flu caution from her). Again, mortuary experience and the education that preceded it have done a lot to mitigate the fear for me and mine these days.

So since December I’ve been the office go-to for coronavirus info. So far, everything I’ve predicted is accurate. This isn’t a boast, it’s just that I’ve been hearing a lot of “you called it” from people lately. Even with new viruses, patterns are patterns, and when you’ve spent two decades scrutinizing data, trends, and reporting from past pandemics, it doesn’t take a psychic to predict timelines and impacts. I’m a nerd, and it’s interesting to watch a new plague unfold in real-time and see how it mirrors historical diseases. And it’s interesting, but simultaneously irritating, to see public panics and media sensationalism. That’s not to say this isn’t to be taken seriously: it absolutely should be, and people should be taking necessary precautions to minimize the spread of the disease. The panic raids on toilet paper and water are a little over the top, though, and the fear-mongering running rampant on social media is a bit extreme. And I’m very concerned for the well-being of friends who are high-risk with underlying medical problems. Luckily my friends and kin are smart and calm and taking appropriate measures, but still, hard to not fret about them.

I’m also concerned about the impact this could have on my trip to Iceland in April. But that’s because I’m a selfish asshole and I really, really don’t want to miss out on my return to the only place I’ve ever been homesick for. What will be will be, but I’d rather it be in Cafe Loki in Reykjavik with some coffee and rye bread ice cream. If I have to quarantine, it would be nicer to isolate in my room at Hotel Odinsve and lounge in the loft with a stack of books. But then again, I’d very much miss the nursing care my cats provide when I’m unwell, so then again, maybe I’d rather isolate in my house with my two rumbly-purred sentient heating pads.

In any case, the world’s a bit of a mess right now, but it’s nothing new, nothing it hasn’t witnessed before. As someone who grew up in chaos, whose default state of being is one of chaos, this too is nothing new. It’s just a larger scale, and it’s weird to see so many people being panicky and anxious while I for once am fairly calm. This is a role reversal that I’ve rarely experienced, and it’s curious in and of itself. For the most part, it’s business as usual for me (as someone who hates crowds, I’m very adept at social distancing, and self-isolation is my default setting). I’ve got what I need, my cats have what they need, and if my area cracks down on quarantine, no biggie for me. I’m incredibly fortunate in that regard. My parents are also prepared, and it’s nothing earth-shattering for them, either (remember, Pox-Mom has also been scrutinizing and studying and being aware of everything since December). My friends and kin are also prepared, and we’re ready to help each other out if and when necessary. Our community is strong, and we’ll pull together to ensure no one goes without. There’s concern, but we’re heathens: planning and preparing and helping each other is what we do. Safe spaces are being offered, water and necessities will be shared, and we’ve got Messenger video chats to tide us over in the meantime.

I know there’s a lot of panic and fear out there, a lot of uncertainty. Definitely a lot of economic worry. My workplace hasn’t announced any plans to close down due to the pandemic just yet, and I don’t anticipate they will until things reach a more critical mass. After all, as of this writing, there’s only 1 confirmed case in my county. I’m sure the dealership will close eventually, but they want to mitigate the financial losses that will result from that while they still can. No sense in locking the doors for 2 weeks, only for the virus to spread through the county next week, and then stay closed for another 2-3 weeks. The more money lost by corporate, the more “trimming the fat” they’ll have to do, and then layoffs will come after the pandemic. I for one would rather be paid to chill at my desk for another week, then have my pandemic vacay and still have a job to go back to once the worst of it has passed.  Just carry on with universal precautions.

The fact is that most of us are going to be infected one way or another. Some of us will be asymptomatic, others will be hospitalized. The important thing is to wash your damn hands and be mindful of keeping space and care around others to protect the more vulnerable members of society. At work, we’re not playing with small children, and these days I doubt many elderly, ill, or otherwise compromised folks will be wandering in for an oil change or a test drive. So we’re interacting with people like ourselves, generally healthy and with decent immune systems (with a few exceptions, myself included), people who have the best chance at survival should we get ill.  Even so, distances are being maintained, physical contact is nonexistent, and basic universal precautions are in place and being followed. Most of us are probably already infected or know someone who’s already infected, so even if we’re not at work, exposure is still happening. This is why we should all be prepared to hunker down for a few weeks and/or have a support system in place. It’s also why panicking isn’t going to do anybody any good.

Maybe it’s my funeral director background, but I’m assuming I’m already infected. And honestly, I’m kind of glad I’m on medical hiatus from mortuary work right now because as a funeral director, I’d be in and around hospitals and nursing homes constantly, hugging grieving family members and shaking a lot of hands, further spreading the virus to people who are part of the vulnerable population. On top of it, I’d be getting very little rest or sleep – when I was doing the work full time, I was perpetually sick with sinusitis and bronchitis because I was lucky if I got 4-5 hours of sleep per night. Now I’m able to sleep 12 hours per night or more (yay chronic illness), but that’s keeping me in a decent state of respiratory health at present. So again, this is coming into play regarding my own reaction to the pandemic. I know exactly what healthcare, emergency, and funeral workers are experiencing, and I’m worried about my friends in those fields because it’s going to be brutal for a lot of reasons. But me? I’m in a cushy office type job that never requires me to be on call, so isolation and sleep are easy to come by. I’ll be okay.

Because of my mortuary attitude of “presume I’m already infected,” my goal is to not infect anyone else. Keeping distance from the people I’m talking to, disinfect everything, wash my hands, don’t go anywhere that’s crowded or unnecessary. Again, a boon for me is living in a city with lots of 24 hour convenience stores, so when I or the cats need something, I can go at weird hours when no one else is there. We’re okay for the time being. Like I said, we’re very, very lucky.

Guys, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re still in the early stages of the spread in our region. The dealership I work at will close eventually, probably within the next week or so. It’s going to get tough, not everyone is as good at social isolation as I am, I recognize that. I’m already a borderline hermit, so I’m not dreading the idea of being cooped up for a few weeks. Extroverts are going to lose their damn minds though, families who have been stuck in their apartments for 2 weeks straight are going to be fed up with each other. Small businesses are going to struggle, and everyone is just going to be overwhelmed with the stress of it all. But we’ll get through it: it’s temporary, and we need to put the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society first for once. We need to be careful, thoughtful, and give assistance where it’s needed while taking every precaution we can to keep the spread from reaching the ill and infirm. And we need to be rational about work and businesses to make sure we all have jobs to return to once the worst has passed. Because it will pass. This current reality is surreal and stressful, but it’s not permanent. A great number of us will be permanently affected in some way or another, but the world isn’t ending. Society isn’t ending. It feels like it, but it’s not. What’s happening now has happened before, and will happen again. It hasn’t stopped humanity yet.

Now’s a good time for reflection amidst preparation. Focus on how you can prevent the spread of the virus. Focus on what your family needs, and what the disadvantaged members of your community need and how you might be able to help them. Take care of yourselves, your families, and each other. And know the gods are walking among us as they always have. Whatever happens, we’re not alone. We’re never alone in the hardships we endure. Whether you’re aware of their presence or not, they’re around. Our gods are curious little assholes, always poking their noses into humanity’s nonsense, and they’re paying attention to what’s happening. And they’re probably where I’m getting this sense of calm, this recognition that this is nothing new, it’s happened before, and society will survive this, too. Just be smart about what you’re doing. Assume you’re already infected, and let that inform how you interact with others. Do what you can to prevent spreading the virus further, especially to those who are immuno-compromised or at high risk of not surviving COVID-19.

Drink water. Get plenty of sleep. Take care of yourselves, and take care of those who need you. Don’t take any stupid risks. Stay home if you must, even if your workplace doesn’t shut down right away. Panicking and raging are going to hurt more than they’ll help. This isn’t the end of the world, and we need to think long term rather than indulge in knee-jerk reactions. Be smart. Be careful. And be well.

Also, keep my city in your thoughts. Because E is right: as much as I’m okay with a few weeks of isolation, being alone for an extended period of time with my cats and with Loki could lead to some interesting outcomes. Gotta keep ourselves amused somehow. Let’s just hope that my city’s penchant for sinkholes and exploding gas lines doesn’t come into play here. Our hospitals are going to be swamped enough with the pandemic, don’t need to add Trickster chaos nonsense into the mix!

 

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