Update from Italy: Day 9 of General Quarantine

Photo by Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash

The Italian Quarantine. It sounds like a film. I numbered our days on a calendar since we went into quarantine. I had already lost track of time and incorrectly numbered it, starting it one day earlier than it actually did. For the record, day 1 was March 10. And March 31 will be day 22.

Jason and I are both working from home some; he goes into the office most days for an hour or two. Business, although hobbled, continues. We make meals. We cajole Vic into doing his classwork. We try to keep enough going to keep Eleanor engaged. We try to manage our own anxiety, thrust into a new landscape of boredom, anxiety, and monotony. It feels a bit like post-op recovery, that first time you have major surgery. Gonna be such a party! I thought, in 1999, laying in all manner of books I planned to read and films I knew I was going to watch. But when I came out of the anesthesia and went home, I moved instead into weeks of pain and Vicodin haze. I watched part of Willow out of my mind on Vicodin. I read nothing. I looked out the window and tried to think healthy thoughts. The disruption of my routine offered nothing at all like a holiday. It was instead an in-between time of pain, nausea, and insomnia, where nothing remotely approached pleasure, or even rest.

If you are in France or Spain or the Bay area, you’re going into this new culture now. My advice? Keep track. It will be so easy to lose track of time. Decide now your strategy for fresh air that keeps both you and your community safe. Determine where your chat groups are and where you’re going to go to check in. Don’t stare at your screens all day. Limit your social media intake, and your news intake. We are watching a major global shift happen, and it’s not going to end anytime soon. When we all emerge from this, things will look very, very different on the other side. We have all been pushed through a door with minimal awareness of its implications.

Jason and I were talking today about how this pandemic will change healthcare for the next year, at least. Perhaps large, temporary hospitals will be set up outside of cities around the world to manage the continuing infections and new patients. In the absence of a vaccination, people will continue becoming infected until a vaccine is available. (Maybe people who doubted vaccines will come around to their usefulness.) Travel may remain restricted for months to come, and the travel industry may never bounce back to former levels. Who can justify air travel and airports and cruises now? Smaller airlines and businesses will fold, unable to sustain themselves during the tremendous global economic slump. It won’t matter, because we’ll mostly all be at home for months to come, binging on news and feeling ill as we wonder how it all came to this so quickly. Quarantine is imperfect; it is impossible to ground everyone. Infection will continue to spread and pop up. We will all remember wistfully a time when we stepped outside without a permission slip, to go to the grocery store or out for an apero. China has been closing its large, temporary hospitals, but I am sure they will keep them ready for renewed outbreaks. China is now reporting new cases from carriers who have traveled into China. I don’t know how all this is really going to be managed unless people stop travelling and moving around – moving around the world, their country, their state, their cities, their communities.

Here are my hopes for how this might change us all for the better. Maybe we will all be less likely to be taken in by political spin, since the facts around a pandemic could get pretty hard to hide, depending on how severe it gets. Maybe those who have found themselves in leadership positions to their profit alone will be replaced by broader minds that can think and responded humanely and appropriately to large-scale crises. I hope that, particularly in western Anglophone cultures, where so many are so convinced of their individuality and their ability to go on their own, communities pull together and realize that we are only as strong as our weakest link, so it is in everyone’s best interest to support everyone. As much as you can. Even if it doesn’t seem fair to you. Especially if it does not seem fair to you. Resources are going to be stressed. The deficits will be huge: healthcare, hospitals, test kits, masks, EPP, income, maybe food, social connection. We are all going to be sharing in these stresses and losses together whether people like it or not. Choose to be kind. Choose to be broad-minded. Seek to learn, to understand, to really listen to what other people are saying.

Empathy is the only way through this. That, and the shock we will all feel when we realize how much we hated our commutes, putting the kids in daycare, the 8 to 5 job and the 9 to 3 school day, the shortness of the weekends, the high cost of health care and retirement and never having a real vacation, the quarterly results and the annual reviews, the sheer grind of it all. And the corresponding wonder at the fresh air, the calmer mornings, the birdsong weaving throughout. And we’ll wonder why it took something as huge and horrible as this to realize how beautiful and good everything always was, all along, if only we would just have let it be.