Joseph Ting writes:
The brave acceptance of risk in frontline health care workers in dealing with COVID-19 is altruistic and humanitarian. We are charged to care for the sick, absent fear or favour. Getting cross-infected and spreading COVID to family or friends incites constant denervating vigilance.
The community suffers with us: there is no safe hiding from this permeable contagion. How do you cope if an epidemic disrupted daily life, closing schools, packing hospitals, and putting social gatherings and travel plans on hold? Everywhere lives are fraying. The frontline doctor focuses on staying uninfected while striving for containment: stay calm and carry on. Albert Camus’ The Plague is balm to the fear-riven tear in the fabric of global society. Just as the decimated inhabitants of Shakespeare’s London outlasted the plague with no modern medicine and public health intervention, the coro-demic will be forced into retreat if we adhere to home isolation entreaties. Enforced hibernation takes care and caution with the lives of others, breaking the coro-disruption’s fierce tenacity. Camus assures that the pandemic threat is not fated to last forever.
As we face the rigours of self-isolation, the consumptive poet-doctor John Keats, exiled in the Bay of Naples as typhus raged, reminds the reader of life coming to a premature stop. The threat of cross-infection in my daily patient encounters incites Keat’s “mortality weigh(ing) heavily on me like unwilling sleep,” yet there is consolation in being “half in love with easeful death.”
I salute the unsung scores …
Keat’s acquiescence to his looming death makes me determined not to be sent to the frontline again when COVID is contained. I salute the unsung scores of imperilled, some now dead, doctors and nurses that have risen to the occasion. Those left behind honour their sacrifice by subverting future health catastrophes. We’d do well to protest more lethal, endemic and persistent threats. I do not want to gird my loins again to do battle with the health challenges posed by the much-ignored disasters posed by climate change, global warming, extreme weather, bush fires, environment degradation and pollution. Life on earth risks being extinguished if the feedback loops of intolerable heat, burning and desiccation are unleashed.
Then, even heroic health care could only band-aid over the gaping wound of a haemorrhaging world. I am not willing to sacrifice my medical vocation to the inertia of leaders that fail to act, here and now. The COVID-19 pandemic should ignite the dormant urgencies of greater threats. Ignoring the climate and environment monsters waiting around the corner invites a knock-out one-two punch to a world laid low by COVID-19. Future pandemics due to human encroachment on wildlife is a real and relevant possibility.
We need to agitate against the constellation of more prescient (and predictable) threats to personal and public health, underpinned by fairness, opportunity and prosperity for all of us.
I’d use the analogy of awakened hibernators sharing sought-after walkways equitably. Widen the paths so that the marginalised pedestrian (the poor) can negotiate a safe passage past joined at hip-spreaders blocking the way of others (the greedy). Users (the community) are better assured of their fair share if authorities demarcate lanes in both directions. Deploy 1.5 metre step marks for front to back social distancing between consecutive walkers. Access, fair-play and fair-pay rules are necessary to weed out the greed and hoarding that worsen inequality and health outcomes.
Immigration and local birth rates are metered to adhere to orderly flow in the direction that boosts the happiness and prosperity for all that live here, not the economy. Gaining speed and membership is possible only if occupants in the opposite direction, representing retiring or expiring Australians, decide or are forced to exit the walkway.
Try not operate a coffee hub on the walkway to capitalise on the caffeine-starved (fossil fuel and coal idlers). This slows foot traffic, encouraging a congregation of coffee devotees to transgress social distancing rules by tenacious assembly (fossil fuel and coal lobbyists). Disrupting the free flow of shared economic laneways contributes to discardable cups and lids been littered into the environment (carbon emissions). Like our addiction to fossil fuels, the convenience of discardables such as takeaway coffee and food repositories will permeate and poison Mother Earth, enlivening these ecologically damaging industries. Mountains of health staff and public PPE are not the only, if life-preserving, culprit.
As our leaders dither (Nero fiddles while Rome burns), each one of us had better think and act locally, before it is too late. The mission to not let the world’s living beings suffer and die needs to be morally borne out by our personal habits and home lives. We dare not wait for leaders with entanglements to the economic engine to turn the world around.
Add React to the trio of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. React to looming threats with small specific solutions that sum up over a million daily acts to a larger impact. A bottom-up approach— start assessing your personal life. Your car size. The family size that you plan. Desist from individual complicity in the food and coffee industry’s plastic waste. It’s taking one step at a time away from the ecological abyss. The sum of all our little acts sum into to a tide of change. Unless we find specific single solutions that are achievable, there is false panacea in professing to want to “cure the world’s ills.” Act from the bottom up. Don’t expect those at the top to excel.
Dr Joseph Ting is an emergency, prehospital and aeromedical physician as well as adjunct professor at Queensland University of Technology’s School of Public Health and Social Work and Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Division of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care UQ.