This may seem like an extreme word to use, but read the definitions – all five of them – and tell me they don’t apply to life right now. Or, at least, what we face in the near future.
Wandering around Morrisons yesterday felt a lot like entering a scene from War of the Worlds, The Society or Stranger Things. You know the scenes I mean – a post Apocalyptic reality where everyone’s only thought is about their own survival.
Of course, there’s always a sequence in a grocery store.
By the end of the scene, it will be utter pandemonium. The shelves are sure to have been ransacked, produce will have been strewn in the aisles, people’s trolleys will be over-full and there are bound to be more than a few casualties.
Only a slight exaggeration
Now, it’s fair to say that I may be overplaying the apocalyptic nature of yesterday’s supermarket shop. But it really is only a slight exaggeration.
Where the soy milk should have been was a gaping empty space. Where pasta and rice once sat was nothing but space. Where tinned beans and canned chopped tomatoes should have been stocked was simply…space. In the freezers, four doors had been taped shut and marked off limits like crime scenes in their own right. There was one solitary box of Readybrek in place of all the porridge oats.
Fresh produce had been frantically gathered and discarded – cucumbers where potatoes should have been and onions where oranges were labelled.
Someone all but jostled me out of the way when I tried to close the fridge door – empty handed I might add – just in case another person managed to get in before she did.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the toilet roll and hand-wash situation.
Real live dystopia
The worst part of it all, was the feeling of eeriness hanging in the air. The sense of being watched. That feeling of needing to justify every item we picked up. That fear, at the self scan checkout, as almost every item caused the alarm to ring, that someone was going to come and take our things away. That sense of being policed. That very unnerving perception of living in a real live dystopia. An Orwellian reality. An Atwoodian truth.
I was honestly half expecting someone to whisper: ‘Blessed be the fruit’ as we passed in the doorway.
What’s the point?
So what is my point, you may be wondering. Why am I highlighting and grumbling about the bleak reality we have found ourselves in right now?
It is a fair question to ask. I don’t usually focus on the negatives, after all.
Yet we find the world in unchartered territory with this latest pandemic. That word is not used lightly, but COVID 19 has now officially been declared a pandemic. Other illnesses to achieve such high status over the years, include the Spanish Flu, the Great Plague, the Black Death and HIV.
Being at risk
Those words are so loaded, aren’t they?
People keep asking me if I am scared; asking what extra measures I am taking; enquiring as to my safety; advising me to self-isolate; telling me not to use the tube; instructing me to avoid public gatherings, to stop work, to stay indoors…
Of course, I understand why. Like it or not, I am at risk.
I come under the same banner as the over 70s and other at risk groups of people. Crohn’s Disease is an auto-immune disease in nature. This means my immune system goes into overdrive attacking healthy cells in my body, rather than working to fight off common illnesses or alien viruses. In other words, my body attacks itself, leaving my immune system compromised and unable to fight the real invaders.
Like many IBD sufferers, I also rely heavily on immunosuppressive therapy to keep my disease under control. Thanks to the advances in medicine, since 2006, this form of treatment has been my lifeline. My regular infusions work by blocking the transmission of specific immune cells, thus stopping the inflammation which causes a flare up.
Those infusions are the reason I can currently maintain my weight without tube-feeding. They are the reason my pain – while still frequent – is manageable rather than unbearable. They keep me well enough to focus my energy elsewhere and get on with life with some semblance of normality. However abnormal my normality may be.
Am I scared?
I understand that being at risk doesn’t mean I am all that much more likely to contract COVID 19 than the next healthy person. It does, however, mean that if I were to come down with the virus, it would hit me an awful lot harder and I would be far more likely to develop complications.
Carry on regardless
When people first began talking about the virus, my instinct was to do what I always do. Carry on regardless. If I really worried about every outbreak or endemic, I would never leave my flat. Which is, I appreciate, the advice being given right now.
If I am really honest, what frightens me more than the threat of catching COVID 19, is the fall-out from the virus. The response, on a global scale, is what I find most disconcerting. The dystopian actuality, usually reserved for fiction, which is playing out all around us and causing pandemonium absolutely terrifies me.
Isn’t it times of crisis where people are meant to come together, find strength in numbers and comfort in community?
In Italy, areas of which have been on full lockdown for around a week, music lovers are causing a social media frenzy. Videos have been shared, depicting people on balconies singing and playing instruments. Comments state that they are keeping spirits up with song and other heart-warming captions of a similar vein.
That’s Dunkirk Spirit by the bucket-load. And, of course, there are communities and organisations here who are showing that same sense of social conscience and concern.
However, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that community spirit isn’t the overwhelming feeling in this country.
Out of stock
Instead, we find ourselves in a period of uncertainty, made worse by the inability to shop for everyday supplies.
I suppose that brings me back to the issue of fear. I have a pathological fear of running out of toilet roll. No joke. If you think about it logically for a second, it makes perfect sense.
I have lived almost my entire life with bowel disease. While I often make reference to the fact that bowel disease is about so much more than toilet habits, as the name suggests, they are still a key feature of the condition. Toilet visits can be regular, unpleasant, sudden and uncomfortable.
That’s putting it all very politely.
At home, both our bathrooms always have a healthy supply of backup rolls for every eventuality, and it is probably not surprising that we need to restock more than your average household.
A second fear which has been deep-rooted since childhood, is that of being unable to wash my hands with soap, which makes just as much sense as the last fear. So ingrained is this worry, that when I was younger and having to use public toilets, before going into a cubicle, I would check the dispensers to ensure there was soap. If not, I would frantically go in search of alternative facilities to use.
How I managed to survive for three months in the wildernesses of South East Asia, before the days of hand sanitiser gels, is quite remarkable.
It naturally follows that, in a household where there are more frequent trips to the toilet, there will be a more than average consumption of hand soap.
So, am I scared?
The short answer is, yes.
I am terrified of not being able to buy toilet roll, soap or hand sanitiser – not because of COVID 19. Rather, because of everyone else’s unfathomable insistence on panic buying these items in the extreme quantities we have witnessed.
Just last week, at my infusion, the IBD nurse told me about people coming into the hospital, going onto the wards and stealing the hand sanitiser bottles from the ends of patients’ beds.
In response to that, I can only ask: ‘what is wrong with people!?’ I know this is not a description of everyone’s actions, and I would hope that all those reading this post will be as disgusted as I was by that. Yet the scene in Morrisons yesterday, tells me that it is the behaviour of more than a small minority. As do the constant phone-ins to radio stations with people gloating about how well stocked their garages now are.
What’s the answer?
I’m not sure there is one. Or, at least, if there is, I know I don’t have it.
We could be on the brink of facing full lockdown and enforced isolation anyway, taking decisions out of our hands. Travel has been banned to and from a lot of countries. An examining tour I was scheduled to go on to Qatar had to be cancelled, due to closure of schools in the area, and the suspension of all extracurricular activities. There are signs and posters up almost everywhere, and emails being sent out to instruct people on social distancing and hygiene. Theatres, restaurants and schools in New York City have now been closed indefinitely. There is talk of school closure and enforced isolation for up to 4 months for all those in the at risk category here in the UK. Some schools are already having to face partial closure due to staff absences, and many families are choosing to keep children at home and access remote learning resources.
In other words, we are in a state of indecision as a country. And I am no different as an individual. Yes, I carry the weight of knowing that I am in greater danger. With that comes a feeling of responsibility to myself and those I love. I have a duty not to put myself at extra risk unnecessarily.
That said, I also have to keep living. As do we all. In the face of impending doom, where nothing is certain and the economy feels more fragile than I can ever remember it feeling, each and every one of us owes it to ourself, to our nearest and dearest and to our community, to carry on with strength, positivity, courage, kindness and consideration for others.
Maybe, in that way, we can find somewhere that exists between dystopia and reality, where we can come through these frightening times unscathed.