– how the COVID-19 pandemic is eerily mirroring fiction
By Michael Jordan
Over the past month or so, my youngest sister’s visits to my eldest sister’s home in Florida, USA, have included an unsettling ritual.
After ensuring that her hands are well scrubbed and she is fully sanitized, she will do everything to ensure that she remains several feet from our beloved, 90-year-old mother.
She cannot hug her, touch her, stand near to her. She is terrified to.
That’s because my youngest sister works in a hospital in Florida, USA. This puts her potentially in contact with persons with the COVID-19, to which elderly people like my mom appear to be the most vulnerable.
I found myself in a similar scenario last week back in Guyana.
I had wanted to interview an elderly family friend who is also a retired nurse, for her experiences with previous pandemics.
She agreed to the interview, but then requested that it be done by phone, owing to her age, and that she has a sister who is even older.
A friend of mine, who lives with her grandmother, spoke of the daily ritual she and her relatives go through to protect her grandma.
But the problem is that some other relatives don’t seem to understand the gravity of this pandemic, and its relentless attack on seniors.
“There are three or four small children who are staying at my grandmother. They sometimes get away to play with their friends.
“The other day, one adult relative contracted a cold and came into my grandmother’s room, sneezing, and now my grandmother also has the cold.”
Since the pandemic reached Guyana’s shores, things have changed so drastically that one gets the sense of having slipped into some ominous, post-apocalyptic novel or movie.
I am constantly amazed at how accurately the fantasy writers got it.
There are the pharmacies with signs that read: “No Vitamin C tablets available until further notice;” (how the heck do you run out of Vitamin C tablets?); the almost empty dining places, the frantic supermarket shoppers with carts stacked with every conceivable grocery; store employees telling customers to remain six feet away, a woman shopper asking for sanitary wipes to clean her small son’s hands after he falls on the floor; the National Library with its gates and doors shut; schools and churches closed or almost empty; the religious predicting the Second Coming and End Times; pictures of groups of mainly young people, like expendable extras in a horror movie, defying the lock-downs and heading to the beaches; the fear of sitting near to someone who is sneezing or coughing; the fear of coughing yourself, and everywhere, everywhere, the masked people.
Etched in my mind is the image of a biker riding past me in a black mask, and looking very much like a knight from a dark fantasy series.
I have found myself thinking of the first Edgar Allan Poe story I ever heard, “The Masque of the Red Death.”
That’s the story of prince named Prospero, who built a wall around his city to protect himself and wealthy subjects from a mysterious, fast-killing plague, which turned the faces of the victims blood-red.
But in the midst of a banquet in his castle, a mysterious, masked dancer appears. The dancer turns out to be the plague itself, and one by one, Prince Prospero, and all the guests, fall dead, “and the Red Death held sway over all.”
Then there is my favourite Stephen King novel, The Stand. King wrote about a man-engineered super-flu that decimates the world, leaving only a few survivors.
Some begin dreaming of a sinister man known by many names, including Randall Flagg or the Walkin’ Dude.
Others are called in dreams to seek out an elderly African woman named Mother Abigail. They will eventually confront each other in one final stand between Good and Evil.
Coming to mind also is the movie Contagion, about a virus that wipes out millions, and the ensuing social chaos that ensues before a cure is found.
At the age of 60, I survived two pandemics. One was a polio outbreak in the late fifties that killed mostly children and left many others crippled. Many survivors are still around.
I remember, quite vividly, around age four, accompanying my other siblings to the Suddie Hospital, and being given a sweet tasting liquid to protect us from poliomyelitis.
I wanted to savour the taste, so I kept it in my mouth long after we had left the clinic, until my eldest brother, understanding the gravity of the outbreak, realised what I was doing and ordered me to swallow it.
I was also a survivor of the 1968 Hong Kong Flu which is believed to have killed at least a million people worldwide.
All I remember from that time is having a fever and experiencing a listlessness that kept me in bed for what seemed to be a month.
I am praying that we survive this pandemic, and the National Library opens once again, that I no longer mentally flinch every time someone sneezes nearby, that we can once again shake hands rather than touch elbows, and I cease to see masked people everywhere.
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