Monday, March 30, 2020

Journal of the Plague Months: Vol. 1. No. 5

OK, I admit it, this is frightening.

I got a call from an old friend who advised me not to leave the house even to shop for food. Have stuff delivered, he said. This was on the evening that Dr. Fauchi, a man few of us had heard of three months ago, cautioned that deaths in the US could reach 100,000. Some put the number as high as 200,000.

Earlier in the day, another friend told me that she was terrified of the way people die from the coronavirus, alone and gasping for air. If you’ve ever seen someone in the last moments of life, you know that this kind of last-gasping isn’t unusual. The body fights a losing battle for oxygen in a race no one wins.

When I walk my dog, I’m now super-conscious about other people who may also be walking. If I see a group of people directly ahead, I alter my route. I feel bad about it, but I do it anyway. Besides, I think, if those people knew how misanthropic I can be, they wouldn’t want to get within six feet of me anyway.

Since all this started I’ve learned to Zoom, mostly with family. I watched a granddaughter change backgrounds on a Zoom call, alternately appearing in front of a vicious-looking dog or a fantasy cityscape while she made motions that caused parts of her body to disappear. I resisted thinking about this in metaphoric terms.

As someone who spent the better part of his life working in journalism, I usually can’t get enough of the day’s big story. But in this case, I’m starting to choke on the news. Doctors fearing for their safety. ICUs full of patients hooked up to ventilators. If you get ventilated — an odd expression, no? — chances are pretty good that when you get unventilated, you’ll be dead.

I saw a headline in the local paper saying that we shouldn’t blame anyone for the virus. For me, such an opinion misses the point. Expecting intelligent responses from the government isn’t the same as blaming. We deserve a government that actually cares whether 100,000 of its citizens might expire.

Then there’s the $1,200 or so that the government plans to give those who are eligible. But wait. That doesn’t cover a month’s rent in many Denver one-bedroom apartments. What’s it going to do for people in New York City?

If you have money in the stock market, you’ve no doubt been told that it’s best to weather the storm, that it’s impossible to time the market for re-entry, that when the inevitable rise comes, you’ll miss out if you sideline yourself and put your money in cash. Cash? What value does cash have? Give me a million bucks and I'll let you know.

You can be sure that if there’s a second wave of the virus, the market again will crater. And know this: The government isn't likely to have a bailout plan for you as it does for large corporations. Maybe you’ll get another $1,000 bucks out of it, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I keep hearing that we’re all in this together. But then someone tells me the trails in Jeffco are crowded during these days of shelter-in-place. You can’t buy toilet paper. Want an N95 mask? Good luck. Folks already gobbled them up.

I’ve washed my hands so much that the skin has become raw.

So, yes, this is frightening. And spare me the bromides. Don’t tell me the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. We have to fear the virus. We have to fear those who inevitably will exploit the situation. We have to fear the fact that we live in a country where, in a time of global crisis, the former host of The Apprentice wants governors to express appreciation for all he’s doing.

Please be wary. The sun may be shining, but the streets now belong to the virus. We’re living in its world. It knows neither compassion nor mercy. All it knows is how to occupy its host.

So to the former host of The Apprentice, I have only one thing to say: As I see the death toll rise, the markets plummet and spirits flag, I recall that, by now, I’m supposed to have won so much that I’d be tired of winning.

Do you feel like you’re winning? If so, please tell the rest of us what game you’re playing.

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