As news breaks of another coronavirus patient death here in the UK, the dread settled in my chest sinks deeper.
It’s not just a reminder I need to disable the breaking news alerts on my phone. The headline confirming the deceased’s information – a male in his 60s with significant underlying health conditions – serves as a stark reminder of my father, and his vulnerable position in this crisis.
Dad’s first bout of pneumonia came at just age three, and set the tone for his weak lungs. A further three instances of pneumonia – one in the eighties, another in the nineties and his last in the early noughties – and his ongoing breathing difficulty, chesty cough and frequent wheezing was upgraded from ‘bad asthma’ to a diagnosis of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in 2014. The disease is a progressive chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs, making it hard to breathe, and is often accompanied by a persistent chesty cough. It is not currently possible to cure or reverse the condition completely, but there are treatment options.
Dad’s identifiable wheezing and chesty coughs were simply a part of him that I had become accustomed to growing up; a consistent bassline to the soundtrack of my life. We often tease and joke about his eight-at-a-time evening coughing sequences, labelling him an “obnoxious attention seeker”, which is always met with laughter – and more wheezing. His way of mitigating mine and my mother’s anxieties with moments of levity have been vital throughout the building mountain of coronavirus news and cases.
“"I rely on packed public transport to attend lectures in central London. God knows what I could bring back home."”
But guilt has made its home in my head. I rely on packed public transport to attend lectures in central London. God knows what I could bring back home. Should I remove myself from my family and stay with a fellow low-risk friend for the coming months, leaning on family FaceTime chats to bridge the geographical gap? I’m still considering this option, but am careful to comply with the advice from Public Health England and the ever-updated NHS website, as opposed to consuming social media hysteria and fake news articles. Current precautions that have been implemented at home are disinfecting our phones, door handles and surfaces daily, as well as a Twitter ban to ease my anxiety – not a rule I have successfully been able to stick to so far.
Since learning the virus had found its way to Britain weeks ago, I have been trying to fight the fear that has been quietly simmering in my stomach over what this means for my dad. Friends’ attempts at easing my concerns over the rising cases of Covid-19 in the UK, whilst well-meaning, had little impact: “Flu claims thousands of fatalities annually… You are probably more likely to die in a road traffic accident, or at the hands of a mosquito… We’re young and healthy, none of us should be too badly affected!”
The indifference of my peers towards coronavirus wasn’t surprising. After all, the majority of my friends have moved out and live with flatmates of a similar age, and all live in generally good health. Many also aren’t consumers of live television, and often rely only on word-of-mouth to be kept up to date with the current news.
However, I remain at home with my family while I study at university and (try to) save money, sharing a living space with my parents (who check the news headlines religiously on the live rolling news channel). My mum works in a doctor’s surgery as a medical administrator, and my dad works for an airline at Gatwick airport – both high-volume, risky work spaces in the event of a pandemic.
“A check-in text from a close friend, no matter how brief, has super-strength healing properties when administered during a lonely, anxious episode.”
After highlighting our different situations and raising my concerns to my friends, their understanding of the scope and the risk of not taking extra care to wash their hands made sense to them. If someone doesn’t ensure to wash their hands and take the recommended steps to reduce their exposure to coronavirus, then they could unknowingly contract it and be passing it on to vulnerable people. I explain this the best I can without trying to project my anxieties on to them, which I think I succeed in doing. Suggesting we replace pub Friday with FaceTime Friday for the next couple of weeks or months seems a step too far, however.
But would it really? Last week, Boris Johnson said families would continue to “lose loved ones before their time” as the coronavirus outbreak worsens. Friday night pub summits with peers is certainly an effective distraction from my mounting fears over Covid-19, but this realisation sinks their reassurances to the bottom of my mind. In the coming months, I’ll be backing out of big birthday celebrations and sacrificing the cinema (my refuge). These pub trips will re-format into WhatsApp group chats and check-in texts.
Not that this would be entirely unwelcome: I know I’m not alone in confessing that a check-in text from a close friend, no matter how brief, has super-strength healing properties when administered during a lonely, anxious episode. It is important to be mindful of those who will be in this situation amid coronavirus – not so much worried for themselves, but for their loved ones. send them that check-in text and schedule a FaceTime.
For my family, our most effective anxiety-easer will be dad’s upcoming retirement in May on his 68th birthday. Finally.
Lucy Metters is a journalist and student at Birkbeck University
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