Cd 39/Lockdown 36
When all this was starting and I was watching tentative news reports nervously checking the situation in southern Europe and showing clips of temporary morgues set up in quiet corners of big cities, some expert said that if we suffer 20,000 deaths in the UK then that will have been a good result.
They say that we’re in the middle of the peak now and around 650 deaths in hospital each day are being attributed to the Corona virus. By that maths we’re halfway through the numbers and have another 20,000 to go – and that’s just on the first peak. The trouble with this new normal is that we’re getting used to it and we’re absorbing it into our routines and nothing is new and shocking any more.
The epicentre, they say, is now in care homes – the numbers there are thought to be three times what we’re hearing from the hospitals and some commentators are referring to the situation as the wiping-out of an entire generation.
What will be left of these places; these new places that have just sprung out of the ground to cater for the ageing population? If this goes on my unwritten novel will be a moot point and the virus will have done the work of the non-existent future government. Nature has got in there first, it seems, and hurried along what had been unnaturally elongated. Death does not hurry or fuss; he waits patiently and gets what he came for in the end. He’s having a ball at the moment.
Will we learn from this? Will we learn from the lessons we’re having here that keeping people breathing just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean that we should and that sometimes, though it’s hard, we need to be grown up enough to accept that we’re going to die.
A key thing here is that we’ve never quite faced the reality that not being dead is not the same as being alive. It’s just not. My granddad died a year ago at the cottage in Wales. Got up to go to the toilet and boom! His heart gave up and he was, the paramedic said, dead before he hit the floor. He was alive to the last minute; right up to that final desire to piss. His wife, nan, she died a decade ago and they kept her in one of those hutches with the red carpet and fake fireplaces and they let us go and see her and try and make her smile. For eight years she had no clue where she was and it was only the tenacity of her natural instincts that she kept the old tattoo of breathing. It all gave up two years ago: exactly a year before granddad’s fateful date with the toilet that he never made. He lived to the end; she carried on breathed but hadn’t been alive for a long time.
I try to see around the issue. I pull it out of my brain and I cringe away from it as it pulses on the floor: an ugly idea that must have different sides to the ones that I see. I walk around it and I poke at it and I try to force myself to see things differently. I try to encourage other people to help me to see it differently but nobody wants to engage.
I think of god and reject this idea: it’s thinking that way that gets us into so much existential mess in the first place. I think of the moral implication and wonder what is stronger – the right that she had to stay breathing and the right that she had to dignity and well-deserved rest. I think of the bigger picture and the social responsibility that we have to care for each other and I’m thrown back in the same place. And I realise then that what I’m unable to synchronise with is the definition of care. It seems that ‘care’ in this society means not letting people die. My own definition is different.
I miss them both and there’s a lot in favour of the argument that it might have been nice to remember nan as someone who remembered me. Instead what we’re given in this time of medical miracles is prolonged pain and tarnished final memories of the people that we love.
I took my Maggie to the vet a couple of weeks ago. What a dog she was. What a buddy and how I miss her by my side; how I miss the noises she made in the night as she padded about and tried to get comfortable. Thirteen years of her by my side. A buddy that was there before the kids and before the job and before the new house. A buddy the climbed mountains with me, chewed my shoes and smeared fox shit on the car upholstery. What a buddy.
But I saw her decline; I watched the lumps grow on her and I saw that twinkle fade from her eyes. She winced when she walked but would still try to follow me up the hills and jump her big bear body on my lap; she’d still plead with those eyes when I sat to eat dinner and nudge at my knee if I dared to forget about her.
With Maggie I set a date. I called the vet and I told them my plan; I let the people know who needed to and I made sure that the girls could have the perfect fortnight before that date. On the last day I drove her up the hills to the spot where we’d once yomped and I carried her to the spot where we used to sit and look back at the little home we’d made and the big city in the distance. And my heart swelled to burst for all of that time but I knew that I was right in what I was doing.
And when the vet pumped her with a sedative to calm her and she lay her heavy head on my knees I was relieved that she was free of the weight of duty that she had carried out all her life as well as being free of this more recent pain.
When the vet told me that her heart had stopped I think mine stopped a little, too. I don’t think it will ever quite beat the same but I was glad because I had done my job and Maggie, well she had gone above and beyond. She had done her duty and died a good death.
Do you see the point I’m making?