Human nature: fragments from 2020

Months of various degrees of lockdown have squished my memory, fusing time, order and clarity but some scenes will remain etched for ever.  I share them with you in no particular order but I shall start with my Dad’s illness and death in December which for obvious reasons loom large.

The grim night I spent  after hearing that my father, Christopher, had contracted Covid19 back in March, with a temperature so high that the rigors were propelling him from the bed. I prayed that he would die quickly and be spared the suffering of respiratory distress. To my amazement, his temperature was down the next morning and he was listening at full volume to – of all things – the Leningrad symphony, the music Shostakovich wrote to be blasted over the city to give the citizens  courage and fortitude under siege. He had two further nights with high fever, but the virus – perhaps destroyed by the high temperature or frightened away by the music – left his lungs alone and he lived to relish his 95th birthday, dying at home with us all around him nine months later.

The tenderness my mother showed her husband of 67 years as she nursed him through his final illness. And the announcement of her 90th birthday – more of a romantic message really – that Christopher had arranged to be in the Times for her, the day before he died.

The go-the-extra-mile compassion that the carers showed us during his final days. Over-worked, poorly paid, but emanating a sense of cheerfulness, unhurriedness and a careful attention to anything that would make Christopher’s experience easier.

Dad’s touching need to stay engaged: “America?” he’d ask, “I’m a bit confused” – his last illness coinciding with the election and its aftermath. Try explaining that to a 95 year old – as if any of us can understand the likes of Trump!

A call from an embarrassed social-worker, needing to arrange a time to carry out a means-assessment.

Hours and hours and hours spent speaking to machines, trying to get through to a PERSON!

Damien, one of the carers, asking Christopher to tell him about his naval days, then, sensing a spark, going home to research his ship, HMS Nelson, in order to continue to engage him in conversation. His overwhelming appreciation when Dad responded by giving him his book on Nelson.

The sense of warmth and intimacy at Christopher’s funeral despite social distancing (no hugs) and the thirty of us being conscientiously spaced out around the barn-like church.

The considerate kindness of the funeral directors, who whilst conveying the assuredness that comes from experience and having seen it all before, attended to us as if we were the only bereaved family in the world.

The pressure to tell people that his end was peaceful.

Other fragments:

“Am I mad?” the most frequent question the nurses ask when they come to see me, whispered and worried.

The first time Poppy, my grandtoddler, kissed my face on the screen.

A million and more incidents in the news where I’ve felt despairing and ashamed to be a citizen of this country:  Gavin Williamson crowing about the vaccine was perhaps the most cringy, and Matt Hancock unwittingly revealing in July that he’d only just realised that people infected with Covid19 could be asymptomatic, was perhaps the most revealing of quite what we’re up against with this cabinet of thick heads.

Dominic Cummings, Dominic Cummings, Dominic Cummings…… I need say no more.

Care homes. Hopefully a scenario never to be repeated. Hopefully the trigger to sort out a better system for our elderly and most vulnerable.  

The hospital carpark, lonely cars inhabited by desperate people prohibited from entering the building but wanting to be as close to their very ill loved ones as possible.

A junior doctor retching as he described a particularly horrific scene on ICU during the first wave.

Realising, during one particular day of difficult psychotherapeutic encounters, just how many isolated people are shut away with their inner demons and on a knife edge; realising how much day-to-day low-key social interactions mitigate and soothe.

The ever touching and creative ways clinicians have found to connect with, or stand in for relatives as it becomes clear that their patient is for end of life care. These are not my stories to tell, but I hope someone tries to capture these attempts during the first wave – mostly private and unwitnessed  – to show respect for someone’s final moments amidst the chaos of a frightening new disease.

Hearing the news that the top team of managers at our local Trust have all been vaccinated whilst the clinicians who’ve been putting their lives at risk working through the pandemic in high risk areas haven’t had a look in as yet.  (I’m still hoping to hear that this is one of those organisational myths and isn’t actually true, but I’ve heard it from so many people, including trusted friends…..)

The many impressive scientists, specially the women, who exude hard work and focussed intelligence, and  – amazingly, in this era of lies and hyperbole – answer questions in a direct and straightforward way.

Not being able to find a single doctor in Leicester willing to talk on a News programme back in July –  overtly prohibited and threatened by their unashamed Trusts. Don’t these organisations realise that clinicians are their greatest asset! Democracy under fire in so many ways.

The vaccines. A wonderous achievement.

The depth of pain that Black Lives Matter encapsulates: a pain that those of us who aren’t black can engage with when it suits us, but for many black people, a chronic grumbling pain that is now  excruciatingly vivid and can’t be ignored.

A growing sense of Leicester being a minority city, too easily side-lined, dismissed, forgotten about.

The conflicts about how to manage the pandemic, eating their way into family relationships and friendships, anxiety so easily erupting into anger and contempt.

Filling up with tears listening to the carol service being held in the rain-swept carpark across the road from our house, the joy of singing together, no longer taken for granted.

My favourite Christmas present, a photograph album from my daughter, a memoir of the first 100 days of lockdown that she and her boyfriend spent with us, a reminder of the hopefulness around at that time: revelation, springtime, new beginnings.

One thought on “Human nature: fragments from 2020

  1. Penny, good to hear from you. I love the comment about your dear dad listening to the Leningrad symphony blasting out. JillSent from Android device


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