March 22, 2020

Avondale Park Villa, around the corner from me

I went for a five mile walk today. It was lovely weather for such. Cloudy, a hint of mist in the air, cool without being cold. The relatively mild and wet winter we’ve had means that the pastel season is in full swing – fresh spring green leaves on the trees, azaleas, forsythia, and red buds in bloom. The daffodils, grape hyacinths, violets, spiderwort are all coming up in profusion. There was also a lot more bird song than I’m used to. I don’t know if that’s due to more birds in the trees, a reduction in ambient noise as we all stay in, or if I, in the current situation, am just more conscious of the simple things. I’ve always been a big walker – from childhood on, and it’s one of the things I can still enjoy in my semi-isolationist state. Just have to be careful to to touch things like park benches.

It’s been an uneventful weekend and today is day eleven of work then home – lather, rinse, repeat and cut all other activities out in an attempt to stay healthy until such time as I am really needed by the medical system. I’m apprehensive, but not particularly worried about myself. I’m far more worried about patients, friends, family. Assuming I don’t get sick and die (small, but real chance), I’ll come through all of this all right but the early retirement with lots of travel is unlikely to happen the way I was planning. Those who enjoy my travel diaries may have to wait for a while. I did get in one piece of theatrical fun: The Politically Incorrect Cabaret has made a PSA about staying home and I provided the tag at the end (they could shoot it from my front lawn without my having to get close to anyone.) It’s due out this evening and I’ll post it when I have it. It’s kind of fun slipping into the Ansager, even for a couple of minutes but I can’t do the makeup anywhere near as well as Tommy could and it’s really hard to do when you’re getting blind as a bat without glasses.

I talked to my father this afternoon. He was very interested in the concept of ‘flattening the curve’ and just what did I think of that. He has, quite rightly, noticed that the area under the two curves in the standard diagram that is being shared around is roughly the same (meaning the same number of people become ill in both trajectories) and that the flatter curve means that the disease is present over a longer period of time. This led to a discussion of lies, damned lies and statistics. I had two take home points for him: First, the flatter curve may last longer but is less likely to overwhelm the medical system meaning that those who can be saved will have the resources to save them. Plus, all the usual medical issues we cope with are going to happen whether Covid 19 is here or not and, if the system is swamped, there’s no way to care for them leading to excess all cause mortality. Therefore, the flatter the curve, the better, at least as far as my brothers and sisters in health care are concerned. The second is that those curves suppose normal distribution and, with a new disease process, it’s impossible to say if that will hold up or not. There are a whole lot of variables, mainly unknown.

If you have any of these, take them to the closest hospital – STAT

The people I am most worried about at the moment are the health care providers. The health system, with its just in time ordering mantra and financial disincentives against stockpiling is incredibly low on protective equipment and, as most of these products come from outside the US, N-95 masks, gloves, clean protective gowns and the like are in short supply. Within days, they are going to be sent in to care for the ill without the necessary protective gear and they will catch it and fall ill and some will die, completely unnecessarily and on the altar of short term profit for the owners of the system. It’s the moral equivalent of the World War I commanders ordering the young men of Europe out of the trenches and into charges against machine gun emplacements. It makes me incredibly angry and incredibly sad to know I will soon be hearing about the deaths of cherished colleagues, done in by the complete political and economic failure of the system that should have been there to protect them.

It’s back to work in the morning. No clue what the day will bring. Two weeks ago, there were no cases in Alabama, I had just finished successful performances of the Mozart Requiem and was looking forward to opera staging rehearsals. A lot has changed. A lot more is going to change. Where do we end up? I just don’t know. Looking at the history of various disasters, usually societies end up transforming themselves for the better after something cataclysmic. Perhaps this is nature’s way of reminding us not to get too fossilized in our thinking or institutions.
I’ll continue writing every other day or so. If you have something you want me to address in these plague diaries, drop me a note and let me know.

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