Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19 title=
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19
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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Anyone who has suffered and survived life-threatening sickness discerns the honest truth of the opening lines of Susan Sontag’s famous work, “Illness as Metaphor.”

"Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place."

First published in 1978, after Sontag underwent treatment for breast cancer, the series of three essays by the late social critic rigorously decouples the experience of being gravely ill – physical misery and aching loneliness – from the words routinely used to talk about it – often, language and rhetoric of the military -- which also serve to provide the well a measure of psychological distance from the diseased.

In the same way, as the U.S. begins to feel the first life-and-death impacts of Covid-19, coverage of the pandemic, a torrent of content disseminated by news organizations, social media and partisan political channels, overwhelmingly focuses on abstract matters, steps removed from the pandemic himself -- an endless flow of reports about medical and economic statistical trends, bail-out bills, scientific research into a vaccine and politicians talking.

Far less frequently do we witness moment-to-moment, real-life perspective of the deadly virus.

This is inevitable, in part, because of the nation’s body of law protecting the privacy of patients and medical information.

However, as the country suddenly confronts a debate that weighs the relative importance of health vs. wealth and lost lives vs. lost jobs, it is worth reflecting, while the vast majority of us are suffering no more than the inconvenience of social distancing, upon the stark difference between Donald Trump declaring himself a “wartime president” ostensibly fighting “an invisible enemy” -- and a frontline physician pleading for supplies because her emergency room is “a war zone.”

What a pandemic looks like

In recalling Sontag's thesis, we’ve curated some best-of-the-web content demonstrating the vast disparity between sickness as reality, and as metaphor.

[Thursday], for example, the New York Times published a print and video package that makes the point profound and plain to see. The lede of the print and web story:

"In several hours on Tuesday, Dr. Ashley Bray performed chest compressions at Elmhurst Hospital Center on a woman in her 80s, a man in his 60s and a 38-year-old who reminded the doctor of her fiancé. All had tested positive for the coronavirus and had gone into cardiac arrest. All eventually died."

More powerful, and more heartbreaking, is a five-minute video of what is happening inside the hospital in Queens, N.Y. It features Dr. Colleen Smith, an ER doctor, who points out a refrigerated truck the hospital was forced to bring in to accommodate the number of dead bodies, describes having to “beg for ventilators” and explains that the acute shortage of N-95 masks requires she use only one on a 12-hour shift.

"It’s America and we’re supposed to be a first world country," Dr. Smith says in the video, which you can find here.

“I don’t really care if I get in trouble for speaking to the media. I want people to know that this is bad. People are dying. We don’t have the tools that we need in the emergency department and in the hospital to take care of them,” she adds, pausing to fight back tears, “and it’s really hard.”

The South China Morning Post has a large archive of video about the coronavirus, dating from the early days of the pandemic's discovery in Wuhan China. This one shows the inside of a hospital and gives voice to two nurses, who cry from exhaustion, grief and stress.

This report from “60 Minutes Australia” shows scenes inside an ICU at a hospital in Lombardy, Italy, and features an interview with the on-scene physician who coordinates the region’s response.

In another report from Italy, Sky News correspondent Stuart Ramsay got a camera inside the emergency room intake facility ahospital, which was being used to treat critically ill patients for whom there was no room in the overflowing ICU.

CGTN, an international English language news channel that is owned and operated by China Central Television, produced several reports that show everyday scenes from hospitals called upon to treat numbers of Covid patients.

In this one, doctors struggle literally to save a life...

This demonstrates how seven doctors, nurses and attendants are needed simply to turn over a severely sick coronavirus patient in bed…

The Telegraph published a video from a 39-year old London woman, recovering but still in intensive care, who wanted to warn others to take precautions against the virus.

The Straits Times, an English-language news organization based in Singapore, interviewed an Italian doctor, who came out of retirement to treat virus-stricken patients, who says the most difficult thing for him is watching people, prohibited from having visitors, forced to die alone.

And the South China Morning Post showed the mass graves in Iran prepared for Covid victims.

Bottom line

No one yet knows, or can know, what the scope of the pandemic is in Santa Barbara County. The 26 cases confirmed to date represent a far from fully accurate, if not meaningless, expression of how widespread the virus is here.

Amid a national scandal over the scarcity of tests for coronavirus, it is believed that only about 500 tests so far have been administered locally, out of a county population of about 440,000, and an at-risk population -- seniors; folks with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems; doctors, nurses and other health care providers; first responders and other front-line workers; those in jail -- of about 50,000, not enough to understand the extent of Covid-19.

Stay home and stay safe.


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a-1585425189 Mar 28, 2020 12:53 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

Jerry (or anyone else): What kind of guidance is being given to those of us who worry about our safety, given that the response time from law enforcement is increasing every day? Crime is definitely up; whether this is related to the virus or not I do not know. Personal safety is a huge concern for family who live well beyond the city limits, where "normal" LE response times can be 20-40 minutes or longer for emergencies. I look at the extremes people took to obtain/hoard/fight just for toilet paper, but what's going to happen with soooooooo many people out of work running out of money and food? I shutter to think about where we're headed.

a-1585434738 Mar 28, 2020 03:32 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

EastBeach: Thank you for the link. It's nice to know that crime is down during this awful pandemic. A couple family members live well out on Happy Canyon Road, and were asking about extra precautions to take. The only thing I told them was to keep their outdoor lights on at night, and make sure that all windows/doors on their home/sheds/barns/vehicles were locked. Several years ago they had an intruder who stole many valuables, and drove off in their classic 1966 El Camino (yes, the keys were in the ignition!). El Camino recovered a couple days later in Nipomo.

a-1585441965 Mar 28, 2020 05:32 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

The Sheriff is county. SBPD is city and there have been several stabbings, 2 gang fights, vandals and multiple robberies or attempted robberies in the past 5 days. If that’s not up then SB is really in a world of trouble.

therealbebe Mar 30, 2020 02:44 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

@3:32pm, I know Happy Canyon is sort of remote, but who the heck leaves keys in an ignition anyway? Lock your doors, lock your car, keep your valuables inside. Don't we learn this as kids?

EastBeach Mar 28, 2020 02:29 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

Thank you Jerry. I have friends who are nurses @Cottage. I am completely in awe of their bravery and dedication and yet I (and they) know the danger they and their colleagues around the country are now or will be facing. Though we're all at some level of risk and many in the lower quartiles face economic hardship, many of us surely face only inconveniences in comparison. I'm going to steel myself and watch some of those videos. A good time to donate to Direct Relief, Foodbank, or https://www.sbfoundation.org/give-now/give-to-santa-barbara-county-covid-19-response-effort/

Cadillackid Mar 28, 2020 02:57 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

Stay home right? I understand essential workers going to work but what about when there is 150+ employees who about 90% are careless and 10% being precautious? What about then? Are we just going to wait for THE WORSE TO HAPPEN then take action? My mind is blown day by day by how SO MANY companies, corporations, stores etc. are not taking this so serious.

lss Mar 29, 2020 02:28 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

How come you never wrote an article illustrating the suffering and pain of hundreds of thousands of people who get the flu, have to be hospitalized and ultimately die? Somehow in the face of that far worse epidemic, we continued to function normally. Historians will look back on our reaction to this fiasco and the damage we have done to our economy as the greatest example of self-immolation in modern history.

lss Mar 29, 2020 03:47 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

I would bet anyone who disliked my comment has not been laid off from a job or is experiencing great financial distress. It's easy to say let's shut everything down when you're insulated from the consequences of destroying the American economy.

a-1585549140 Mar 29, 2020 11:19 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

LSS What are you talking about? Every year in the fall we hear constant news stories about the flu. How horrible the season is going to be, how many people die each year and why we all need to get vaccinated. Then come the stories of people who died, and again reminders to get vaccinated. The stories are there you just never listened before.

therealbebe Mar 30, 2020 02:40 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

LSS, I disliked your comment and have been laid off and am about to experience great financial distress as a single mother out of a job. So no, I'm not "insulated" in any way. I find your lack of comprehension disturbing.

sbmh2015 Mar 30, 2020 07:00 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

LSS...for weeks now, the flu comparison has factually been destroyed. You clearly are not reading from reputable news sources. The flu has treatments, vaccines, is not as contagious AND doesn't OVERWHELM our hospital system. What about that does not make you understand the seriousness of this virus ? Please stop with the flu argument. You are very, very misinformed

Alexblue Mar 30, 2020 08:45 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

BECAUSE THIS IS SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE THAN THE FLU THAT PEOPLE ARE USED TO.

I AM POSTING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE YOU SEEM TO NEED A GOOD SHOUTING TO UNDERSTAND.

THIS IS TWICE AS INFECTIOUS

THIS IS FAR MORE DEADLY

THERE IS NO VACCINE

IT IS ASYMPTOMATIC LONGER

THEREFORE WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS LIKE COMPARING A DEATH AS A RESULT OF DRUNK DRIVING WITH NO SEAT BELT ON TO A DEATH DRIVING SOBER WITH A SEAT BELT ON BECAUSE THEY BOTH INVOLVE A CAR.

Alexblue Mar 30, 2020 08:47 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

I AM OUT OF WORK NOW BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS, BUT I AM NOT AN IDIOT SO I UNDERSTAND THAT THE NATURE OF THIS ILLNESS IS SOMETHING THAT MUST BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY THOUGH IT CAUSES SHORT TERM PAIN, FOR IF WE DON'T TAKE IT SERIOUSLY IT WILL KILL HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS MORE IN THE US AND PROLONG TH ECONOMIC IMPACT.

STOP BEING SO SELFISH

a-1585589233 Mar 30, 2020 10:27 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

LSS I would bet you’re wrong.
You realize that none of us are insulated from the consequences of death or lifelong disability, right? How does your personal economy account for compromised lung function for the next 35-40 years lifespan? Is that worth 2 weeks wages? Future hindsight...it’s a thing

a-1585577448 Mar 30, 2020 07:10 AM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

SBUSD school teachers go to work today, at the schools or some of them to relate and deliver online teaching. Shouldn't this be done at home? Shouldn't the teachers be as protected as the students? Shouldn't they stay at home and not risk infecting themselves and others? They are not the “essential workers” under Gov. Newsom's Executive Order N-33-20 of March 19, 2020.

PitMix Mar 30, 2020 01:12 PM
Scenes from a Pandemic: The Two Realities of COVID-19

If and when doctors have to decide which of several patients gets the one ventilator that is available at that time, the stress on them is going to go up tremendously. It is recommended that the hospitals make these decisions ahead of time so that the doctors don't have to. For example, an 80 yr old in good general health, a 50-yr old with diabetes, and a 30 yr old with severe asthma- who gets the ventilator?

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