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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Cross

Lockdown Diaries: End of Week 3

It's the end of week 3 on lockdown and the virus has drawn in...

Until yesterday I was aware that a couple of my many colleagues (nobody I work closely with) had been affected. A friend of mine had also developed the symptoms some weeks ago, and while they didn't enjoy the experience in particular their symptoms were comparatively mild and they quickly recovered. Ditto a cousin of mine and her partner. So while C-19 hasn't been entirely absent from my inner circle, it has largely remained on the periphery; infrequent, mild and no cause for alarm.

Then things changed. Yesterday, I found out that a close friend of mine, who I have known since I was 8 or 9 years old, has contracted the virus and is seriously ill. For context, this is a healthy and comparatively fit guy in his 30s, who (like me) had maintained a very high level of fitness throughout his 20s. Regardless, the virus has leveled him. He developed all the classic symptoms, including a fever, sore throat and cough. And then last week he started struggling to breath.

He developed pneumonia. The symptoms were so severe in fact that clinicians suspected one of his lungs had collapsed; thankfully it seems not, though the test results are out and who knows what the effects will be on his long-term health. I spoke to him yesterday afternoon and frankly he didn't sound like my friend of 30 years. He sounded more like a 90-year-old man. His voice lacked any sense of energy, and he clearly struggled to breath throughout our conversation.

Usually I can't get him off the phone. Yesterday I could only talk to him for a couple of minutes (literally). It was exhausting for him and I could hear his breathing getting increasingly worse. He just wanted to sleep. During the course of the brief conversation he described to me his other symptoms: headache, sickness, a complete lack of energy, an inability to walk, an inability to swallow, muscle pain, pain breathing, double-vision and more. Today is apparently his best day for some time, however, and fingers crossed he should be entering the recovery phase of this highly unpredictable illness. I can only hope that he is; while he's a jerk sometimes (no, he won't mind me saying so even now + aren't we all!), he's also a loyal and lifelong friend who I'm lucky to know.

Out in the wider world, one of the main events has been none other than UK Prime Minister Bojo himself. Probably the most high-profile person to suffer with Covid-19, his situation has been followed closely, not just in Britain but internationally. And it's not difficult to understand why. Whether or not we voted for him, love him or hate him, he is our elected representative here. The fact that he has been infected with a currently incurable, potentially life-threatening virus that has reduced practically the entire planet to its knees, is of course highly significant.

The combined government updates and media coverage has been interesting to watch. Bojo's symptoms were reportedly 'mild' at first. Then they were 'persistent'. Then he was hospitalised. Then, all of a sudden, he was in intensive care. The government went to great lengths to impress upon the public that he was not on a ventilator. Why? Because being on a ventilator means that your lungs have failed and a machine is required to breath for you. It means that, but for modern technology, you would almost certainly be dead. Translation: you are in very deep sh*t.

Beyond the personal, the significance (and sensitive treatment) of Bojo's plight reflects the fact that it is of course highly symbolic. As a figurehead he represents Britain on the international stage. And to some extent his C-19 struggle or 'curve' might be seen to reflect the process of affliction nationally - mild (nothing to worry about), then persistent (hmm... perhaps we should take action), then deadly serious on a societal scale ('oh sh*t!').

A triumph over C-19 by Bojo, as now seems likely, would be a story of national triumph. Succumbing to C-19, a national tragedy. We are told that he is now in recovery. In this respect, I'd suggest that if his recovery continues and he does return to full health, the press won't be able to resist portraying him as the embodiment of our nation (bulldog caricatures anyone??) and how together we will show the virus 'what for!' or [insert Etonian call to arms here]. It will be equated by some at least with the gradual downturn on the national curve that we are all hoping for.

Another key talking point this week has been the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) situation, so protective masks, overalls, gloves etc. In essence, these things are in short supply as demand has soared beyond their manufacturers' wildest imagination. Many countries have even banned international exports of PPE in order to serve their own domestic agenda. The health secretary then caused additional controversy by advising front-line NHS staff not to 'over-use' PPE. It is yet another tricky situation that C-19 has pitched us at short notice.

And the issues with PPE go beyond procurement, to include its practicality, comfort and use. These may seem secondary considerations, petty even, when lives are at stake. But as someone who worked in the construction industry for a decade, they seem anything but secondary to me, and my heart really does go out to front-line NHS workers suddenly finding themselves drowning in PPE on top of everything else.

PPE is mass-produced, not individually tailored. It is uncomfortable, inconvenient and imperfectly proportioned. I've been in situations where I've had to wear PPE boots, trousers, long-sleeve shirts, overalls, gloves, goggles, ear plugs and a hard-hat either all at the same time or in various combinations. On one notable occasion, this PPE code was strictly enforced for 12 hours a day, 6.5 days a week for months on end, and during a prolonged heatwave.

Honestly? PPE can drive you spare. It doesn't fit properly. It makes you overheat, it impedes your mobility, it impedes your senses of sight, hearing and touch, it distracts you, and it rubs the living sh*t out of your skin. In essence, it can make doing your job that much more awkward. So please, if you haven't already, join me in adding this to the gigantic list of things to thank our nurses and MDs for.

Work-wise, as predicted, a number of people in my department have now been furloughed. But for the large part, the company seems to be weathering the C-19 storm reasonably well so far... I've actually been on annual leave this week, giving the paperback version of COLONY a final once over before it is released next week!! I've also been digging the sh*t out of my garden (as those of you who follow me on Twitter will no doubt be aware). But don't worry, I'll bang on about that in another blog, and for now leave you all in peace. #takecare #staysafe #StayatHome

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