Remember back in early to mid-March when the reality of COVID-19 was sinking in? Before that point, we knew it was an issue of concern, but we did not think it was much to stress over.
Afterwards, we slowly began to realize that the virus was spreading in the community in North America. We heard horror stories of hospitals in Italy, where healthcare staff were overwhelmed. We started to see the same thing happening in New York City. Suddenly, it changed, and our lives were altered dramatically.We immediately went into lockdown. We did not leave the house unless we had to. March Break vacations were cancelled. Restaurants and stores were shut down. Schools were closed. We started working from home. We wiped down our groceries. We washed our hands like we all had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The Moment the Earth Stood Still
I listened to a podcast recently where one of the speakers likened it to what happens when somebody drops a glass on the floor of a crowded house party. I really like that analogy.
The glass shatters everywhere, all among everybody’s feet. The first instinct in these situations is for someone to shout, “nobody move!” We say this because everyone knows that the shards can go into places you would least predict; places so far away that you are dumbfounded at how they got there.
With everyone standing still, someone retrieves a dustbin and a brush and tries like the dickens to clean up all the pieces of glass, looking in all likely places they think they may be hiding. It’s amazing how so many tiny little pieces of glass are produced from a smash, some so small you can barely even see them. But those minuscule pieces can prove to be the most damaging as they can become embedded in the bottom of your feet and be almost impossible to get out later.
Step by Step
Then, people slowly and carefully start moving around again, realizing that surprises can happen, and they may still end up standing on a piece of glass. So, we take our time. Eventually, we start walking with more confidence.
But we all know what can happen: a few hours, days or even weeks later, another small shard is discovered in the strangest of places. We can never be truly confident that we are out of the woods for quite some time. However, at the same time, we cannot be paralyzed forever. Life, and the party, must go on.
We are coming out of that initial phase right now. We are much more aware of what is happening. We have a better grasp of where the virus is in the community and how it spreads. We know how to prevent ourselves from being exposed: wearing face masks and washing our hands are now a part of our everyday life. Staying six feet away from others is common practice whenever we stroll down a sidewalk or take a trip to the grocery store.
The challenge right now is figuring out how confident we can be in starting resume our regular lives. Should we have friends over whom we feel are “safe”? Should we allow our kids to play with the neighbourhood kids in small groups? Should we send our children to day camps this summer? Can we visit our elderly parents? These questions are top of mind for many of us.
As we all have noticed, experts haven’t always gotten it right. First, they said no face masks, then they reversed their opinion. They told us not to worry about asymptomatic spread, later they said to be concerned about it. They told us not to fret over children because they are only rarely adversely affected; now we are discovering that may not be true.
These things happened because we learned more. The virus has affected more and more people; with that increase in the number of infections comes more and more understanding. We are so early in the process of comprehending every nuance about this new virus. In three months, we have come a long way, but at the end of the day it is still just three months.
A Tough Line to Walk
I think what is required from us, again, is patience. Patience with an imperfect process that must take time and be dictated by science, data, and expert opinion. We need to trust our expert decision makers, who are tasked with the impossible job of devising a plan, to optimally protect us. This process cannot be rushed because we are in the midst of a complex and new situation.
Our ability to be confident in making big decisions like allowing all children to go to overnight camp for the summer must be tempered with the humility of what we know to be true right now. We may overcall some things in this process but understand that we may under call some others and live to regret them dearly. It is a tough position to be in.
When do we walk around freely after a glass has been shattered on the ground? When do we risk getting pierced by a wayward tiny shard? No one has all the answers. Let us not be paralyzed by fear, but also not be overconfident.
A tough line to walk, but here we are. Let us be patient, trust the process and we will overcome this.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Szabo is the Medical Director of Novus Health. He is an emergency physician at University Health Network in Toronto and a lecturer in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. Dr. Szabo has 25 years of experience providing front-line medical care. He has extensive experience with providing executive and concierge health care as well as expert medical second opinions.
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