November 24, 2020

Times of pandemic: I can’t understand

For this society that was unaccustomed to calling death by its name, that used instead allusions, “passed away,” “departed peacefully,” “entered eternal rest,” COVID-19 was a brutal blow. Invisible, cold and silent. Unforgiving and deadly. Ambulances turning on strident sirens and rotating beacons, rushed to hospitals one after the other. Black, brown, white patients. No more breaks for doctors and nurses. No more breaks for gravediggers. Dig, dig and dig. Death was called death again. Thousands of times.

None of the 125,000 — to date — dead Americans started 2020 with a New Year’s resolution that read “die before July,” or “attend my father’s funeral and 16 days later die” or “die five days after my sister, a few hours before my mother, just a day before my brother,” as was the case of Northampton County’s first victim in March. Mothers lost children. Children lost mothers, uncles, grandpas, teachers, friends.

Never in its 174 years has the Associated Press covered something like this, a journalist said. For us, not destined to last that long, this will be our “once in a lifetime event.” COVID-19 shook the planet: individual health, family, school, workplaces, international relations, industry, even people’s sex lives.

Corpses piled up on streets of Guayaquil, in Queens, inside orange plastic bags thrown in refrigerated trucks and in Manaus by the Amazon River. It was brutal. Wuhan, Madrid, Milan. A wild beast was out of control.

It’s true that our grandparents saw more deaths. Many more, millions in two World Wars, deflagrated 25 years apart. As deadly and nonsensical as all wars are, winners and losers were claimed at the end. With COVID-19 however, loss is all there is, except perhaps for the vaccine discoverer.

Millions of America’s 42 million lost jobs will never come back. Doors have closed forever. Gathering routines in classrooms, churches, offices and gyms will change.

Despite the so advanced, eminent customary to be trips to Mars, distressed humans are suddenly realizing that they’re as transient and fragile as their primitive ancestors were.

***

When, many years ago, my naïve teenage self read Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” I didn’t understand many things. How could medicine be so powerless in face of the plague? Why did corpses had to pile up? What made human behavior change as death got near? Why did the bad become good and the good became bad?

Today under the shadow of COVID-19, my adult self comprehends that medicine is just another human endeavor. The knowledge and experience of goodhearted doctors and nurses is not enough to prevent them from becoming as fragile as the most fragile of their patients and as dead as their dead patients.

I still can’t understand many things, however.

I can’t understand why in the most powerful, the richest country in the world, doctors and nurses had to reuse — flirting with death — the same mask during the examination of dozens of patients.

I can’t understand why a medical tragedy is treated as a light political matter and why any sign of compassion is considered by officials as looking bad in an election year.

I can’t understand why a real estate businessman recommends “game-changer” chemicals to treat COVID-19, contradicting medical experts.  

I can’t understand why the old “lead by example” adage is dead: wearing masks doesn’t apply to high-level officials.

I can’t understand why people don’t accept that even science doesn’t have all the answers and that that’s why mysterious COVID-19 spreads like wildfire. 

I can’t understand why a quarantined mother complained “I no longer know how to entertain my children.” Is that what parenting became? To entertain? To be a mix of Bozo, Harry Potter and Elmo? So, is no longer possible a parent-children dialogue?

I can’t understand how some people view social distancing and mask usage rules as tyrannical.

I can’t understand why some people cannot, for the common good, postpone vain sunbathing at the beach, painting nails and cutting hair.

“The State of Pennsylvania has ordered me to be closed because of coronavirus,” read a handmade sign of the hair salon in Nazareth, where I used to get my hair trimmed. Would the owner have kept the salon open if not for Wolf’s mandate? “I decided to close because I care about my health and my customers’ health,” would perhaps sound more socially responsible.

“She could be behind on the rent for months,” you could argue. Well, as far as I know, she owns her home. Besides, the convertible BMW, the Honda and Lexus SUVs and the $100K Seneca RV in the back alley, all quite new and shiny, may be a few too many cars – just for a lonely couple in their early 60s and a brown wiener dog, facing times of pandemic.

 Even if payments remain to be made, would the earnings of a modest hair salon cover them all?

Too many things. I can’t understand. Can you? 

Jesus Zaldivar

Jesus Zaldivar, associate-editor of The Commuter, is a freshman at NCC. Previously, he conducted biomedical / environmental research in South America, Europe and six states in the U.S. (Contact: jzaldivar@spartan.northampton.edu)

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