In a history as replete with one infectious scourge or another, we were surprised in January and February of this year to hear of new troubles, emanating from China. We were caught off guard, distracted, perhaps thinking – contrary to expert advice – that infectious illness should be a thing of the past, given the triumphs of modern medicine. Our comfort levels were misplaced, given the explicit warnings of Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bill Gates and others. Perhaps we’ve been preoccupied with other systemic troubles – the monstrous problem of climate change, our general indebtedness in a shaky financial system, the enduring issues of global hunger and inequity.
But we’re guilty and should have known better. The unholy triad of international travel, crushing levels of population density, and our predilection for animal protein has not served us well and the threat of zoonotic illness, picked up from animals, is ever present.
How have we done? While we may have flattened the curve, to some extent, our losses, already catastrophic, continue to mount and we won’t feel safe any time soon.
Kudos, extreme kudos, and heartfelt thanks accrue to the warriors in this battle: not only our brave and committed health care workers, but also the yeoman efforts of all the personnel that keep things working. Countless individuals and corporations have stepped up to help with supplies, money and other assistance as needed.
Calamity has exposed our dark sides. A profusion of hucksters proclaim special knowledge of unproven treatments, offer spurious financial remedies, sell fake test kits, and support a welter of conspiracy theories so ridiculous as to beggar the imagination. Also acting badly have been the over-confident with their intransigent devil-may-care attitudes that put us all at risk. I’d include here those few religious leaders that continue to urge members to congregate en masse, believing their special brand of worship will protect against contagion.
This is our new normal as we try to adapt, adopting insular lives no closer to one another than the two meters we’re allowed. We don’t know where we’ll end up when all is said and done, but we’re generally certain that we cannot go back to the way things were, with unrestricted social intercourse, only casual concern for our global neighbors and woeful unpreparedness.
Nations will try to be more self-reliant in the future, at the same time acknowledging their global interdependence.
We’ll favor less robust social gatherings, virtual meetings will become pre-eminent, stay-at-home entertainment will thrive and I expect a certain wariness may last forever.
The tally of our awful wreckage may never be complete, but one day we’ll see light on the other side. We’ll look round and recognize ourselves: survivors.
There will be immense relief. In my mind’s eye, I can envision groups of two or three remembering, later:
“It was bad. Very bad,” one will say.
“It was,” another will say, concurring.
There’s a pause here, in my imaginings. Perhaps they sigh.
“But it could have been worse …”
“It could have been,” they agree again, falling silent.
That’s my guess about how things might turn out, but it’s my best guess.
If we’re lucky.
Editor’s note: The views, perspectives and opinions in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the AMA.
Banner photo credit: Łukasz Dyłka, Pixabay.com