Diary of a Pandemic Doctor Part 1

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Tonight I walked to the sea in the dark. The city streets were empty except for a tomcat clawing at a wooden lamp post. It turned and padded off as it heard my steps, its shoulders rolling, leonine.

When I came to the shore the air was still, the city’s lights amber diffusions in the ocean’s surface stretching out towards the islands marshalled in the bay. As I sat there I thought of personal crises I’d been through, small things now, that made it seem to me that the world for days or weeks creaked and turned askew. And then I thought of this moment, and this external threat, when the world really is altering before us.

The sea’s surface had the sheen of glass – a dead calm. I imagined the water suddenly retreating, the shingle of the ocean’s floor hushing as it was revealed, fish flopping where they lay, the water gathering itself into a giant wave, a dark curtain throwing the skyscrapers of the city into shadow, its angry upper lip broiling with white foam.

Over nine hundred dead in Italy today. Five of them doctors and nurses. 9% of those infected are medical personnel.

What do we do in the face of this wave? Give in to hopelessness?

Someone posted a photo of my graduating class from medical school in Ireland the other day. Young faces then, kids – Asian, Indian, American, Canadian, Australian, Irish, Norwegian. I think of them seeded through the world, now senior doctors, readying themselves for what is to come.

Over 24,000 retired doctors and nurses in my own, small home country of Ireland took themselves out of retirement this week, and said they were ready to throw themselves into the fray; many are people who are of an age that they have a high risk of dying from the virus if they get infected.

With that kind of bravery around we can’t give in to hopelessness. So we build a wall, use ourselves as bricks, and we repel the fucker as best we can.

Before leaving I crouch at the sea’s edge and hold my fist under the water until it’s so cold it hurts. It’s time for all of us to get to work.

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