Grace and Truth
Main topic: Grace
I can be impatient. It’s not a good trait. I can find it uncomfortable to be misunderstood, or to be disagreed with, or to have to slow myself down when I feel a sense of urgency.
But right now, we all have very different time scales by which we’re learning and processing and emotionally coming to terms with what we understand about everything that’s happening around us.
That is frustrating the hell out of me, and making a bad situation worse. Frustration, turned inward and bottled up, is incredibly unhelpful and not good for me. Frustration, if turned outward, would be equally incredibly unhelpful and not good for the people around me.
I need to practice grace and patience. I need to let people be where they are. For my own sanity, and for my own relationships.
I am not doing it well yet. I am grumbling a lot, mostly to myself, but not entirely. I need to keep working. Hard.
Second topic: Truth
I think I also need to tell the truth, though. Or, at least, what I think is the truth, based on what I’ve learned. And I don’t want to argue or upset anyone who isn’t where I’m at, so I’m not walking around shouting disagreement. But I need to get it out in one go, here if nowhere else, for my own clearmindedness.
Sidebar: When I was diagnosed with cancer, I went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for a first opinion, and a nurse, trying to connect with me, shared her own (ultimately optimistic) diagnosis story – but told me that she wished someone told her then that her life would never to be the same. She meant so well, but it was the absolute last thing I needed to hear at the time. I nearly had a nervous breakdown in the waiting room. She was right, of course, but I didn’t have the capacity to comprehend it at the time. I’m about to say the same types of things that might make you feel similarly, so: I am once again about to be pretty blunt about how negatively I see things. If you are not feeling it, please stop reading.
Second sidebar: My career is built on how well I am able to find the best sources of scientific information, understand it, and translate it into simpler terms. I understand and explain healthcare science for a living, and I have for 20 years. So I think I am doing a decent – though I’m sure very imperfect – job of parsing a lot of the information. For work, I’m on videoconferences listening to epidemiologists and clinical-trial researchers. For my own edification, I’m following mass media like the BBC, the World Health Organization, reporters like Jessica Yellin, and public health experts like Andy Slavitt, and infectious disease researchers like Laurel Rose, and dashboards like the WHO’s, https://ncov2019.live/data and https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/685d0ace521648f8a5beeeee1b9125cd
By the end of the month of March, half a million people will be infected. Millions more will actually have been infected, but we’ll only know about half a million. Perhaps 20,000 will be dead.
April will be worse than March.
Things are going from bad to nightmare to incomprehensible, and quickly.
Yet people are still questioning, doubting, minimizing. I suppose in part because they – and news cameras – are not inside the hospitals where it’s happening, in part because it’s hard to reconcile a quiet day-to-day life with stories like that, and in part because raw numbers are hard to imagine being real lives.
We have got to move beyond these cognitive biases.
We have to understand.
Understand that you need to pretend you are COVID-19 positive and stay six feet away from everyone outside of your household. Understand that you need to pretend you are already under restrictions like those of the U.K. or Italy and go outside once a day to exercise (alone or with your household) and leave the house to shop for necessities as infrequently as possible. Understand that you might still get sick in the next two weeks even if you start doing all of those things perfectly today.
Understand that restrictions should get worse before they get better, should last for a while, and should be lifted slowly and piecemeal when they are lifted. Understand that every gathering of humans will be cancelled through Memorial Day, and probably longer. Understand that warmer weather in the Northern Hemisphere might help, but it might not.
Understand that millions of people are dying this year. Understand we are in for a very large global recession or depression. Understand that no one anywhere is going to be able to go back to something that fully resembles “normal life” anytime soon.
We – humanity – will be just fine. We got through two world wars and a pandemic in the span of one lifetime. We can get through this. But we have to understand that THAT is the right size of event with which to compare this. This is like nothing in living memory, and the longer we fail to comprehend that, the more people will die.