Over the last two years, the challenges of living in a global pandemic have seemed insurmountable at times. They told us, the kids would be home for just two extra weeks for March break. Then just two more weeks. The Covid19 numbers climbed as many made their way home with laptops and a mouse. We left our phone chargers, favorite mugs and, maybe a pair of boots stashed in the back of a cabinet in anticipation of our return because we couldn’t be certain that winter was over in Canada yet. Just a couple of weeks and things will go back to normal. But that isn’t what happened, is it? And those that tried became members of the first wave. Some organizations made it clear how important their people are by providing the equipment they needed, beefing up their wellness plans and, encouraging collaboration and socialization online. Others found loopholes in the sanctions that would allow them to continue operating despite the risk to their people and their families.
It was the beginning of an unpredictably long period of uncertainty. For a while, it felt like a great equalizer. As a recovering cancer survivor, my family and I had already been dragged through the mud. Our beliefs and quarrels quelled in the name of promoting healing and wellness. Some of the most challenging relationships around me threw up their white flags and put their history behind them. To a smaller degree, some relationships needed to be put on the shelf or ended entirely for self-preservation. The reality of a cancer patient is energy is finite and unless we acutely feel that, we expend our energy in the most frivolous ways. Even to our own detriment. But once we truly feel what it means to have absolutely none, we learn its true value and must protect it at all costs. My family had already walked that walk and I was confident we would make it through a few weeks of quarantine. A few weeks of no dinner parties, trips to the movie theatre and, hugs with family and friends. I was confident we would be fine, and I was confident that – knowing what I had come to know over the last 2 years – everyone else would be fine too.
In fact, the protagonist in me saw an incredible opportunity. It was an opportunity for the world to heal its wounds. For the world to also throw up their white flags, as my loved ones and I had done, set aside differences and, come together to fight something more threatening than us. Eight weeks into the pandemic, I even wrote about the similarities between experiencing a cancer diagnosis and treatment compared to the collective world experience of Covid. You can read more about it here, Reconstructing the World Post Covid19.
The unfortunate reality is, it has been one hundred years since we last went through a pandemic. While there are lessons we could still learn from history we also need to take into consideration that technology has changed, world travel has changed and we have changed. It’s easy to question, and even be angry at the decisions made by our governments but I do not envy the position they have found themselves in throughout. Eight weeks into the pandemic we could not have predicted where we are today. From the article noted above, it’s clear that we have changed since then even. We no longer stand on our front porches banging pots to honour healthcare heroes, in fact, there is a segment of humanity that has completely turned their back on science and healthcare. Protesting human rights in the streets, holding demonstrations outside of the buildings that they themselves would need to access if any of them contracted the very thing they are protesting about. A segment of humanity who has completely turned its back on the very profession that has extended the average human life expectancy by more than 20 years over the last one hundred years. An impossible concept to understand.
Moreover, there is a population of humans who have been all but ignored by policy makers, protestors and those who outright reject science. Worse is that the current narrative says it’s safe to stop conducting PCR tests with the intention of reporting cases, it’s safe to start lifting mandates, it’s safe to leave elementary classrooms and schools open until 30% of the school is covid positive. That population of humans is the immunocompromised.
In October 2020, society started having conversations about the potential benefits of allowing natural herd immunity. Children were not getting sick, so the logic was, lifting all restrictions and allowing as many people as possible to get this virus until the virus itself had exhausted its options. With natural immunity achieved through infection, the virus would eventually have nowhere else to go. The caveat is that only people who would likely become severely ill or die would be the elderly and those who are already sick. But since this population is considered to be small, and already ‘damaged’, the potential casualties may have been acceptable.
As someone who had just finished spending 26 months in cancer treatment to beat and move on from a severe illness, who had great aspirations to effect positive change in the world, and who was still immunocompromised, the idea that my life was considered an acceptable loss to serve ‘the greater good’ was inconceivable. I became acutely aware of every single person who had said, ‘If you don’t feel safe going out, you should stay home’, or ‘You need to do what you need to do to protect yourself’. While I do not disagree with either of these statements, what I heard was that those people did not seem to experience any empathy during the time I had vulnerably voiced my very real fear. It had not elicited a feeling of protectiveness. After spending more than two years fighting, having finally discovered my purpose, and eager to rejoin society their reaction said that these things were meaningless to people who are supposed to care about me. Do I think in most cases it was intentional? No. But in all cases do I believe it was shortsighted, inconsiderate and selfish? Absolutely. These people had professed they cared about me…when it didn’t require any sacrifice on their own behalf. This was the part I simply couldn’t get over. In fact, I was a little angry at myself because having gone through cancer, there were times that it was clear my illness was an inconvenience to others, or at minimum uncomfortable for them. When it was just me who was the subject at risk, it was easy to talk myself into believing that I was being sensitive. I was overreacting. Maybe because of the high dose steriod I was on. Maybe I was emotionally unstable because of the trauma I was experiencing. In any case, I could shrug it off as being my own emotional turmoil. I had to do so because I could not tolerate the alternative. But here we were, not just talking about lil old me. We were an entire society trying to talk ourselves into knowingly letting our fellow humans die for our own comfort. Yes, I am aware that while it was a conversation for a period of time, it was not acted on. But that doesn’t matter. The damage was already done.
Imagine if what we were talking about was a lone potential criminal debating murder openly. A random, innocent person who did nothing to inflame someone enough to elicit such a contemplation, who has to listen to their potential attacker debate whether they should go through with their heinous, unthinkable act. Whether the attempt was made or not, the fact is that the potential victim is already aware that someone wants to do them harm, having done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Maybe they would spend the rest of their life looking over their shoulder, waiting for that person to change their mind. It could be the end of their feeling of safety in the world. Again, inconceivable.
I spent days incredulous, trying to make sense of the senseless. I knew that even sympathizers could not truly understand what I was feeling. I had to do something about it. The world needed to understand that immunocompromised people are not shadows in society. We are functioning, valuable, contributing members of society. And so, on the advice of a very good friend, I began a Facebook group called ‘Immunocompromised People Are Not Expendable‘, intended to raise awareness of who the immunocompromised community is. We are NOT expendable. We are NOT a burden. In fact, we are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, we are doctors, we are journalists, we are investment specialists, we are scientists. And even if we aren’t those things, we are lives who are just as deserving of this life as anyone else.
This is the thing that is so upsetting about the so-called Freedom Convoy taking place in Ottawa and in other pockets of Canada, and now abroad. This movement preaches freedom for all. But the reality is that if what they were fighting for was freedom for all, there would be no fight at all.
Coming up on the two-year mark since the first Covid19 lockdown happened in Canada, it’s harder to keep my eye on the prize. It’s true that at times, I have completely lost sight of my belief in humanity. Been so furious that I must screen myself from social media and conversations with people who I know have very different beliefs than me. I try to be respectful of the opinions of others, but knowing what is on the line makes it impossible to reconcile. At times, it’s been necessary to hide in our immunocompromised online community for the good of my mental health, knowing these are the only other humans on the planet who can truly understand my anger.
When I find myself in this dark place, I must remind myself of the people out there who are truly fighting for each other, and fighting for the immunocompromised too. All the people who will proudly don a face mask knowing it could protect the life of a complete stranger passing them in the grocery store or the office. Or the people at the gym who soak down machines to clean them thoroughly knowing that someone who is recovering from cancer may need to use that equipment to rebuild their strength after the fight of a lifetime. I know they are out there. Occasionally, I see them. And when I do, I let them know, ‘Thank you for looking out for others’, because sometimes we all need to be reminded that, while we can’t necessarily see the impact of our decisions, what we are doing is for the actual greater good, and that is not an infringement on freedoms. It is simply part of our responsibility to humanity.
Until next time, be well…and take care of each other.
2 thoughts on “Gambling with Human Chips in the Covid Era”
I couldn’t agree with you more Michelle. I too am part of the population who is immunocompromised and it saddens me to know that there are people who feel my life is not worth the “sacrifice” they have to make by wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. The “survival of the fittest” mentality shows a callous disregard for our fellow human beings – as if those who have already had the misfortune of having to battle a cancer diagnosis or other immune disorder somehow are less deserving of life. Where did our compassion go? When did we start caring more about principals than people? To those who think they are somehow being oppressed by public safety measures, you really don’t know the meaning of the word oppression. We live in one of the least oppressive societies in the world. Be thankful that you can express your beliefs without fear of reprisal; but understand that your life is no more or less valuable than anyone else’s . Be thankful for your good health, but try to understand that’s it’s a gift that not everyone has been given. Look into the eyes of a stranger and know that their life may be in your hands, because if they get sick from you, they may die from it. Now imagine that the stranger was your child or your spouse or your mother or father and you could protect them from harm by following a few public safety measures – and let that thought guide your actions. To those of you who care enough to protect those of us who are most vulnerable, my heartfelt thanks.
Thank you so much for your continued wisdom and compassion Michelle. My husband and myself have agreed to still wear masks in public for just this reason. It boggles my mind when people can’t see the bigger picture, or in this case, the smaller picture. A smaller group of people who could die because a bigger group of people can’t handle wearing a mask around people. Sad. Thank you for keeping us inspired. hugs!