“I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh.
One of the amazing things about the human body (and there are many) is its ability to develop immunity, over time. We have these cells who, pacman-like, chomp up invaders and then display pieces of them on their outer membrane like a badge, like a victorious warrior wearing a piece of the conquered on his sleeve. This allows the (tan tan tarraaah!) T cells to wake up the slower plasma cells (the pharmacists) to identify the invaders and work on an antidote (antibodies). The T cells are awesome, they sound the alarm, start the phone tree, and get all the other T and B cells into mass production, to get out there and fight, boys! They have cells that fight the enemy mano a mano, cells in charge of regulating the response, and cells in charge of creating a memory file, so that should that same invader ever show up again, there will be no delay in responding, the antibodies will be ready and waiting.
Interestingly enough, I caught the measles twice (not supposed to happen, according to paragraph one!). Once was in England, and the other time in Jamaica, so I supposed my antibodies were fooled by the Jamaican trickster (was it Anancy, the famous Trickster Spider, I wonder?). I remember the second event far more than the first, as I was already over 16, I suppose. It started with a rash, which I attributed to new soap, or new detergent, or some other allergic reaction and went to school. I think I started to feel feverish and was sent home. My father found me shivering in my bed (remember, this is in Jamaica, a tropical island) and found every blanket and coat in the house and piled them on top of me in an effort to warm me up. I was soon roasting with fever. Most fathers, like all old wives, don’t realize that the chills are a sign of the body trying to heat itself up to fight the pathogens. Nowadays we use ‘evidence based’ practice, no more blankets!
By the time I felt well enough to go to the doctor, the first one (a renowned germaphobe – catch the irony?) had no idea what was going on. It took the renowned zero bedside manner surgeon (his senior) to look in my mouth, see the telltale ‘Koplik spots’ and ask his partner “Are you blind, man? Did you look in her mouth? Don’t you see the girl has measles?” So, if anyone is interested, I am immune to two strains of measles now, and none the worse for it.
But of course, there are those pathogens which leave disaster in their wake. I remember visiting Jamaica some years ago when they were in the throes of the dreaded chikungunya virus (affectionately known as Chik V). The name itself is fascinating as it comes from an African word meaning ‘that which bends up’ – referring to the painful, stooped posture which develops as a result of the arthritic attacks of the virus. It is mosquito-borne, originating in Africa. Jamaica never had a true picture of the extent of the outbreak, everyone knew someone who had it, and many people died from it (again, especially those with underlying illnesses). Those who got it felt so unwell they didn’t go and get tested. That meant that the actual number of confirmed cases was deceptive. When mosquitoes are the enemy, it is a little easier to be focused and stay safe. Prevention is of course key, as with the Zika outbreak a couple of years later. Remove standing water, release sterile breeders into the wild.
In South Florida we are used to hurricane season. We can see hot spots developing off the coast of Africa each year and know we need to stay prepared. We are supposed to have our plan in place from June of each year, have our supplies of batteries, dry goods, water. And yet still we wait until the feeder bands hit the Bahamas before we go clear the store shelves. We remember the years when we were in the cross hairs, when we could the noodles pointing at our shores, and somehow ended up with nothing but some blustery winds and a shower or two.
But I remember Irma. I remember the strange calmness after she passed through, as we surveyed the damage around us. I remember the silence, before the chain saws kicked in. A population halted in place, nothing but life seemed important. The birds were gone, they had sensed the trauma ahead and had headed for the hills. That strange silence.
Our current situation is strange. We feel as if we are in a waiting mode. Half of life has been halted, yet still we go on. We are being challenged to take on an all-electronic life (at least Corona hasn’t caused power cuts!). Many of us are learning new and useful skills, navigating on-line teaching tools, struggling with technology. And recognizing how much we are at the mercy of the unknown.
In China, they say, pollution is way down. Birds have returned that have been missing for years. In silent Italy, residents serenade each other over courtyards, joining in with tambourines and violins. While outdoor activities are curtailed, families are discovering each other, are finally having the time to be together. Somewhere, some all-powerful being (and I suspect it is Mother Nature) is laughing, finally people are learning what is truly important. And meanwhile the planet catches a break, as significantly reduced activities clears the air, decreased consumption allows the earth to slow down and breathe.
My heart goes out to those who will get the worst of this, the sufferers and the health care workers who will struggle to care for them while staying well themselves. The poor, who will feel the financial hardship the worst, hopefully will be supported by a government which can’t seem to save itself. I, meanwhile, will try to stay positive while staying negative. And hope that all of my friends and family can do the same.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you not go crazy while under house arrest! Wash your hands, y’all!