Over the next few months we'll all be spending a lot more time indoors trying to limit the spread of COVID-19. We've been in touch with members of the mountain medicine community to ask them for suggestions on how to manage. Here's Piotr Szawarski, Consultant Intensivist and DiMM holder, to share his thoughts...
When I was a kid I used to read a lot. Yes, I cycled to the edge of the city and beyond, I climbed every tree in sight and I explored excavated water pipes armed with my precious torch. We learned how to throw knives into the ground playing a game of kingdoms, we scouted the roofs on high rise buildings for a dare and we played with fire (don’t ask). And of course we all lived our adventures. Ultimately however, to reach out beyond the great outdoors a city could offer, I immersed myself in books. I travelled across Australia, Africa, Siberia, America and into India with Tomek Wilmowski from the books by Alfred Szklarski and across the Misty Mountains with the hobbits and an old wizard. One of the books I read was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Its main character Edmond Dantes was falsely accused and imprisoned for many years. It is not far off, from the quarantine we are facing. Not guilty, yet confined to the prison cells of our homes. Stuck, raging, frustrated and afraid, we fail to understand our predicament. We are trying to see a way out. Not knocking on the walls to stay in touch, but through digital means we try to combat frustration and isolation. The faraway places, our dreams and plans on hold, we remain at home confined to books and the walls of our existence. And yet if we think about the The Count of Monte Cristo and Edmond Dantes, he came out enriched beyond belief from his imprisonment. He got to know an old man, a fellow prisoner, who passed on a secret of an immense treasure. They became friends and ultimately the old man’s death facilitated Edmond’s escape.
It has occurred to me that the quarantine we are facing has many silver linings and perhaps we will come out on the other side enriched beyond our expectations. We will gain immense insight into our humanity, into frailty of life and what’s truly important in life. It’s not to say that this vile virus is a good thing. It’s just important to realise there are two sides to a coin and much depends on us and the way we choose to perceive the world around us. In general terms human impact on environment will diminish, There is less traffic, less pollution. People learned how to wash their hands! There is less waste, as food stewardship is improving. There is growing sense of solidarity in the community. People are looking out for each other. People appreciate each other more. The social distancing paradoxically brings us together. We feel the need to be in touch. Working for the NHS one notices kindness of colleagues - bringing in food, cakes, sweets, drinks. We try to reassure each other and smile. We notice how precious is our food and the supply chains that often span countries and borders. We can reflect on how humanity should stand as one, rather than be divided. The Chinese supporting their colleagues in Italy are a fine example of this. This virus does not respect borders or race, it is equally able to affect the royalty, celebrities as it is able to cause problems to the man on the street. The Prime Minister has been confirmed to have been infected today. Being confined to our nests, unable to fly across the world we turn our eyes to the places we live in noticing for the first times things that were right in front of us. Not able to head for the hills, for the great outdoors we have more time to spend with our families, more time for introspection, reflection on our lives, achievements, objectives. There is more time to enjoy slow-food, good wine, to read and to teach children all those things we somehow learnt to survive. Not how to use an iPad, but how to boil water, cook, or contact help. This pandemic is not going to go away quickly. Patience and long distance mental endurance is required. It is important to see the silver linings in evidence and draw strength from them. It is important to escape the haze of news on COVID-19 clouding our vision with statistics of victims and deaths and economical chaos and to see we are not alone in spite of quarantine, in spite of this imprisonment. There are treasures to be found here for those who seek.
Good luck to us all.
Part 5 of "Isolation" can be found here.
Please get in touch if you'd like to take part in other "Isolation" posts!