Isolation (Part 9)

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on Apr 06, 2020

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 John Ellerton, former GP and president of the International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR) MedCom, to share his thoughts...

"I have been in isolation for 6 months on the 1st of April. Not strictly at 'Her Majesty's Pleasure' though turning 60 and getting pensioned off has been a bit brutal. Hannah, my wife works and Harriet, my daughter is usually at nursery so I have 3 days to wonder what to do. 36 tonnes of hard core, 5 tonnes of natural stone and a big patio/BBQ area (as well as plenty of exercise and mountain medicine) puts structure in the day. Then along comes COVID-19. Regret at not being at the sharp end, relief that I will be called if needed. Mountain Rescue was busy but now has almost entirely stopped. Internationally we see that too.

So when Harriet was sent home from nursery (with a cough) and Hannah started working from home a few weeks ago, COVID isolation seemed a bit cramped. I have found a good book - "Peak Performance - Under Pressure"' by our colleague Dr Stephen Hearns. Stephen is a mountain rescuer with Arrochar, and has been the medical lead for the Scottish helicopter retrieval service for many years, as well as a 'standard' HEMS doctor. Published in 2019, the book is the best synthesis that I have read that turns Crew Resource Management speak from an organisational perspective into a personal exploration. A subject that I am grappling with as I re-write "Casualty Care in Mountain Rescue". The idea of little gains in performance having a big effect, of looking to see if you are psychologically green, amber or red for rescue work and the Zero Point Survey have been coming in and out of my mind for months with no concrete output. COVID has sharpened my resolve but reduced writing time to a few early morning stints when the birds outside are singing and the sun dawns from behind Cross Fell.

At 893m, the summit of Cross Fell is the highest point in the Pennines

Colleagues in northern Italy, Japan, Spain, Germany and Austria report scenes that are impossible to describe. We should all be in Christchurch, NZ this week at an ICAR Medcom meeting. I have 4 return flights in the next 6 months, all now cancelled. I should be heading to London in about 3 weeks as I become a Grandad for the first time. My father is isolated 100 miles away; nearer 90 than 80 years old, he's philosophical. I had come across sons and daughters being denied access to their parents dying in hospital with norovirus  a few years ago. That shocked me; now we are in a different league of 'social distancing'. Where will this manipulation of human-ness end. I am reminded of a book that haunts me – "Humanity - A Moral History Of The Twentieth Century" by Jonathan Glover. Through short essays he shows how it slowly became acceptable (to governments in war) to target civilians in Dresden and ultimately Hiroshima. Don't worry there is also optimism and hope.

This little place called home - the Eden Valley, Cumbria - is quieter, cleaner - northerly wind blowing - and yes like the biblical Garden of Eden. The lambs are bleating and we are expecting swallows in the next week or so. Can we change our jet-fuelled lives for ever? By embracing technology in a different way? One of the highlights of retirement is the ability to join in with community enterprises. One in Morland has been the "Difference" course - this is an Archbishop of Canterbury initiative that looks at reconciliation and teaches the skills to become a mediator. Over 6 weeks, we were curious, engaged and then reimagined all of our local and national disagreements – from Brexit to noisy neighbours, from wealth to discrimination and every thing in-between. Human compassion in abundance. 

For those of you in the heart of the battle, I admire you. Keep safe and keep hope."

Thanks John!

Part 10 of "Isolation" can be found here.

Please get in touch if you'd like to take part in other "Isolation" posts! 

Stay safe.

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