I Never Would Have Thought…

If you had asked me even just three and a half years ago if I expected to face down the barrel of my 50th birthday without a career (save for unsuccessful novelist), with spouse’s career (and allegedly permanent position) a heaping pile of stinking ashes thanks to a psychopath, the family income about to enter freefall because the last unemployment check is nearly upon us and Spouse’s company hasn’t officially been born yet, much less reached the stage where it is in diapers and not yet even toddling, although almost, and in the midst of a continent currently at the heart of a pandemic that has emptied the streets and is bringing the whole world to a halt, I don’t think I would have laughed, but I wouldn’t have believed you.  None of this was part of the plan (although for years, hadn’t I joked that ‘unsuccessful novelist’ was my plan B for when my scientific career didn’t work out; I just hadn’t expected I’d be the one to burn out and throw a secure professorship away).

But, of course, everyone has some version of this story right now, especially the people in their last few months of high school or college, the people who’d planned to get married and honeymoon this spring, and the generally older people with underlying illness (which is just about everyone past a certain age) who, if they catch this, have a good chance of not surviving the season.

Speaking of which, Spouse was reading in Der Speigel this morning that if you are over 70 and have a heart or  lung issue and catch the new coronavirus, the doctors will not waste a ventilator on you. There’s not enough ventilators to tie up on someone with so little chance of surviving.  They’re using them on younger, stronger people instead.  And while that’s understandable, it’s chilling.  And it makes you understand exactly why we’re all staying at home right now… not to save ourselves (although that’s a good part of it), but to flatten that curve, as they say, so that there aren’t too many people sick at the same time that it comes down to thousands of wretched choices  like this.  Because some of those people would live.

The state we live in here in Germany, last time I saw the numbers, which I think was for two days ago, had 50 cases.  If the numbers are increasing by 33% a day, that means by now there are about 90.  We don’t yet know anybody who knows anybody here (etc) that has it or thinks they’ve been exposed to it… except the next door neighbor who works for a huge periodical publisher in Berlin.  Eight days ago we had dinner with him (he comes back here for weekends) and he was saying that he was surprised he hadn’t been told to self-isolate yet, because a department in a neighboring building already had cases.

Well now he’s stuck home alone for two weeks (at least) in his apartment in Berlin (hopefully his toilet paper situation has been, um, rectified (a word which, indeed, shares a root with rectum)) because he has now certainly been in close contact with a co-worker who has tested positive for the virus.  His wife, meanwhile, who lives here every day of the week and has an abysmally low white blood cell count, has been told to isolate herself, not to avoid spreading the virus, but to avoid catching it, because it would almost certainly become severe in her case, even though she’s only 51 or 52.

Spouse is becoming more and more concerned about the whole thing.  He’s cut his meetings with potential customers and potential investors and electricians and programmers, etc, back to a bare minimum (but can’t stop entirely lest his almost born company suffer a stillbirth).  But he’ll probably drive down to see his parents in a day or two.  Give the geometric progression of the numbers of infections, it would be unwise to wait any longer.  Clearly he’s worried that if he doesn’t, he might not see his father, who is over 70 and has diabetes and Alzheimer’s, again.

It’s weird to think that maybe I should be thinking about rushing home to take care of my parents.  They’re even older than Spouse’s parents and, unlike Spouse’s, they’re both totally alone (my aunt as well).  There’s no one who can say, “I’ll do the grocery shopping for you, so you don’t have to go out in public and catch the virus.”  Although, of course, that would only work until I caught the virus myself.  And do I want to face hospitalization in a country where I don’t have health insurance (although I do have travel insurance that would probably cover it)?  Because, with my weak heart and tendency to get asthma and pneumonia from ordinary colds, I’m also pretty sure that if I catch it, it will become severe.

Spouse is also ready to stop grocery shopping entirely.  I’d prefer to go out tomorrow (today is Sunday and the shops are closed) or the next day and stock up on apples, oranges, and other perishables first.  But by then, who knows?  Every day brings new restrictions.  First all meetings with more than 1000 people were cancelled.  Then it was 100.  Then 50.  Now all the schools, universities, and community colleges have been closed for 6 weeks.  And they’ve shut all the gyms, theaters, discos, public offices of government (like the places you go for residence permits, wedding licenses, weapons licenses, etc), public swimming pools, and movie theaters (thankfully I caught Emma. last week.  Great film!!!  And I’m not even a Jane Austen fan.  I’d tell you to go see it, but…).  I suppose restaurants and bars will be next.  Also, while the government keeps telling people not to “hamster shop” (Hamsterkauf is my newest favorite German word), who knows what will be left in the shops by, say, Monday evening.

I’m glad that, having seen the writing on the wall, we got our own personal hamster shopping done several weeks ago.  Although I was so depressed by the selection of frozen veggies (cauliflower, peas, spinach, Brussels sprouts, ugh, and other stuff that either doesn’t seem like an inspiring choice for freezing (texture, people, texture!) or I only eat once in a blue moon because it sends me, for one reason or another, into intestinal distress.  So, again, I would at least like to go back tomorrow or the next day and stock up on apples, oranges, onions, bananas, sweet potatoes, and other fresh veggies.  Also, horror of horrors, our little barrel of salt pickles that the neighbor made for us last summer just ran out.  😦

I also feel like, when the cases get thick on the ground, I ought to volunteer to grocery shop for our immune-compromised neighbor and for our two nearest neighbors in their 70s who are always helping us out and inviting us over for dinner.  I don’t want then to get sick and die!

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