The View from a Small Island: Surviving 2020–part II

“Covid 19 Survival is putting a lid on how you feel”

(a seven-minute read)

Last week I zoom’ed with my 21-year-old granddaughter gathering her observations of 2020. How she approached and survived the Pandemic during her third year at university. What she learned is proof we could live through this unsettling pandemic in unusual ways cherishing those most important aspects of our lives.  

Today I continue this mini-series. We meet a scientist, a Fulbright senior scholar (1999) and oceanographer on a university faculty (20,000 students). Located in a state adjacent to my Small Island, Dr. C has also consulted and taught with international universities in Sweden and Australia training PhD students in her field.

By May 2020, the deadly virus had eliminated travel internationally along with face-to-face student interactions locally. Once the university announced on-line instruction in her typical dig-in and do-it fashion, Dr. C purchased new high-tech technology. She cleaned her office—not too compulsively—and developed solid lesson plans to enhance the new electronic interactions keeping students engaged and learning. In the early days of quarantine, Dr. C knew she needed to mentally engage with her students in an atypical way—zoom meetings, personal phone calls and emails—listening sympathetically to complains and whinging! (Australian slang for complaining.)

Aside from nurturing her students, Dr. C is aware that individuals living alone—as she does—in a pandemic can suffer silently or, as in the case of Dr. C loudly complaining to friends and walking mates. [Editor’s note: Please be informed, Dr. C does not suffer fools lightly nor silently.] Fortunately, loud complaints even socially distanced ones are wrapped in lots of laughter and political puns are easily accepted by her companions.

Her year-long quarantine has been deliberately monitored and carefully observed—caution has been her mantra. She is after all a scientist; she follows the science and she selectively trust experts in her field. She read scientific journals, tracking the Covid19 information daily as spring rolled into summer. The lack of a strategic government plan addressing the disease throughout 2020 was a constant thorn for this analytical mind contributing to disquiet and often anger. Vulnerability does not go down well even with sugar coating and misinformation.   She could see that misinformation and disinformation led to a downward spiral long before most laypersons understood the implications of novel coronavirus. Discontent with ‘the way government ignored science, she developed specific ways to cope.

Covid Habits

Her reading habits were engrained long before 2020—typical of a scholar. Yet she found comfort in learning when anxiety kicked in—as it did on occasion. The news too grim and the Covid death toll shocking. She turned to nature and podcasts on her morning walks. Very early morning walks!

  • At five in the morning, she is an observer of the natural world. Armed with binoculars and a high-end camera, the natural world brought her peace. Bird feeders—only the best went up in her trees and local bird groups gather to feed. Early morning ocean swims with friends kept her sane, slim and healthy. She does own up to a ‘Covid-Hair-Style’—her locks have grown considerably.  
  • Among her favorite pod casts are the comprehensive and complex interviews of Ezra Klein (Apple podcasts VOX ), Terry Grose (NPR’s Fresh Air), The Daily (New York Times) and the humorous (or really depressing) No Stupid Questions (Apple Podcasts). However, she asserts: “if something is boring, I find something new. To learn something new gets me out of the doldrums.”
  • However, she reveals that her language skills in Chinese are lacking. She could not get her head around the spoken language. Rather than an uphill climb with a challenging language, she turned to art—computer graphic art has filled many of her hours in solitude—an artist at heart she focused on scenes of nature turning to the Southwest United States. 
  • During the summer and autumn political campaigns, yelling at the absurdity of the evening news ensured her mental health. “Fortunately, the television does not ‘talk back’.

As with many, she suffers pandemic fatigue. “The world is out of whack with the approval of vaccines. You can’t just go back to the way-it-was,.” Dr.C complains. She expected more relief with the arrival of the vaccinations. She received her initial inoculation two weeks ago, but relief still hides due to the unknowns. Risk assessment is still at five percent both for getting and giving the disease. Risk assessment is a different science and we are not yet good at this. We do well in the concrete and not with the abstract”.

It’s important to get this right. With a vaccine at 95% efficacy, there is still a 5% chance of being infected. When the virus is running rampant, that risk can be considerable. Risk is different from risk assessment. With that knowledge, we try to understand which of our potential activities are safe to do —that’s the risk assessment. The assessment of risk, when we don’t have full knowledge of what is happening around us, is what is so draining.[Editor’s note: Perhaps this is advantage of social scientists—we deal with human behavior—primarily in the abstract.]

We are an inventive bunch finding ways to overcome solitude and loneliness in this strange period of our lives. For this scholar/teacher, diversity of the mind helped overcome Dr. C’s loneliness and isolation. It is/was a challenge for most all; a challenge we are unlikely to forget. And her students? Covid or not, excuses for tardy assignments remain the same. . . “the dog ate my homework!” No. Now the often heard excuse: my internet is down.

Next week: Food, Glorious Food! Three sorta, wanna-be Chefs each share favorite recipe. Their partners put on the pounds! But a long vigorous walk every day helps–particularly if chocolate-chip cookies are your speciality!

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