There's never going to be a right week to give up a crutch. But it turns out that the hospitalisation of a near relative (to use the rather stark phrase from the Leave of Absence policy) is definitely not a good background to it.
Four years ago, Mrs Richardson spent a week in hospital being treated for, and recovering from, viral meningitis. So we were at least aware of the combination of debilitating symptoms from the last go. But this time, it wasn't so much meningitis as all the symptoms of meningitis but none of the causes. No virus, no bacteria, just the thundering headache, light aversion and stiff neck. I've remarked before that the last place you want to be when you're ill is in a hospital (it's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now) because if nothing else it's full of ill people. But during the CV-19 pandemic, having the symptoms of a potentially infectious disease that lands you in the infectious diseases ward looks like a very poor life choice.
Still, we're all back home and a treatment plan - for something entirely different - is in place. That's just an intro to a couple of observations about the hospital and its systems. The first is that there seems to have been a shift in the emphasis in hospital treatment. It's all 'care', with a bit of 'health' mixed in. There is a legion of dedicated people looking after the inpatients, almost none of whom have any medical training. Doctors are understandably called to the cases where actual dying is a real and imminent threat, which on E ward right now seems to apply to a lot of patients. Getting any sense of what is happening is a challenge, because there's someone else whose needs are more pressing. Which is how it should be, of course, but it shows in very stark terms the strain on the resources that this whole situation has created.
The second observation is that having spent a few afternoons visiting this place, according to the test-and-trace app, I have not had any contact with any Covid-19 positive folk. Unlikely, but there you go.
If you were soundtracking this period of time, it feels like the only thing to do would be to go ominous. The people in charge of decision-making at the highest level seem to be drawn by the opposite pulls of keeping people as safe as possible and trying to get the country at large doing stuff in such a way as to end up achieving neither. It's not like I know what to do, and it's not the case that anyone has a magic plan up their sleeve which would make this all go away. But the people who end up making decisions - the great British public with the common sense - are being asked to weigh up risks that they can't possibly enumerate, and behave accordingly. That's an impossible task to get right. The thing that seems to be lacking is any over-riding sense of principle, any sense that there is a central guiding idea that all decisions refer to. I have written characters with a thoroughgoing sense of principle, although the one who I probably think about the most, Edward Strelley, is on the record as saying that he will bend his principles before the wind if needs be... It serves to make a point, which is that a good principle on which to rely might, in this case, to take the kindest, most patient, most humanistic route. Not to serve the needs of big corporations, or of shareholders, or even of something nebulous like 'the economy', but to start to think in terms of how these decisions impact individuals. The strident voices of those who support a return to normality are relevant in this discussion, and the appeal to a principle - freedom of choice - not without its argumentative merit. Indeed, one might side with the sentiment expressed by Ben Franklin: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." But we're not talking about purchasing temporary safety. We're talking about tens of thousands of lives (already) lost. So, what price do we put on those lives? I don't know where to draw a line, but my instinct is to say that wearing a mask is a small and reasonable price to pay. Not enjoying the fun university experience by getting battered at a party and talking wibble-y rubbish to your new mates is perhaps a slightly bigger price for those paying it, but still reasonable. It'd be interesting to get Franklin's views on the contemporary crisis. I suspect if he thought the disease could wipe out a huge number of Americans, he wouldn't be so keen on defending the liberty of the mask-refusers...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought