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SocietyMarch 14, 2020

When ‘she’ll be right’ won’t cut it: On the temptation to soldier on through a virus

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Getty Images

What’s your automatic inclination when you wake up feeling under the weather? If you’re anything like Catherine Jeffcoat, you just keep on going. And that’s a problem.


Tuesday 3 March 2020: Day minus 02 

“Oh by the way, I’ve got a bit of a sniffle”, she said. “I’ll be fine”, I text back, “I just won’t hug you”.

The Best Show in Town is at Your Place Every Night is Jonny Potts’ Wellington Fringe show about memories of video stores. It’s funny, but melancholy too, reminding us of our teenage heyday, browsing for hours, taking all this cinematic richness for granted.

“I’m so glad I saw this with you”, I said afterwards.

Thursday, Day 1

I wake up in the night with a sore throat. Come the morning, it’s hard to get out of bed. “Don’t kiss me”, I say to my partner, “I don’t want you getting sick.”

I can’t get the ‘Soldier on’ ads from the 1990s out of my head: a variety of (quite healthy-looking) people brandishing a packet of cold and flu remedy while marching off to their various responsibilities. But I’m too much of a wuss to face the office. I pop a Nurofen and work from home. I’ll be fine tomorrow.

Friday, Day 2

Coffee with my mother. “No hugging”, I text beforehand. I wash my hands, and then ask the café staff for a sugar sachet which I hand to her. I’m pretty sure I didn’t touch my face in between.

Saturday, Day 3

We stay in bed until noon with coffee and the papers. For dinner, I throw pizza dough ingredients into the breadmaker. This hardly qualifies as cooking, but I need a lie-down afterwards.

Sunday, Day 4

At 9am we do a lap of the Newtown Festival before the crowds and the heat. We buy a few things, sign a few petitions. After 20 minutes I am so, so tired.

Monday, Day 5

Surely I must be better by now. But a wave of heat washes over me. I yank the duvet back and lie there covered only in a sheet, until I cool off and pull it over again.

I call the special Covid-19 Healthline number. I am on hold for a very long time. I feel apologetic – after all, my symptoms hardly amount to anything. “Call us back if you feel worse,” they say.

“Social isolation? Nah, if we all did that, everything would grind to a halt.”

Kiwis are crap at social hygiene. A few years ago I had lunch with a friend who complained of a lingering cold. Poor thing, I thought, and gave her a hug. Three days later, I was sick, but still went to a concert. Two weeks later, I still had a nasty dose of the flu. Here and now, I would like to apologise to anyone within coughing distance of me at Marlon Williams at Bodega in 2015.

Why did I go out on Tuesday, or any of the other days? She’ll be right just isn’t good enough when it comes to the flu.

I have plans today, a coffee, dinner and then Film Society. At exactly the point when I should leave the house, I cancel everything and curl up on the sofa.

“I give up worrying whether it’s coronavirus or not” (Getty Images)

Tuesday, Day 6

How can I still feel exactly the same? I text my mother and my partner: “do you feel ok?”. I worry that it’s coronavirus and I have infected them, as well as dozens of other people I don’t even know.

I cancel everything for the next two days, including catching up with a friend with a one-year-old baby. “Thanks for not sharing,” she replies.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my part-time work providing the certainty of sick leave and also the ability to work from home, no questions asked. I have a video call with a workmate and poke at a few emails. By 2pm I need a nap.

An introvert by nature, I don’t miss the outside world much. We have been stockpiling books and movies for the past few years, to overflowing. The fridge and freezer are full, and thankfully my partner is still well, so can pop out for milk and bread.

Wednesday, Day 7 

My stomach hurts. I check the Nurofen bottle – don’t use for more than three days unless advised by a doctor. I switch to Panadol.

I call my medical centre and the nurse asks brusquely if I’ve been overseas recently, or if I’ve been in contact with anyone who has come back from an affected area. No, I say. Well it’s probably a flu then. Rest and liquids.

I give up worrying whether it’s coronavirus or not – I definitely don’t want to pass it on. I text my friend from out of town who is coming to stay and has a compromised immune system: “We need a plan B”.

Thursday, Day 8 

Miracle! I do a solid day’s work without breaking into a fever or needing a lie down.

Scrolling through Twitter, it seems like Western civilisation is losing its shit. The NBA cancelled all its games! Tom Hanks has been diagnosed! Flights from Europe to the US are banned!

Oh boy.

Can we get somewhere halfway between freaking out and ignoring it? Helping each other to cope with it, little bit by little bit?

I Skype an old colleague, glad of the social time. She has Womad tickets, and doubts. Best not, I reckon.

And that’s the point. Some of us are lucky enough to be otherwise healthy. We can stay home due to sympathetic bosses, good remote working practices and adequate sick leave. Keeping a low profile, avoiding large gatherings – these things don’t cost us much. Read Siouxsie Wiles, a beacon of knowledge and reasonableness, on why it’s incumbent on all of us to do our part.

It’s the rest of us that I worry about. Those older or weaker, with health conditions that make them more likely to pick up things – and will find it harder to fight off a virus. The precariously employed, the ones on the front lines of cafes and shops and hospitals, or the ones with unhelpful bosses.

We owe it to them to not ‘soldier on’, but to stay home and work our way through our DVD collection. To make the best show in town at our places every night.

Keep going!