The right decisions are hard decisions
Russell Wangersky Eastern Passages
This comes from the land of, “I didn’t expect it to hurt so much.” Saturday, I got a call from my son – he’s a paramedic in rural Newfoundland, working or on call more often than not, one cog in the big wheel that’s expected to deal with the global threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not unusual to hear from him. We talk – or, more frequently text – about new beers, about similar experiences we’ve had in emergency services, about the endless snow this winter. But this was different. He was calling to say that, since a presumptive COVID-19 case had turned up in Newfoundland and Labrador’s Eastern Health district, we shouldn’t be in physical contact anymore. He’d obviously been thinking about it for a while, getting ready for the eventuality that cases would show up and how he would deal with that fact when it happened. His concern? “I don’t think I should see you guys right now.” It wasn’t concerns about his health – it was the health of his family, especially older family members who are more at risk. (I’m 22 years old or less on the inside, but 57 on the outside, damn it. Not even sure how that happened.) His logic was both simple and unassailable; at least right now, he doesn’t expect to be regularly transporting patients with COVID-19, though he could be transporting undiagnosed patients without knowing it. He’s more concerned, actually, about more generic risks. He’s bringing patients into the emergency room at the largest hospital in St. John’s on a regular basis, a hospital that, as cases grow, will certainly end up treating COVID-19 patients, if it hasn’t had undiagnosed cases already. Even with careful disinfection and the most thorough of protocols, he’s pretty sure he’s going to be around people carrying the virus. And he’s doing everything he can to make sure he’s not responsible for taking it anywhere else. It’s not that surprising a decision. Like many people, I was told to start working from home last week, and our household takes social distancing very, very seriously. So even though I planned to drop off some particularly interesting beers outside his door this week, I wasn’t planning on going in or even having a backdoor close-up chat – just a drop and run. And though we haven’t left the province or come back from exotic cruise ship travel, we don’t know if we might somehow have been infected, so we’re taking every possible precaution not to infect anyone else. Even if, right now, we might only be practising for a pandemic that hasn’t truly made itself known here yet, practice makes perfect. It takes a while to work out all the changes you have to make in your life to close down unnecessary contact. Try it if you don’t agree. Try it if you do agree. Just do it. Frankly, if you’re not doing the very best you can to make sure you protect others from risk, you’re failing at basic humanity. Does that make the right decision any easier to take? No. When you suddenly realize that, for the foreseeable future, personal contact with someone you love is absolutely, completely shut down? When you also realize, honestly and pragmatically, that you have no idea when that contact will come back? Wow, that’s a door you don’t see coming until it suddenly slams shut. Don’t get me wrong – it’s absolutely, positively the right thing to do. It’s a careful, objective medical decision, made by a professional paramedic who I am, by the way, extraordinarily proud of. That doesn’t make it sting any less. Russell Wangersky’s column appears in Saltwire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.