:: Buzzwords

3:AM in Lockdown 64: Monique Roffey

By Monique Roffey.

As I write this, the UK is coming up to the end of its fifth week in lockdown. I will be fifty-five tomorrow, 24th April. At high risk, with asthma and a rare autoimmune illness, Churg Strauss Syndrome, I’m glad I made it to this age. However, in these times the subject of age has a much edgier significance. Thank God, I’m not nearer 60, is a quiet thought. Better odds. At least I’m blood type O, etc, etc. All these selfish and self-shoring up thoughts have come and gone, and come and gone, and I’m not necessarily proud of them. In short, what are my chances of survival? From the outset, I knew what catching Covid-19 could mean. I’ve seen what my NHS medical files look like, huge stuffed tomes wider than a hand’s grasp. I know how weak my chest is, how, daily, I rely on my inhalers to get by. When, mid-March, news of lockdown was imminent, I acted fast and bought myself a nebuliser. When it arrived from Amazon weeks later, I felt a little more secure. Now, they are impossible to get hold of. Asthmatics, worldwide, know that Covid-19 is a perilous threat.

However, early March, I came down with a cold. It seemed to slip inside me in a dream one Sunday night. I dreamt my cold. It didn’t arrive like normal colds, in my throat, lots of sneezing and then a clotted head for days; sodden tissues and bleary eyes. I was conscious of its arrival, during slumber, a strange and magical experience. No sneezing. Days later, I experienced a cloying sore throat. Worried, I cancelled a reading at Essex Lit-fest. They understood. I dialed 111 but I was told unless I’d been in direct contact with someone from Italy or China, I had no chance of getting this virus. That was March 5th. Ho ho. It’s usual for me to not shake off a cold. This one lasted a month. I had bouts of fatigue, too. I catch almost anything going around. So I’ve been trapped in a double bind: wondering if I’ve already had the virus, mildly, and living in mortal dread of catching it. Actually, the mortal dread has worn off. You can’t live at such a high pitch of fear for weeks. Something like acceptance has replaced this, a letting go. Also, hope. The longer I don’t get this, the more likely I will receive good NHS care; early on there was talk of ‘triage’. A friend had blithely said, “Mon, if you get this and end up in hospital, they’ll take one look at your notes, and bump you off”.


I’ve worked mostly from home the past twenty years, writing novels, editing and teaching online, so I had, at first, thought lockdown would be okay, psychologically and emotionally. I assumed I’d cope better than most. But the enormity of what this new virus means, its existential scope, has meant that lockdown hasn’t been at all easy. I’ve been constantly distracted, unable to focus much. I’ve slept erratically. There have been mood swings. Most of my friends have reported the same. I live without a television, but the news has been so compelling, especially in the early weeks, I found myself listening to BBC Radio 4 on the hour. I’ve been constantly searching the Internet for more than what we are being fed, trying to see if a long shot view is possible, trying to read what science is available for the lay reader, and trying to work out who to trust.

Since those early days of lockdown, I’ve also made a will. I’ve decided who gets what, should this virus take me. I’m single and childfree. I reckon if not now, when? This is the time to do this. I also wrote down what kind of ‘after party’ I’d like after my cremation. I’m a Buddhist, so no church please. Only now do I realise how important this is. Imagine being buried in a coffin and having a service in a church! I needed to tell people; no, certain procedures would really not be appropriate. Not for me. Please. Burn me and celebrate my life. No one wear black. I even chose who would officiate the party and where. Sadly, none of this will count, should I end up sick enough to die from this virus. I’ve watched nurses on Channel 4 clips talk of the end of death conversations they’ve had with those in ICU. Covid-19 deaths are heartbreakingly lonely. So are Covid-19 funerals. As a high-risk person, facing possible death has been ‘the thing’ of lockdown, or maybe mostly the early weeks. @HighRiskCovid19 is a hashtag I’ve used a lot, and I was part of a short film for Huff Post. Like all the other high riskers, I’m already ill. I live a more or less normal life, given essential and ongoing medication. When I finally received ‘the letter’ from my GP, I had to sit down. Go away. I went for a very long walk in the spring sunshine. Can you refuse to die? I think that’s how I’ll beat it. Utter denial. I watched Covid-19 survivor Pink, also an asthmatic, on Ellen, say that she’d done many mad bad things in her life, and “to go like this?” I get that too.

Actually, I have found some solace. Pandemic, a Netflix docu-series is outstanding. It puts the average person, the non-virologist, in the picture with what we are dealing with. Filmed in 2019, it follows several teams of scientists around the world, as they search for a way to stop what has now happened. I now follow some of these scientists on Twitter. They’ve been the few credible voices I now want in my life: Dr Jacob Glanville (@CurlyJungleJake) and Sarah Ives (@sives54), as well as pathogen preparedness expert Dr Syra Madad (@syramadad) currently overseeing New York’s response to the disease. These three scientists have been my go-to people in these weeks. They upload data and papers I feel I should read.

Like many, I’ve been watching the Tories have the rug pulled from under them; “profit is less important than life” says Zoe Williams in today’s Guardian. The Conservatives, as a group ideology, are having such an obvious failure in terms of human principle. It’s taken this, a frigging global pandemic, to hurt them. Capitalists need workers, but how can they capitalise if all the workers are either ill, dying, or locked indoors? Covid-19 is a leveller. The Tory press have even turned rogue. Murdoch has slayed Boris in the Sunday Times and his shoddy approach to the virus early on. Piers Morgan has also turned leftie, savaging Hancock and co, on live breakfast time TV. A friend of Trump, he’s laid into Trump too. The NHS, limping and barely standing, is now a cherished pillar of our society. The first Thursday we all clapped I was brought to tears. Middle class, living in the East End, my neighborhood is edgy at the best of times. These days, I feel more bonded with my neighbours. To date, £28 million was raised by an ex army Captain Tom Moore, walking laps of his garden, great except that the NHS isn’t a charity.

However, these shifts in POV high up are what has kept me hopeful in all of this. Surely Boris has been somewhat humbled, what with being saved from the jaws of death by the NHS, being tended to so tenderly by two immigrants? In his speech to the nation after he left hospital, he mentioned the word ‘love’ twice. But no one believes he might have softened. As a co-founder of XRWritersRebel, I hope, post Covid-19, we will see a new green deal and a substantial change towards how mankind cares for the planet. But for now, lockdown is best managed one day at a time. We face many more weeks of it, and, for those of us who are high risk, maybe many months. Tomorrow will be a good day. I will turn fifty-five.


First posted: Thursday, May 21st, 2020.

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