An anthology I’ve edited with David Winner, titled Writing the Virus, has just been published by Outpost19 Books (San Francisco). Its authors—among them Joan Juliet Buck, Rebecca Chace, Edie Meidav, Caille Millner, Uche Nduka, Mui Poopoksakul, Roxana Robinson, Jon Roemer, Joseph Salvatore, Liesl Schillinger, Andrea Scrima, Clifford Thompson, Saskia Vogel, Matthew Vollmer, and David Dario Winner—explore the experience of lockdown, quarantine, social distancing, and the politicization of the virus from a wide variety of perspectives. The majority of the texts were written exclusively for the online literary magazine StatORec, and a keen sense of urgency prevails throughout, an understanding that the authors are chronicling something, responding to something that is changing them and the social fabric all around them.
The range of this anthology is broad: there’s a haunting story that explores the psychological dimensions of an anti-Asian hate crime with a curiously absent culprit; hallucinatory prose that gropes its way through a labyrinth of internalized fear as human encounters are measured in terms of physical distance; a piece on the uncomfortable barriers of ethnicity, civic cooperation, and racism as experienced by someone going out for what is no longer an ordinary run; and a jazz pianist who listens to what’s behind the eerie silence of the virus’s global spread. Read more »
At the time of writing President Donald Trump is an inpatient at the Walter Reed Medical Center. He is of course receiving treatment for coronavirus, a virus he has repeatedly downplayed as being ‘like the flu’. Influenza causes a temperature, achy muscles, often a headache, and some upper respiratory tract symptoms such as a cough. Transmission is through droplet spread, handling of passive vectors like objects and surfaces, and physical contact with the infected. To be fair, this does sound rather like Covid-19, but it is there that the similarities end. Flu is a completely different virus, from which people mostly recover within a week. By contrast, with SARS-CoV-2 it is often in the second week of the illness that some sufferers become alarmingly sick. Influenza tends to kill younger people, because they sometimes have an overactive immune response to the virus leading to organ failure. Meanwhile, one of the reasons for the particular concern for Trump (out of all the Republicans who became infected in the last extraordinary week) is that it is old, obese men who are most at risk of dying. Thinking about the similarities and differences between influenza and Covid-19 brings me to two contemporary pandemic novels by women writers.
‘Changed utterly’: The 1918 Flu in Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars
Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghuesets her latest novelThe Pull of the Starsin Dublin against the backdrop of the final year of the First World War and the ‘Spanish Flu’ that killed more people than had died in the conflict. The intriguing creation story behind this publication is that Donoghue was almost at the proof-checking stage when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold globally. With the help of her publishers (Picador in the UK, and in America Little, Brown), the book was brought out quickly, and she was able to count on a readership sadly better educated about pandemics than she ever expected.Read more »
At the hospital a couple of years ago, a nurse walked up to me to report that one of my patients was “hysterical.”
“She says to make sure Dr. X never returns to her room,” the nurse explained. I was the patient’s internist and Dr. X the surgeon who had operated on her. Apparently, the surgeon had not washed his hands — before and after touching the dressing on her wound.
I braced myself as I went to see the patient in hopes of placating her. I knew it can be difficult persuading another surgeon to take over the case of a patient they had not operated on, as they may think such patient was a troublemaker.
The patient was laying in bed and talking angrily on the phone. I had seen her the previous day, before her surgery, but not yet on that morning. In her early 70s, she looked younger and fit. I introduced myself again, more out of habit than her not remembering who I was. I asked what the matter was, and she recounted essentially what the nurse had said.
“I kept watching him and flinching as he examined me and then lifted the bloody dressing on my wound to take a look. I wanted so bad to say something, but I was afraid he might get mad and do something crazy to me, like purposely infecting my wound. Now that I think about it, I should have told him right to his face.”
Wanting to give the surgeon the benefit of the doubt, I reasoned, “Could he have used the disinfectant hand-rub solution outside the room?” Read more »
We think about our fathers during the month of June. Father’s Day is a time to remember these beloved men, especially those who have passed. We reflect on how remarkable their live were, and of so many questions we’d ask them if they were still alive. I’ ask my Dad what he would have done if we were living together at home during the Covid-19 epidemic.
Actually, I don’t need to ask him; I know exactly what he’d do. He’d have followed the guidelines to the letter. He would set the family rules: 1. Masks and gloves when we go out — and no more family drives for hot dogs, Italian beef, or ice cream cones. 2. Wash hands a lot. 3. (That’s me in 1956, doing the right thing!) Play only in our yard, and not with other kids–so no more wiffleball games in the alley, or running under the sprinkler on the front lawn. 4. Meals together, as usual. 5 Pray together as a family every night. For supplies, he’d take advantage of our well-stocked basement “bomb shelter” storage, pantry and deep freezer.
Dad would have obtained supplies for the lockdown using connections at his workplace, the Chicago Board of Education. In true Chicago style, he would call in favors or promise favors of his own, like a good word to a Department head for a city job. Or he could offer professional family portraits, or wedding photos. He also had gossip and information to share. Read more »