Chaplaincy

Return of the 'Vid

MindLetter post written by Dr Kitty Wheater

Dear all,

 

It's raining today, and Ben the collie and I had a soggy walk into work this morning. The building is now closed for the Festival; it's quiet and peaceful, the calm before the storm. Elsewhere, however, life is not so calm...

Return of the ’Vid 

Overhead photograph of a woman playing tennis on a grass court. The woman is wearing black shorts and a black top

It’s the ultimate subversive relay race: the one where dropping the baton is exactly what you want. The first message comes in two days after I spend an afternoon with a friend at the Modern Art Gallery. ‘I’m sorry to message so early…I’ve just tested positive for Covid. We hugged!’ Yes, we did, and I spend that week calculating what manner of mischief will arise and what must be cancelled should I in turn succumb. Happily, the tests stay negative. Even more happily, it’s Wimbledon, so my friend can lie in bed and watch people with a lot more energy than her bounding around Centre Court while she’s limp with fever. It’s a week or so of illness, and then she re-emerges, with no appetite, but otherwise none the worse for wear. 

Then another friend goes down. This one is visiting her family and finds herself banished to her room, food brought three times a day. She’s clinically vulnerable and spent two years in her flat in Edinburgh, seeing few, mostly outdoors, fully masked even on walks, while she waited for each vaccine. Down she goes, and it’s horrendous for two weeks, but she stays out of hospital. To amuse herself she swipes through online dating profiles and sends me the best. The pursuit of love won’t wait, not even for Covid.  

And then: it’s Pam’s turn. Former-marathon-running Pam, multiple-hills-walked-in-a-day Pam, is out like a light. There is a small problem here, and it’s dog-shaped. Ben the collie, starved of his usual attention, takes to throwing the ball at her while she lies in bed, unable to get up. Neighbours step in to help, but Ben likes a casual three hours’ exercise a day, so project-managing his dance card with willing pairs of human legs is quite the mission. I cycle over and chip in, receiving dog en plein air, wondering about Covid lurking on his beloved fur as I stroke him, sanitising my hands heavily after each walk.  

Finally, to give Pam a break, I take him for a couple of days. I get used to early morning walks before work under the big open sky, and dog strokes while I make my tea between meetings. I’ve looked after Ben before, but this time it feels different. It starts giving me ideas. They’re ideas I’ve had before, but this time they feel different, too. I buy a book on border collie training, and then another. With some hours on the internet, and a few messages and photographs, a plan, soft and sweet and hopeful, falls into place. 

Photograph of Ben the Collie. Ben is has a red dressing gown tied around him.
'Can we go back to the beach please?' !!

This round of Covid feels familiar but altered. The messages of woe, the sinking stomach, eyeing one’s microscopic supply of LFDs left over from the last surprise – these are the same. My Covid stash of soup tins remains more or less identical, suspended in time. After spending two weeks in bed with the virus over Christmas, I still calculate – don’t you? – which of my friends and colleagues I feel safest around: the ones who tested positive last month, or the month before; the ones I’ll be meeting on the beach in wind-swept air. There are 13,000 people in hospital with Covid right now, a rise of fifty per cent in a month.  

The numbers are hard, but Covid culture has softened. The fear levels are down. Even my clinically vulnerable friend had had enough of being frightened by the time she caught it, had resumed going to galleries and on trains. The virus feels commonplace to us now; we accept that we could become ill. We accept that, unlike the common cold of old, it could mean a week or two under the duvet, some weeks of fatigue, brain fog, disrupted menstrual cycles, muscle aches. It is, it seems, a culture of kindness, and patience. Friends check in on each other over a period of weeks, and neighbours walk confused dogs over several days. And while we’re down and out, life carries on. Rybakina won Wimbledon; my friend has found some people to go on dates with; and a girl puppy, black and white, with big dark eyes, trots around a garden in Fife. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s waiting to meet me. Fingers crossed I don’t get Covid.  

Wishing you all good health and summer blessings. 

Warmly 

Kitty