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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Letter: Heartbreaking tales from U.K.’s COVID front lines

Longtime NOTL resident Susan Hall, a warden at St. Mark's Anglican Church, has been unexpectedly caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic while visiting family in Brighton, England. This is her second letter home to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Susan Hall

Special to The Lake Report

Happily, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recovering from COVID-19 at Chequers, his summer residence. He appeared on television recently, clapping like the rest of us for the National Health Service but looked sick and acknowledged he still had a high temperature, which is a danger sign of worse to come.

Following that he was admitted to St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, an institution of which I have fond memories from when I was a research scholar there years ago.

Fortunately, even though he was sick enough to be admitted to the ICU, he managed to recover without requiring the aggressive intervention of a ventilator. He has shown himself to be a strong leader when all around is uncertain and as such he received a massive outpouring of good wishes from the whole country (including me) and, indeed, from around the world.

What do you do all day in lockdown on your own? My day starts around 6:30 a.m., a relaxation from my usual earlier time of 6 a.m. It is not as if I have anything pressing to do at that hour but like another generation of British women of the Raj, I am conscious of the danger of relaxation of standards. Stalwart British women kept wearing their uncomfortable, constrictive corsets through the intense, enervating Indian heat. I fear if I am not similarly self-disciplined I might be overcome by lassitude and just stay in bed.

When inside I listen to BBC Radio 4. Recently, in the mornings we have been presented with a series of heartbreaking, pandemic-related personal stories told by weeping, broken relatives of COVID victims. Surely, I thought, we get enough reality confronting us every day. Do I really want to experience such tragedy vicariously?

There is, however, something so intensely compelling about these human stories I find I am gripped and unable to leave: Like the woman from South Wales who had looked after her husband at home until he became so sick he had to go into hospital.

Read the full story online at https://www.niagaranow.com/opinion.phtml/3779.



As he left he said to his wife and teenage daughters, “Don’t worry about me. I’m coming back.” In hospital, he deteriorated, was transferred to the ICU and put on a ventilator. When his wife asked the authorities if she wore full protective equipment could she visit him, she was told she could visit him only once. This could either be now while he may still be aware or at the end, when he dies, As she said, through her tears ”what a choice to be asked to make.”

Or a 71-year-old Muslim man who had caught COVID when visiting his 91-year-old mother, who died in February from pneumonia, only later diagnosed as COVID-19.

His story was told by his very distressed brother who explained when his brother was thought to be stable in hospital there was a point when decisions had to be made as to who stayed and who went to make room for others. He was discharged from hospital, only to die the next day at home.

His dearest wish had been for his body to be buried next to that of his father, in Pakistan. With no flights going anywhere, that could not happen. It is important in Muslim culture for the body to be buried within two days but the backlog was so large that was impossible, too.

Furthermore, removing the body was also proving difficult because the morgue was full. In the end, he had to find a private company to take the body away. Stories like this do not you leave you, but they emphasize the magnitude and the reality of the problems in this densely populated country.

As I write this, the whole country’s imagination has been captured by 99-year-old Second World War veteran Tom Moore who, using his walker, and wearing his medals, planned to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, hoping to raise 1,000 pounds for the NHS.

In fact, in very short order he has raised over 15 million pounds. People have been so inspired by him, including Prince William, who described him as a legend. Capt. Moore says he is going to continue walking as long as the money is flowing in for his beloved cause.

As a lockdown activity last week I decided to get to grips with the flight of Georgian outdoor steps leading down from the street to my lower ground entrance. On these steps had accumulated possibly years of detritus. I girded my loins and harnessing my vestigial, inner northern housewife, donning my yellow Marigolds I engaged the battle.

When it rains in this city it actually rains soil, in which in short order grow a variety of weeds, many of the trailing variety. I removed all those together with leaves, discarded chocolate wrappers, loads of cigarette butts, identifiable garbage and items that I really did not want to identify.

In the back of a cupboard I found a bottle of environmentally friendly liquid and washed them one by one. It is amazing stuff as it cut miraculously through soil and green mould and left those old tiles absolutely gleaming, I must say I experienced a great sense of achievement and still feel good about it. Examining the label more closely to find out more about this magic product I found it said it was “Rinse Aid. Will leave your dishes sparkling.”

Er! Never mind, it was spectacular. As a friend said to me, “It is said you only need one cleaning product for everything.” Maybe so.

Today it was announced that lockdown, as we know it will continue for the next three weeks, at least. There are aspects of isolation I have definitely embraced. For instance, here in the centre of the city without lockdown I would be surrounded by a busy, bustling mix of shops, pubs, restaurants and licensed premises.

Alcohol licences in this area are vetted by and restricted as much as possible by the North Laines Residents’ Association, which does its best to protect the residence/business mix. Normally, regardless of their efforts, after closing time, especially at the weekend, bands of marauding drunks roll down the road, past the house, to the station.

Being drunk evidently is no fun unless accompanied by loud shouting, singing and/or fighting. This can have a deleterious effect on sleep for local residents, whereas, in lockdown, sleep, so important for the immune system, is long, blissful and unbroken.

My family, including dogs had become accustomed to their lockdown routine. Easter school holidays have ended and school has started again, online. My son-in-law has been working from home throughout but it has become logistically challenging to find suitable, individual classroom accommodation for three children as well.

In addition, my daughter found, taking everyone’s timetable into account, working out a time when everyone could have lunch together was rather like a complicated math problem. Another family member’s son joined the army medical corps within the last couple of years, which he loves. He is thrilled to have been deployed with his contingent to the new Nightingale Hospital in Bristol, where he has been assigned to the ICU. That is certainly going in at the deep end.

Today is Thursday, so at 8 this evening we will all again be standing, clapping for the NHS on our doorsteps, When I asked my son if he was clapping last week he said, ”No, it was my turn with the pan and spoon”!

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