British Journal of General Practice 2020; 70 (694): 240. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp20X709625
COVID 19 itself is just doing what it has evolved to do. To spread, replicate and spread again. In many ways simply mimicking the organism that it finds a home in. In semantic terms, it is a name we give to a biological entity that now competes with us for the life we believe we want to lead.
But COVID 19 is not just this biological reality that we now stand toe to toe with, it has become the umbrella term by which we package all our hopes, fears and uncertainties. COVID 19 is the manifestation of the shadow that stalks all of us, both individually and collectively. It is the other, the unknown, the promise of annihilation, the loss of control, the bogeyman, the monster under the bed, the ghost in the cupboard.
Human life has always defined itself by its opposition to the threats its faced. We are always classically asked to choose a side in warfare, rivalry, race, culture, sport etc and this is the beginnings of who we then believe ourselves to be. I am who I am based on what these others might try and take away.
COVID 19 has the capacity to take away it all from us: our loved ones, our bodies, our security, our freedom of movement, our money, our frenetic lifestyles, our desire to do what we want when we want. Hanging above all of us right now is the deep possibility of the loss of an old way of life that we didn’t even know we took for granted. COVID 19 is the manifestation of the scattering of total biological chaos amongst our ordered pigeons.
Yet at the same time, we have chosen this disaster. The conditions for COVID 19 to thrive could not exist without the way we have structured the world. In another epoch it would have been localised, wreaked havoc and then died with those unfortunate enough to have caught it. But the majority of the human world is so small now, so reachable. This is a virus born of our own evolution, having spotted the weaknesses to exploit it has done so quite magnificently.
Throughout the history of life, creation and destruction have walked hand in hand. Human progress is as much thanks to disaster as it is to ingenuity. Each disease we have faced in the past has made us more resilient as a specie in our understanding of how we can co-exist with and control the natural world. Disease and evolution, it could be argued, need each other.
To all of us COVID 19 will mean something different as the reality of it emerges from the shadows we all carry. It threatens to reveal all the aspects of ourselves that we can keep hidden and maintained under the guise of a controlled and ordered society. All of us will fear its arrival differently, all of us will be tested differently, all of us will be unmasked differently.
Yet the great irony, like so many hero/villain narratives, is that we and COVID 19 are not that different. Simply doing what it is in our nature to propagate, spread, reproduce and evolve. The only enemy here is ourselves, in our refusal to see this situation for what it and our lack of respect towards what we need to do to stop it from overwhelming us.
And meanwhile this titanic battle for life begins to emerge, the rest of the natural world watches impassively on, perhaps wondering what all the fuss is about. They say, that for the first time in years, the birds in Wuhan have been heard to sing.
(and for those who feel that lock down and social distancing is too extreme, please please listen to this Hospital Consultant talk about his experiences so far. As things stand the NHS is currently treating those who were infected 10 days ago and is already at capacity…..)