Back In My Day

BY JESSICA MCKIE

The year is 2085 and in a nursing home in the suburbs of Melbourne a youthful, energetic, uniform clad student is gruelling through their 15 hours of school-mandated community service. Across a room of walking frames, white hair (nursing homes of course remain stagnant, unperturbed by the passing of time), the student hears a croak and watches as an arthritic finger lifts to gesture in their direction.

“Back in my day, we had the pandemic you know,” a voice cuts through the confused cacophony of teatime and craft. The student struggles not to groan.

That’s me. The one with the finger, the walker and the white hair. The one hell-bent on sharing a story no doubt heard many times by this poor, innocent local school student. A story retold by parents, family friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents. A story read about in history class, narrated with comments of “Look how they lived!”, “I can’t believe how many people died!”  and “Why did America elect him?!”. A story well worth sharing with all people in this new generation because for one year, our whole world was turned upside down.

Topsy, turvy, wrong-way round, inside out and back-to-front.

Living through a pandemic has brought out the best, worst and weirdest sides of humanity. In some ways, people split into Harry Potter-esque groups. Those who bravely name the virus! Conquer the virus! Face this challenge head on with fortitude and strength! They were the Dumbledore’s of this era, offering encouragement and wisdom.  The Hermione’s lead our social media productivity competitions of banana bread baking and at home workouts, whilst providing salient updates and reminders to wash our hands. Meanwhile, the Fred and Georges gave it nicknames. Highlights include Ms Rona, the Panny-D, Pandemic at the Disco, The-Virus-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, the “current climate” and Company Policy. At one point the Dolores Umbridge’s of the group started suggesting it was a 5G conspiracy or ‘just a cold’. The WHO (a.k.a the Minerva McGonagall of medicine) put them all back in their boxes when they launched a global inquiry into Covid-19. 

More seriously, there were those who couldn’t discuss details of deaths and infection rates. Who hid slightly from the news to protect their emotional and mental health. Who used this time as a much needed break from their everyday lives. Finally, there were those who had more important concerns – whose lives had been thrust into personal, financial, mental and physical danger as a result of our “new normal”.

Of course, life is more like a box of chocolates than a magical wizarding school. We all flitted between many categories, almost at random. Some days I was Hermione, other days I was 11-year-old Neville Longbottom, struggling not to embody his own unfortunate surname.

This poor young person in the year 2085 may not have read Harry Potter, but hopefully in my old age I am able to pass on some nuggets of insight.  Living through a global pandemic has taught me that before anything else, human beings are social creatures. The primal need to connect with someone face-to-face is overwhelming. Society compensated with video-calls, social media, Netflix Parties, online Pub Quizzes, live workout classes and much, much more. My own home felt like a family-friendly Big Brother revival. Suddenly, I found my days revolving around two things. Firstly, “seeing” and speaking to those I don’t immediately live with and secondly, going on my government mandated exercise outside. OH! Fresh air! For the first time in my life I understood why my cat insists on going inside and outside all day every day at unrelenting 10-minute intervals. It is because she can, and the outside world is glorious. I craved spending time outdoors so much I became a runner. Trust me, nobody is more shocked than I. 

I would also impart to this youngster of the future (who is no doubt very bored by this point), that coronavirus brought out a level of fear in Australian society that nobody had seen for a very long time. What began as a desperate quest for toilet paper, morphed into people crossing roads to avoid oncoming walkers and turning their heads away from passing strangers. Racial slurs were thrown at those supposedly ‘to blame’ for an uncontrollable virus. I once coughed in a Coles and a fellow shopper looked at me as if I had summoned the anti-Christ. 

We were presented with this cruel paradox: Australia had never been more desperate for connection, yet more fearful of those around us.

I felt torn. As a medical student I wanted to learn about this virus, this pandemic, this marvellous global dance of public health messaging, medical ethics and culture. I understood I had to do my bit to ensure Australia’s health system survived. But equally, I so desperately wished to return to a normal routine of ward rounds, clinic, surgery and tutorials. How dare this pandemic ruin my first clinical year! My year of twenty firsts! My planned holiday!

After the initial anger and frustration at what was taken away, I was left with guilt. How could I be so selfish? But it was the wise words of Albus Dumbledore, stored somewhere at the back of my Gen-Z brain, that came to mind: “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live”. Accepting this ‘new normal’ took time, but after an initial adjustment I settled into my new day to day. After all, this pandemic would likely occupy a year of my life, and I was not about to write it off completely. One thing I had learnt from my first 6 weeks of third year placement, was that life is incredibly short.

Perhaps I would end my somewhat-delirious story to this Year 10 student, now most assuredly regretting their choice of community service, with arguably the most moving lesson from the Panny-D. That no matter the odds, humanity will always find a way to come together, to celebrate achievements, to cherish each other and to love. I hope that when my generation writes history books on this topic that we include photos not just of hospital beds and ventilators, but of people holding newborns up to windows to meet grandparents, of hospital wards applauding recovered patients, of students Zoom-ing one another wearing funny hats and of dogs being so, so, so happy that their humans are home for twice daily walks.

Back in my day we lived through a pandemic. It was weird, scary and confronting. It was also a timely reminder for a generation glued to their phones, that nothing will ever replace being able to spend time with those you love.

Deep Breaths

By Anonymous

2020 as it is today is definitely not what I imagined it to be on New Year’s Eve. Even as I made the same New Year’s Resolutions I always did, I knew this year was going to be different. Like everyone else, this was going to be my year! The “New Year New Me” trope definitely resonated with me. I started off pretty well, too! I was going to the gym, I made time for myself, I worked hard, and I also tried to let loose… a little. Then came COVID, and we’re back to the drawing board. All my plans for this year had to be adjusted. A little, or maybe even a lot.

I’m an international student and I haven’t seen my family since January. I had planned to go back home at the end of November, but as expected, my flight got cancelled. I knew it was going to happen and I knew that going home may not have been the most realistic and wise decision in the midst of a pandemic. However, when the cancellation was confirmed, I may not have admitted it at the time, but I was disheartened. I felt emotional, helpless and worried about when I’d be able to see my family next. 

However, I’m a firm believer that it’s all about perspective and what we do with the opportunities we get and the challenges that we face. In hindsight, I’ve grown a lot during this pandemic, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what is truly important. One of the most important things I learned, is that my health, encompassing physical, emotional and mental domains, is of utmost priority, especially during this pandemic. I also learned that I could either focus on all the problems and the negatives, or I could focus on the solutions and be more positive. 

This is definitely easier said than done. 

Some ways I dealt with all my emotions during the pandemic was by reflecting on things I am thankful for. I’m thankful for the friends I have here, I’m thankful for being in a safe country. I’m thankful for having access to food and water, living in a home that is warm and comfortable. I’m thankful that I still have the opportunity to continue my education. I’m thankful that I have more time on my hands to have long video chats with my family. 

Another thing I did was I tried to still achieve the goals I wanted to achieve, but by changing the means with which they’ll be achieved. I’ll be honest, when the gyms shut down, I was really sad. I loved the adrenaline rush from lifting weights, I was excited about strength training, and I found it to be a great mental break from studying. But I realised I could do the same thing outside the gym as well. I could go for regular morning walks/runs, play sports with my housemate at the park near my house, go bike riding, or even watch YouTube videos for at-home workouts. 

The moral of the story is, I learned that a lot of the times, it’s not what opportunities we get that are important or determine our success, but it’s also what we make of those opportunities. This may well be an opportunity for more self-growth, to attend to things we didn’t have time to attend to, and really re-centre our attention to the things that really matter to us!

Find that passion and make the most of the time we got with this Pandemic and let’s come out at survivors! And remember to get your daily water intake and vitamin D 🙂

Unstable Connection

BY MONIQUE CONIBEAR

Back in my day, I lived through a pandemic and it was the only thing that truly prepared me for this moment.

From the bottom of the carpark the white building was like a castle. Multiple levels looming over me with each wing interconnected through a walkway of glass that faced out towards a forest of green. It was beautiful in a way, a new adventure kind of like my first year at university. I would be living in a room about the same size as the one at my college hall. Everyone around me would be different, hundreds of potentials for another friend. There would even be games and activities to get me involved every single day.

It would be similar to university, but not the same. If anything, it would be more like my second year. The year of the pandemic. Sure, maybe this time I would be able to see new people every day, but I still wouldn’t be able to connect like normal.

As I walked into the foyer the first thing that struck me was how pristine everything looked. A bottle of sanitiser on the wall, a vending machine in the waiting room, a nurse sitting at the desk. It reminded me of the hospital where I had spent many years as a doctor. Pushing through on exhausted legs until the sun rose and I was granted a chance to rest. However as much as this reminded me of my working years, I wasn’t here to work. This time I was the patient and from now until the day I died; this would be my new home.

“Excuse me, can I help you?” the nurse at the desk called out, beckoning me over.

I jolted out of my thoughts.

“Hi, sorry, I’m uhh” the words jumbled in my mind. I dug my fingernails into my palm. What was the word I was trying to say? I bit the inside of my cheek. I felt like I was back on that zoom call but the internet was constantly cutting out. So many random words being missed that the sentence no longer made sense anymore.  How could I possible connect with them if I couldn’t even have a conversation? The other day I had forgotten the word for mug. Mug. Such a simple word that I had used all my life and I couldn’t even remember it. Yet somehow my stupid mind could still remember all the elements of the periodic table that I learnt in Year 8. It didn’t even make sense. 

“Mum, there you are. Sorry we got caught in traffic on the way over. Paul is bringing up your things”. Sophie called, wheeling in one of the suitcases she had packed for me.

“Oh, you must be the new resident,” the nurse said, shuffling through the paperwork. “I’ll go get Kerrie and she can show you around.”

I just nodded and took another look around. Why had I agreed to this? At least at home I would be surrounded by people I loved. How could anyone ever love me here if I couldn’t even hold a conversation?

Another lady was walking into the foyer, bent over her walking frame and taking slow shuffling steps. She was beaming from ear to ear as she hummed Amazing Grace. It startled me at first, how happy be looked, but then I realised she wasn’t exactly in the same boat as me. I would give up my mobility any day if I could just speak normally again.  If I could still love like I had before. That was probably why she was so happy.

As she saw me her entire face lit up. She shuffled towards me and gave me a warm smile, resting her hand on mine and squeezing tight. Then, still without saying a word she made her way out the door and sat on the little chair overlooking the carpark.

“See. She seems really lovely,” Sophie said, squeezing my other hand.  

I nodded; my eyes still focused on the woman. Her smile stretched from ear to ear as she looked aimlessly out towards the cars. I glanced back down at my hands where the feeling of her touch still lingered. We hadn’t even spoken, yet I felt like I already knew her.

Maybe this wasn’t like the pandemic at all. Back then we could never hold a stranger’s hand like that, yet we could talk as much as we liked.  Back then I would have been craving what I have now. I might have even given up all my conversations if it meant I could just give someone a hug.

I felt tears begin to prick at my eyes. How had I forgotten that there is more than one way to love? The pandemic had been the same at first, I was so focused on not being able to hold someone’s hand or give them a hug that I forgot there were other ways to connect. We had adapted back then, finding new ways to care and connect despite the barrier. Calling a friend just to show them we were thinking about them. Not focused on the exact conversations we were having but rather knowing that the effort itself showed more than words ever could. 

Maybe, just maybe , I could learn how to adapt now too.