Something A Little Personal About A Little Person
Let’s take a break from all the science-y COVID-19 postings and get back to something a little more personal. This is a personal blog, after all.
I’m writing this from the maternity recovery room of the Ottawa General Hospital, where my Physician spouse –known on this site as “Blonde Girl”– earlier today gave birth to our first child, a son.
It’s a joyous time, of course, made particularly memorable and bittersweet for its occurrence in the midst of plague. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that an Epidemiologist and Physician –both of whom happen to be somewhat ubiqutous in media these past few weeks with respect to the pandemic (someone suggested that we be called the “pandouple”) have created new life in the haze of this unprecedented health crisis.
There are a few things I’d like to get put into writing for posterity on this day of profound personal importance. First is the impact of the pandemic itself. I spoke to a journalist today while in the recovery room (the calls don’t cease, even though I’ve said no to most of them) about the need to do a story about this phenomenon: the extent to which hospitals are taking this crisis seriously.
Blonde Girl was let into the hospital at 6:AM while I waited in the car in the parking lot. I was not allowed inside. Two hours later, I got a phone call from her in the birthing suite, and I was able to listen to the arrival into this world of my son, though I could not be there. An hour after that, I was permitted entry to the recovery ward.
Here’s a pic of me waiting outside the hospital, pacing in that way that expectant fathers are wont to do
When I entered the hospital, I had to pass, not one, but two COVID-19 checkpoints. At each station, I was interrogated about my recent medical and travel history, and a nurse scrutinized me carefully. I was reminded of the Israeli airport, where security is wrought by deep psychological analysis more so than any testing technology.
Throughout I was masked, and now the three of us are in isolation in a private recovery room for 1-2 days. If I leave for any reason (go to the car, the vending machine, take-out) I will not be allowed to return.
I’m glad of it. People need to understand the risk of an infection like COVID-19 running rampant throughout any hospital wards, even the newborn wing, as the epidemiology of this disease among children remains largely unknown.
But it is a little sad. A time like this should be shared with throngs of loved ones, much like you see in 1990s sitcoms. But it’s heart warming to see things like the following: a chalk-drawn message to a woman in the recovery room, made by loved ones unable to come up and visit in person.
Beyond the sadness of families being separated through much of this process is the larger picture of my personal motivation. Several people in my life have asked why I’m spending so much of my energy writing about, and engaging with the public about, COVID-19. I don’t get paid specifically for this, and it’s not my field of research. (I’m a global health population Epidemiologist, not an infectious disease specialist.)
My reason is simple. Eight or nine weeks ago, when the extent of this crisis was first becoming evident, I stopped to do the math. And what I realized shocked me so much that it sent me into a depression for about four days. I, and other Epidemiologists, realized the pandemic’s full extent some time before it was adequately explained to the public. What I immediately saw was a crisis of rolling waves of outbreaks lasting years (in absence of a vaccine), the assuaging of which would require enormous economic sacrifice and antisocial behaviour.
With a baby on the way, this was intolerable. I had a hard time seeing how I would be able to properly raise my child for those first few critical months in such a socially constrained and panic-infused reality. So I set about envisioning a way out of it. Unsurprisingly, I came to the same conclusions as other Epidemiologists: the hard suppression strategy followed by long term mitigation through public health infrastructure.
That realization compelled me to write, “COVID19: What’s The Endgame?” And I looked inside myself to identify any special skills that I possess that might help us get through this faster.
To be clear, I am not a COVID researcher. (Though I am now a reviewer on several rapid COVID grants set forth by our federal government, and have started advising private sector interests on the topic.) But what I can do is explain the prevailing Epidemiology concepts to a largely lay audience, whether directly through this blog or indirectly through traditional media.
What drove me to take on this role was one overriding desperate desire: to do whatever it takes to preserve the world for my son, to make it comfortable and safer for him. It was an easy choice. At least I can’t say that I didn’t try to do what I could do. And I hope that when he tells the tale of the Great Pandemic of 2020, he can say in a proud voice that his parents tried to help in the ways that they could, because they cared about the world.
I must say, though, that I spent my time waiting outside fruitfully. I looked up and saw the half moon, bisected by the vapour trail of a passing jet: a good symbol of the ancient transgressed by the modern, which I feel is a proper metaphor for engaging in the timeless dance of messy organic reproduction while balanced atop the pinnacle of our technological civilization from which a rapid pandemic emerges.
The thought occurred to me that I was born two years before men walked on the Moon. And my son would be born about the same time frame before humans are set to return to the Moon. Are we on the verge of a new era? A new hopeful leap for human civilization? Is the pandemic an opportunity as well as a blight: a chance to reveal the cracks in our societies so that we can create a stronger foundation for the leap forward that must take place if we are to survive?
These were optimistic thoughts which, while personal to just me and my new family, are nevertheless relevant to all of you, as well. I have watched so many come together in this emergency to learn, to help, and to celebrate. A few have come to sow discord and distrust; but they are genuinely the minority.
I must have faith that this will be one of humanity’s finest hours. I’m an optimist at the best of times. But new fatherhood has elevated that optimism to something resembling desperate euphoria. How can one not glimpse genuine new sentient life, sniff the possibility of an ancient memory within, and not suspect that something grander is at play, that the universe is unfolding in an interesting and intended fashion?
Or maybe this is just my lack of sleep talking.
What I really want to say is that my son seems to enjoy it when I sing old David Bowie tunes to him. He has a particular like for “Life on Mars” and “Moonage Daydream” –proper evidence that he is a gentleman of exquisite taste and breeding.