COVID-19: Adventures in Emergency Preparedness and Lessons from Recent Travel in Rome

Hello Salt Spring. This is an open letter to my local emergency preparedness POD that I would like share with our entire community.

Dear Pod,

Mark and I are in day four of home-isolation after arriving from Italy. “In research published Monday online in the academic medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, scientists calculated that the median incubation period of the virus is 5.1 days. All told, about 97.5% of those who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of exposure, the scientists said.”*

So far so good.

As we flew out of Rome on two wings and a litany of prayers, Bryan and Brian filled our fridge with a week of supplies. Nestled between the veggies and coffee cream were two days of delicious, nutritious homemade food. They also dropped our car off in Fulford Harbour so we wouldn’t potentially risk contaminating anyone by picking us up. You gents are the best. Others also helped us stock up; all of us doing our bit to ‘flatten the curve’. You are all the quality of neighbours with which we could have only dreamed of growing older together.

We got out by the scuff of our heels. The day before departure Mark’s flight was cancelled. Two minutes later the hotel room was cancelled. I immediately cancelled my ticket to Lisbon. With seconds to spare, we booked the last Air Canada seats home. My workshop team then decided to cancel both projects in Portugal and New Zealand.

During a cinematic four day layover in Rome, we paid homage to the creative genius of the human soul depicting the glory, ignorance, hope and violence of humanity’s long arc toward a greater benevolence. While there, we also bore witness to the increasingly unsettled composure of the Italian people struggling to cope with the onslaught of human and economic costs of this pandemic. Literally, as we crossed over thresholds leaving the Vatican, churches, museums, hotels and restaurants went into lockdown. Bleeding capitol, airlines cut their losses and sent tens of thousands scrambling for seats. We’re now thinking of so many others in similar situations as I write.

After the shock and relief of our exit, we were equally stunned to find no national response to the pandemic in place as we arrived in Canada. At every gate, security check and customs we received a pass with barely a question asked. I understand this is all about to change.

Thirty-six hours later we stepped into our kitchen to find bottles of Italian red on our table to help us through our gastronomic withdrawal over the next 14 days of self-isolation. Neighbours, we are truly blessed. Thank you for loving us up so. In another post we’ll share why we made the trip to South Africa to pass on how other communities are coping with crisis. For now we’re blessed to be home.

As both a self-professed drama queen and performance researcher it feels like we’re in the narrative of an era-defining novel or film. The emergency pod system feels like a lifeline thrown to fellow neighbours who have become the cast of characters sharing the plotline. The pod system is likely our most effective tool to develop shared trust and community ingenuity. We are truly one another’s role models and agents of role relief. Like all interesting comedy-dramas there are significantly uncomfortable moments to work through. As a pod, you inspire me to want to perform my role better, mend some fences and work through whatever arises.

Isn’t it ironic that social isolation, like violence, stigma or any other social viruses, has become our new norm? Now effectively, we all share the burden of the co-epidemics of coronavirus, anxiety and depression as our world is thrown into uncertainty. For so many however, uncertainty has been a daily reality. My teachers have always said, “How we share our privileges in service to those living on the edge is how we define our character and values, in deed the times we inhabit.”

Made ever more apparent is how we can now more openly admit to be living in heightened states of psychic and emotional upheaval. In varying degrees, whether due to climate change and related existential threats this is what collectively insecurity feels like. The potential however, of confronting our present viral realities together may have the added benefit of strengthen our herd immunity (i.e. “flatten the curve”). By extension, when working together we may better realize higher success rates of coping through inevitable months and years of significant change.

Changing our local and global lenses away from competition towards cooperation is an important adaptive strategy. When people no longer feel alone and purposeless this weight of despair has the potential to transform into untold human-kilowatts of needed volunteer energy. Like mythic stories of old we must remind one another that the light surrounds the darkest hour. It is as my dear friend Ed Wolf writes in his FB post two days ago:

A corona is “a glowing circle of light around an object.” It’s got me thinking about where the light is as the pandemic continues its global rampage. We know that many people are practicing social distancing and thus protecting the larger community. We know there will be an end to it and that most who are infected will have flu-like or minimal symptoms. We know that at least 80,000 people worldwide have gotten ill and already recovered: will the next-responders emerge from this group? We know that there is never light without shadow and vice-versa. Some may think it's too soon to be looking for light as a great wave comes crashing down upon us, but I think it’s part of human nature and, by searching it out, we’ll have a better chance of survival. Here’s to looking for the light my friends!

As Rumi said, “Paradox is the only basket big enough to hold the truth.” In our self-imposed isolation it is vital we look towards our collective need for connection. So Pod, in the spirit of connecting across our social isolation, I propose a virtual pod-luck. We can Skype or Zoom at a designated time, raise a glass of cheer and enjoy a meal together while sharing our latest self-gossip, discuss our emergency protocols and inquire about any needs or concerns. Mark suggests we also talk about inventory, what we have in our pantry in terms of kilos of grain and beans, fruits and veggies in the freezer and of course, the number of roles of TP we have left. We don’t want anyone to go without.

May I suggest next Saturday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m. I will send out the invitation link by our neighbourhood pod email. Here it is, as one local Indigenous elder said a couple of years ago, “When the storm comes, tie your canoes together.” Please if you know who this local elder is please let us know as their practical-wisdom-in-action is a healthcare imperative worth sharing far and wide.

In closing, a friend just dropped me a line: “Thought of you last night as we watched the news and saw all of Italy joyfully singing their national anthem from balconies and windows. Playing pots and pans and guitars and whatever came to hand as they simultaneously by the millions belted out the familiar words and tune of a uniting melody. Take that CV-19!!”

Oh, the resiliency of the human spirit. As a neighbourhood pod we know community care is where it’s at. For all those who can make it ‘see you’ next Saturday. As my communities of practice say, “Self-care is sexy,” to which I’d like to add, “Community care is its own kind of ecstasy.”

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In the spirit of community health,
Robert Birch xo

Read: Coronavirus Symptoms Start About Five Days After Infection, New Research Finds

March 15, 2020 10:05 AM

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