Everything about the second wave of this pandemic seems very different from the first. In particular, the atmosphere at work has been very different. During the first wave, we only had a few people off sick with coronavirus, and plenty of people prepared to work overtime to cover for them. The public sent us sticky food and drawings of rainbows and came out and clapped for us on a Thursday night. We got busy, and for a while it got horrendously busy and I wondered where it was all going to end. Then the lockdown started to work, and it went from busy to very much not busy overnight and it seemed like we spent the next month sitting around waiting for the death rate to fall the way the call rate had so we could finally get back to normal.
This winter has been completely different. I wish I could tell you all the details of what my job is like on a day-to-day basic but people lose their jobs for things like that. Our CEO may have gone on LBC to tell the world that we were “coping” and far be it from me to disagree but he sets the bar for “coping” very slow. We are still in existence. We haven’t turned off the computers and gone home. There are still ambulances, we offer a same day service (usually) . Does that count?
What is very clear now is that we have lost the support of the public. I am not even sure if anyone remembers that there is a pandemic on until they are unlucky enough to catch the corona themselves. No one talks about the second wave, it’s all about the second lockdown. Everyone bangs on constantly about “the rules”. Some people continually pat themselves on the back for sticking a piece of cloth over their mouth for five minutes whilst others throw their toys out of the pram because the same pieces of cloth is apparently a deprivation of their liberties. People bicker about the precise wording of legislation and where you can or should cop a fine for driving to the beach. It all seems so utterly irrelevant. What I never hear people talking about is the victims or the situation in hospitals and whether what they will do will put anyone in danger or put pressure in the NHS.
This all came to a head this week when the weather took a turn for the worse and we had a spell of the dreaded snow. At the best of times, snow is a disaster for the emergency services – slippery and impassable roads causing traffic accidents and delays reaching patients, people falling in the snow, the increase in strokes, heart attacks and respiratory problems and hypothermia in homeless people and those who can’t afford to heat their homes. I think if it had snowed over Christmas, when our call rate peaked, it would actually just have led to a complete collapse of our services. Fortunately, coming four weeks later and not being as heavy as I feared, we managed to cope (in the real sense, not the CEO spin sense). But then I made the mistake of looking at Facebook, and saw a load of people – the same people who usually pride themselves on calling out someone going maskless in Tescos or walking too close to them on the pavement – posting things like: “Snooooow!” “It’s so MAGICAL” “Everything is better now!” And then they all rushed out to slip and slid around and risk breaking their ankles! It actually made me feel utterly sick, like people have stopped going out to clap for the NHS and have started dancing on our graves instead. I suppose the most charitable way to look at this is that people genuinely aren’t making the connection between cold weather and people coming to harm but to me that is as stupid as not making the connection between a mask and your nose. The current situation is not just down to the incompetent government and stupid public – a lot of it is simply down to the fact it is winter. But it seems the growing death rate is only upsetting when there is someone else to blame. Which makes me think that people don’t actually care about this virus at all.
People have talked about mental health a lot during the pandemic and I’ve noticed that this has gradually shifted from “take little pleasures in simple things and do what you can to survive this” to “I deserve to be happy now and to hell with the consequences”. If anyone does anything reckless now their immediate response is “but my mental health was suffering” and I have to bite my tongue to stop myself replying with “and it will suffer even more if your actions cause you to develop Long Covid, or cause someone else’s death, or prolong the pandemic”. “But my mental health!” has become a get out of jail free card and a stick to beat others with. We’re all suffering and we have to think of ways to help each other through this without hurting anyone – and perhaps come to terms with the fact that actually being happy during a pandemic is a bit of a tall order. Surviving miserably and looking ahead to better days is perhaps all we can hope for.
As for looking to better days, I’m trying but I think I am losing my grip. All the covid deniers, antivaxxers, snow frolickers, 999 time wasters, unsympathetic managers, lack of basic intelligence in humans (see: masks/noses, lateral flow tests, snow) is just making me think: what am I even fighting for? Why do I want to help these people? Why do I want to get through this? How will I ever be able to go back to a normal life now I have so completely and utterly lost my faith in humanity?