Covid response

I had a mentor for many years. We met when he was already in his late 70’s and to this day I am not quite sure why he tolerated me. I think it is because I bake a mean chocolate cake. Every week, he would set the table in his little retirement home and I would bring something to eat. We never spoke about current affairs or made small talk; we just went straight into discussing things with which we wrestle in life. I think I learnt more from those conversations than all my years at school or studying.

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He was wise and funny. He loved people and was humble and caring. He wrote ferociously and deeply connected with everyone regardless of their creed or colour.

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As he got older and frailer, he moved into assisted living and then frail care. We stopped eating together and I would just sit with him on his little bed and talk. His eyes started failing and he missed reading and writing, as these were some of his passions, but we held hands and could still talk, and I could read to him. We still prayed too.

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Covid came and his retirement village went in to lockdown. He lost his sight completely and could not speak on the phone as he battled to answer it. He was not allowed to see anyone. For months and months, he was left on his own with nurses (coming to work on public transport) who looked after him behind visors, plastic aprons and masks. His children and grandchildren were not allowed to see him. Neither was I. For 18 months he needed me to be with him, and I let him down. There was a promise that after his second vaccine I could go and fetch him and he would stay with us. It never happened. Russel died days before he was due to come to us.

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How could this have happened? He was a man who lived for people and loved people for 95 years, but had to die in solitude? Everything that mattered was taken away from him. What happened was criminal.

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A few weeks ago, I attended a talk on how the pandemic affected palliative care. The stories were heart-breaking. We discussed how people died alone of a dreaded disease but were prevented from saying goodbye to their loved ones because of a relatively harmless virus. Nurses opened up and told stories that had us all in tears. A common tale was that patients often pulled nurses’ masks down so they could see human faces again. One doctor told us that she tested positive the day she gave birth. Her baby was taken away from her right there and then and she did not see her again for 14 days. Were the people in power so caught up with the rules and regulations that they completely forgot that we are human?

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By now most of the people I know have had Covid once or twice, and we have mostly all recovered from it. We have however, not, recovered from the damage done to us as a society because of how this disease was, and still is, mismanaged. Is it not time we start listening to Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology, who says that our regulations are illogical, irrational and inconsistent. He says much of what we were doing did not protect us from infection to start off with anyway and was a dismal failure.

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I could not agree more.

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