Ch. 21 Pat and Ron Confront the Corona Virus
I am writing in early March 2020, about one month after the Corona virus emerged in China and just as it has struck in the U.S., already killing several older people in Washington state and one person in California.
Here’s our situation: we are scheduled to fly to southern California, where I am to be the keynote speaker at a social work conference in L.A.; then we plan to drive to Palo Alto to visit my brother Brad (who teaches at Stanford) and then fly home from San Francisco. The trip will last 11 days – if we choose to go. Pat and I have been discussing the matter with each other, friends, and family. But there are so many unknowns (how fast will the virus spread, how dangerous is it, how vulnerable are each of us, etc.) that it is impossible to make a reasoned decision. All I know for certain is that my anxiety level is rising every day.
Reasons to go: 1) I have a contractual obligation to make a presentation; 2) the odds of getting the virus will be small even if there is a significant outbreak; 3) Pat and I haven’t seen my brother in two years – between advancing age, Lewy Body, and physical health problems who knows when or if we will have another opportunity?
Reasons to cancel the trip: 1) We are old enough to be in the most vulnerable group so that even though the odds would be low to get the flu it could certainly be fatal if we did; 2) we would mostly be in public places for the entire 11 days of the trip; 3) If we did become infected we might very well bring the disease back to our families and community before we showed any symptoms.
What would you decide in this situation?
Two weeks before departure time we decided to cancel the trip. Why? Not because of any rational thought process. As mentioned above, there wasn’t enough information available to do that. It was because we found ourselves becoming more anxious about going each day as the travel day approached. Eventually I recognized that I would be anxious for another month if we made the trip as planned. I think Pat felt the same way. Basically, we were both becoming nervous wrecks.
Also, I noticed that Pat’s Lewy Body symptoms worsened as she became more anxious. Pat asked about our plans repeatedly but had trouble keeping them in mind. If “Stay calm and keep things simple” is a formula for lessening Lewy Body traits, then this would be trip was having exactly the opposite effect.
I dreaded telling the convention organizers my decision, of course. I don’t remember ever backing out of an obligation like this. But the director I talked with was exceptionally kind. She understood our situation and even told me she would have done the same thing.
It took two days before my body got the message and I could relax again. I think Pat needed about that much time for her thoughts to become clear.
I do believe I’ve learned or relearned a significant moral lesson from this incident: as important as it is to honor one’s contracts, it’s more important to protect the people you love (including yourself).
Pat’s comments on Confronting the Corona Virus: I was feeling good about going on the trip. However, I knew that Ron would be very nervous the whole time and that’s harder for me to cope with. I feel good about our final decision to not go because I was also worried about bringing back symptoms that would affect my family here. I don’t want to bring the virus to Ron’s brother Brad and Donna either.
If I had decided to go, I wanted to be with Ron; however, I was nervous about it and when Ron decided to pull out of that trip, I felt a lot more peaceful.
The problem is whether I went with Ron or not I might lose him, and I just can’t risk doing that. It would destabilize me for a long time.