From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable.Jimmy Reid
COVID is ripping through the Australian population right now. It’s causing panic, supply chain issues, food shortages, labor shortages, and pressure on an already overburdened health system. So, naturally, it’s a hot topic of conversation.
I was talking about COVID with an acquaintance on a video chat yesterday, and they said to me, “Oh, everyone’s going to get COVID, so stop worrying and start living, I say!”
I pointed out that not everyone who gets COVID will recover, and some – especially those in the high risk groups; the elderly, the immunocompromised, those with existing co-morbidities, pregnant women, the unvaccinated – may suffer severe and lasting damage, and some will die.
“Yeah Nic, I know,” they said, shrugging their shoulders apologetically with all of the privilege of an able-bodied person, “but it’s collateral damage.”
Just like that she flicked her finger at me, and all of my less able-bodied friends, and marked us as expendable.
There’s a lot of that going on right now. Able-bodied people laughing about how they are having Corona parties, so they can just get it and get it over with. People deciding not to wear masks, not to get vaccinated, not to worry about hand sanitising or checking in, or socially distancing. Why worry, right? We’re all going to get it sometime, and it’s not so bad anyway. It’s just like a mild flu.
These people, safe in their good health and invincibility, have forgotten about people like me.
I’m nothing now. I’m just one of the expendable.
A colleague of mine recently posted on social media about how all you needed to do was get the vaccine and then carry on with normal life. Nothing to worry about. Another posted with smug superiority about how you didn’t need the vaccine – you just needed to trust in your own good health and natural immunity, and eat a diet rich in berries, leafy greens and organic proteins.
I’m glad that works for you.
How does that work for my friend, whose life was decimated by a virus from which she has never recovered? She is a proud indigenous woman, who lives on her own, or at times has her elderly dad live with her. She looks after her extended family the best she can, co-ordinating the family around the members who need help, filling in forms for them, looking after anything that requires a computer, finances, banking and so on. Her family rely on her in so many ways. She’s on a pension, unable to work and mostly unable to leave the house. She requires extensive support from NDIS (Australia’s national disability support system) to cope with the functions of daily life. But she just asked her support workers to stop coming, because they won’t mask up properly. As soon as they are out of her eyesight they drop their mask, or take it off. Her doctor has advised her not to get a vaccine, because she is so unwell. She can’t afford organic protein and a diet rich in leafy greens and berries. She barely has enough money to cover her basic living costs. How can she stay safe now? Who is thinking about her? Is she expendable, simply because she can’t contribute to our economy? (By the way – with your chances of catching long COVID, one day your life might unexpectedly look just like hers, or mine. We never knew, until we got sick, that we might have our normal healthy lives ripped away from us, and never be able to get them back, no matter what we did or how much money we spent.)
My friends who have organ transplants. Are they expendable too? Or my friends living with auto-immune diseases, or who have compromised immune systems?
My friends and family with cancer, or who are recovering from cancer? They fought so hard. But are they now expendable? I think of my friends and family who have had cancer and recovered. They recovered, because they were given a chance to do so. Has that changed now we are in a global pandemic? Too bad if something goes wrong with your health now. You’re expendable.
What about the frontline medical staff? They’re exhausted. Run down. They are so busy looking after us that they don’t have time for many leafy greens and berries, or sunshine and plenty of fresh air and yoga. Their natural good health has been compromised by two years of grind and burn. Too bad. Didn’t take care of themselves. Expendable.
What kind of society have we become, if we no longer think about protecting the weak, the vulnerable, the elderly?
When did we decide that these people are okay to be ‘collateral damage’?
Many of we ‘expendables’ are invisible – we look like ordinary people, we do the best we can, we work and live amongst you, and you wouldn’t know that there was a weakness inside us, because we are strong in other ways, and we have resilience and good coping skills.
But now we are expendable because we do not have perfect health, or we are too old, or too young, or too disadvantaged, poor, or disabled. So that marks us as expendable, because obviously it’s our own fault that we got this way, or it’s too bad, because we are worth less than other able-bodied people anyway.
There are so many people like me who are living with fear and anxiety now. We worry about leaving home. We worry about going to work or to the shops or to the doctor. We worry about inviting anyone into our home. Because if we catch COVID, our odds of a good outcome are already stacked against us.
So, I’m asking you to do two things.
One – think about your actions. What can you do today to make the world a little safer for people for whom COVID may be a death sentence, or which will make their lives even more hard and complicated than they are right now? It could be as simple as wear your mask, socially distance, practice good hygiene, and assume you are already infected if you think about going to visit someone who is vulnerable.
Two – check in with people who are vulnerable and who are choosing (or are forced) to be in isolation right now. Can you chat on the phone, or shoot them a text or email? Can you do some shopping for them, or take them around a meal? Mow their lawn for them, or do other chores they can’t?
That’s what it means to be a community.
I read an article recently that might help us all remember what community is. Margaret Mead, an anthropologist, was asked by a student about the first signs of civilisation. They expected that Mead would talk about clay pots, or hand tools, or weapons. But she didn’t. She talked about a 15,000 years old skeleton with a fractured femur found in an archaeological site. The bone had been set, and had healed. The injured person would have been incapacitated for at least six weeks, needing care from others. The injured person was not left to die. They were helped. That was Mead’s definition of civilisation. Care and regard for other community members.
To all of you who are ‘expendable’ I see you. I feel you. I honour you and your courage in fronting up to life each day. I send you strength and love.
For everyone else, I ask that you act with decency, and regard for those less fortunate and more vulnerable than yourselves.
At the end of all of this, who will we be?
I am ever hopeful that we will be community.
Much love, Nicole xx