2022: A Pandemic Odyssey
The global Coronavirus pandemic has changed our world and our way of life and it doesn’t appear to be done with us yet. In this post, I will recount how has the virus has impacted my life and the lives of my family members as well as address what impact it may have on authors.
On December 12th, 2019, a cluster of patients in Wuhan, China began to experience fevers and shortness of breath. Just over two years later, there have been 375 million cases and nearly 6 million deaths reported from all around the globe!
While those numbers fall markedly short of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, they still represent a staggering number toll that is still rising daily as new variants crop up around the world.
In our day and age, I would have thought such an event impossible. With our advanced medical and technological prowess backed by well-funded and experienced organizations like the Center For Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the persistent question in my mind is how was this magnitude of an outbreak even possible.
The short answer is two-fold: we weren’t prepared for an outbreak of this scope and we made mistakes in how we dealt with it once it began to spread.
Hospitals quickly became overloaded with symptomatic patients, stretching their resources to the limits and forcing them to provide selective care. Although the U.S. has stockpiles of medical equipment and medicines, moving those items in an equitable fashion from the federal government to the individual states is a complicated and time-consuming process.
Making matters worse, without the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), in essence, gowns and masks, many of our doctors and nurses contracted the virus. The situation got out of hand very quickly. I will never forget the images of refrigerated tractor-trailers being used to store bodies as the morgues were beyond capacity.
Our lack of preparedness, though troublesome, was no less concerning than the mistakes we made on how we dealt with the pandemic once it hit home.
Forty-five nations imposed travel restrictions on China before the United States! We can chalk that up to the red tape of bureaucracy or a lack of foresight, but in truth, it comes down to one thing: we had an incompetent President at the time. If you are a Trump fan, hate if you want to hate, but I’m speaking my truth. The idiot even chose not to wear a mask during a speech while he was infected with the virus!
I don’t often comment on politics or religion, but if you are a Trump supporter, please do me a favor – don’t buy my books and don’t follow my blog! I am not interested in your reviews or comments. In fact, I am ashamed to call you my fellow Americans.
We certainly can’t blame it all on the President though. We are just as responsible for the widespread outbreak through our own actions or lack thereof. According to The Brookings Institution, a reputable research organization in Washington, D.C., a full 64% of Americans believe that their right to not be inconvenienced by wearing a mask is more important than the probability of getting sick or infecting others!
To those of you who fall into that category, I couldn’t be more appalled at your lack of regard for others. If a single person has died as a result of your stupidity, then you are a murderer in my mind. Ignorance, ego, and self-interest are not good excuses!
Getting people to wear masks wasn’t the only problem. Even if everyone had, it would not have been one hundred percent effective in preventing the outbreak, but it would have certainly slowed the spread and reduced the numbers.
The next huge misstep was with social distancing. Tell a typical American that they can’t go to a party, attend a ball game or gather on a beach for Spring Break and they’ll tell you to take a hike. Several of them died as a result of their disregard.
Miami hotels were at 70% capacity during Spring Break at the height of COVID-19! Students, most without masks, flocked to the beaches for drinking and debauchery believing they were not in the “at-risk” group and they had the God-given American right to party. Within weeks, Miami hospitals were overrun with new patients.
I could go on and on about the mistakes we made with the COVID-19 pandemic, but I will move on to my personal experience.
Living in Vietnam at the time of the outbreak, I had an advantage over most. Due to the noxious emissions of dozens of motorbikes on the streets at any given time, most Vietnamese nationals and many of the foreign tourists wear masks on a daily basis. This was the case long before Corona and is still the same today.
Even with the protective gear already being in place as a way of life, the virus spread here in Vietnam but not to the speed of many other countries. In total, there have been roughly two million infections and 40,000 COVID-19 related deaths in Vietnam. Those relatively low numbers are due to how quickly and decisively the country reacted.
Unlike in America where you can freely choose to ignore the recommendations of the CDC and WHO, breaking the rules here will land you in jail with a hefty fine. When they say no public gatherings, they mean it! When they quarantine a neighborhood, they are serious!
During the height of the initial wave of the virus here, I took a motorbike to an ATM and thought I was living in a war zone. Uniformed officers were waiting at every intersection, stopping every passing vehicle at the barricades. At each checkpoint, I had to provide identification including my current visa and explain what I was doing out on the streets during the pandemic. More than once, I was summarily told to go back home unless I wanted to go to jail. The fact that I was wearing a mask mattered little.
When they imposed a lockdown on my neighborhood due to a localized outbreak, they meant business! Warning tape and barbed-wire barriers blocked all exits from every alleyway to every street. Walking to the convenience store wasn’t even an option; all food had to be delivered.
In all honesty, it was a very scary time that lasted way too long. If it saved a few lives, then it was well worth the inconvenience.
Businesses were closing left and right. Restaurants I had frequented were now boarded up. Night clubs were a thing of the past. Even many of the convenience and grocery stores had shut their doors, several of them for good.
With most of the restaurants and grocers closed, getting food without being able to go out to the stores quickly became problematic. Even many of the delivery services had halted deliveries. The rule of thumb became that the owner of the home or apartment building was responsible for getting food to their residents.
Most days, I sat confined in my apartment with my family where we would watch movies, read books and listen to music. Thankfully, the isolation gave me more time to write and wound up saving me money from going out.
In the wake of these first few waves of the virus, many businesses here have called it quits. Having to pay a lease for an indeterminate period of time without any customers is challenging to say the least.
Foreigners were once the lifeblood of Ho Chi Minh City, dropping big bucks on local cuisine, filling up the hotels and hostels, and frequenting the bars, clubs, and shopping centers. That, too, is now gone.
Most of the tourists left shortly after the first outbreak with only a handful of us remaining behind. I miss the days when I could go out to the walking street in backpacker row and meet fellow travelers. Perhaps one day, when this is all over, things will return to normal.
Near the end of 2021, I contracted the virus after being twice vaccinated. Already having some preexisting conditions, it was a scary time.
My experience started with aches and pains, a cough, and a slight fever but it rapidly progressed. By day three, I had lost my senses of taste and smell and the aches and pains were now intense and constant. When shortness of breath set in, I took an in-home test. The result was negative for COVID-19. Three tests later, I tested positive and went to the hospital.
When I say I went to the hospital, that doesn’t accurately describe the experience. When infected in Vietnam, you can’t just drive yourself to find care. Instead, you have to notify the police who will send out an officer and a nurse to assess your situation.
Within minutes of his arrival, the nurse confirmed that I needed to be hospitalized immediately. In the back of a police wagon, they drove me to a hospital fifteen minutes away where, after a twenty-minute wait in the sun, the staff advised there was no more room. Oxygen mask on my face, they drove me to another hospital where I was finally admitted.
I shared a small room with two other infected patients in a wing blocked off with thick plastic curtains. With no air-conditioning, the windows were always open. Tubes up my nose, I would spend my evenings scratching the itches of all the mosquito bites while tossing and turning in my tiny cot-like bed.
The food was horrible and the shots endless. Three times a day, they would provide traditional Vietnamese carry-out meals. Some of you may like chicken feet and fish heads, but I don’t. On a daily basis, I received at least three or four injections along with several doses of pills. By the end of my mandatory two-week stay, I had bruises on both of my arms and my stomach. The adventure cost me about $500.
There were upsides to my experience in the Vietnamese hospital. First of all, I walked away COVID-free at the end of my stay. Secondly, I met some amazing people while getting to experience a new aspect of their culture. Finally, with too much time on my hands, I wrote the entire first draft manuscript of my new novel while convalescing.
I wasn’t alone in my struggles; my family has gone through some pretty hard times as a result of the pandemic.
Living in Houston, my sister told me of their woes on a regular basis. On her grandchildrens’ birthdays, she would drive by and wave. After testing positive, my niece’s son spent a week isolated in his room only seeing his mother when she delivered food to his door. Family dinners and holiday celebrations were no more.
To say that this pandemic has been a nightmare would be an understatement. It has changed our world and the way we live our lives.
In order to end on a positive note, I will say this about the virus. With people around the world reluctant to go out, they are spending much more time at home. Aside from giving families more quality time together, that fact may generate a boost in reading. At the same time, it gives us authors a unique opportunity to write.
In every darkness, there exists a bright side!
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An interesting account that provides a perspective many of us don’t have. I totally agree with you that, had we had competent and sane leadership at the beginning of the COVID crisis, the severity, extent and duration of this pandemic would have been greatly lessened. The analysis by Hooper in Jaws applies perfectly to COVID. You either have to kill the shark or deprive it of its food supply so it will move on. Killing a coronavirus has been proven to be nearly impossible (far more difficult than killing a great white anyway) so we had to starve it. However, the unvaccinated, unmasked MAGA crowd has provided COVID with a perfect feeding ground where it can not only survive but prosper and adapt through mutation. Your account of the tough stance taken by the Vietnamese government reminded me of an article I read about when the plague hit Marseille, France in 1742. They took the same steps we are taking today–masks, social distance and quarantine of the sick–but they also set up a permitter around the city. If a person crossed that line without appropriate paperwork, the army/police had permission to shoot him/her on the spot. As a result, the plague did not spread beyond Provence.