Surviving during a pandemic

Snow geese gather in the Skagit Valley fields, in the shadow of Mt. Baker.

This is an interesting time to be living with cancer. For the first time in my life, I realize I’m now in the class of “highly vulnerable adults.” While this has been true during all flu seasons since my diagnosis it took a pandemic for me to process what this means, and to empathize with other’s that have been in this group much longer. 

Since my transplant in 2016, I’ve understood that I’m more vulnerable to viruses and infections and I need to use extra caution. During the transplant itself, we took extraordinary measures to keep me healthy. Even so, except for the time immediately after my transplant, I’ve generally been able to live a “normal” life with some precaution. 

With Covid-19, safety measures for everyone are turned to high, and for those of us with compromised immunities, they’re off the charts. While I feel lucky to be as healthy as I am, and I feel for my fellow patients that aren’t as healthy right now, this outbreak brings a new sense of anxiety and a new perspective.

Too often during this outbreak, I’ve heard healthy people say, “It’s no worse than the flu. The symptoms are minor and I’ll get over it easily.”  While there may be other issues at play this year behind such statements, they are not unheard any time we have a wave of flu or other illness. What these people may not understand is that this sentiment disregards the risk faced by the vulnerable population.

Hopefully, as declarations of emergency spread worldwide, people are learning the error of such sentiments. While it is true that most people will overcome this virus just fine, we are all responsible for each other. 

Mild symptoms for the healthy can lead to fatal consequences for a grandparent, a co-worker or neighbor with cancer, or a stranger with asthma encountered in the store. Taking care of oneself is also taking care of the people we encounter. 

Now that I’m in that vulnerable population I better understand the feeling of being dismissed, mostly unintentionally, by so many. I hear it. It does hurt.

I’m responsible for my own health, but I depend on the actions of many others. I realize now, I depend on the healthy population to take steps to help me stay healthy. 

I feel guilty at times. My wife and children are making sacrifices because they want to protect me. When I hear their deliberations and plans to avoid points of exposure, staying home from events (before they were all canceled) and delaying birthday celebrations I feel sad. Similarly, my co-workers have always been careful to shield me from their coughs and colds and other sources of germs that come into our workplace. The impact of my disease goes beyond my life and to theirs.

After some thought, I understand and appreciate their sacrifice. While I may be the most immediate beneficiary of their thoughtfulness, I now better appreciate their act of community sacrifice. 

Like most others, I’m more upset by the disruption to life this is causing than I am by any personal threat. While I don’t feel particularly fearful of Covid 19, I know that if I became infected it could be dangerous. Even so, I think the reason I’m not afraid is that I’m surrounded by people that care about me and are acting to protect me. 

I’m sure there will be a lot of lessons that come out of this shared crisis, but hopefully one of them will be a keener understanding of how much we depend on one another and how hurtful it is when we dismiss people that are different from us. 

At times like these, I resort to the words of a great philosopher,

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” – Spock

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Photo Credit: © 2020 Mark Pouley

During my recent isolation I took some time to get away from the news and get outside to enjoy the beautiful nature around my home. Each year flocks of Snow Geese use the farmlands of the Skagit Valley as a rest area to fatten up for a long migration. They can be seen, and heard, eating in the fields and flying in massive groups in the shadow of Mt. Baker.

One thought on “Surviving during a pandemic”

  1. Mark,
    This article is exactly how many of us are feeling. It’s hard on us & our family but what we must die to try our best to stay healthy. I also love your outdoor photos ! Stay well !


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