Yet again we are reminded that we aren't all-powerful, and a tiny virus can bring us to our knees.
Our health system has only conventional weapons, and we are fighting a nuclear war. The difference between this time and 102 years ago is modern medicine. However, it's not fancy drugs or hi-tech procedures and equipment; this time we will hopefully have a vaccine in 18 months. This, and compliance with the lockdown, is what will save thousands of New Zealand lives and eventually return us to the big wide world.
The lockdown and compliance with it are vital despite the huge economic impact, and I do want to acknowledge everyone affected by this. It's incredibly tough.
On Friday I drove up north on empty roads. I visited Bay of Islands and Kaitaia hospitals, and our community-based testing centre (CBTC) in Kerikeri, as well as someone who wants to set one up in Kaitaia. After the recent negative publicity about Kaitaia and compliance with the lockdown, I also took some photos of the main street in the middle of the morning - not a soul in sight. Most people are complying with the lockdown, and hopefully, those who aren't are getting the message loud and clear.
Isolation during lockdown is tough, but in a strange way, those of us working in health are fortunate - we get to go out of our own bubbles to a role or place with purpose (as well as plenty of risk, I'm afraid). I know that with what you're all having to face, you may not feel fortunate, but we do get to go out every day, reminding us all that the reason most of us work in health is to serve people in times of their greatest need. The difference is this time it's not just people in need, it's not just a community or a country, it's a world in need.
Even those who are against vaccination, or like to blame modern medicine and Big Pharma, must realise that this is nothing to do with that. However, unless we don't want to be in perpetual or intermittent lockdown, we will need to rely on modern medicine, health workers to keep most of us safe and 'one vaccine to cure it all.'
So, what about this vaccine? All the world is collaborating to make the vaccine, and this may shorten the time it usually takes to develop it, but then there will be significant challenges getting enough supply because everyone (ironically, as we saw with last year's measles outbreak, even anti-vaxers) will want it. So the 18-month timeframe may be realistic.
Have you seen the meme going around? 'For those who wanted a world with no vaccines.... here's the world without ONE vaccine.'
Apparently, in 1942, when writing about the war, CS Lewis rather prophetically looked to some of what we are now seeing 78 years later: "Anxiety, fear, panic, shutdown of businesses, schools, places of worship and sports events, and economic turmoil." But it would also "Bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, bring dinner back to the dinner table, help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters."
It's a nice story, isn't it, to believe in such a prescient piece of writing, but actually it seems that Lewis did not write this passage, and it does not appear in 1942 in 'The Screwtape Letters,' as originally claimed. The passage appears to be a recent invention. Searches for the quote yielded no results prior to March 2020, meaning that it was likely written during the current pandemic.
It reminded me that we all need to be wary of what we read and hear at such a time, and look for the truth from credible sources, acknowledging that we are all still learning, and information and recommendations may change over time. The best sources of information are still Covid19.govt.nz, the MoH website, or our own Northland DHB intranet and internet.
Last weekend I experienced the power of such fake news on social media. One misleading and untruthful video posting resulted in a whole day of phone calls from and to various leaders and politicians.
However, like many of you, I always try to take the positives out of tough times, and I was reminded, as if I needed to be, that our conventional approaches to health will not reach everyone, there is mistrust and so much fear out there, and we need to be open to changing our model while staying the overall course and providing consistent messages to our communities and whānau.
I want to acknowledge two groups of local heroes - one group are regularly involved in hero moments because they are at our front line. Our ED staff, aged care and home and community support workers, our community-based testing teams, both our own staff and Te Rūnanga ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi, other Māori health providers, iwi and our general practice and pharmacy teams, and all those who are working very hard to vaccinate our vulnerable population, as well as all of you.
The second group are unsung heroes - laundry staff, porters, cleaners, kitchen staff, admin teams and other ancillary staff. They are also keeping us all safe, wherever they work, and despite everything that is going on, they do it with positivity and grace.
I also want to acknowledge all the people, both our staff and Te Hauora o Ngāpuhi staff, who activated their CBTC in Kaikohe on Sunday at incredibly short notice. Understandably, there was a lot of community concern about a positive case in someone working in the local supermarket. The decision to open the CBTC on Sunday was made about 9.30pm Saturday night; staffing was agreed by midnight, and they were open for business, with enough staff, swabs and PPE for an 8.30am start.
More than 150 people turned up, and 30 were swabbed and tested. What an awesome example of collaboration between our community, a Māori provider and DHB staff.
So, thanks to every one of you, whatever your role. Keep on keeping on, accept a bit of uncertainty, don't rely on fake news, trust science - it brought us out of the Middle Ages - and continue to be an example during the lockdown. For now, it is our nuclear weapon.