I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping in the last few weeks. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, my mind whirring – not about anything in particular – but it takes me such a long time to get back to sleep. And I’ve started seeing small flashes in the corner of one of my eyes. I think I’m really run down, exhausted and to be honest, overwhelmed.
All of my photography work has currently been postponed and rightfully so. We are at an unprecedented time in our collective experience and we need to do as much as we can to support our humanity. I’ve been working full time at Squishy Minnie, doing no-contact delivery and postage of the online orders which have been coming in – it’s been a lot more work than we could have ever imagined but we’re incredibly humbled by the love and support we have received from our community, far and wide. I’ve been recording storytime videos for all of our local little humans and releasing them weekly to create some sort of normality in their disrupted schedules. This is one event they can definitely look forward to each week, just as they did in our “real lives” a bit over a month ago.
In this time, I’ve found it really hard to think about photography and promoting my work on social media to be honest. It’s probably partly the 3.5 yr old that’s constantly running about and taking our time/energy/attention, but I think it’s also partly that it just doesn’t feel right for me. I don’t know if I can go on and push my business while millions are sick and tens of thousands dead or dying.
There’s a scene in the TV mini-series Chernobyl where one of the main characters, Boris Shcherbina, a Soviet politician in charge of the accident clean up, is talking to the head scientist Valery Legasov. Shcherbina wants to know what will happen to the “those boys” who were the first responder firefighters at the site of the explosion and men working at the plant. Legasov describes the exact details of what will happen (skip to the next paragraph if you’re squeamish) – these men have been exposed to so much radiation that the “cellular structures have been ripped apart, their skin blisters then turns red then black … the bone marrow dies, immune system fails and the organs and soft tissue begins to decompose and their arteries and veins spill open like sieves to the point where you can’t even administer morphine for the pain which is unimaginable and then 3 days to 3 weeks, you’re dead.”
Shcherbina wants to know what will happen to him and Legasov. Legasov says “We’ve gotten a steady dose, but much less of it. Not strong enough to kill the cells, but consistent enough to damage the DNA. In time, cancer or aplastic anemia. Either way, fatal.”
Shcherbina replies “In a sense, it would seem we’ve gotten off easily then.”
I’ve watched the series 3 times now, it’s partly my background and curiosity from working as a scientist in medical physics but it’s also honestly one of the best series I’ve ever seen. This last time around, I must say that this particular scene stuck out to me because right at this moment with COVID19 taking over the world, it’s exactly how I feel – I’ve got off easily.
Rather than my own work and business, I’m thinking about the frontline healthcare workers around the world, the doctors, nurses, paramedics, aides and hospital/medical support staff – you folks have always been and continue to be legends. Putting yourself at risk while in some places being under-equipped and underprepared is a brave, noble and altruistic deed which should never be forgotten. Rather than them being martyred as heros, let’s demand they receive all the support they need, in both tangible and intangible ways.
I’m thinking about all the folks who are immunocompromised, sick or elderly – ones that need our protection the most and are no doubt fearful or anxious about what’s ahead. I’m thinking about those people who are unable to receive important but non-essential treatment who will need to continue living with their conditions until things change go “back to normal”. COVID19 will disproportionately affect this demographic – despite the common assertion that “it’ll only kill 1% of the population”, or whatever flippant comment dismissing the seriousness of our situation, these are people’s parents, grandparents, lovers, friends, colleagues.
I’m thinking about the supermarket workers/petrol station attendants/delivery drivers and other essential service workers. There is a significant correlation between the percentage of work which can be performed from the safety of home and average annual earnings and some of these people are from the lowest income brackets in our community. They are putting their health at risk each day to provide us with what we need to safely get through this challenging time.
I’m thinking of people who are financially disadvantaged, unable to stock up on supplies for whatever time they need to stay in lockdown or isolation. Children and adults will go hungry and will experience other repercussions of poverty.
I’m thinking of those people living in houses with domestic and family violence, exacerbated as the perpetrator of the violence is in much closer proximity to them all day long.
I’m thinking about all of the teachers who have been working furiously to adapt to an online teaching world. Many have rejigged their entire curriculum and found resources for their students which can be delivered via screens. Some have done this in their holidays while having their own children at home with them full time. They will continue to deliver their lessons online again while managing their own lives and children around it.
I’m thinking about the teachers and childcare workers who are supervising and taking care of children around the country at schools and daycares/preschools. Despite evidence showing children experience less severe effects of the virus, they can be carriers and these adults taking care of them can and will be infected. Childcare workers are especially vulnerable at this time, many earning minimum wage with no personal protective equipment other than gloves and groups of children who are too young to properly understand any concepts of hygiene, let alone regular hand washing and social distancing.
I’m thinking of those people having to work from home or remotely without adequate support or resources. Additionally, balancing work life with children who are around 24/7 and juggling that with home schooling must be so difficult.
I’m also thinking of those people who aren’t working or people who run businesses which are struggling or have closed down. Countless people have lost their jobs and incomes, it goes without saying that this is not only a huge emotional burden for them, but something with bigger economic implications for the wider community. There are also many businesses not eligible for support, small and big – a significant example is the not-for-profit GoodStart a childcare provider with a turnover of $1b/annum. Until their revenue drops 50%, they are unable to receive any support to keep paying their staff, those childcare workers I mentioned before.
I’m thinking of those people who aren’t going to receive any support from government support packages – casual and gig economy workers and non-citizens even if they are taxpayers in this country. Young people are disproportionately impacted in this context.
I’m thinking of all of the people in the developing world (indigenous communities of Australia included) who do not have the necessary medical support when the virus inevitably affects them – people without access to running water, refugees, displaced people and those who are unable to move to safer places. This is a LOT of people, we haven’t even really gotten too far into this stage yet and it will be a tragedy on an unimaginable scale if/when it does.
I’m thinking of the people who have experienced racism or exclusion as a result of the virus. Whether you happen to be from the same cultural group of people as the nation where the virus originated or if you have had the virus yourself, this type of discrimination and fear will linger for years to come.
I’m thinking of those people who have less ability or experience mental health issues. Accessing vital services can be difficult enough at the best of times but during a crisis like this, it will be near on impossible. We will lose some of these people, and it won’t be because they were infected with the virus.
Finally, I’m thinking of all of those people we have sadly already lost. Today, that count sits a little over 137000 – it’s not just this number who are impacted, all of their friends and families are grieving, unable to say goodbye properly in some places. What a horrible thing to go through.
There is an almost incomprehensible number of people out there who are significantly and forever traumatically impacted by this virus, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. But writing this piece and thinking about it in the last few weeks is something which has helped me reflect on how fortunate I am. The saying keeps going around – this virus doesn’t discriminate – but the truth is, it does. If you’re any one of the people I mentioned above, you’re being affected so much more significantly than I am.
To put it simply, we’re not all in the same boat. Kristen and I have a low cost of living, we have a veggie garden, we have a safe and comfortable small home which we can continue paying for with our modest savings for a while yet. We have enough food in our pantry to last us a long time and fresh deliveries of fruit/vegetables/milk/bread/eggs weekly mean we won’t be hungry or malnourished. Our daughter is safe at home with us and we’re fortunate we have the knowledge and resources to be able to help guide her through her early education. All I can do at honestly do to contribute at this point in time is to stay home and if that’s the biggest challenge I experience during this pandemic, I’ll take that every day for the rest of my life.
I’m going to take a little break from social media for a while – I’m still around but as a sign of solidarity and respect for those not as fortunate as me, I’ll be spending my time and energy elsewhere. Kristen has been working incredibly hard with Squishy Minnie to keep our community and children as connected as possible, I will continue to join her in these efforts. We always built Squishy to be a small community organisation that just so happened to sell kids books and now is the time when our community needs us the most. When it feels ok for me to talk about my photography, weddings or anything like that again, I’ll be back because I truly do love it, it’s been my life for the last 10 years and I hope it is for many more years to come. In the meantime, stay home, be safe (and keep others safe) and appreciate whatever fortunes you may be lucky enough to have.
Love and respect,