The View From Here: COVID solitude

Volodymyr Kish.

The infinitesimally small microbe we know as the COVID-19 virus is so basic in its structure and activities, that scientists debate whether it is even a life form. Essentially, the virus is a package of genetic molecules (RNA/DNA) wrapped in a protein envelope. Unlike most life forms, it does not have the mechanisms to enable either metabolic or reproductive functions. It cannot move on its own, does not consume anything, and cannot replicate itself. Exposed to open air, it deteriorates and decomposes within a matter of hours, or days, depending on the surface it is on.

For such a simplistic entity, it is remarkable in its ability to cause havoc once inside the human body. It enters through our eyes, nose or mouth, either through our breathing in aerosol droplets containing the virus, or by our hands coming in contact with infected surfaces and then subsequently transferring the virus by touch to our faces near those same openings. Once inside, those viruses that have the good fortune to be able attach themselves to certain cells within our air passages, are able to penetrate the cells and cause the cell’s reproductive mechanisms to start replicating the virus. Once they start circulating inside our bodies, they have the potential of causing severe damage to our lungs, hearts, brains and other organs. Because it is a relatively new virus, the medical community still has not been able to fully understand or catalogue all the consequence of a coronavirus infection.

What we do know for sure is that it is highly contagious, and it can be deadly. Over a million people have died of the virus globally to date, with the U.S. accounting for over two hundred thousand of those fatalities, Canada nearing ten thousand, and Ukraine almost five thousand. To combat this pandemic, most of the world’s governments have imposed severe restrictions on people’s movements, striving to limit people to people contact as much as possible. We have been told to hunker down, isolate ourselves in our homes and not socialize with anyone else unless absolutely necessary.

Needless to say, these restrictions have had a significant impact on our economy and our day to day activities. We live mostly in population dense urban societies, we are highly mobile, and we typically interact with dozens, if not hundreds of people every day. Being forced to confine ourselves to our own homes and avoid other human contact as much as possible, has brought into sharp focus just how much of a social animal we really are.

Human beings thrive on social interaction. We need contact with other human beings for our own psychological and emotional well-being. Our evolutionary history has programmed us to live in social groups. Prolonged solitary confinement or exclusion from social activity usually leads to depression or other psychological malfunctioning.

I too have not been immune to this aspect of COVID’s consequences. My wife and I are particularly social creatures. Normally, during spring, summer and fall, our large back deck is humming with people, conversations and impromptu get-togethers. We used to have frequent re-unions and gatherings of our extended families. It was not uncommon for us to have fifteen or twenty people around our dinner table. Prior to COVID, we would either visit our grandchildren or have them stay with us at least once a month or even more often. Our calendar would be so full of events and commitments, that we needed the computer to keep track of what we would be doing on any given day or weekend.

All of that went by the wayside once COVID hit. We now venture out of the house only for grocery shopping or essential activities. We have not physically seen or been with close relatives for some seven months now. Our family visits are now done with ZOOM over the internet. We did spend some time at the family cottage, but it was just my wife and I, and not the extended gatherings that would make for exuberant and memorable family vacations. We have not gone out for dinner, or a show, a concert, a banquet, a party, a “zabava” or any kind of large social event. Instead of going to church, we live stream the services on our computer.

All this has understandably taken a toll on all of us. We miss the hugs, the face to face interactions, the laughter and the shared meals and good times. We still keep in frequent touch with our friends and families but seeing them on a computer screen is nowhere near as warm and satisfying as being together in person.

COVID has forced us into coming to terms with solitude and separation. It is a challenge that is bearable, because we know that it will eventually come to an end. In the meantime, we need to draw on our inner reserves of patience and fortitude and use this as an opportunity to more fully appreciate the “normal” lives that we used to take for granted.