Life under lockdown (again): Birthdays and hospitals

This latest lockdown already feels tediously interminable, doesn’t it? Having said that, we’ve had quite enough excitement for one fortnight, thanks very much. Within the space of 24 hours, we had the joy of a birthday and the stress of an unexpected hospital stay.

Anyhow, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thursday 14th January

The kids are really winding each other up now. It doesn’t take much. One of them only needs to look at the others in slightly the wrong way, and before you know it we’re having to drag someone’s finger off the nuclear button.

We’re very much in straw-breaking-camel’s-back territory now. It’s the gradual accumulation of small annoyances. The monotony of one day feeling just like every other. The inability to go somewhere different; see someone different; do something different, just to blow off some steam. Mental health is a fragile thing. I said right at the outset of the first lockdown that there would come a point when the threat to mental health became as great as that posed to our physical health. Despite the sharp rise in coronavirus deaths over the past few weeks, I think we’re there now.

We need to do more to make weekends – and even weekdays – more entertaining and distracting. Some days – too many of them, really – it feels like we’re all just going through the motions. Life’s too short to allow that to happen, even in the middle of a pandemic lockdown.

Tuesday 19th January

It was Toby’s 11th birthday today. He celebrated with a Zoom call and Xbox session, and we delivered cake to his local friends. Then we had another call with his grandparents and uncle in the evening. Welcome to birthday parties, lockdown-style.

He took it all very well, really. The kids are well used to low-key celebrations and two-dimensional online parties by now. But that doesn’t make it any easier on them. It’s been so long now that it’s going to be a real shock to the system when we go back to being able to meet with large groups of people again in the same place. We’ve almost forgotten what that was like, haven’t we?

Today’s UK Covid death toll: 1,610. A new record. Yippee.

Wednesday 20th January

Another day, another record: 1,820 deaths. I hear myself laughing hollowly at the memory of Boris Johnson’s boasts about the UK’s ‘world-beating’ test-and-trace system and his relentlessly misplaced optimism. If this is success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.

Although no one died here, the impact of Covid hit much closer to home today than it has ever done before. Having felt unwell in the evening, Heather woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain and unable to even talk properly. So I had to call 111, explain her situation as best I could, then wait for first a doctor to call back and then an ambulance to arrive. The paramedics quickly determined she needed to go to hospital immediately, while I listened in from a socially safe distance halfway up the stairs.

And then, at 2:30am, she was gone.

That left me to comfort one tearful and distraught eight-year-old girl, while her brothers slept on blissfully unaware. A couple of hours later I received a text message confirming what I had already guessed: a diagnosis of appendicitis, requiring surgery.

Hospitalisation during a pandemic meant no visitors, leaving me to reassure and juggle three kids, setting aside my own needs, worries and work commitments. Yes, the operation is common and should be routine. Yes, she will need to stay in for a day or two. No, we can’t go to see her. Of course, she’ll be alright (crosses fingers behind back). Yes, you can have a cuddle.

It’s a strange state of isolation that you quickly come to accept because that’s just how it is. As much as I’d like to jump in the car and take the kids to see her, we know we can’t. We’ve become so accustomed to being together all day every day that her absence leaves an even bigger hole than it normally would. I’m quite capable of managing the house on my own, but when you’ve spent seven days a week for ten months choreographing and honing your household routines as a pair, the burden of taking on all the grown-up responsibilities for yourself weighs even more heavily than it normally would.

And it’s even worse at night. For once, I don’t complain when Kara climbs into our bed for an all-night snuggle. It makes her feel better. But, if anything, it does more for me. I’ve never really thought twice about sleeping on my own before but I feel the loneliness acutely now.

And this is just for a routine, low-risk operation, where she should be home in a day or two. It really brings home how traumatic it must be for anyone going in for a high-risk operation requiring a lengthy stay – and for those closest to them.

I shudder to think of the long-term damage this virus will cause – is causing. Not just because of the thousands it has killed. But for the hundreds of thousands more on whom it has left emotional scars that will never show up in government statistics. Our situation is nothing like what many others have gone through. But it’s still draining all my energy just to keep my spirits up for the kids’ benefit, if nothing else.

Friday 22nd January

I brought Heather home from hospital this evening. When she went into hospital, Donald Trump was still President of the United States. By the time she returned, he had been replaced by Joe Biden. It’s a thing, I suppose.

Even though the keyhole surgery went fairly smoothly, she was tired, sore and still in obvious discomfort. She’s facing a long convalescence – three to four weeks, in all likelihood.

I like to try to find the silver lining in every cloud, so I’m hoping this will give us a little push as a family to rally around and support each other a bit more. This latest lockdown is taking a greater toll and faster than it did first time around. The wintry weather doesn’t help, of course, but it’s clear that we’re less resilient and less patient than we were before. And, with some form of tight restrictions likely to continue for several weeks (if not months), we’ve still got a long road ahead of us to travel.

Sunday 24th January

Throughout this pandemic, the daily death numbers have always fluctuated significantly. Lower on Monday and Tuesday, reflecting a slow-down in reporting over the weekend. Higher thereafter as we catch up.

The seven-day average, which removes the weekday/weekend effect, has remained resolutely above 1,000 since 13th January. And there’s no sign of it dipping back into three figures for a while yet.

On the bright side, we do seem to be doing a good job in the UK securing vaccine supplies and ramping up the rollout programme. As a diabetic and an asthmatic, I’m in the sixth of nine priority groups identified for early vaccination – the predicted timing for my first dose had slipped out to between April and June, but now it’s forecast for early March at the latest. It’s not an immediate panacea, but it’s at least something to look forward to. There’s been precious little enough of that in recent months, so I’ll take whatever I can get.

Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries

Our ‘new normal’: March 15th-19th

And so it begins: March 20th-23rd

The shapeless monotony: March 24th-26th

A different life: March 27th-29th

Hanging in there: March 30th-April 5th

A marathon, not a sprint: April 6th-13th

So it begins again: April 14th-19th

Not what I expected: April 20th-26th

A never-ending hiatus?: April 27th-May 3rd

Months, not weeks: May 4th-10th

The long road back to ‘normal’ May 11th-17th

The end of the beginning: May 18th-24th

Time to take back control: May 25th-31st

Edging back to normal: June 1st-7th

Preparing for ‘the blip’: June 8th-14th

The middle of nowhere: June 15th-21st

The road back to normality: June 22nd-28th

Releasing the pause button: June 29th-July 12th

Ticking the boxes: July 13th-26th

Normal, and yet not normal: July 27th-August 9th

An uncertain future: August 10th-21st

Here we go again: September 22nd

The Covid Hokey Cokey: September 23rd-October 4th

200 days later: October 5th-18th

Déjà vu: October 19th-November 1st

In the balance: November 2nd-15th

Not too early: November 16th-29th

Preparing for a not-normal Christmas: November 30th-December 13th

A different Christmas: December 14th-27th

Back to square one: December 28th-January 11th


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