Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year, Part the Second - How Quickly It Changes

It is startling how quickly things can change.

At the beginning of last week, I was teaching my classes and working comfortably in my advising job.  Students were coming in to see me, since we’re coming up on summer registration and they’re expected to see me once a month anyway.  Plus the usual crises that students have – solving those, or at least figuring out ways for students to cope with them, is literally part of my job description.  Oliver was home on Spring Break and looking forward to one more week of sleeping in before heading back for his own classes.  Kim had spent the weekend before hosting labs at Home Campus – her online chemistry class usually gets together for two weekends per semester to do all the labs at the same time – and was working from home and preparing for her usual week commuting to Madison for her admin job.  Lauren was in Europe on her exchange program.  She had hit the point in the exchange year where she was comfortable with the language and the setting and was enjoying herself immensely.

None of that holds now.

All of our campuses are closed.  I teach on or for four different campuses and every one of them is shut down right now and will be for at least a couple of weeks, whereupon things will be re-evaluated.  By that point all of my classes should be online for a couple more weeks.  Several of them are already online classes and they are relatively unaffected by the shutdowns, and I have built online classes before so I’m in pretty good shape for the other classes, though I have no idea how it will go in the broader sense.  We spent much of last week having advisor meetings trying to figure out how to provide services to our students in this interval as well, and it’s been an experience all around.

Kim’s office basically told her to work from home, so she’s set up for that now.

Oliver’s school extended its spring break as well and said the next month of classes would be online.  He made a quick drive down to the campus to collect stuff out of his dorm room – stuff he thought he’d be coming back to once classes resumed – and is ready to ride that out here with us.

And Lauren’s program pulled everyone out this week. 

We got word of this early Thursday morning – the parent Facebook page blew up and the whole day was just trying to find out what was happening when.  We spoke with her and her host family, who seem like just lovely people and we hope to meet them someday soon, after all this recedes, and on Friday she was in the air.  Kim picked her up in Chicago, along with friends of ours whose vacation got cut short, and she’s home now.

To be honest I still think Lauren would have been safer sheltering in place where she was, in a country with a national health care system and a government that understands this is a medical issue rather than a campaign issue, rather than get put on a plane with all sorts of strangers coming from all sorts of places and run through two major airports full of exposure risks, but it wasn’t our call.  I’m just heartsick that she had to get yanked away from her friends and life there. 

Of course now we’re all in self-quarantine.  The CDC and our local county health service both said that travelers from Europe need to stay home for two weeks to clear the incubation period.  If we wanted to avoid that ourselves we would have had to isolate Lauren in her room during that time but that seemed callous, so we’re all home.

Of all of us I’m probably the best suited for this sort of thing, really.  Very early on in our relationship Kim had to explain to me what cabin fever was and why it was bad.  “You mean I stay home with my books and my tea and I don’t have to leave and nobody bothers me and this is a problem … why?”  She married me anyway, folks.  It’s harder on the rest but it’s one of those things that has to be done so we do it.

We’re well stocked – I moved up my normal grocery run and we will not run out of food or supplies between now and when we get to go out and about again.  We’re actually allowed to leave the house as long as we don’t interact with anyone or go anywhere other people go, so my big excursion yesterday was to feed the chickens out at the barn.  The chickens don’t care about the wider world.  They get fed.  They lay eggs.  Lawsey do they lay eggs.  We have a lot of eggs.  We’ll be fine.

We had plans to see the Local Businessman High School musical this weekend, before everything changed.  They put on some impressive shows, and we were sorry to figure out that with everything else going on we wouldn’t be able to go and then they had to cancel the shows anyway, and then the governor shut down all the schools until next month just to reinforce the point.  But they figured out a way to livestream a performance, so with a few family members for an audience they got up on stage and sent it out to the rest of us last night.  It was well done, and I’m glad that the show went on.

You take what normalcy you can.


Ewan said...

1918. What happened post flu? How long were measures in place, how long did people comply, etc?

David said...

I'd have to go back and do some research on that. Perhaps I will. I've got time.

The two books I've read on the subject are John M. Barry's The Great Influenza and Gina Kolata's Flu. Barry's is the more historical take on things and will probably have the answers you're looking for. Kolata's take is more biological - she's interested in the virus itself. But they're both worth reading.

If you're interested in the larger picture, some of the other books I've read are:

Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill - an older book that takes a long swing through history.

Justinian's Flea: the First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire

The Speckled Monster about American efforts to fight smallpox in the 18th century, as I recall.

And others that don't come to mind right now. A lot on the Black Death (I wrote a paper on responses to that disease, while I was in grad school). Some on the yellow fever epidemics in Philadelphia in the 1790s (it became part of my dissertation). And so on.

I suspect that there will be many more posts while I am quarantined, and perhaps I'll get to the history.

LucyInDisguise said...

Ohhh! A reading list!!! Homework!!!

WAIT! The library is closed. Not available on Project Gutenberg. Amazon … whoa. Well shit. Guess I’ll just have to follow you around and breath down your neck till your next post. [Image: man with arms crossed pretending to be waiting patiently while becoming increasing annoyed aka John Cleese, who did that better than any other human]



LucyInDisguise said...

Also, may Thor help you all should I get quarantined and end up with all that commenting time on my hands.

Heading to the wallyworld for dog and cat food. If you never hear from me again, you'll know it didn't go well.



David said...

The things we do for pets. Good luck to you! Remember, anything can be a weapon if you hit someone hard enough with it.

Honestly the grocery store was mobbed but generally civil when I went on Thursday. The only part of it that I found depressing was listing to some of the morons who were complaining that this was all some kind of hoax. They planned to ignore all the restrictions, and well. You know. Darwin always wins those. Sad, really, but there you go.

David said...


LucyInDisguise said...

I'm a gonna make me up a sign and go stand on the corner. The sign will say:

"People. Now is not the time to panic. Stop hoarding shit."

That's what it is gonna say.

Really? Why is all the dog food gone?

I mourn for some semblance of remaining intelligence in our world.


David said...

I certainly hope all the people hoarding supplies in the face of impending crisis gain a new and more empathetic understanding of refugees.

Of course, "He who lives upon hope dies farting." (Ben Franklin)