By Esther Noordermeer
For some reason people are very susceptible when it comes to doomsday scenarios. Climate prophets threaten with the rising sea level. The WWF mentions a million different species that are threatened with extinction. Financial trendwatchers are not very optimistic either. Our monetary system borders on either exploding or imploding, the banks could potentially collapse, our money could evaporate and we might plunge into poverty.
They paint a future full of uncertainties and the average Westerner is not a fan of that. Preferably, all risks need to be covered. At the deepest level, the
average human in the Western world is a fearful creature. Apart from the fact whether these doomsday prophets are right or not, their doomsday scenarios flourish because they confront humans with
their deepest fear, their deepest anxiety – death.
Nowadays another important and influential doomsday prophet has joined the party: the white coat prophet. On a daily basis the following worst-case scenario resounds: ‘If we do not follow the guidelines of the RIVM (The (Dutch) National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), then soon there will no longer be any space left on the IC unit for COVID-patients, which means that someone could potentially … die.’
By now we have learned that being ill is not an issue as long as there is medical help available at all times. Right? From now on we will just check with the hospital beforehand what the capacity is of their different units before we take any sort of action. If there is enough capacity in the Emergency Department, then we can freely and carelessly go on a night out. We can also go on a skiing holiday, as there are plenty of Emergency Plaster Rooms available anyway. No fireworks this time, as the ophthalmologists are very busy at the moment. Conceiving children is possible, since the maternity wards are not overburdened. Of course, when the maternity wards are packed because of a babyboom, we would be wise to not conceive. It would be best to contact our GP first to find out if there are any time slots left during the consultation hour, before we allow our children to play outside. Imagine if one had a bad fall and needs stitches. Best to immediately inquire if a tetanus jab is available, just in case the wound ends up being very deep. That would be too great a risk.
I’m clearly exaggerating to make a point here. Since when has the capacity of our healthcare facilities been a determining factor in our daily behavior and decision-making? What produces in us this need for assurance of healthcare availability? We simply cannot live with the thought that a shortage of healthcare facilities could be fatal. Yet for many countries this is the case. There are plenty of (developing) countries where healthcare is not well organized and/or regulated. Based on our western point-of-view, these countries should constantly be in a lockdown. Of course, this is not the case in reality. These people live with the fact that there is a shortage of healthcare.
Putting death into perspective
They may die because there is a shortage of healthcare, but don’t forget that us Westerners die because of our prosperity. There is a reason why we call it
‘diseases of affluence’, and the majority of us die from these kinds of diseases. Sometimes we die because of medical care (operations or medication), sometimes because of an accident,
sometimes depression or suicide. And sometimes it is possible that we will die because there is a shortage of available healthcare. Why are we making such a big deal of that one, specifically?
Answer: because we don’t know how to deal with death well. If people are unable to put death into perspective, then they will always remain in the grasp of doomsday prophets, in whatever form or
shape they may come.
The fear of death is understandable. For all of us it remains a dreadful enemy that we’ll have to face one day, but it is unjustifiable, unhealthy and even phobic to adjust daily life based on this fear. Daily life is about LIVING. The forced, unnatural manner in which we have to interact with one another based on the Covid-19 measures has turned our daily living into a daily dying. No physical closeness, no solace, no hugs, no weddings, no singing, no family dinner, no children’s parties, and so on. Funerals have become even more desolate than they already were. It is the physical nearness – hugs, shaking hands, a comforting shoulder – and the togetherness with loved ones in which those who are grieving find consolation and the determination to go on. That’s being taken away from them now. We are living in a culture of death. Although death is something that we all must deal with, it should not be something that guides our lives. We must LIVE!
Maybe we don’t agree on what it means to live. As long as you are eating and breathing, you are living. Is that true, or is that more akin to vegetating? Life is an experience. It is because of its events that someone experiences his or her existence. A human desires to undertake something, to take care of themselves and their family, to maintain relationships, to love, to have faith, to be heard and to be acknowledged. To live is to have the right to undertake something, the right to produce an income, to maintain relationships, to love, to have faith, to be heard and to be acknowledged. Someone who is starving, yet experiences these life-rights, may be dying but is still more alive than a well-fed human whose life-rights are taken away – they are essentially living death.
Many believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that everything will turn back to normal. No matter how much I would like to confirm their hopes, this is no longer possible. Even if all the Covid-19 measures are being lifted and everything seems to go back to normal, we have proven as a society that we are prepared to submit ourselves to a medical dictatorship. Maybe, just maybe, this medical dictatorship has ensured that there were less Covid-19 deaths, but our society has been irreparably damaged. Her soul has been eviscerated. Surgery successful, patient dead.
People who resist the Covid-19 measures do so because the seriousness and the lethality of this virus are not as bad as some media sources (and politicians) make it seem. The current measures taken cannot be justified in relation to the danger of the virus. But what if another virus arrives that is much more dangerous and far more lethal; in this case, will these resistance heroes be willing to submit to a medical dictatorship? It is a matter of principle. If we don’t learn how to cope with death, if we don’t become convicted that real living has so much worth that death is a price we are willing to pay, then we will certainly submit to, even embrace a medical dictatorship, over and over again.
If I were to be diagnosed with Covid-19 and I have to go to the IC but there is no space for me, then it is my hope to recover at home with oxygen and well-tested medicine. And if not, then I will just… die. And who says that the IC would be able to save me? I would prefer to live until the day I die. But real living is what I am being deprived of right now. The British nurse Cicely Saunders (1918-2005) gave us these wise words (paraphrased): “I prefer to add life to my days, rather than adding days to my life.”
This article was originally written in Dutch, titled as “Nederland onder medische dictatuur” (February 2021).
Translator English version: Deborah Noordermeer (March 2021)