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In Common with Most People | Alice McVeigh | #LetsResetNormal


Anglo-American author, cellist and editor, recovered from coronavirus, London, United Kingdom

In common with most people, I’ve had a couple of close brushes with death. When I was five and living in Bangkok – my father was in the US State Department – I was tricycling gleefully down the drive when I suddenly found my path blocked… by a massive snake. Well, even at five, I wasn’t stupid. I abandoned my tricycle and ran screaming to the servants, several of whom took care of the python.

A bit later, in my twenties, two fellow musicians of the Opera 80 Orchestra and I, on a day off, were enjoying the Lake District. The winds were whipped and icy but still we walked and were in rosy high spirits as we returned to the car. However, just as the driver set off down the hill, the wheels hit a patch of black ice. To our utter horror, the car slid out of control and skidded – fast – towards the edge of a precipice: the longest couple of seconds of my entire life. The car stopped a whisker from the edge of perhaps a 40 foot drop. It took us all a good hour to stop shaking.

My coronavirus experience wasn’t nearly as bad as either of these, or a couple of other near-misses I’ve had. Mine was a moderate case. I wasn’t one of those lucky bunnies who toss out a couple of dry coughs and never know they’d had it – but I never got as far as hospital, let alone intensive care. Instead, I endured an awful 7-8 hours of breathing difficulties; 4 days of unrelenting temperatures between 38-40℃; the most bizarre cough of my life – nothing to cough up; and a pincer-like headache that refused to shift with any permissible amount of Paracetamol.

I called the NHS helpline, as advertised, about 3 a.m. one night, when it seemed as if that long-dead python had tracked me down at last. The guy said, ‘If your breathing gets any worse, call us back. For now, just keep breathing.’

And yet, in some ways, even though I’m fine, what’s going on now feels every bit as scary as those long, endless seconds in the Lake District, skidding towards the abyss.

Will my husband – older than me – or our daughter get it? Will her boyfriend – trapped here instead of in his native Tokyo by my illness – get it? (He’s yet to confess to his parents that I’ve had it.) Will the NHS cope? Will the economy cope? Will my fellow zero-hour-contract friends – musicians, dancers and actors with every performance for the foreseeable future cancelled – cope?

When will the great British public start thinking as a nation and not as millions of selfish individuals to whom the rules of social distancing need not apply? Will this crisis – the greatest peacetime crisis for centuries – make or break us, as a society, as an economy, as a people, as a world?

We’re all going to have to dig deep. And keep breathing.

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In Common with Most People | Alice McVeigh | #LetsResetNormal

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