20 June, 2020
How I could have killed my parents.
Good choices are not always clear.
By purely random luck, I did not infect my mother and father with coronavirus. I suppose the odds were fairly low, but killing my parents was well within the realms of possibility. For a couple of days, this was the potential reality which consumed my thoughts.
How would I have lived with the guilt? Would I have replayed the choices in my mind, again and again and again? Could I have continued my daily existence, would I have searched endlessly for some sort of repentance or would my only escape have been suicide? If just my mother had died, for example, would my father ever have forgiven me? It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario.
It wasn’t a deliberate decision, but rather a series of events which I did not try hard enough to control. Although I did consider consequences, I basically allowed events to unfold without my interference. This is something I do, or rather don’t do, too frequently.
To set the scene, I’ll explain that I live in northern New South Wales, close to the border of Queensland. There have been no new coronavirus cases in this area for nearly a month, only a few in the southern parts of the state, a few more in Victoria and barely any in Queensland, which has closed its borders.
In this region there seems to be a growing sentiment that the pandemic is fake news.
Comparisons to influenza are common. While it’s true that the flu kills more people annually than have so far died from Covid 19, it’s also true that the public response is crucial to these outcomes. Currently, in the USA over 700 people are dying daily of coronavirus, equalling 37 per every 100,000. Only eight or nine out of every 100,000 die of influenza.
I appreciate these facts, and try my best to act in the interests of public health, even though local statistics are good, and most people around here believe it’s all a hoax.
My friend was turning fifty and invited my partner and me to his birthday celebration, as two of only twenty permitted guests. We were honoured. The problem was that he lives in Queensland, where my parents also live.
In order to cross the closed border, he suggested we apply for an exemption on compassionate grounds to visit my parents and sneak in an extra night to attend his party. It seemed like a good idea and very low risk, since there have been no new cases, either here or there, for many weeks.
The exemption application went smoothly and everything was fine until George Floyd was murdered and Black Lives Matter protests erupted.
Despite our Prime Minister’s heartlessly ignorant words, Australians felt the pain of African Americans very keenly. Indigenous people and their allies recognise the all-to-familiar injustices. The parallels are striking: from institutionalised police brutality to excessive incarceration rates right down to a recent victim’s final sentence being, “I can’t breathe.”
When a local Indigenous group organised a rally to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody and support BLM, staying home did not seem an option for me. I understood that for an Indigenous Australian the possibility of being arrested and not making it out alive was far more real than that of catching coronavirus.
However, I did consider the possibility of an infectious person from down south coming to the march and spreading the virus. In my mind, I could mitigate this small risk by wearing a face mask and keeping apart from others.
The reality was a little different.
Around five thousand people, nearly half the population of our town, showed up to the rally. I had a face mask, but very few others did and I discovered how impractical it is to wear it properly.
My sunglasses would steam up or I would talk to people who couldn’t hear or recognise me, so I would continually adjust the mask or slip it off my mouth, rendering it pretty much useless. As we listened to speakers, marched and took a knee for nine minutes, it was simply not feasible to keep a safe distance from each other.
I was extremely grateful to be at such an emotional and empowering event, but I could not stop the ‘what if?’ question popping up in my mind during the following days. I even rang the Covid 19 hotline to enquire about getting tested, but I did not qualify because I had no symptoms.
Nobody else was worried, so I silenced my doubts and continued with the plan to celebrate my friend’s birthday the next Saturday and visit my parents on Sunday.
There’s something I haven’t told you yet, although it may not come as a surprise. My parents are 76 and 77, and not in good health. My mother is taking cancer medication which suppresses her immune system.
As we drove to their house, I felt the faintest twinge of a pain in my throat. I ignored it vehemently. I told myself I would wash my hands, keep my distance and avoid hugging them.
The second I got out of the car my father kissed and embraced me. We haven’t seen each other for nearly six months. We caught up on the news and went out to dinner. Everything seemed very normal. The next day I helped my mother prepare lunch. It wasn’t until hours later that I realised I’d forgotten to wash my hands beforehand.
At home a couple of days later, my nose started running. I was tired and my body ached. It became impossible to deny the fact that I was ill. I lay awake most of the night with all the worst-case scenarios playing out in my head.
In the morning I went to the hospital for a test. I didn’t exactly meet the conditions, but they checked me anyway. By the way, for anyone who hasn’t been poked with a stick in the back of the throat and up both nostrils, I can assure you it is not a pleasant experience. Around 21 hours later, with indescribable relief, I received the ‘negative’ text message.
I got away with it this time, but does that make it okay?
It is unnerving to think how little it would take to transform a life completely, or even destroy it. The most minor of decisions or a slight alteration of conditions or moods could have shattering consequences.
If I could go back in time, what I would do differently? Washing my hands is definitely one thing. Going to the rally was very important for me, as I hope it was one of those moments which will bring about a chain of events to change history. I cannot regret that decision.
Cancelling the trip to Queensland may have been wise, though it would have disappointed many people, particularly my parents. In hindsight, I think the best course of action would have been to pretend to have symptoms so that I could have been tested before I visited my parents.
Sure, lying to a hospital doesn’t appear the obvious ethical choice, but as there is no shortage of tests at this stage of the pandemic here in Australia, I wouldn’t have been denying anyone else the opportunity of being tested.
Also, I should have put more effort into thinking about my options, without being influenced by voices around me.
It’s all hypothetical of course. Perhaps it’s pointless to wonder about alternative realities. Or maybe it’s valuable to consider the implications of my choices, so I can hope to keep making better ones.