Mystery illness threatens hospitals
Mar. 28, 2003. 05:29 AM
Hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area
and Simcoe County are operating under
severe restrictions to stem the
outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS),
the latest in a series of dramatic steps
authorities have taken to control the global epidemic.

The Toronto Star, March 28 2003

March 28. Friday.

The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak.

The scene that greeted us this morning as we came in to work was reminiscent of the kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare you would associate with Hollywood’s best directors. Unfortunately there will be no Oscars for this performance and the faces behind the masks could not disguise their fear and uncertainty as they squirted hand cleaner into our palms. One person standing next to me expressed how “scary” this was to her, I responded that the scary part wasn’t the people in the masks, but rather that they were letting us in to the building at all. This, coupled with the mask and gown wearing emergency workers circulating the building during the last 2 days makes me wonder if anyone actually takes these risks seriously. During the briefing for the staff this morning, they told us that the fatality rate was 3% or so, which on a worldwide basis is accurate, however in the GTA the fatality rate is in reality close to 10%. I am not a panic monger, nor do I subscribe to the theory of blanket confusion but I have to say that there are times when it is simply more appropriate and psychologically beneficial to allow people to remove themselves from the situation that they perceive as being a threat. Today is Friday, and besides the fact that the new building is far behind being populated to it’s targets and we all have much work to be done to catch up, I believe that the amount of progress to be made today will be minimal at best. The new building is wide open, elevator shafts are not sealed and the lobby area feeds air into and around the new offices. Mix this with the admission by the head of our infectious disease control department that the pathogen is hypothetically airborne and you have a psychological Molotov cocktail on your hands. So the staff here are officially in a state of quiet and very Canadian panic.

This is in addition to the tension that has been created by the perception that the war in Iraq is no longer a cake walk, but rather a very dirty, knockdown drag-out brawl. This between a nation that believes in itself and it’s duty to protect the rights of the oppressed and who foolishly believes that everyone worldwide will play by the “rules of war”, and its enemy who is once again reminding the American people that being an underdog is not a glamorous position, that in reality despite the romantic ideals attached to the notion of the small guy overcoming the giant, being an underdog means doing whatever it takes to survive. The Iraqi militia are not bound by moralistic notions, they are not restricted by the pressure of being the popular combatant, all they are concerned about it survival. Not survival like we tend to think, the idea that getting through something means sacrificing having a latte every morning to afford a new Porsche, or even the idea of having to sleep on the street in order to have enough money to eat. Their struggle to survive includes putting everything and anything between themselves and death, be it mines, civilian clothing, the infamous “Weapons of Mass Destruction” or indeed civilian men, women and children themselves. I am consistently astonished as the surprise and horror in the voices of the reporters, the people I speak to on a daily basis and the Newsmedia as they recount the atrocities going on in Iraq. But I ask you, when it comes right down to a bullet, what did you expect them to do? The atrocities of war are not termed that way because they make us uncomfortable, they are termed that way because they are inhuman, beyond the ability and even the grasp of many of us. But contextually speaking, they must be expected during times when one force comes into contact with another using humans as the lubricant between their contacting faces. Maybe I am more cynical (read realistic) about combat having been close to the military mentality most of my life and having seen now 3 wars not including the guerilla war that has simmered, occasionally erupting into death and destruction, in Northern Ireland for decades. Maybe it is my fascination with human psychology that has taught me that there are no words to describe the horror of which the human mind is capable, maybe it is my experiences in life that have taught me that the 5% of humanity that happens beyond the fringe is something of which we should all make ourselves aware in order to protect ourselves from the possibilities of life. Whatever it is, I find that there are few things that shock me, even less that I find truly horrific, and that my expectation of this particular situation is that by the end of the day, there will have been far darker times than live in the memories of any one person still surviving past conflicts.

So there it is, the present cloud that hangs over us here in Canada, but I have to admit that despite all this gloom below the surface, things are pretty well normal over here. The weather is improving, Spring is succeeding at forcing its way into our frozen wasteland and in typically Canadian fashion, the only flags waving around on the local vehicles are Maple Leaf flags… not for the country, but for Toronto’s NHL hockey team. It still amazes me the degree to which the Canadian people, outdone only by the Australians I imagine, are able completely to isolate themselves from the rest of the world and create a happy little cocoon in which they can ride out the storm. It is a strange and wonderful ability, albeit completely detached form reality, but it does enable them to enjoy themselves no matter what else may be going on.

..after all, it’s Roll Up The Rim To Win time at Tim Hortons, and the Super 7 jackpot is up to $22,000,000.00 this weekend, so smile, things could be worse…