‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, …’ Charles Dickens (1859) A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel set in London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution, a period of major social upheaval at the end of the 18th century.
Charles Dickens was a champion of the poor in his life and in his writings. His ideas resonate with me now as I see the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our communities and on our economy. Not only are people fearful for their health but also for their livelihood. COVID-19 has created its own revolution in our lives and we are all adjusting to a new way of being.
A colleague from the Launceston Medical Centre PPG made a comment that stayed with me: “If one good thing has come out of COVID, it is the spirit of community”.
Indeed our colleague embodies that sentiment, giving time and commitment to voluntary work and public service, as do so many other members of our PPG and our community.
COVID has meant that we must now attend meetings virtually. Over here on the border with Devon, we have long travel times to get to meetings in the west. We have made new connections with groups spread widely over Cornwall and that has been a bonus. As we isolate or shield at home, this is a useful social interaction. Social media has come into its own during COVID. We might be isolated physically but we can connect virtually.
Launceston Medical Centre has been inundated with donations to help the staff and I have been privileged to collect donations from our patients who have been sewing masks and scrubs at home. The craft work has been beautiful and I found that people were desperate to chat across the bonnet of my car. The emotional need to feel useful and the pride in their work was palpable. The stories they told me were heartfelt. A lady was going to see her friend and take a picnic to the park nearby. Her friend lived alone, was elderly and in poor health, and had not been out of her house for months. She cried with happiness when her friend said they could now go out to the park with her. A gentleman, shielding in his bungalow for months, had saved up his pension and donated a cheque to the Medical Centre for the nurses – his ‘angels’. These stories and the immense generosity in our communities lifted my spirits too. Delivering the donations to the Medical Centre and seeing our health workers in full PPE administering care to patients in their cars was humbling. Our health workers were on the front line. After a long day, they would go home and hope that they could keep their families safe too – yet another anxiety during COVID.
So, it was the best of times as we all came together in the spirit of community, but it was also the worst of times as COVID complicated already tragic situations. I stood in a beautiful Devon country graveyard with my friend as she laid her husband to rest. Her husband had a terminal illness and she knew she would lose him. Rarely apart in thirty years, she was unable to be by his side in hospital for his last week. The call none of us want came late 1 night, but we arrived at the hospital too late. My friend is finding it hard to come to terms with her loss and the fact that she was not with her husband at the end. There were just 2 of us at the funeral. The church was still closed. There was a terrible sadness that day.
We are getting back to work and to school, to some new way of living. Our volunteers are still active in our communities. We can reflect on the kindness of strangers and look for joyful moments again. But we must be mindful that many are not going to recover well from COVID. Our food banks are becoming a necessity and again the community at large is donating generously.
I think our volunteers are going to be busier than ever in the coming months so our thanks to them. We shall be working together for our communities and hoping for better times ahead.
Member of Launceston Medical Centre PPG and Citizen Advisory Panel
16 July 2020