Pandemic Fugue

“The problem with the idea that history repeats itself is that when it isn’t making us wiser it’s making us complacent” Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

Rethinking life

Fugue is defined as “a state or period of loss of awareness of one’s identity”, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment. After almost two years of this pandemic I am starting to emerge from that fugue state. Unfortunately that awakening is bursting all kinds of suppressed childhood memories, long ago compartmentalized.

Compartmentalization is not an uncommon process for kids who grew up in traumatic situations, it is a subconscious defence mechanism. When those compartments begin to come unglued is when you see signs of PTSD but more on that later.

Having contracted polio at age 3, in a time where “social isolation” usually meant being institutionalized rather than the being left in the community. The community wasn’t ready for people with disabilities so institutions were rampant. Fortunately with the number of vets from both WW2 and the Korean conflict change began happening which took place in our society between the end of WW2 and 1960. No government, at that time, was prepared to deny those who had gained a disability fighting fascism in Europe in defence of a strong belief in the democracy of Canada, a place to live in the community rather than a veterans extended care centre. The large number of polio kids in the 50’s (pre-vaccine) was staggering and benefitted from the gains the vets made.

So this current pandemic behaviour we are seeing is not new to me, I lived it during a period in healthcare when “visiting hour” was just that, 2.5 hours a week restricted to parents. An hour on Wednesday afternoons and 1.5 hours on Sunday, the rest of the time was dedicated to surgeries, physio, school, evening activities, etc. We were kept very busy and we were our own family. This fugue state (personal withdrawal) is not my usual way to deal with a crisis by withdrawing. Breaking out of that fugue has resulted in really pissing me off, both at myself and partly at those self entitled idiots who refuse to recognize “personal pandemic responsibility“.

Monochrome picture of a children's polio hospital showing two kids beds side by side with one child in a leg lengthening medical apparatus and captioned with Leg lengthening, that apparatus consists of rods that go completely through the bone with the leg bone having been sawed through in a certain configuration.  Using an Allen (Hex) key to turn the rod half a centimeter per day and could stretch a leg to almost 3 inches longer before the bone reconnected".
Leg lengthening, that apparatus consists of rods that go completely through the bone with the leg bone having been sawed through in a certain configuration. Using an Allen (Hex) key to turn the rod half a centimeter per day and could stretch a leg to almost 3 inches longer before the bone reconnected.

After almost a year of staring at my condo walls I need to start speaking out, again. I have already been advised that I should move the intensity of my emotions down a few notches since it does upset people. I have spend most of my life trying to avoid insulting “others”, generally at my expense but I have come to the realization that those days are behind me. Based on the level of minimal human interaction in the past year I am far beyond that point of worrying about the sensitivity of others. I hate writing from a position of anger however I have reached that point of “pandemic madness” where I just can’t be quiet anymore and the reality is I’m angry.

I grew up in a hospital following the last major pandemic, polio. Between 1949 and 1952 polio was considered a “pandemic” however by 1953, the year I contracted it, it was then considered an endemic. People chose to isolate (personal responsibility) and formed cohorts of their own. All of this taking place while WW2 veterans resettled back into society. Not an easy thing to do at the time due to the societal hesitancy to create inclusive concepts into the development of communities. It took almost 15 years to move in that direction and it was 1960 when a new economy began to develop.

This pandemic “self isolation” with a non existent social cohort creates a void for many in the disable tribe. Not having “accessible” friends combined with winter conditions that are setting new records almost daily making wheelchair outings very difficult. No matter how many layers of clothing, a concept not conducive to wheelchair users, given the width between two tires, we also have to deal with basic physics. Basic physics means flat tires given the fact that air contracts and when the temperature drops below -15C tires go flat quickly.

Plus, as a single retired guy I lack that “person” I can debrief, share my frustrations and triumph’s of the day with. That just compounds the frustration of “social isolation”, not unlike my childhood however at least that forced isolation provided other polio kids to interact with. All of these factors make it very easy to slip into that fugue state but with this latest wave of omicron hitting kids so hard it has shaken me enough to clear those “splinters in the windmill of my mind” and smooth out my thinking.

Black and white picture of two boys, one holding the crutches while the other, sitting on an examination table, laces his braces captioned "Lacing the leather cuffs of my braces was a regular process and when I took them off at the end of the day I scooted around my parents home on my hand and knees.  Mom was constantly complimented on how clean her floors were but they never saw my pants, long before Swiffer's"
Lacing the leather cuffs of my braces was a regular process and when I took them off at the end of the day I scooted around my parents home on my hand and knees. Mom was constantly complimented on how clean her floors were but they never saw my pants, long before Swiffer’s

I have come to realize over the years that I did a lot of “accommodating” so I could fit in. Myself, and many other polio survivors, learnt early to be adaptive. In those days we had no choices and that is where the healthcare of the day came in. We may have been confined in an institute (hospital in most cases) but were being taught to “prepare for the future” rather than being “protected from the future”. There is a fine line there but it does require a slight adjustment at how you see developmental milestones in your kids.

When we aged out of the Children’s hospital it was up to us to assimilate and that required getting noticed as a “person”, not a “disabled” person. A friend of forty years recently made that comment, that I had done “to good of a job” being independent and, like any good baby-boomer, we all deny the loss of functionality that comes with aging.

Rather than just sitting here being angry I need to do more speaking out and quit trying so hard not to insult anyone. I don’t have the time or inclination anymore to just shut up and stay in my “corner”, was the way it was put. With the current increase of pediatric cases into our healthcare these days, my activism juices are flowing. I have, I believe, extensive knowledge and personal experience on what these kids are facing. I need to put that to good use and make my voice heard. So screw the “fugue state” and start behaving like a bat out of hell (a small homage to Meatloaf). Kids shouldn’t be dying because of a government that is playing with a healthcare crisis like it’s a political fund raiser. Remove the blinders and look around.

More to come and in the meantime stay healthy while working with your community…

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