In a Word...

....heroes. Patsy McGarry

 

A movie and a book came to mind when I first became aware of the coronavirus some weeks ago. The movie was the South Korean ‘Parasite’, which won best picture at the Oscars last February.

It is described as a comedy but I felt that an uneasy description. Too dark, even for black humour, I thought it more cynical than funny. With the spread of the coronavirus however, and probably unwittingly, ‘Parasite’ has become a metaphor for our times and how our seeming impregnable security can be so subtly and fatally undermined. Out of nowhere

The book was Albert Camus’s ‘The Plague’. It was a favourite in my student years when I was insistent on answers to the great questions and not yet resigned to accepting that there are no satisfactory responses to all those Whys?

In time too, having no alternative, I would also begin living without reason.

What inspired me about ‘The Plague’ was the character Dr Bernard Rieux. In the book he is the first to recognise that there is a plague and then its probable magnitude. He tries to alert the authorities but, as with the coronavirus, they are slow to respond. He exhausts himself dealing with victims, distancing himself from his natural empathy so he can take the hard decisions that make saving those lives that can be saved, possible.

He continues through this landscape of despair, doing what he does because it is what a doctor does. As others strive to find philosophical and/or religious meaning in the human suffering all around them, he contents himself with relieving the pain and misery confronting him.

A real life counterpart was Dr Li Wenliang of Wuhan Central Hospital in China, also in his mid 30s. He too warned fellow medics about the coronavirus last December, as well as Chinese authorities.

Unlike Dr Rieux, however, he was forced by police to sign a confession that he was spreading false rumours and, also unlike Dr Rieux, he later died of the coronavirus.So true to life that it probably would not work in fiction.

The real heroes in this life are the Doctors Rieux and Li Wenliang and all their fellow healthcare workers, whether in times of crisis or those now more enviable days of dull normality.

Heroes, plural of hero, from Latin heros and Greek heroe, for`demi-god’

inaword@irishtimes.com

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