This is not the first pandemic where I am living with HIV. I was surprised to realise it is my fourth pandemic (not including HIV/AIDS). In this context, despite its rapid spread around the world, I wasn’t too concerned for my health.
Working at Positive Life NSW with colleagues who are also living with HIV, we made the decision early on to work remotely. We’d already made the move to cloud-based software earlier in the year, so the capacity was in place. For me, it was only a matter of working through the routines and making the mental shift to interacting more online than ever.
At first, my main hurdle was the uncomfortable feeling that my day-to-day work responsibilities might ‘intrude’ on my personal living space. To loosely paraphrase the words of my colleague John Carr, to ‘walk through the front door at the end of the day with the knowledge that you are walking into your very own Fortress of Solitude’, is something I highly prize.
My other concerns are a little more philosophical. These are around notions of inequality and risk, especially for people with disability (PWD), elderly people or people who already live with chronic health conditions. When it comes to making decisions about treatment and care to sustain or prolong life, I think there’s very real potential for all these groups of people, if they fall ill with COVID-19, to be ‘triaged’ out of receiving the healthcare they need or ‘deprioritised’ within the health system.
In that first week, I found few reasons to leave my home. Deliveries of all kinds were readily available. The small postage or handling fees meant the extra hassles of parking, find the items, lugging them back to the car and then into the house was taken care of. On dusk each night, a tribe of eager humpbacked emissaries with their hot food sacks orbited the building.
With the expansion of telehealth options, I found I could access a range of health services from the convenience of a phone call or online via video conference. Prescriptions were easily renewed, including the s100 prescriptions for HIV medication, and despatched through to my chemist to arrive at my door within hours.
By the end of the first week, I started to look at the benefits of this enforced seclusion. I also began to notice the privileges I had in this experience. Not everyone in this pandemic has the luxuries of employment, working from home, living space, or income. Social distancing is a privilege.
My travelling time to work became mere seconds rather than a process that took the better part of an hour.
As much as I enjoy my opinionated, vocally robust colleagues, and miss our regular discussions and debates in the office, a silent smooth ocean began to wash the days. Without the noisy bundle of seven or eight voices nearby on phones, talking with community visitors or each other, it was much easier to … well, get work done!
I realised I’m eating better. Breathing deeper. Slower.
The morning rush to the traffic queue has given way to a slower surrender of night into day. Mornings more precious to me. This time has become almost a retreat. A recalibration of time and place.
The workday is still full. Meetings seem to be more frequent than ever, and back to back. Moving from one to the other is a simple click, rather than time spent physically relocating to other rooms, offices, spaces, finding parking etc.
At the end of each day, I notice a spectral quietness snakes into the room. I exit from the online world and close the computer screen, and in that time, I’m home again.
As someone who has always lived in an animate, anomalous universe, I’m familiar with enchanted, synchronistic high-strangeness.
For the better part of a year, I’ve been wishing I could find ways to better integrate my whole life, rather than spending the greater part of each day separate and removed from the liminal ‘spaces in-between’ that I’m more familiar with.
In this time of ‘plague’, I’ve been able to set routines that merge my worlds in ways I would not have thought possible a month ago.
Quarantine has delivered a treasured experience to bridge, or integrate, the ‘everyday enchanted’ or ‘high strangeness’ with my daily life in new ways.
Living with HIV, I’m already in an enduring relationship with microscopic intracellular entities in my bloodstream, which are somewhere between living and nonliving.
Today, in my ‘splendid isolation’, I’m amused that another opportunistic microbe has been the unexpected pivot to what I’d been craving.
‘They’ say, be careful what you wish for…