We’d heard of a virus that was stationed over in China. It appeared that the Chinese had gotten it under control, but I wasn’t one hundred per cent certain. My imaginative, sci-fi mind was always tossing up various possibilities. I think my logical side said the virus’s arrival in Italy would have been improbable, yet I wasn’t prepared to accept that it was unreal. Maybe four or five scenarios were tossed up in my head, and then there were plans A, B, and C, should the much-talked-about pandemic arrive. I was possibly becoming OCD, potentially a useful acronym during 2020!
Unsurprisingly, many of my students and co-workers shrugged off the idea. We believed that doctors and scientists had all the answers. Well, I didn’t trust they had ‘all’ the answers; nonetheless, it looked like brainy people in China would get it all under control. So, this issue became popular in English language classes. Everyone scrutinized each possibility while most only considered the inconsequential arrival of the virus, which was expected to be more like the minor flu. I wondered whether I should have been talking about it during my lessons. Perchance, I thought, this topic wouldn’t be so pertinent to students’ lives. Maybe they needed to study business English, holidays, cooking, art and lighter items.
All around me, it looked like people were sick. One of my pupils came to class for three weeks with a hacking cough, body aches, and a general ill appearance. She said she had to go to work and take her exams, too, because she had to care for her husband and a small child. As one student coughed on me several times from across the table, I tried to move out of the trajectory for fear it might be Corona–just a natural reaction, I suppose! Even one of my co-workers was under the weather. In such small cubicles full of students and people who worked while ill, it was likely that respiratory illnesses could spread. I would be armed, no doubt, with a bottle of liquid soap as well as hand sanitizer!
I couldn’t believe how many sick people were all over the place and hoped I wouldn’t be in their shoes. It just seemed irresponsible to come in for a lesson or take an exam when one was sick. Thank God I had at least had a flu shot a few months earlier! Could it be that the vaccine had protected me from whatever infection was circulating in Italy? Surely it wasn’t the dreaded Corona Virus–must’ve been the cold mixed with the flu. That didn’t stop me from suggesting that we take protective measures.
I asked everyone why we didn’t encourage sick people to stay home. Nevertheless, I knew management didn’t care what I thought because I was a foreigner visiting a nation that had an ongoing wave of xenophobia. I had previously written emails in which I gave recommendations about how educators should’ve met together with management to come up with collaborative teaching strategies. Of course, people who weren’t interested in teamwork snubbed my ideas. I took the possibility of getting sick seriously, so I could not just let this go. I wrote to management, ‘Why don’t we ask people to stay home or let them cancel a lesson if they have the flu or similar illness?’ To this email, I received no reply.
Not long afterwards, about February 21, 2020, I heard of rampant illnesses in the Lombardy region. Milan was only a thirty-minute trip by train. Lots of people traveled back and forth to Milan every day. I suspected that many people were carrying the Corona Virus, and for all I knew, I might have been exposed to it. For about three days, I felt fatigued muscles. Although I usually went to sleep after midnight, I was tired for three days, giving in to sleepiness at 10 p.m. At this point, I’m not so confident that I’ve been assaulted by the virus; it’s more than likely I haven’t had it.
The number of cases was increasing. According to the news, the conditions in the Lombardy Region were moving in our direction. I would have to stop taking the train. Although officials had put emergency plans into action to wipe out the Swine Flu in 2009, this time, officials didn’t seem to take action quickly enough. Some Italian virologists diminished the importance of the Corona Virus. The Chinese seemed to have gotten it under control. Some Europeans and Russians stated that it was not a danger to young people, and President Trump claimed it was some kind of hoax. Hospitals reported that people over 65 were dying. At that point, there weren’t enough supplies; I heard that physicians were going to have to make life and death decisions, giving preference to those who had fewer pre-existing conditions.
It looked as if a wave was swiftly sweeping across the globe. Various, but not all, politicians continued to play down the threat. I understood they were trying to save their economies. I questioned what was going on in Russia because it gave the impression that the Russian people, in particular, were not getting ready for the Corona Wave that would eventually strike. The same goes for Americans who were joking about its arrival. In Germany, a few people had Corona parties to celebrate. It would not be long before I heard about it hammering New York City. How would such a metropolitan cope with it on such a colossal scale, with looming job losses and the necessity to go into quarantine? With so many workers at home, the economy might plunge into chaos!
Half the people across the globe are now hiding from the hideous Corona Virus, which has struck people of all ages and backgrounds, not discerning between rich and poor (2 April 2020). I regret seeing my imagination turn into reality and hope this monstrous virus will soon dissipate. If lessons are learned, they might be to learn from literature (both fiction and non-fiction), to be well prepared, and to help one another. It will undoubtedly take collaboration to defeat this pandemic.
Laura Gail Sweeney, Ed.D., wrote this true story to depict her experience in Italy right before and after the Corona Virus arrived. Perhaps this true story fits into the creative non-fiction category. Sweeney has said that sometimes life seems to imitate art when it’s really art that imitates life.