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A few days ago a friend told me her husband, who works for a mental health charity, had been sent home from work because a colleague had tested positive for Covid-19. He was told to self-isolate for 14 days and seek a test.
My friend is a nurse and also had to self-isolate. They set about trying to get a test. For two days none were available but then they found one. It was in Oldham. They live in Brighton.
Yesterday another friend said her daughter was exhibiting symptoms; she self-isolated and sought a test. There was an internet rumour that one might have existed in Aberdeen but that turned out to be false. When pressed on where there might be tests, a flustered official barked: “Lots of places, Narnia, Brigadoon, Xanadu, that place where they do the Hunger Games… stop going on about it.”
The current health secretary – a man with the bearing and gravitas of an office boy who was seen photocopying his bottom by everyone at the Christmas Party – blames the shortage of tests on people using them inappropriately. The current prime minister, when asked about the lack of available testing, smirked a bit, muttered something irrelevant in Latin and shouted “Moonshot”, which is his plan to massively increase the number of people who can’t get tested to up 10 million a day – be they inappropriate or otherwise. “Let’s get back to normal”, he gurned.
Personally, I’m never sure what ‘normal’ means and, more importantly, why we like it more than ‘better’. It seemed quite telling to me to hear the perpetually confused Dominic Raab imploring people to get back to work, thereby rescuing the economy. By “economy”, he means the places you go to buy sandwiches and coffee at lunch. Is that the plan we are working toward? Get Pret to full capacity again and it will all be OK?
I’m interested in what forms our thinking and believe that, mostly, we are guided by how we feel. When I took academic research more seriously than I do now, my area of interest was embodied cognition – which, essentially, is about how the body and the emotions it contains makes most of our decisions for us and our alleged capacity for ‘reason’ follows on. I was very interested in it in the context of how nurses (who access more emotions than most people in a day) manage to practise without their reasoning being dominated by stress or fear or anger or despair or – when all the energy for those very demanding emotions have gone and we are spent – indifference.
If I am being generous, I wonder what feelings might guide those who govern us in these difficult times? It must be stressful being Matt Hancock mustn’t it? And it must be a frightening time to be prime minister, particularly if you want history to think well of you and you know you are incapable of persuading it to. And so the generous part of me thinks the feelings of this government (fear, confusion, frustration) precede their policies. I think this is inevitable; the key, however, is to have the ability to process those emotions in a way that is fundamentally helpful. It is what brilliant clinicians do.
But, deep down, I don’t believe politicians are like nurses. I don’t think they are as capable of working with feelings in a sophisticated way; I don’t think they have the same experience of self-awareness (what we might call ‘access to wisdom’) and I don’t believe they have the patience required to solve complex problems. Given that, isn’t it surprising that they keep getting pay rises and nurses don’t?