A contribution from Valeria Viarengo, Anaesthesiologist
Everyone gathered around the old man, around the fire.
– Come on, tell it again!
– Well, what do I have to say… There was a country beyond the hills, the sea, the mountains and the ocean. It was a closed country, a little different from the others. But its people had spread all over the world. They were hard workers, it seemed that working was their only purpose. They were like ants, always at work and had excellent skills.
A strange epidemic broke out in that country one day. Someone said it was due to an experiment done in a laboratory. Someone blamed attempted bacteriological warfare by their enemies. We will never know the truth, also because their enemies were cunning, lying and greedy. Everything could be.
People began to get sick, the older ones died. They say that in the countryside they did not even bother to cure the sick and let them die because they didn’t know what to do nor had the means to assist them. They ordered everyone not to leave the house. And they obeyed because they were such people, accustomed to obeying without saying a word, always. They also said that the disease did not infect children and that the heat would eradicate the epidemic…
Many things were said. When the epidemic arrived in this part of the world, the hunt for witches, or the greaser, began. Fear, suspicion, mistrust that had always harboured in the souls of our world seemed to have found a valid reason to exist. And to let off steam.
I don’t know what really happened, but the epidemic spread to a small state full of troubles: we only needed the epidemic to land that country. A beautiful country but that in those months had made a tremendous lousy reputation. But the players went to play and were played: it was the inhabitants of that small country who were marginalized for fear of contagion.
Nothing was clear. Someone was looking for patient zero, someone was beating the supposed greasers. It was panic. Schools closed, museums were banned, football matches were suspended. The epidemic was not everywhere, but fear was.
On the third day of panic, outside the emergency room, a military tent was set up. People in the surgery presented themselves with operating room masks. The staff could not put on drop earrings. In the hospital, amuchina and septaman gels disappeared. They had all stolen them. On Monday the supermarkets were empty, people had hoarded everything. They all seemed mad. I imagine the plague in the time of the Betrothed, but this is another story… That you no longer know… On the fourth day, they kicked the relatives out of the hospital surgeries: I was there, and I saw them, all out in the freezing cold, murmuring, grumbling. I stopped with them for a moment to chat: cold, stunned.
People pretended to believe all this alarming news. Nobody knew anyone infected, but yes, after all that cold weather three days they will all have had a cold. Direction directions with science fiction instructions arrive daily. The sanitary workers obeyed as good. I asked and asked people what they thought of the matter. Most didn’t believe in anything. Or he thought it was a problem for others. But someone took me aside and asked me about the three local cases. There were no local cases, the newspapers manage to say anything. It is not something I say much to say. Years before I had long frequented a journalist, disheartened by the fact that politics governed journalism.
Suddenly the media went from the news of the desperate landings to the number of infections and deaths. Deaths? Few or many? What was happening? The confusion was enormous.
On the fifth day, I saw an Arab family. Mother with burka, children with masks. A man with big wounds to the face refused hospitalization for fear of the infection when he saw two astronauts arrive with a covered stretcher. In some cities, life went on almost typically apart from students who didn’t go to school. In other towns, markets were also banned. It is forbidden to say goodbye with two kisses. Planes that didn’t take off. Planes that did not arrive. Tourists who ran away or didn’t come.
The fear, gentlemen, was like a bad smell that had spread everywhere. He pretended not to hear it. But it was everywhere, like that stench of rotten eggs. Day by day news of lengthened or abbreviated quarantines fluctuated. Politicians said things that others denied.
The only ones who tried to make themselves heard were the scientists. The real scientists.
– And you? Did you get sick?
– Me? I don’t know, I had a bad cold in those days, but I have continued my life forever. I knew I was basically healthy, I wasn’t afraid. In my life, I knew I had already touched death… But she never wanted me. There was a sentence from an author in my head. You don’t know him, Richard Bach, had written a very famous book when I was young, The Jonathan Livingston Seagull. In another book he wrote this sentence: we all have a mission to end in life: If you are alive, yours is not.
– So what? Did the epidemic exterminate many people?
– But no, my dear friends. The epidemic meant that everyone remembered that the world no longer had barriers or borders or walls, even if many still wanted them. The world had become a single country, and eventually, the problem of a distant land became everyone’s problem. And all the white coats in the laboratories of the world went to work, exchanged information, research, solutions.
Little by little, the epidemic ended, partly because this has always happened, partly because science had weapons and those it did not prepare quickly. It took a while for everything to return to normal, but in the end, it all ended. However, the epidemic left a remarkable legacy.
The world must be free, science must be open, and people cannot help each other. By now, there are no more skin colours, or idioms to divide us. Diseases travel with us on planes, and we go everywhere.
The world could be a safe place for everyone, not just for those who can afford it. The fear of the different is the fear of ourselves, that we carry inside and that we pull out like armour: but you don’t need this, you need freedom.
The epidemic threatened everyone’s freedom. This was what scared most, most of the disease and death.