Pandemic Musings Chapter Nine: Finally Reaching the Endemic Stage, But Who Cares?

The COVID-19 Pandemic is still classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), the organization to whom we defer for any global health pronouncements on what is a global pandemic. I continue to link my personal musings to the dramatically significant impact that this global phenomenon has had on my daily living, even as I have been inspired by the global responses to the pandemic to write in-depth commentaries on the prospects for global and multi-stakeholder collaboration, which, if truth be told, has been my lifelong “reason for being”. Ah well, this is yet another one of my run-on sentence that my editors would want me rewrite into short pithy sentences. But the point is that the personal and the professional visions are indeed like a run-on sentence – so intertwined have they been in my response to this pandemic.  As I launch into this ninth chapter on my personal musings about the pandemic, I am also trying to update my in-depth commentary on the subject. Many months have passed since I did either one, and I am now discovering that it is time for me to move on. Neither my personal life nor my professional interests are as overwhelmingly defined by the pandemic today as they once were. –

On the personal front, I have to admit that my ride through the pandemic has been much like that of so many others. Most of us have experienced the ups and downs of alarm about:

(a) a new unknown virus killing people,

(b) isolating in ways never done before to avoid exposure,

(c) experiencing relief that vaccines were so rapidly developed and distributed (to some of us, at least, if not globally),

(d) but then discovering that these vaccines don’t prevent the COVID-19 virus, they just minimize their effect when you become infected,

(e) encountering different “waves” of outbreaks as we learned about mutations and new variants of the virus,

(f) eventually experiencing “pandemic fatigue” and wondering just when we will get to the END of this pandemic,

(e) but then, actually being exposed and infected in ways that disrupted our daily lives but not our basic health,

(f) learning, perhaps, to live with vaccines and boosters that make it possible to return (almost) to normal living, and ultimately even

(g) traveling beyond the local community as though all is back to normal (except wearing masks in airport and airplanes) .

When I wrote my most recent chapter (Chapter 8), I was still recovering from the holiday setbacks of our family’s obligatory sequestering with COVID-19. It did have the effect of cancelling out the sense of “pandemic fatigue” as we suddenly had to confront it in our own household. Since then, however, we have  in general been moving about in the local community without masks or any other precautions. Pharmacies and doctors’ offices have required masks, and other larger gatherings (like grocery stores) have had a mix of masked and unmasked patrons. Ralph and I have been advised, here in France, to wait until September for our second booster. But we have also been receiving emailed recommendations from the local health service that we should go ahead with getting this second booster now. We will probably go ahead with this in August, in any case. 

Both Ralph and I have spent time in the States for our son PJ’s wedding to Sarah Boddy in April and for our daughter Kristina’s delivery of her second child, a daughter named Kaia in March. These were big events with no physical restrictions, other than masks in the public areas of the hospital where Kaia was born. No one seems to have gotten COVID-19 at any of these events – including a very big wedding and reception outside of Richmond on 23 April. Ralph and I experienced these events as though there was no pandemic.

Similarly, in July, we hosted a Doggett sibling gathering here at Villa Ndio. We worked hard to prepare the grounds, the house, the food and sleeping arrangements for a gathering of ten people (Ralph’s siblings and spouses) for several days in July. We did less hugging than usual, but otherwise we mingled unrestrictedly with this group for several days. They came from Virginia and Florida, from England and northern France, and they parted for Poland and northern France and back to the States, again with no incidence.

And finally, we are working on a White House Fellows class reunion at Villa Ndio in September 2022. We are lining up housing arrangements for several couples in neighborhood settings, scheduling caterers for evening events at Villa Ndio and organizing a three-day program of events in Grasse for the Fellows to meet officials and friends as though we were all back to normal. We may hear about new variants of the virus erupting here and there, and we may follow the news about this new virus (monkeypox), but we are acting as though we are back to pre-pandemic normal for this event. Just as we were for the Doggett reunion in July – or the wedding and birth in the States in March and April,

The only big difference, it seems, is that both Ralph and I are in our 70s. (I am supposedly celebrating my second 39th birthday this month, but Ralph has a ways yet to go, in spite of his having celebrating his fourth 18th birthday just a year ago.) Anyway, we are moving from indifference about our aging to a more serious awareness of being attuned to its significance. We see this, for example, in the very conscientious efforts by our dear President Joe Biden to look vibrant and healthy when he is, in fact, 79 years old. That in itself is operating to make us aware that we have a different set of rules for living in our 70s than we had ten or twenty years ago.

Warning signs had already shown up, of course – diabetes for Ralph, for example, and hearing aids for me. And both of us have had blockages in our leg arteries leading to a series of surgical interventions.  Both are walking well now, but it is the lower energy level and slowness of movement that have taken hold in our lives. And then, shockingly, Ralph came down with pneumonia! Not COVID, mind you. Just basic, run-of-the-mill pneumonia! Well, there is hardly anything run-of-the-mill about it. It has in fact been a dramatic setback – for both of us. I was the usual self – impatient with him when he complained about fatigue and started sleeping through the day in the midst of a heat wave. But then, it became obvious that this was a serious health condition – and especially so for anyone over the age of 70!  It was a revelation when the first doctor’s visit confirmed that it was pneumonia! And a further revelation in a follow-up visit to the doctor that the continuing fatigue was because of the effect of the medications on his diabetes! So here we are, dealing with what I call “getting old”!

I might admire the vigorous physical condition of others we have known in their 79s and 80s and even into their 90s, but the psychological message for me is that I need to modify both my physical and my professional/intellectual aspirations in ways I had not felt the need to do before this. But now, I no longer have an interest in returning to Geneva or making headway at the UN in New York or even in the odd mix of international and domestic politics of Washington, DC.  I follow all of these settings in the news, to be sure, but they seem to be far less relevant to my daily worldview than they used to be. I know, nonetheless, that I have a lot of insights to share with others, to write down and to apply to where I am in my daily activities today. But that is so different from where I was two years ago!

The world has not changed as a result of this pandemic. I wish it had, but it doesn’t seem to have done so. There is no global sharing mentality setting in. There is no inclusive multi-stakeholder collaboration for the good of humankind.  I am sad that this is so. But I am also inspired to personalize my vision from the professional side to think more intrusively of how and why I should care about either global or multi-stakeholder governance from the perspective of where I am today. I am, after all, someone who is no longer 39 years old but who has a lot to say – and has the time to say it, now that she is twice that age! That is why this latest chapter on my personal pandemic-related musings is coming to an end, with plans for a new direction in the personal musings – as well as a professional wrap-up on the commentaries to move beyond this pandemic in that arena as well!


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