It’s easy to forget just how interconnected everything is. And how easily those connections can be disrupted. The week before Christmas, I got a message from a colleague to say he’d tested positive for Covid.
A year ago, that would have sent me running to the kitchen to jam a swab up my nose. Now I wondered did we have any test kits at all. But I found two at the back of the cupboard.
I got the first line, and after a few minutes, a faint hint of a second. Or just a smudge. I showed it to Herself, who wasn’t sure either. I used the second test. Another smudge.
Our reaction was mild annoyance at the inconvenience it would cause, and for me, a little disappointment. Over the past two years, I had managed to evade the virus and I liked to concoct theories as to what superpower I have that enabled me to do this. But once I had accepted that I’m mortal just like the rest of you, it wasn’t so bad: stay out of the office for seven days and I’d be back in work for the end of Christmas week. I didn’t even get that sick. A bit shivery on the first day; a bit groggy on the second.
Seán Moncrieff: ‘My daughter said I might be mildly traumatised. Her generation likes to throw around the T-word’
Seán Moncrieff: There’s nothing wrong with Irish trains. As long as you’re not going to Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan or west Cork
Because of my new Typhoid Mary status, Herself got more test kits and moved into the spare room. But after the shivers and the grogginess, I was back to feeling normal and testing smudge-free. So, of course, when Herself developed a bit of a cough we assumed it was just a cold. Of course.
On Christmas Day, the plans made by Daughter Number One, the Boyfriend and Granddaughter Number One fell through
You can see it coming. On the Monday of Christmas week, she tested positive. She declared that at least it wasn’t as bad as when she had it the last time. By the following day, it was considerably worse than when she had it the last time. Her wheeze got so severe that she had to start using an inhaler.
We spent 24 hours hoping for a dramatic recovery, and then had to accept that Christmas was going to be a bust. No visiting, no visitors. No family. Santa-like, I spent Christmas Eve driving around Dublin and leaving presents outside front doors.
[ Seán Moncrieff: Granddaughter Number One has arrived. Her hobbies include sleeping and pooping ]
[ Seán Moncrieff: Why do I feel like a failure taking a sick day? ]
The kids all made alternative arrangements, but on Christmas Day, the plans made by Daughter Number One, the Boyfriend and Granddaughter Number One fell through – because of Covid in the house they were due to visit. After discovering that dining options in Dublin city are severely limited on Jesus’s birthday, I was back on the road to their apartment with dinner and some goodies. (Fun fact though: even on Christmas Day, there are places where you can get a chicken fillet roll.)
Because one person had shaken someone’s hand or hugged them, or simply had a conversation, the effect of that encounter rippled out to us and possibly other people
Afterwards, Herself couldn’t wait to take down all the Christmas decorations. Santa came for Daughter Number Four – he actually has a superpower – but the socks hanging up for all the other kids and grandchild were never filled with presents. Herself never got to take a picture of Daughter Number Four and Granddaughter Number One in their matching Christmas pyjamas. We’d all felt a bit marooned, starved of human contact.
There’s a modern tendency to medicalise that need. Being with friends or family is good for mental health. Laughter releases chemicals in the brain: it’s like love and friendship are in the same category as eating your greens or taking vitamins, something that’s been essential to us since the days we daubed images in caves.
Because one person had shaken someone’s hand or hugged them, or simply had a conversation, the effect of that encounter rippled out to us and possibly other people too. Eventually, Herself got over the Covid, but it took a bit longer for to get over being robbed of time with the people she loved. The emotional ecosystem we have created for ourselves is a fragile one. Because we are fragile things too.