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Constance Alexander: ‘Joy is always imperiled’ the fictional doctor said, but Gov. Beshear delivers hope

On December 30, a Chinese physician, Dr. Li Wenliang, 34, tried to alert fellow medics about the coronavirus outbreak in China’s Wuhan Province. His message to fellow doctors in a chat group warned them about the disease and advised that they wear protective clothing to avoid infection. Three days later police paid him a visit and told him to stop, as if it were a crime to inform the public of impending doom.

On December 31, the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) released a story about “an unidentified pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan” that raised an alarm with Chinese health officials.

On January 20, the Wall Street Journal reported, “More people in China are staying closer to home during this week’s Lunar New Year holiday as a newly identified virus and financial pressures push move to dial back travel plans.”

The story unfolded further on February 1 with the announcement that more than half of China was in a shut-down mode as a result of the new (or novel) virus.

On February 2, the “cold opening” of Saturday Night Live included specific references to the COVID-19 virus. The bit poked fun at the Trump Administration’s funding cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alec Baldwin, satirizing President Trump, clumsily called it the “Wang Chung Virus” instead of its proper name.

On February 6, the aforementioned Chinese physician, Dr. Li Wenliang died from the coronavirus. After he returned to work from being detained by the Chinese government for speaking out about the virus at the end of last year, he caught it from a patient and died. The news made headlines all over the world.

On February 14, the Wall Street Journal headlined news that, “Flu Fears Spread in China Ahead of Lunar New Year Holiday.”

Anyone keeping up with current events should have known that there was a new virus – not the same as the flu – that was raising the specter of pandemic in the world. In some circles, denial prevailed, in hope that the disease would go away and leave us alone.

On March 16, despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary, the president remarked about the virus, “We have a problem a month ago nobody ever thought about.”

Since then, we have been subject to an array of conflicting messages from the White House about COVID-19. The daily press conferences are crammed with generalities and subject to tirades and asides from the president that stray from the main topic: the pandemic.

Thank goodness for the leadership of Governor Andy Beshear and his administration. His daily press conferences are informative, concise, with no accusations, no meanspirited name-calling, no bashing of the media in general, or accusing specific reporters of being “nasty” or “terrible” or “third-rate” for asking tough questions about a clear and present threat.
So far, the one positive outcome from the pandemic mess for me is that so many people have been inspired to read or re-read Albert Camus’ timeless and eerily relevant novel, “The Plague.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

This is how it begins: “When leaving his surgery on the morning of April 16, Dr. Bernard Rieux felt something soft under his foot. It was a dead rat lying in the middle of the landing.”

The doctor kicked the varmint aside and reported the incident to the building manager.

“There weren’t no rats here,” was the indignant response.

After that, the doctor headed home for the day. Arriving at his building and heading up the stairs to his apartment, he saw a big rat coming toward him, its fur sopping wet.

“The animal stopped and seemed to be trying to get its balance, moved forward again toward the doctor, halted again, then spun ’round on itself with a little squeal and fell on its side. Its mouth was slightly open and blood was spurting from it.”

What follows in the novel is a cautionary tale that begins with denial and finally gives way to acknowledging a deadly epidemic. The results include public panic; political chicanery; wholesale loss of life; disruption of economic systems; accusations about who caused the plague; examples of profiteering; arguments regarding treatment and cure; and a yearlong quarantine, disrupted by occasional desperate attempts to escape.

Prophetically, the novel ends with the end of the plague, amidst public celebrations of fireworks and cheering in the streets. The main character, the same Dr. Rieux from page one, rather than celebrate, realizes that “such joy is always imperiled.”

The last paragraph goes on to declare that the doctor, “…knew what jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men and women, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

“The Plague” is available on Amazon.com. The cold opening of the February 2 Saturday Night Live is on Youtube. For further substantiation of dates and news events, Google news stories from the specific dates mentioned in the article.

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One Comment

  1. Anne Adams says:

    You always get it right!
    The only thing I read in MLT of equal enjoyment was “Hints from Heloise” first letter which began, ” My children seem to think I need all the latest gadgets……”
    As I am a member of the one button generation I fully understand! Perhaps someday you will be there, too!
    Hope you and Roy are safe and well. I’m even wearing a Kay Bates mask original !!

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