Chris Bateman’s Lockdown Diary: Chapter Two: From a chuckle to a ponder…


Chris Bateman’s Lockdown Diary: Chapter Two: From a chuckle to a ponder…

You could say headline this blog from a chuckle to a ponder, perhaps. That’s because the priceless lessons of abundance and grace that gift my daily existence today stand in such stark contrast to how often I cynically disregarded my blessings prior to my cancer diagnosis. The milk of human kindness and generosity of spirit is now in my face in a thousand ways, while the synchronicity of events and their timing speaks of something far larger – something ineffable, that is totally ‘For’ me.

Yesterday I supported a PR person and good friend, (yes, the two can co-exist for a journalist), who was suffering a crisis of confidence prior to a very promising Covid-19 lockdown-related work opportunity. She has courageously launched her own outfit after a highly successful corporate career. When I confessed to her that I was a terrible cynic in my newspaper and SA Medical Journal days, she strongly agreed – to my surprise. I guess it’s far easier to make a confession than to have it highlighted or confirmed by others! Yet, it again emphasises just how the greatest gifts and shifts in life so often come wrapped in strange packages. There’s hardly a cancer survivor I’ve interviewed who doesn’t highlight their diagnosis as a ‘blessing in disguise.’ At last count (and this ironically, was some months before my own diagnosis), I’d interviewed, (in-depth), some 20 cancer survivors for the oncology portal of a leading medical aid, not to mention the half dozen or so cancer survivor forums which I’d attended while news editing the SAMJ.

Who gets the opportunity to (unknowingly) prepare for an impending challenge by interviewing a host of people facing, or who have just faced, an almost identical one? When my gastroenterologist first called me to deliver the biopsy diagnosis, I was about to go into an international emergency care conference session on Resilience and Burnout among SA’s overworked emergency responders. It was as if Life was saying, “Ouch, that’s a rough blow; now here’re some tools to help you cope.”.

Here’s another gift; being an immune-compromised person (via chemotherapy) and a healthcare journalist during the Coronavirus lockdown. What better way to awaken me to the myriad life-and-death infection control issues swirling through communities and healthcare facilities? I’m one of several million highly-vulnerable South Africans immune-compromised through a variety of pre-existing health conditions. To us, the one or two per cent Coronavirus death toll cannot be lightly dismissed; co-morbidities dominate Coronavirus fatalities.

Which brings me to what the lockdown is teaching me. For one, it’s that I can be innovative within locked-down work constraints. Some stellar partnership with the Hospital Association of South Africa, (HASA), has resulted in my sharing my cancer journey in a series of ongoing podcasts and filming a Covid advice video, (in Zulu), which they are distributing widely among their private member hospitals. I have amazing healthcare contacts across the public and private sector, people whom I’ve grown to like and respect over my 16-year healthcare reporting career. Some go further back; to the 80’s ‘struggle years’ when I was in the Cape Flats townships on a daily basis for the Cape Times, or subsequently reporting for the SAMJ’s ‘Izindaba’ on the victimisation of doctors dishing out ARV’s in defiance of government denialism and snake-oil remedies.

Today, these people take my calls and return my e-mails, in spite of their long, torrid hours at the coalface of the Covid-19 pandemic. It gives me a ubiquity I’m deeply grateful for and enables me to deliver reliable, well-sourced, solid stories. They instinctively (and historically), know that I’ve got their backs, my having become a strong advocate and lobbyist for adequate personal protective equipment among their vulnerable, thin ranks.

I’ve adapted from travelling to and covering medical conferences and healthcare workshops, (previously a major source of income), to fall in (with the rest of the world), by becoming a cyber-worker. Not everybody can; witness the travel industry, estate agents, hairdressers, the list is long and the debate furious.

Some of the personal protection measures we take; my wife, Suzanne, sanitises all groceries (pre-ordered, ‘pick-up-and-go’), before showering and changing clothes, I wipe down with sanitizer, all home-delivered medicines, including the invoice, washing my hands each time. When I collect the empty re-cycle and rubbish bins on the street on different weekdays, I wipe the handles down before wheeling them in, then wash my hands. Paranoid? I don’t think so. I’ve just watched a video of a recovered mid-60’s Coronavirus-infected cancer survivor being wheel-chaired out of the nearby Durbanville MediClinic, clapping staff and a few beaming family members lining the passages. It’s a four-minute drive from my front door. For all concerned, this was a major victory – remember, hospitals lose Covid-19 patients almost daily. There is tremendous pain along with the joy.

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