Nightmare on A Dream Island | Barbados Coronavirus Diary

March 20, 2020

So… full confession, I might be drunk. I’m not sure because I haven’t been drunk in a long time (if ever) but I am on my second iced tea with orange liqueur. So I hope that when I read this back in a few weeks (or months) that it makes some type of sense.

Despite being an avid writer, I have not kept a diary since childhood, and my diary (which was really a day planner) used to consist of things I wanted to remember, rather than musings. So I am not even sure where to start. However, I have seen all 3 Bridget Jones movies, and so I think it might be good to start with…

Dear Diary.

It is Friday March 20th, 2020, and this is a period of time that will go down in history. My friend told me today that she feels as if we are in a simulation, and honestly I totally understand what she means.

We are in a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). We reported our first 2 cases on Monday, and by today another 3 have been found (one the husband of one of the original cases, and one who left the island). So far, none of the cases have originated here, so they are all people coming in from elsewhere. It has begged the question - why are the borders still open. I have heard numerous reasons - as a small island we are dependent on imports, there are Bajans (that's how we call Barbadians-a.k.a-people from Barbados) wanting to come home, we are a stopover point for some of the other islands who also have people who want to go home etc. But I think it is inevitable.

So what has happened so far this week - the cases were announced on Monday, and it has thrown the island into chaos. I don’t think we have reached the panic stage yet. Even though I hear that there were people fighting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, my trips to the supermarket have been uneventful, and for the most part I have been able to find what I need. As a dentist, I am on the front line in the sense that I spend most of my days in people's mouths, and in very close contact with my nurse. So I will say that I felt some unease when I heard the cases announced.

In all honesty, I have a big worldwide community. I had spent the few weeks before we got any cases hearing my friends from all over the world talk about what was happening there. A friend in Italy has been blogging daily, as they have been on lockdown for almost 2 weeks now, since they have an extremely high number of cases. Friends in Australia, Canada and the US are talking about the measures that they have been taking over there, as they have had numbers of cases rising. One of the first measures that people started talking about (after the usual handwashing and sanitizing, and what seemed like an unreasonable desire for toilet paper) was social distancing. This measure has been suggested pretty much worldwide so that people aren’t spreading it easily to one another. It means no handshaking, no hugging, or cheek kissing with people when you see or greet them. (I assume that there are still people really kissing, and having sex, because there are jokes everywhere about the baby boom that will come in December!).

One of our patients came in the other day and high-fived the nurse, but then said sheepishly that she probably should not have done that, because we are social distancing. People are keeping their distance. Somehow this is making me sad. While I am not someone who has physical touch at the top of my love language scale, I love a good hug and squeeze, and I honestly feel strange knowing that I won’t know the next time I will have one.

I think about the bear hugs I used to get from a couple of close friends. Because I have so much exposure through work, I don’t want to put anyone at risk, so I know those are off the table for a while. But yesterday two of my little patients that I have watched grow up over the past several years came in, and the tension in the air was palpable. They would normally both be in my lap by the end of the appointment.

I find that children yearn for physical touch, and I wonder if this continues for much longer what type of people we will become without the everyday contact that we use to have. I wonder what type of person I will become. And I wonder what type of people we will become as this crisis continues, and we are forced to be isolated or feel isolated.

I feel as if it has the potential to bring out the worst in us - the selfish side of us. Or that it has the potential to bring out the best in us. I suppose that time will tell. After the social distancing came quarantine and lockdown. Many of my friends are working from home, and homeschooling their children whose schools have been closed. Many more of them have been laid off, or have lost streams of income due to businesses closing, and those that are paid hourly can’t earn, or are needing to find alternate sources of income.

I have a close friend who was a bartender and server at a restaurant, and right now in almost half of the states, restaurants and bars are closed. There are limits on how many people can gather at once. Weddings and funerals may be cancelled. I have a friend whose sister is passing from breast cancer, and there is uncertainty about the funeral. Conferences have been cancelled. Meetings. Workshops and events. And since the story is the same everywhere, the friends that I have who run online businesses are divided. Some believe that this is when they will sh*t or get off the pot, and make those online businesses work. And some believe that since the entire world is in the same boat, that no-one is spending any money and should they even be selling right now.

And some of this has trickled over to us here in Barbados, even though we are only a few days in. I had 3 events this week cancelled - NOW meeting for optimist (the organization I volunteer with), a women's health workshop that I was helping to organize and plan, and the dental convention that I attend every year. And there is a feeling that this is only the beginning. There is talk of postponing the Olympics. Of cancelling Cropover (our national summer festival where there is music, carnivals and dancing in the streets). I am wondering what will happen to everyone else in the service industry - the aestheticians, massage therapists, waiters and chefs.

If I am honest, I had started to believe that it was never going to come here. I was watching the rest of the world, and giving support where I could. And I was watching the memes which showed the 7 countries in the world where people should go when the apocalypse hit, and feeling a hint of pride that my small island Barbados had made the list, and that we had no cases. I told myself that it is too warm here, and it won’t be as bad. That we could continue to tick along. Sadly, that was not the case.

When we got the news about the cases, I felt as if a cloud came over the island.

It almost feels like pre-hurricane, like if we are bracing for a massive storm. Even though we only have 4 confirmed on island cases, it suddenly felt like every interaction was a risk. There is an eeriness in the air. I almost expect the sky to fall. Every person who came into our office was a potential carrier. I almost feel as if the entire mood of the island has shifted as we are going into a time of uncertainty.

I spent a large part of the week in meetings at work, and with the dental community. There is a fear that our aerosols could potentially spread the disease in a bad way, and the treatment that we are carrying out has been limited. The hygienists have been pretty much told that once the restrictions hit, they will be out of work. One of them has already stopped working because she is in the high risk category. And the rest of us are trying to decide… is it too premature to call a shutdown of our offices, and only see emergencies?

Should we close altogether like our counterparts in other countries? And is that wise, given that we only have 5 cases, and we could be in for the long haul? Given that if we close our offices then our staff will be unemployed, and so will we? That we as self employed people aren’t eligible for National insurance? Or do we risk the spread? Someone said to me yesterday that he didn’t think the economy could bear it (and I worry about a big crash in the economy - not just here but worldwide). He felt that people will just say eff it, and stay working because we can’t afford to stay home, and they will risk getting sick. I guess we will see what happens over time.

I know that I am lucky that I will be OK at least for the next couple of months. I can sell my books, create coaching packages, and maybe even freelance if push comes to shove. I am torn about reducing my subscriptions and spending, because I don’t want the economy to die. But also I want to be careful. I am torn about deciding people’s future - whether it is our staff, other staff, and the health of my patients and my elderly relatives who I am afraid to go and visit.

To be honest, I am surprised that in such a short space of time I have such a feeling of dread and anxiety. And we are only at 5 cases, and we face the unknown of what happens next.

And in the midst of it, the week has had it’s moments. I started walking again with my friend Karen. I cooked some decent meals. I ordered my vegetables online and picked them up simply and easily. I worked with two paying clients doing business strategy. I coached someone about her book and her blog. I am coaching another friend to get her business off the ground. I wrote every day. I talked to people, and I listened to people. I had some big realizations about my career. I started reading a fantastic book - Upstream by Dan Heath.

It has been a weird week, and we may just be at the start of our response here in Barbados, but I am working on maintaining contact with my sisters, friends and family, and on remaining optimistic.

Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. (taken from The Optimist Creed)

More on this later.

Brief explanation and Coronavirus in Barbados update, as of April 18 2020.

Barbados had the first Coronavirus case publicly reported on Monday 16th of March. As of this date, we have over 70 cases. This may sound like a small number to many of you reading, but you should know that we have a population of less than 300,000 people here on the island. and with such a small population, we need to keep the numbers down. We live in densely populated neighborhoods in much of the island, so it will spread fast if it gets out of control. You will learn more about me and about Barbados as you read on.

About Safiya Robinson:

Welcome to Barbados, in the Caribbean region. This blog tells you everything you need to know about me - I am an island girl who feels most at home with her camera on the beach at sunset, or when writing. I started keeping a diary when we got our first cases of Corona virus here in Barbados and I am sharing it here, so that you can get an idea of how we are navigating the pandemic, through the lens of my experiences and my philosophy on life. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to reading about how people in the rest of the world are being affected by it.

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