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Day 12 of Self Quarantine

Susan Sontag by Peter Hujar, 1975

I’m trying to remember what life was like after the earthquake that hit Taiwan in 1999. It was a massive quake and killed over 2,000 people. My parents and I ran out of our 9th floor apartment and spent the night in our Nissan Sentra with our dog. There were rolling blackouts throughout Taipei city for a few months afterward, not to mention lots of aftershocks.

But living in the aftermath of a natural disaster isn’t the same as living with the tension of an epidemic, which seems to be somewhat contained in Shanghai. No new confirmed cases and many more recovered and discharged. There was less blaming, except of faulty construction. There isn’t the drawn out tension of an epidemic, and when it’s the earth shaking it’s harder to call that a conspiracy theory.

People like to use heroic or military words to describe illnesses. Someone’s battling cancer. The frontlines of an epidemic. I guess those make easy shorthand in creating drama out of something that really, at the center of it, isn’t very exciting.

You ever been in an intensive care unit? Lots of beeping machines you have to worry about knocking over. Strict visiting hours. You gotta wear a gown and cover your hair and of course wash your hands before entering. But the heroics of the ill and their caretakers, professional or otherwise, aren’t... Exciting. It’s not supposed to be. It doesn’t have to be. Illness is a natural, given part of humanity. We are frail and therefore precious. We are frail and still we hold each other up, and that makes us human.

There’s been serious backlash over a very propaganda video that came out of one of the Chinese hospitals, where they shaved several women’s heads to “prepare them for the frontlines.” That all-too-familiar military lingo. Critics accused them of using women’s bodies as promotional tools, reducing medical professionals to just their feminine looks, as if that’s the only contribution they can make to society (You can read more about it here).

But as Sontag said in AIDS as a Metaphor:

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