Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 70(2) May 2020
Coronavirus: the frailty of mankind.
Dr Adrian Treloar
It is probably unwise to try and learn lessons from anything as big and impactful as the current pandemic while it is still developing. At the time of writing, the UK is expecting the biggest upsurge in cases and deaths to happen in the next fortnight. And despite all that, a good friend has just told me that he thinks the whole think is a hoax. He does not have a particular religious or political background. But some people just cannot see how worrying are the data and statistics about this pandemic. Admittedly, by the time you read this, and when this is read again in coming years, it may well turn out that the dire predictions of half a million people dead in this country did not occur. As I write this, today, we hope those high figures will not be seen. Although we must also fear that they might
What is clear is that a tiny and entirely invisible enemy, can stop the whole world’s economy in its tracks, and that within just a fortnight, being locked down and unable to leave one’s home causes massive societal change and impact. Fear is everywhere. On the street people fear that any passer by may be a killer (carrying and spreading a lethal virus). And those who pass me (and you) also fear that I may kill them. Panic buying and empty shops abound across the world. Britain’s airports are all but closed.
Most importantly of all, people are dying. Young and healthy friends of mine are suffering severe respiratory symptoms with some on ITU. Many more are dying. While the majority may have already been old and frail and unwell, it is clear now that they are not the only ones. Young and healthy people die of this virus too.
These are good times to remind ourselves that we are biological beings, created by God in His image, but with spectacular moral, intellectual and physical frailties. When we forget that, we think , perhaps, that we might be immortal on this earth. And yet, life is a precious gift from God, with which we have the chance to seek (and gain) eternal salvation. Because God made us as biological beings we must cooperate with that biology. We must eat, drink, be wise and temperate and also take care when faced with infections. We forget at our peril. As well as that, we must try and do the Lord’s work and bring others towards that hope , and salvation.
We do that by prayer, devotion and sharing our faith as well as by the work we do each day in medicine. Importantly, we must also be careful but heroic. Especially as healthcare workers, we MUST tend the sick and be willing to be exposed to the risk of this virus and other dangers. That exposure will be done sensibly and carefully but we must be sure to see that the sick are served. Fr Damien did that for lepers in the 1870’s and 1880’s. After eleven years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, Father Damien realized he had also contracted leprosy when he was scalded by hot water and felt no pain. He continued with his work despite the infection but finally died of the disease on 15 April 1889. And of course, seeing such death and tragedy, we should see the view that doctors might be able to kill their patients as even more abhorrent.
Perhaps also, the faithful need also to return to regular confession. This is no time to be walking around in a state of sin.
I have learnt much already during this pandemic. Please God, my family and I will survive. But let us always cherish the gift of life and let us work to promote that message of love, hope, and the value of every human life. May our frail and vulnerable biology be that “thorn in our flesh”  which keeps us close to and reliant upon His mercy. We shall rejoice when, once again, we can go the Church on Sunday. Perhaps also, the faithful need also to return to regular confession. This is no time to be walking around in a state of sin.
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-9,