The following piece is written by Andrew Saint – Community Mental Health Nurse.

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COVID on the fringes (The community road less travelled)

First stop today, a rural property on acreage 40 kms to the north-east of Launceston. As always, I enjoy the lush countryside and soft rolling hills of Underwood along the way. Arriving, and having traversed the gate, I’m soon on the steep descent to the 19th century homestead along a craggy driveway. Passing the shells of four European cars, each destined to never see public roads again, I wade through tall grassland. Presently the sole domain of noisy peacocks, in the summer months to come it will also accommodate jack jumper ants and the occasional tiger snake.

Nearing the property, I’m around the Ferguson tractor and on to the front veranda. The chickens immediately part like the Red Sea leaving only food and excrement in my wake. Calling through the window I’m warmly invited inside. Manoeuvring between the engine oil that lines the door, and the lounge suite that prevents the door fully opening, I stand and chat with Lars.

Lars is on his favourite chair, peering out the window at the giant Californian redwood his Grandfather’s home was built around. He spends hours in that spot each day exhaling spent tobacco breath into an exhaust fan. Lars has scant regard for the City from which I come. So much so that he has worn masks whilst shopping there for years. Interested in environmental issues and climate science, Lars has long understood the dangers he perceives of cosmic dust blowing in from China.

This links with numerous associated beliefs concerning the Industrial Revolution, the Nazi’s and Al Qaeda. The oil along the corners of his door, and the ‘organic’ brown swastikas etched on mirrors & walls, serve to protect him. Lars doesn’t entirely trust the medication I administer, nevertheless he warmly accepts me as a rare visitor, and as an unwitting servant of the ‘system ordained in 1971’ to end the lineage of his family (we get on very well).

Too socially isolated to entertain any notion of contracting COVID himself he appreciates just how the virus has served to enlighten thousands of others to don masks whilst shopping for groceries and hardware. Bidding Lars and his elderly Doberman farewell I drive back to the City suburbs to visit my man in a tent. The lonely dog often laments my departure and indicates a desire to come with me.

Beneath a majestic pine a four-man tent has been sturdily erected by Amir. The tree, and tent, have provided protection throughout a particularly harsh Tasmanian Autumn and Winter & a wet, windy Spring. Without water, electricity, or a toilet, the used toilet paper resembles fresh fallen snow as I approach through the only opening the low hanging branches allow. Amir can’t believe how society has changed in the eight months since his eviction from the last of the City’s private boarding houses. QR codes for entry to shops, masks required here and here, and hand sanitiser at every turn.

Amir really dislikes leaving the tent for a shower, shopping or a meal. He now feels even further estranged from the world that has long since disowned him. He deeply feels the divide within society – both from those with & without technology, and those with & without proof of vaccination. Initially sceptical about the virus, frequently spoken about on the national news but rarely evidenced in Tasmania, Amir – with lungs damaged from decades of tobacco & cannabis smoke – recently saw fit to follow health advice and get vaccinated prior to the imminent reopening of state borders.

Leaving here I order an espresso at a café nearer the office. Upon gratefully receiving it I spy an animated wave through the corner of my eye. It’s Billy, another long-term client of mine. It’s always great to happen upon him in the Mall as he’s generally couch surfing between three or four addresses at any given time. Such good fortune can save me a lot of random door knocking. On this occasion, he’s having difficulty articulating his enquiry to the young bank teller. Matter easily fixed as my ear is well attuned to his idiosyncratic manner (it’s English but not a dialect the teller easily recognises). Billy grins from ear to ear at the signage, dots and lines adorning the floor, the counters, and the walls.

Talking through Perspex has added an extra dimension to contemporary communication, as has distancing between chairs seen the resurgence of rudimentary sign language. Billy particularly enjoys announcing his arrival by reciting his four names into his old Nokia at the sight of every QR poster he sees. Not since his most recent incarceration has he enjoyed such order. If society continues to provide him with this level of guidance and organisation he mightn’t need to hurry back inside for the structure he so yearns. Billy is immensely proud that he was afforded both COVID vaccines whilst detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Later in the day I visited John at his private hostel in a suburb to the south of Launceston. It’s an unusual place housing up to eight people at a time. Some occupy rooms beneath the floor, one in a cubby and another up a ladder in a tree house. The Manager, an avid follower of social media, and a ‘non-believer’ in COVID, has strongly influenced the beliefs of most residents there (all of whom have chronic ill health and substance abuse issues). John among them.

Basically, the message is that all who have received the vaccine are destined to lack future immunity to anything but the coronavirus. In time the ninety plus percent of us who are fully vaccinated can anticipate death from the common cold. The wise minority who have steadfastly avoided vaccination, will inherit our houses, the tobacconists and the bottle shops.

It’s a real quandary for John who wishes to visit his Mother. She insists upon his being vaccinated to do so. Whilst home, amongst housemates, he eagerly awaits our day of reckoning!

 Names used are not the real names of my clients