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ESSAY: Contemplating death in a year when it feels closer

MILWAUKEE — One day, on a walk in the middle of a workday, I came across a gorgeous red finch on a sunny sidewalk that didn’t fly off when I approached it. It barely put up a fight when I picked it up with a tissue.

I had hoped to take it to the nearby wildlife rehab people. Maybe they could save it. So I walked back to my house and put it in an open plastic tub on my shady porch with seed and water.

I called the rehab people. I knew from past injured wildlife encounters that I should call ahead. The line was busy. Every time I checked on him, I felt a greater urgency. His breathing had increased and he was shaking a little. Their line remained busy.

Less than two hours later, his breathing had stopped.

I cried. I just couldn’t hold back.

___

I’m struggling. And I have been for awhile.

A lot of us are. There’s a pandemic going on, and we are all isolated from each other. There’s a recession looming, maybe even a depression. And a divisive election, no matter which side you support.

But it feels like so much more. None of my emotions seem to want to hide anymore.

There’s anger, irritation, sadness. Muting life with Netflix has an upside-down reaction for me: I’m crying at happy scenes and sobbing over suspenseful or stressful scenes. I wake at night with bouts of anxiety.

As a reporter, I’ve told the stories of countless tragedies over the last 20 years: mass murders, murder trials, tornadoes where people lost everything, any number of horrific crimes and dramatic hardships. Why does this feel so different?

It finally dawned on me: Death seems so close to everyone, more than I can ever remember. In the United States, for many, it hasn’t been quite this way for a really long time.

So far, more than 225,000 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus or complications, according to Johns Hopkins University. On the entire planet, more than 45 million have been infected and more than 1.1 million are dead.

All that pain and suffering. All those individual stories. And right now, with the numbers of infected soaring in Wisconsin, where I live, my anxiety skyrockets.

Even physicians are dealing with anxiety, some for the first time, says Joan Anzia, psychiatrist and professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She often counsels those in the health care field and says this sense of mortality is even hitting them.

“It’s been decades since physicians have had to endanger their own lives and put their own life at risk just by going to work,” she tells me when I call her.

The last time a life-threatening health crisis of this scale engulfed American society was early in the last century: the 1918 flu pandemic. Less widespread was polio, before a vaccine emerged in the 1950s.

Medical advancements though, have pushed death away, made it feel

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Dr. Fauci Says It May Be Years Before America Feels a ‘Semblance of Normality’ Again

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told a Melbourne, Australia audience on Wednesday that it could be years before Americans are able to resume their lives normally amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.



a man holding his hand up to his mouth: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH testifies at a Senate Health, Education, and Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Fauci said he believes it could be years before Americans can resume their lives normally.


© Graeme Jennings/Getty
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH testifies at a Senate Health, Education, and Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Fauci said he believes it could be years before Americans can resume their lives normally.

“I think it will be easily by the end of 2021 and perhaps into the next year before we start having some semblance of normality,” Fauci said during the University of Melbourne webinar.

“If normal means you can get people in a theatre without worrying about what we call congregate-setting super infections, if we can get restaurants to open almost at full capacity,” he added.

Fauci went on to explain that opening up the economy and maintaining public health safety is a “fine line” to walk.

“I firmly believe that you can continue to open to business [and] open up the country from an economic standpoint. But if you do that prudently with public health measures, that prevents surges of infection. We’ve seen it done before in countries and in sections of our own country,” he said.

The First Phase 3 Clinical Trial Of A Coronavirus Vaccine In The US Has Begun

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Fauci said that he believes a worldwide vaccine will be available within the next few months. However, a complicated mix of anti-vaccination beliefs and strong political divide could continue to make it difficult to contain the virus.

“Right now, there is a reluctance to take vaccines,” he said, adding that it was partly fueled by “mixed signals that are coming out from the government, that is not being very helpful.”

In a study conducted by CNBC/Change Research last month, only 42 percent of likely voters said they would probably or definitely get the vaccine when it is made available – a number that dropped 16 percentage points from July.

In addition to a vaccine, Fauci told the webinar that the development of antiviral drugs— which are being tested and studied in labs worldwide—could drastically shift the course of the pandemic by allowing patients to receive treatments as soon as they fall ill.

The infectious disease expert, who has been ridiculed by President Donald Trump over matters related to COVID-19, told the audience that experts should always be guided by science, and to not be afraid to stand up to politicians.

“You should always remember that in order to maintain your credibility, you should speak consistently based on the science. The science guides what we’re going to do and what we are doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fauci applauded Australia and New Zealand’s efforts to contain the virus, and said he wished the U.S. was on that same level.

“Australia is one of the countries that has done quite well. New

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