Yesterday, walking my dog through the meadow I met my friend, Lucy. She is an ICU nurse and has been looking after COVID patients for six weeks. Usually we dog-walk together and share nonsense thoughts and a bit of gossip. We talk politics and laugh about the fact that we are the only lefties in the village.
We share the daily verbal and non-verbal detritus that forms the background music to most friendships, our routine is well practiced. Obviously, it has been different recently, we walk apart and our chats have become more serious, words chosen more carefully, laughter less frequent - sometimes more manic.
Yesterday, Lucy was in tears. She’d had a tough shift, but she wanted to talk. We sat on separate benches and launched into it. We miss the freedom, we miss our parents, we miss being with people physically, just having them around, we miss our friends, we miss the pub. And we hate the fear, the pain of loss and the inability to see the end.
But mostly, Lucy’s tears were for the wasting of time. Ever since becoming an ICU nurse she has dealt with death on a daily basis. She is not squeamish about it, but the last six weeks has seen that aspect of her work – ‘death management,’ she calls it – intensify beyond anything imagineable. On occasion she has sat with patients in their last conscious moments, heard final thoughts expressed, quiet words whispered.
She confirmed what we all know: no one said they wished they had worked harder, had had more stuff, had rushed around a bit more, spent less time with the people they love, were a bit richer. There were few regrets but mainly, last words were requests to take a message. ‘Tell them I love them,’ ‘tell them not to worry,’ ‘tell them I’m ok.’ Lucy had carried these messages and delivered them.
Yesterday, after half an hour we were laughing again, resolving to waste less time by ‘doing’ less. We decided to do more laughing, swearing and looking at views with people we love. Time well spent. We left the bench – didn’t hug – and went on our way. Close friends but at a distance until the vaccine comes or the virus goes away. When it does, who knows, we might just find ourselves experiencing a more honest social landscape, one with better views, one where we send great messages more frequently. If that happens, this isn’t wasted time.