Transcript: Coronavirus pandemic: Welcome to The Cabin Fever

Published

This is a full transcript of Coronavirus pandemic: Welcome to The Cabin Fever as first broadcast on 19 March and presented by Beth Rose.

[jingle: Ouch]

BETH - Hello, and welcome to BBC Ouch's first Corona related podcast. It's all anyone is talking about at the moment. Now, the amazing thing about loads of you listening is you are already one step ahead of the rest of the population. You may well be used to social distancing, you might be a pro at working from home, and potentially you're used to long periods of time in isolation. So let's share this information with the world.

I'm Beth Rose, and I am in the BBC office, that's because we're still being encouraged to work from here in much smaller numbers. So there's about five of a department of 60 today. I'm also - big disclaimer - non disabled, so this is all very new to me. We've also got Emma Tracey.

Emma - Hello. I'm in Fife in Scotland, in my home office.

BETH - And we also have fellow BBC journalist, Octavia Woodward.

OCTAVIA - Hiya. I'm currently in my flat in London, not sure for how much longer to be honest. So I have a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, which basically means I have incredibly weak muscles throughout, and part of that is I have really, really, really weak lungs, which isn't ideal with a respiratory virus going round. So I would categorise myself as very high risk.

BETH - And also we've got Natasha Lipman. Who are you and where are you?

Natasha -

Hi. I am currently in my home office, aka my bed. And I actually work from home 99% of the time anyway, so this is my permanent BBC office.

BETH -

So this is going to be one of those chatty podcasts, and if it doesn't sound as smooth as the rest of our stuff that's because, as you heard, we are all in very different locations. And a bit of background information, we're recording this through a studio, which is where I am, on a BBC meeting programme, a bit like Skype, and also on our phones. So there's a lot of layers there but we'll do our best. What has it been like for the last few weeks for you, Octavia?

OCTAVIA -

The last few weeks, I think the problem was is deciding when to act. I'm not like Natasha, usually I don't isolate myself very often, I work in the office most of the time, apart from one day a week when I work from home, just for fatigue. So with the lack of information, and a lack of understanding of when this is going to spread, trying to make those choices of how to act has been difficult, especially as I have 24 hour care, which means that it's kind of impossible for me to fully self-isolate, because I have three different carers that will be coming into my home at different times.

BETH -

How has that been working? Is it still working?

OCTAVIA -

It has been working up until about yesterday, when I've just been doing like lots of hand washing and then I got the first kind of inevitable text yesterday where one of the carers was like, "If you want me to come in I will, but I don't really feel comfortable going on the tube anymore and coming in contact with you." So we're having to work around that at the moment. Today I am planning to go home to Somerset so if there is a London lock down I have some form of back up as a carer, in the form of my mum, but obviously that's really not idea.

BETH -

Natasha, what about you? So you spend 99% of your time at home. Are we suddenly seeing your way of working as the way forward?

NATASHA -

It's been very interesting seeing a lot of disabled people online talking about this, saying how people have lost their jobs or had to drop out of university or schools or not be able to get a job in the first place, and then within the space of a week or two remote working, flexible working. Online lectures, have suddenly become a thing. So I think it's been something that a lot of people have been finding difficult.

What I've been saying for years is that there are an awful lot of jobs that can be done with more flexibility, and this doesn't just benefit disabled people, it can have huge benefits to a lot of people, but then of course in this situation there are a lot of people who don't have that luxury of being able to say okay, I'm going to keep working but work from home.

BETH -

I mean, I know you have a huge network of people who also work from home a lot. What is everyone saying to you about the situation? Because obviously we keep hearing the very generic vulnerable people and underlying health conditions line.

NATASHA -

I think a lot of people are quite rightly scared. I think as Octavia was saying, the care issue is a big one, and people who have ongoing medical treatments. People aren't necessarily able to go and get them with operations being cancelled and general appointments being cancelled. For people who have ongoing health conditions that's a real concern as to how they're going to be able to manage, going forward, without that care that they relied on anyway.

And one thing that I've noticed just from my own networks is how you can tell people who have been around people with health problems and people who haven't. It's been really interesting just seeing people continuing to go out and continuing to be around people, and complaining about not being able to go the pub. And I think that's been very eye opening and quite distressing for a lot of people to see.

OCTAVIA -

People are taking it seriously now. However, at the beginning before the government kind of stepped in I heard a lot of, "Well, we're all going to get it and it's going to be fine. To be honest, if I get it I'll still come into work. I'll still hang out with you." I think a lot of disabled have this persona where you don't really show people how vulnerable you are?

NATASHA -

Yes.

OCTAVIA -

And like, in the office I work very hard not to appear disabled, which I know is good, bad, whatever, but when that started happening I was like, "Guys, I have 25% lung capacity. If you can stop telling me that you're going to come near me with Corona, that will be really helpful." But I just don't think people understood how frightening it was or how serious it was.

EMMA -

How did that make you feel, and how did you go from being really kind of quiet about what you need and quietly organising the things that you need to get by in the office and actually saying, "I could die if I get this"?

OCTAVIA -

So I think in the beginning it was quite difficult, because everywhere you looked it wasn't just the office it was online as well. It's like, "Oh, the vulnerable and elderly, they're going to die, but that's kind of okay," and I'm like, is it though? I kind of feel that I contribute to society.

So I kind of went from being quiet, then luckily my office has been very supportive when I started raising it as an issue, and then when people started joking about it in the office I would joke back, being not really joking, but telling them how serious it was for me. And I think that did help. I haven't really still been completely open with how difficult it will be for me with regards to organising carers and stuff, but I have been to people who are close to me, and I think that's kind of changed their attitude towards me, which means they've been able to advocate for me with the wider friendship circle, if that makes sense?

EMMA -

Cascading.

OCTAVIA -

Yes, exactly.

BETH -

So Emma, you're up in Scotland. What is your plan?

EMMA -

Well, it's interesting because we were asked yesterday at work whether we were vulnerable or looking after someone vulnerable. I don't actually have any underlying overarching conditions to blindness, so I don't think I'm medically vulnerable, however, to be able to go out independently it's necessary for me to touch a lot of things and to be in very close contact with people.

So touching poles on the train, being guided to my train by an elbow that someone has probably coughed into quite a lot, because we're all being told to cough into our elbows at the moment, I feel a lot more anxious about going out than I think I would if I could see, so I'm not going out at the moment.

And the other way that it's affecting me is that I rely quite heavily on online shopping and we can't get an online slot for the next three weeks. I've spoken to other blind people about this and they've said that one of them put in an 80 quid shop with a supermarket and only got £20 worth of it.

BETH -

Oh, no.

EMMA -

And someone else had their shop cancelled at the very last second. So they're really struggling because their PAs don't feel confident going into supermarkets anymore, and I can understand that too. I feel pretty lucky at the moment but, you know, I know that there have been changes to my life as well.

BETH -

And Natasha, all of us in the studio all know that you had a food delivery about half an hour ago. How was it? Did you get everything you asked for?

NATASHA -

I booked it a week ago, so we actually managed to get it quite easily, but when I tried to make edits yesterday there was a queue of 10,700 people to get in to make the edits.

BETH -

No!

NATASHA -

Yes. So we booked again a week in advance, two weeks in advance, sorry, for the next two weeks. I saw the van outside my window and I was yelling down. I was like, "Hello, are you for me?" and he kind of brought everything up and left it outside. I was holding the door and my boyfriend was bringing it in and then we were trying to just figure out with the bags how to do it. But we made a really big effort of not stockpiling anything, we kind of got one of everything that we needed. We were very lucky today.

BETH -

Supermarkets around the world actually are all beginning to introduce that early hour for elderly and disabled people to get in. Do you think that's the way forward? Is that helpful?

NATASHA -

One of the issues is what do you do if you have an invisible disability? I think this is something that affects a lot of people and it will have to go on the honour system, but there will always be people who will try and take advantage of the early opening. So that's going to be interesting to see what happens in terms of that.

OCTAVIA -

And in terms of that what happens with carers. If you've got a carer who's doing your food shop for you do they get priority? Do they get help, not being in contact with people?

beth -

I don't know actually. No idea. We'll have to try it and test it.

EMMA -

And what about you, Octavia? Do you have everything you need?

OCTAVIA -

As well as like occasionally eating orally I have a PEG feed and it was sent around by ((Ullar 0:10:37?)) today. They will keep giving me my order of feed, but Nutricia are no longer letting their drivers go into the houses of the disabled people and they will be putting all medical supplies outside, and that's it.

BETH -

And is that helpful for you or not, if it's outside?

OCTAVIA -

I mean, for me it's fine, because I don't have to have someone here helping me, but for people who maybe don't have like 24/7 care I don't really know how that's going to work.

BETH -

And what about your social life, Octavia? Because you are a social butterfly.

OCTAVIA -

I went on my last, last pub trip on the weekend, which I know sounds pathetic to people who have been isolating like Natasha for a longer time. I don't really know how I'm going to deal with it. I've been doing a lot of texting, doing a lot of phone calls. I'm trying not to think about it too much and I'm just going to let that side effect kick in when it kicks in. I think when you're disabled you have a heightened worry about being isolated, even if you're not isolated. I mean, before Corona kicked off I had conversations with my friends and I'd be like, "Oh, I'm really worried I'm not getting out enough," and they're like, "You're getting out more than most of us, so calm down." So I think we'll have to see how that goes.

BETH -

So I'm with you. So as the token non disabled person my main worry is the fact that I live by myself in a one bedroom flat in London, which is obviously notorious for not knowing your neighbours. But my main worry is like, gosh, I'm in the office today, but what if that's the last time for three or four months? My parents live in Cornwall and they're just over the 70 age barrier and lots of our friends down there are obviously well over the 70 age, so I don't know about going home or not. So hit me with all your advice and things I should be thinking about and not worry about. I think, Natasha, you should go first.

NATASHA -

I assume this is for me. [laughs]

BETH -

Yeah, totally.

NATASHA -

So I think it is really interesting, because I have gone through periods of isolation where I don't really go out for long periods of time, but then I can go out and that little break has been really important. That's why I get very excited when I come into the office, even if it's for a few hours. And I think the first thing is just accepting it's going to be different, but it is. And I think figuring out ways to use the internet, we're so lucky that this is happening now.

I often think what would my life be like if I was born 20, 30 years ago and I wouldn't have had access to everything that I've had online. More things are being offered online than ever before. I've been seeing operas are being streamed online. There are online book clubs that you can do with your friends. There are ways to connect with people and keep yourself busy. And I think having a hobby that has nothing to do with health is really important.

BETH -

What are your hobbies?

NATASHA -

I sing.

BETH -

Icing?

NATASHA -

You sing too? We should do an online choir.

EMMA -

So do I! I sing too.

BETH -

Oh, I thought you said icing, as in icing a cake.

OCTAVIA -

Oh my god, can we have an Ouch choir?

NATASHA -

We're going to have an Ouch choir.

EMMA -

Beth, did you think that Natasha said icing?

BETH - I did, yeah. Like icing a cake. I think Dave did as well.

NATASHA - Oh, icing? Oh no, that I'm not so good at. We've been doing quite a bit of baking. The biggest thing that I've actually been texting all of my friends is, "Open your windows, get some fresh air," because I have had weeks, especially when it's cold, when I wouldn't leave the house and I would have no windows open because it would be way too cold. And just the difference, getting some fresh air on your face.

The thing I would say, especially to non disabled people is that for most of you this is going to end, so it might be difficult for a short period of time, but it's not like you're going to have to, hopefully, do this forever. What I'm particularly interested in seeing is whether this period, where people are more isolated, is going to make any kind of wider societal changes once things go back. Whether it does teach more empathy and it does create things that will change how we work and how we socialise, and even just availability of being able to say I want to go to the theatre but I can't go out today so I'm going to stream it.

EMMA -

And how we treat people in relation to that when they say no I can't go now. Hopefully it'll result in a bit more kindness.

NATASHA -

Hopeful hat.

BETH -

Are there any super quick tips if people are working at home?

OCTAVIA -

I've only done it one day a week before this but I've found like sticking to my work hours and making sure I get up and do ten till six, otherwise I kind of slip into the university habit and do like 8 pm till midnight, which is not the correct hours and not great for your mental health.

NATASHA -

I agree. I also think people will realise that you spend a lot of time in offices wasting time. You actually get way more done in a shorter period of time when you're working from home. If you are able to have different clothes that you wear. I'm making an effort to put some lipstick on and a dress that makes me happy a few times a week. That's really beneficial.

EMMA -

Eat your meals when you would, don't keep going to the fridge.

BETH -

Can I tell you my one thing that I did yesterday and I was very excitedly telling Emma earlier? And I think she was semi impressed. So I set up my computer on my table, but during the day I have my harsh overhead ceiling lights on which I don't really like, and then in the evening I have my lamps. I can see you're all underwhelmed as well.

NATASHA -

That's nice.

BETH -

But it kind of works quite well. And also I took myself off to my room and read for thirty minutes to mimic my commute so that I could stop work and start social life.

natasha -

Oh, I like that.

OCTAVIA -

I really like that.

NATASHA -

I think you're right in having a set up space is really important, like I've been working in my bed for years, but recently as I've learnt how to pace I've actually been doing really short bursts. I'm like I'm going to answer my emails now, and taking it to the table and doing that, and it's made such a difference to my mental space, because I never had that work, bedroom separation. So I think that is a really important point, as much as you can kind of set up a little space of your own.

BETH -

Well, I think it's about time we signed out from this first Corona virus podcast. Thanks to Emma, Octavia and Natasha. We're going to keep doing these as much as possible, but we kind of need everyone's input. So keep in touch with us, tell us what you're doing, how you're coping, what tips you can tell everyone else. How easy this may be for you. Anything that's going through your mind. So we are @bbcouch on Twitter, bbcouch on Facebook and ouch@bbc.co.uk.

Also, don't forget, we have a fabulous archive of podcasts, they're all available to you right now, from less pandemic-y times on BBC Sounds. As I say, keep in touch and stay safe out there and we'll speak to you soon. Bye.

EMMA -

Bye.

NATASHA -

Bye.

OCTAVIA -

Bye.

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