JulieB By: JulieB
Lecturer in Global Health
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15 Oct 2020 : On social bonds

So I am in London now, settled into a nice first floor flat in Brixton with it's Afro-Caribbean vibes. When I first moved to London 20 years ago, it was one of the places I hardly dared to go to, and certainly not alone! But I digress... 

I was walking around earlier today, close to Windrush Sq, and I heard a thump, and on turning around I saw an old lady on the floor. She had slipped and fell with quite a bang, poor thing. I immediately went to help, but at the same time respecting her boundaries, even though we were both wearing masks. I offered help but was still a step or two away - just 7 days ago my own Mum fell over in the streets in London and broke her wrist while doing so (thankfully, it was not a hip!). When she recalled the story to me, she told me how a "young boy" had come to help her but neither of them were wearing a mask and she felt anxious about "giving him coronavirus" (though i'm not quite sure how, since she herself has been so incredibly careful and healthy since Feb/March). Then the guy ran inside his house for a mask and came back out to help. The thing that made me sad was that even though she was not alone when she fell, but was 'lucky' to have someone kind enough to offer help to her, the usual pro-social behaviour that anyone would want when in pain was somehow stiffled because of fear of COVID. 

So today when the lady (similar sort of elderly age group) fell, I offered help immediately but also gave her space - remembering my own Mum's experience a week ago. And this lady, she too didn't want the help offered; she too was fearful. She got herself up (like my Mum did) and walked off by herself (also like my Mum did). Moments later, someone who witnessed it told me that she banged her head; I hadn't see that as I had my back to her when she fell. That third person and I both stood and spoke for a moment about COVID and fear of others. 

Social bonds are essential to human wellbeing, and not only the close, tight-knit ones that form parts of families and close friendships, but also more distant transient ones - the person you sit next to on a bus or the person who directs you to the product you are searching for in a large supermarket, or the person who fixes your appliances at home, or the person who falls and hurts themselves when you happen to be standing nearby. All of these interactions are important. They make us human, they help us come closer to our humanity and our own strengths and weaknesses, our own pain and triumph... COVID worries me as a biological virus, but it worries me even more as a psychosocial phenomenon that makes us scared of one another. 

The fear is real. It's also something that we have neglected during this focus on vaccines and lockdowns, social distancing and hand sanitiser and yes, even face masks. It's the emotional (not techincal) side of a pandemic, the crucial human factor. 

I hope the lady didn't get concussion today and if she did, I hope she isn't too scared to go to see a Doctor for help. My own Mum went to the Doctor last week and that is how she discovered her broken wrist - and thankfully she is now recovering at home. 

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