Not our finest hour

Pam Frampton
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"Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully."
- Richard Bach, American author

You don't have to look around much to realize we are living in uncertain times.
In fact, you know we are when children's cultural icons are being enlisted to make very grown-up points.
In the lunchroom at work, a black-and-white cartoon pinned to a bulletin board shows Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, Eeyore and friends wearing surgical masks, standing on a shore, using a stick to push a raft away from them.
Standing forlornly alone on the raft, maskless, is Piglet.
If only it were so easy to push our own fears about swine flu out to sea.
Instead, the signs are everywhere: sparse attendance in classrooms, absent co-workers, a major run on hand sanitizer, overflowing doctors' waiting rooms, no shared communion chalice in church, less rush at rush hour.
There are fewer people in our world - in the malls, in the coffee shops, among the lunch crowd.
We are disappearing from view, stuck inside our houses, fearful that a tightening in the chest or a dry, hacking cough could lead to serious respiratory problems. Hospitalization. A ventilator. Death.
It has happened, after all, though the number is still low as of this writing.
But one death, any death, is too many when there is any question that it could have been prevented.
At night, sitting in a darkened car waiting for my husband, I see a university student trudge past wearing a mask, bent slightly by the weight of his knapsack, autumn leaves swirling about his feet. Then I'm startled by the shrill wail of an ambulance siren cutting through supper-hour traffic near the Health Sciences Centre.
Is it someone with H1N1? Someone whose life is in jeopardy?
The siren's scream puts my nerves on edge.
Welcome to life under a pandemic.
The world has shifted
Like most people, I worry for the health of the people I love.
I wonder if the flu the kids and I had last week was H1N1, and hope it was so that it's over with.
But mostly I wonder if the worst is yet to come - that more people will die before everyone is vaccinated or before their vaccine kicks in, that hospitals won't be able to cope with the number of people who need medical care, and that swine flu will fan out like flames through places where large numbers of people live, like a student residence, a nursing home, or the prison.
It's unfortunate that a crisis - even a perceived crisis - doesn't always bring out the best in us. Some people go straight into self-preservation mode - it's everyone for himself.
But this is no time to be divisive.
True, the vaccination process has had its problems. Not everyone who needs the flu shot the most has received it, and there are desperate families out there with sick loved ones who don't meet the criteria.
Perhaps the criteria are flawed. Or perhaps we shouldn't have been naÏve enough to believe the honour system would work in the first place, although it was a nice thought.
One thing is certain: given that there are more people at risk of developing H1N1 than there are doses of vaccine, someone has to determine the order of priority. Some of us will have to wait longer than others, and some of us should have to.
It's not an easy choice to make, though, is it?
Last week, some people were given a chance to have a say in that decision, and blew it.
Thankfully, we have a health minister who is willing to make tough decisions while at the same time admitting they are difficult.
Last week, Jerome Kennedy said he'd received a deluge of heartfelt appeals from people pleading special cases and urging him to help them get their loved ones vaccinated before it was too late. It must have been gut-wrenching to have to ignore those pleas.
But in sticking to rules, Kennedy is doing the right thing - ethically, if not necessarily politically.
He has said that he would forgo the vaccine himself if it meant someone else's child could get it. He is leading by example.
And not only that, he is being transparent - every single day - about what his government is doing and why, despite ever-changing and challenging circumstances, and despite not always having the answers.

Let's do it right
Fortunate, healthy people in this province have no need to panic, but there is strong demand for the vaccine, and limited supply.
By our actions we have proven that the strongest among us can't always be trusted to take care of our most vulnerable citizens first.
"There's no question that this is touching everyone in this province and this country and we all have to try to do the best we can," Kennedy said Nov. 1.
That means all of us.
Having fumbled things last week, the least we can do now is co-operate with a government and regional health authorities that are trying to act responsibly and for the greater good.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at Read her columns online at

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre

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