Plague: The Time of Experience

It is not a simple flu. I was wrong, but in one thing I was right: leap years are ill fated. When I wrote the previous article about Covid-19 diffusion in Italy, that was the situation: 378 people had been infected, 12 had died and all of them suffered from serious pathologies. Nothing that serious, I believed; but things have worsened soon. At the time being this is the updated bulletin: 5883 infected, 1247 new cases since yesterday, 589 have recovered so far and 233 have died. In only 10 days. It is not a simple flu.

Let’s explain why. 1) A normal flu is seasonal, it mutates, therefore, it is always slightly different from the virus of the year before, that is why we are not completely immune, even if we have been infected. Being a variant of the flu virus of the year before, we are only partially immune. Each of us has a different immunity rate, which depends on age, health conditions etc. . We are not immune to Covid-19 and it is very contagious.2) We know how the seasonal flu virus works and we produce new vaccines every year, because, as we have just said, the flu virus mutates. We have no vaccine for Covid-19. 3) We have medicines to cure or relieve flu symptoms, while there is no cure for Covid-19. Not yet. 4) A normal flu may sometimes degenerate into a bacterial pneumonia, which, however, may be treated with antibiotics, for example. If Covid-19 reaches the lower parts of the respiratory system, it may cause a viral pneumonia, for which there is no treatment. In the case the virus develops to that stage (10% of the patients), hospitalization is required and the most serious cases need ICU. And this is the problem, because the average stay in ICU is usually 2/3 weeks. Too long.

Beds in hospitals are not infinite, they are at the limit of total saturation and we may get to the point when there will be none left, hence, we won’t be able to treat patients properly from the complications of the infection. So what can be done? Well, only following the health protocol, staying at home to avoid feeding the spread of the virus from person to person and hope that it will stop sooner or later. We must make the virus less contagious so that to decrease the number of infected people and give everybody the opportunity of being cured.

In the meantime our life has changed. The country is reacting mostly paralyzing any activity and this has and will have serious consequences on our economy. Schools have been closed till (at least ) March 15th. It is today’s news that those living in Lombardy and other 14 provinces won’t be allowed to leave their sites till April 3rd. It is as if we were caught in a limbo and we can do nothing but give up any social life and wait. Things are going so fast that I bet this article will be old by the time I post it, that is: now.

 

 

 

Plague

image from The Times

As you already know, here in Italy we are in quarantine as Coronavirus seems to prefer our land to any other country in Europe. How could it be otherwise after all? We have been enjoying the most incredible winter ever, more like spring than winter, trees are already sprouting, why should the virus head to some more uncomfortable place? In the meanwhile from North to South we are panicking. Supermarket have been assaulted to stock up on food, drinks, masks and above all bottles of Amuchina (Purell), which currently cost more than white truffle. Some schools in the North have been closed as a precautionary measure, school trips forbidden and worst of all, there is the most serious danger that football games might be played behind closed door, right this year that my team S.S.Lazio is that close to win the League (after 20 years).

But when I come across such articles as the following one, I cannot but change the tone of my words:

In the European Union, which prides itself on its open borders among member nations, new cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Switzerland. Most were tied to Italy, where the authorities have been struggling to contain an outbreak that has infected at least 325 people, most of them in the north near Milan. ( The New York Times)

Hence, open borders are the problem according to the New York Times. I don’t know why we have become the epidemic centre, but one thing I can say for sure, it’s not because of open borders. People have always moved carrying in the lands they visited their kit of bacteria and viruses with the consequences everybody knows and they’ll keep moving with or without borders. It’s not because of immigration from North Africa too, as the virus comes straight from the civilized, rich and sovereigntist North. But what makes Coronavirus so dangerous to cause such a nervous breakdown in all the country? As far as I can see: mass media.

As you can imagine, we are flooded by updates, interviews to epidemiologists and commentators of any kind, thousands of fake news. Everybody seems to master the topic and has something to say about, but, eventually, the only result is that of increasing a sense of general insecurity generating panick, whose consequences, it’s not unlikely, might lead to an economic recession. And for what? Coronavirus is nothing but a flu. In Italy, which is currently the third country in the world for number of cases, 378 people have been infected and 12 have died. These latter, to be precise, were old and have not died for the virus itself, but for the serious pathologies they had been affected before, which had weakened their immune system. These are the facts plain and simple. Of course, we must take precautions and follow the health protocol, which is exactly the same for any other seasonal flu. Once again, we have another proof of how the excess of information cannot but generate misinformation, ignorance and pointless fear.

The Den of Christmas Spirit

cri2cri3If you watch the bright Christmas lights with eyes of wonder, while walking in the familiar streets of your city like a little child, if you get lost for hours in a mall searching for gifts to put under the tree picturing the joyful reaction of those who will receive them, if you are thrilled only at the idea of gathering around a dinner table with your family and friends or simply if you find yourself sitting at the window hoping for the snow to come ( I might actually wait for years or decades here in Rome), well, this is the spirit of Christmas that comes to visit you at this time of the year. But rather, if you are annoyed by the people who crowd in frenzy streets and shops and if you are anguished and appalled by the imminent visit of your friends and relations and if a sense of nausea arouses, just thinking at the presents you’ll have to buy or the faces you’ll have to see, or if you just don’t stand at that window, because in case it really snowed, Rome would be paralyzed and we would pay the consequences for weeks and weeks, what does that mean? That you are an insensitive, cruel, selfish human being? Not exactly. It means that you suffer from the bah humbug” syndrome. I’m not joking, this is science or better: Science with capital letter.

 cri1A group of Danish medical scientists in their own spirit of holiday fun, published a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) asserting that the spirit of Christmas does not actually come to visit us every year, but rather, it resides in us and precisely in our brain.That is why this tradition with its blissful and magical atmosphere has lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years. A team of researchers of Rigshospitalet hospital, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, set out to locate exactly where the old spirit of Christmas hides in the brain using modern MRI machinery to study the changes of oxygenation and blood flow that occur in response to neuronal activity. So, they divided participants into two groups, one of people who had strong Christmas traditions and the other with people who did not celebrate it. The latter group included Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi and Turkish people who expatriated or were born in Denmark. People who did not celebrate it, but still felt a strong connection to the holiday were excluded, as were people who did celebrate but had a negative association with it. In short, 20 people were examined while they were watching  84 images with Christmas themes alternated to scenes of everyday life. For example, they were shown a street decorated with lights and then an ordinary street. 

cri5Among the participants who were placed in first group,  the researchers  have identified five regions of the brain which lit up like Christmas trees when holiday images were shown. These regions are commonly associated with spirituality and they control the sense of touch and body language interpretation . This led the researchers to determine there is a “Christmas spirit network” in the human brain. It’s in these brain areas that the spirit of Christmas resides. Therefore, those who do not like Christmas and believe that it is all nonsense, are actually affected by what scientists call bah humbug” syndrome.  A syndrome that affects millions of people, especially adults and that could be cured.  The researchers, in fact, suggested that locating the Christmas spirit in the brain can help reverse that sad syndrome. Maybe someday there will be a complex machine that can generate the Christmas spirit in people, and why only at Christmas time? Couldn’t we enjoy it every single day of the year?
In the meantime, I wish you to fully enjoy your Christmas spirit and have a great time.
Merry Christmas.
Stefy. 🙂

Back to school!!!

 

back 1

back 2When a new school year begins, teachers display clear signs of a disease of a peculiar kind :forgetfulness. The first day of September you see them advance indolently to work, their faces, altered by a couple of months of holidays under the sun, manifest all the frustration of having been torn away from their lazy summer days to be thrown into the pit again. Believe me, it is a shock. Soon after the first convivial moment, when new and old colleagues are engaged in conversations about the wonders of the past summer days, the usual routine which regards work planning, exam organization and stuff of this kind should get started, but you soon realize that you can’t, because your mind is blank, as you had removed all, even the most common operations you’ve repeated every single year. What would a Freudian psychologist say? That we have put a veil on everything we reject of our job and hidden in a remote part of our mind and now, that is about to surface again, we are under stress, maybe. That’s why I am about to tell this story again, because I want it to be a reminder of what I do love of my job.

back3Some years ago, my husband and I joined a program of long distance adoptions in Paraguay. The idea of helping the minors of the poor countries and their families, providing them with an economical help, so that they could receive the primary goods, education and the medical care they need, made us feel, I don’t know, better people, if I may say so. Once subscribed, after few weeks, we received a letter with all the personal data of the adopted child, which, unexpectedly, turned out to be a very exciting moment, as we hadn’t had the name of the kid yet. I still remember my husband slowly unfolding the letter, looking at the picture and saying with a big smile: “it’s a boy”.

His name was Wilfrido. In the picture, a little brat of about five was doing his best to show us his gratitude with a big toothless smile, even if he seemed a kind of uncomfortable in his brand new school pinafore, maybe too large for his age. Once our adopted son had materialized in that picture, we started to be pervaded by a strange sort enthusiasm. We began to think that we might do many things for him, for example providing him with a high school education and even more, Harvard, Stanford, why not? At a closest inspection of the picture, the boy didn’t really look like the student type, but maybe I was wrong.

back 4Wilfrido didn’t pass the first grade that year. We were shattered .Fortunately, the following years went much better. He eventually learnt to read and write, even Maths. When he improved enough to write a letter, he started to give me information bout his life and family. I was particularly impressed when he told me that he usually reached school on foot walking for seven miles (!!!) or on horseback. He also added that he liked studying after all. But one day, we were informed that Wilfrido and his family had left the village and I have never heard from him since then. I was disappointed, maybe I could have done more to give him the opportunity of having a better future, maybe.

Few years later, I would have seen the whole experience from another angle. I was in San Josè, in Costa Rica and I needed some directions. One boy offered to write down the address I needed for me ; I could have written it myself, but just he didn’t let me do it. He picked a pen and diligently started to move it on a piece of paper, as if he were drawing. It took him five endless minutes to write that piece of information, but somehow we didn’t dare hurry him even if, I confess, we were a little annoyed. Eventually, he handed me the note. I soon noticed that his handwriting was incredibly neat and elegant, but it was only when I met his eyes that I could clearly see that sparkle, I saw his great satisfaction, pride and dignity. He smiled. He might be one of the many Wifrido that people the world. I had done something good after all.That’s why I teach. Because I think education can make people conscious, stronger and free and even because I feel useful every time I see that sparkle in the eyes of one of my students. Wish you a great new school year. 🙂

 

Merry Christmas 1.1!!!

natale

End of trimester, report cards, happy faces, unexpected results, frustration…ahhh this is the true school Christmas spirit, can you smell it? However, whatever the result might have been, you have a lot time to do better, don’t worry ; that’s why I’m going to use more or less the same words I used a year ago to give you my personal wishes, because I believe that in these words you may find my special key to success.It’s my gift to you ;). Well, let’s start.I guess you’ve noticed, especially those who have known me for a while, that I come up very often with some ski metaphors during lessons. Maybe this habit has made you think of me as a great ski lover, but I have to confess you I’m not. I’ve hated skiing for a looooong time.Nevetheless for me skiing is the metaphor of effort rewarded. I’ll try to make myself clear. I  love the sea, sandy beaches, sun, you know, all that stuff and for many years the idea of spending my holidays on the mountains has never crossed my mind till one day, for reasons I’m not going to bother you with, but you may guess ( there is alway a man in somebody’s life that makes you do acts of folly),I found myself ridiculously clothed in a fancy ski suit ready for the ski runs. Actually, I soon understood that I had not the least inclination for skiing. Fear and frustration paralyzed me and for many years no ski school or gorgeous,tanned teacher could improve my poor skills. The only moment of real pleasure was when I took my ski boots off at the end of the day. I had also become the joke of my group of friends. Something had to be done, but I had no clue. One day I was about to ski down a run that my mind had already marked as veeeery difficult when, wow, I had an epiphany. I realized what was the key for my success: the traverse, that is, I could ski across the slope and then turn and then cross and turn …till safely to the end. Smooth. It was nothing new, actually,I had been told about it a thousand times, but this time words had become facts and from that moment on I felt more confident and I started to enjoy the whole situation. The message is that very often we don’t have to change that much to reach success but only be aware of what we can do and adjust it a bit to reach the target. I know that many of you at the idea of the approaching exams in June feel fear and frustration, but the key of your success lies in how you will be able to organize your effort . It is your “traverse” that will take you smoothly to the goal. You’ve got to believe and you will do it. Merry Christmas to you all. 😀

Genesis

genesi

I don’t know what is the impulse that made you conceive the idea of creating a blog: sharing thoughts and experiences? Spreading knowledge? I’m sure everybody had a good reason but I have to admit that I didn’t. The idea of the blog, actually, wasn’t mine but my headteacher’s, my boss. First of all I have to tell you that I am the kind of teacher who is not completely involved in the many activities of the school and in time I have learnt to select the few projects I think I can manage well, thus achieving the perfect balance between the school effort and the world outside. It’s not so easy however. One day, in fact, while I was driving my boss home, out of the blue she came up with this blogging idea, as she had recently visited some schools in Sweden and noticed that every teacher there seems to have his own blog, where to put material, keep contact with families and students and stuff like that. Furthermore it was much easier to manage than a website. Had I created a blog, that would have been the trojan horse that would have torn the medieval veil that hovers our school with its touch of technological modernity. Well, I did it. That’s why, in case you didn’t notice, there is a page in my blog on how creating a WordPress blog: it’s the trojan horse. However I haven’t been that prompt, because at first I couldn’t visualize how to use this new device, as I already managed and educational website and I didn’t want to make it its copy. My first posts, actually, looked like the first baby steps in blogging: short, impersonal, insecure. Yet, there was something positive in blogging: I had got rid of my husband. He had been absolutely indispensable in managing the web site as I am not that good at programming, but now I was completely autonomous. I only needed an idea. When one day I eventually found my muse:football. Well, I have to confess I am a great football fan and in that period my team had just won one of the most important match of the season(good old times!!!) and the joy was so immense that it made think about Wordsworth‘s “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. It was a true epiphanic moment. At once I set to write a post “Wordsworth and football” about the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads using the metaphor of football to explain Wordsworth‘s themes and for the first time I knew what I was doing and why. The blog could give me the opportunity of giving different perspectives to the topics we studied in class, thus promoting discussions and adding, whenever possible, a certain impression of lightness to the process of learning. It actually worked. Since then I kept on writing almost weekly and with this “unbirthday” post I felt like celebrating my first year of blogging, fun, personal growth. Thank you all.