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  Which part of 'isolation' didn't she get?
A woman in SARS isolation receives visitors and pops out for a bit of shopping
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

[Photo: Ian MacAlpine,
The Canadian Press]

THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE: A staff member at the Ryandale Shelter for the Homeless in Kingston peers out from her quarantined workplace in April.

About a month ago, I did a story on SARS, and the stigma I felt being from Toronto, a hot spot for the disease. I was in Alberta at the time and I was surprised, after my column appeared, to receive a couple of highly indignant e-mails complaining that I had hurt the city's economy by talking about the disease.

Maybe I'm naive, but that struck me as strange. I hadn't even been thinking about the city's economy. What I had been thinking about was that a deadly communicable disease was in our city. Being out of town at the time also put a different spin on the story since I was influenced, rightly or wrongly, by the extensive media coverage. I must admit, it did sound as if the plague had taken hold.

I watched as various politicians jumped over each other trying to prove that there was no cause for worry -- that Toronto was still open for business. I watched as they flew to Geneva to meet with World Health Organization officials after our city was named on a travel advisory. Why they did that, I wasn't sure. I hadn't taken it personally when we were put on the list -- we were being treated as a hot spot, which is exactly what we seemed to be. But I was surprised when the WHO reacted so quickly in taking us off the list. It smelled to me like political pressure, not something I like to see, especially when it comes to my health.

Back in Toronto, when many of my out-of-town celebrity interviews cancelled for fear of SARS, I thought they were being ridiculous. Now that I was back in the city, it seemed silly to be so nervous.

But facts are facts. Times are bad for Toronto with SARS, and what with mad cow disease and the looming West Nile virus, things could get even worse. And there's no getting around the fact that it will cost us, but c'est la vie. Everyone's doing their part to help, aren't they?

Well, maybe not everyone. I'm curious to see what you think of this story I'm about to tell you. A friend of mine, we'll call her Jane, phoned with the following news: "Gail [also not her real name] and her husband were forced into isolation." They had spent some time at North York Hospital during the hot period.

"She's asked me to pick up some medicine for her, and [of all things], a copy of Frank magazine," Jane informed me. We panicked a bit about her friend having to go into isolation, and then decided that since Jane hadn't seen Gail for over two weeks, she was safe. Jane picked up the stuff requested of her, and left it on her friend's doorstep. Within minutes, as she tells it, Gail was screaming at her on the phone, upset that Jane hadn't rung the doorbell when she made her delivery, and didn't stay for a visit.

"But you're in isolation," Jane reminded her.

"It doesn't matter," said Gail. "All of my other friends are coming over to visit me." And not only that. She also said, "You got me the wrong medicine, so I ran over to the drugstore myself. And I dropped into the grocery store too."

So there you have it, a woman ordered into isolation not only insists that her friends come over for a visit, but has also made a trip to the drugstore, and at least one trip to my neighbourhood grocery store. Some isolation.

I decide that maybe the problem is in the definition of the word. I get out my Webster's dictionary and look it up. Isolation is defined as "the act of isolating oneself." That doesn't help, so I look up isolated. The definition is "set apart from other persons or things, alone, solitary." That seems easy enough to understand. I look up quarantine and see it is defined as "a strict isolation imposed to prevent the spread of disease." It sounds like something from a Charles Dickens novel, but if people can't figure out the definition of isolation, quarantine could definitely become a reality in the future. I must admit, I would have been more impressed with politicians trying to encourage isolation than politicians insisting Toronto is safe and should be off the travel advisory list.

I know most people in isolation are grinning and bearing it for the sake of the rest of us, and I am grateful to them, but I now know personally of at least one person who isn't. It's like the bad apple. It only takes one. And herein lies the problem. Does anyone have any tar and feathers I can borrow?

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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