A Condom For the Lungs

15 June 2020

Sometimes bigger is good. At others, smaller is better. Unless we’re talking about tumours, in which case nothing at all is best. These are three facets of a twenty-first century health crisis.

With the Corona pandemic, bigger is good but Ontario is pulling back the safeguards that keep it this way. Big should be the distance between people. Close-up can be deadly for vulnerable folk. I tend to worry about this because I’m one of them. In fact, I am finding it increasingly offensive and worrisome when I hear people talking about acceptable collateral damage as the economy is reopened.

Think back to the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The wise advice then was to practice safe sex and not to share hypodermic needles for drug injections. It didn’t, by itself, stop the spread of the illness but it slowed it down and saved a lot of lives. There are lessons here we can apply to the current mess we’re in.

In a nutshell, we need to practice safe breathing. If it doesn’t overstretch your imagination, think of a face mask as a condom for your lungs.

Everyone is starting to feel pandemic fatigue but giving in to it will only prolong the misery. It could even bring the virus back for a second go at us. As we move out of the lock down, the two metre spacing will shrink. Maybe not in regulation, but certainly in practice. Restaurant patios are open. While the tables are to be spaced to allow for partial occupancy, there could still be four people to a table. While the tables may be two metres apart, the people will not be.

As our bubbles contain more people, our droplet danger zone increases. Every new person allowed close to you puts another pinhole in your protective layer. This is a recipe for disaster. It won’t end well.

Oh well, some people like to say, we’ll never get the numbers down to zero until we get a vaccine. Even then it will take time to get through the millions of people queuing up to get a shot in the arm. We can’t wait that long, they say. There will always be new cases and new people admitted to hospital. And more old people dying.

A comparison of Canada and Australia (2) found that 53 times as many seniors’ home residents died here than there. Six thousand of us against 29 of them. That’s 212 per million here and four per million down under.

It’s not just the cavalier attitude to our lives that worries me, but it adds to the pile. When you get to my side of 70, good health itself becomes a challenge. Almost half of us either have been, or will be, diagnosed with cancer. A lot of us will slide into the fog of dementia. Or we’ll come down with arthritis, hypertension, blindness, deafness, or a plethora of other problems.

We are getting the clear message that we’ve already lived too long. We’ve become a drain on the health care system and the Canada Pension Plan. We can be sacrificed to save the economy that we built before retirement.

You’d think they are deliberately using the pandemic to cull the seniors and bring government spending into line. But that’s only part of it. The long term care sector has been privatized, deregulated and underfunded for decades. Canadian billionaires can hide their wealth in off-shore tax havens and avoid the taxes that fund health care.


We can see how smaller is better when we think about cancer. It is for me, anyway. I had a CT Scan a couple of weeks ago and received the very welcome news that my tumour shrunk after the first nine weeks of treatment. There’s a good contingent of doctors, nurses and other staff down in the ambulatory care wing of the Guelph General. That’s where they’ve placed the oncology clinic. They do all the heavy lifting. I’m now into my second series of nine treatment weeks and hope to see more shrinkage in the next scan.

I don’t know if this will end with me qualifying to ring the bell by the infusion room door. I don’t know if the tumour ever shrinks to zero. It might. Or not. I’ll find out soon enough. What I do know is that no amount of chemotherapy improves the disposition of malignant tumours. They get a nasty start in life and never cheer up.


  1. Good news, Alan. Fingers remain crossed.

  2. Congratulations on the shrinkage of your tumor! This is good news! Keep up the good fight !

  3. Thanks, Al. Brilliant as usual. Great news from the CT scan.

  4. I saw Condom for the Lungs at the El Mocambo back in ‘86.

  5. I agree with your comments Alan. Interestingly I went down to have a look at the patio area of the new Beertown restaurant near us and my first observation was that the tables are very small and the people sitting at them were no more than one meter apart. We will see if they get closed up again. Good luck!

  6. I love the image of a condom for the lungs. And GREAT news about your tumour. Forging ahead with hope . . .

  7. So glad to hear the positive news, Alan-certainly a good sign of better days ahead. All the best!

  8. Happy to hear the good news.

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