Today the power has failed, not just for 3 hours like it has before but all day and much of the night. We all keep a spare battery charging for an emergency, because we rely on the forum to organise without breaking our quarantine, but the forum is slow to load, too many panicking students. What if there is no more power? This is the end! We have to all take food supplies into our rooms! No, we cannot all go out or we have to start the quarantine again! Many begin to say that if power is off for 24 hours, all quarantine rules are no longer in use and we start again. This would be a disaster for us, after all the hard work to keep people in isolation while working together.
After 18 hours, the lights go on again, and we all calm down a little and begin to talk about what we will do if the power goes for longer, or forever. We begin to speak of places on campus where we can get wood for fuel – trees we can cut down, furniture we can break. We have SkIMp workshops on how to build a dynamo powered by bicycle, to charge batteries for our handsets, and we list solar-power sources around the campus and get volunteers to connect the residential buildings to this. A group of engineers talks about making a “bobbing duck” to put in the nameless lake after the quarantine. So the power cut that nearly breaks us apart now brings us together again, with more hopes and plans for the future. It is just four days before we end our quarantine, and we look forward to keeping our community going after this, and dealing together with whatever the future brings.
I also look forward to meeting the people I speak with and never see. Yesterday, I hear a crash from above me and somebody in the upstairs room screams – his arm is broken. He is changing the light bulb from the top bunk and fell – he was drunk, and thought it was the bulb, not the power, that is broken. So I request a medical helper from the forum, but this is a big problem because it will need somebody to go into his room, and then both must go back to the beginning of their quarantine. Some medical students agree to do this for emergencies, but nobody wants to do this for such a stupid accident, so I say give me the instruction, I will do it. Then a medical student says no, he will go, it is better to be somebody with training. After 30 minutes, I hear him arrive in the room above me. I mostly don’t hear what he says, but I hear moaning and crying, then silence. I call out “Are you OK?”, and I hear from the ceiling “He is fainted!” He shouts it is OK, he will set the arm more easily now. He asks me why I volunteer to help this man, do I know him? I say I cannot stand to hear him moaning with pain all night. It is the first conversation I have without a set, for three weeks, and it is strange to think only the ceiling separates us. I climb on the top bunk, turn my ear to the ceiling. We shout and repeat our words a little, but we talk – he says it helps him to work. His name is Jian. I tell him about the girl in the next door room to me, who died near the beginning of the quarantine. I think about her in the night, when it is quiet. I know she died only a few feet from me, and there was nothing I can do to help. I listen to her coughing, I leave hot drinks outside her door until she no longer takes them, talk to her, though she cannot speak loud enough to talk back. I tell her I am here, though I know it makes no difference. When I no longer hear her coughing, I post to the medical forum. For five hours I know she is dead on the other side of the wall, and I cannot sleep. I feel like the wall is glass, like she watches me. Then two students come in a ventilator suit with a stretcher from the medical labs to wrap her in plastic bags and put her in the freezer room. I know this, though I only hear the plastic suits scrape against the wall and the rustle of bags and the squeak from the tape. I cannot stand to do this again. It is my selfishness that makes me offer to help the boy upstairs. Jian says no, it is compassion. It is good to hear him say so. We keep talking until the man wakes up and we know he’s OK.