Enda McGinley: Rules must be respected and fears understood as Covid-19 lingers on

Clubs across Ireland have been taking full precautionary measures following a return to action. Picture by Hugh Russell

HEALTH and sport. The two are natural bedfellows, yet in our current alternative universe, it can feel the opposite. 

Last weekend marked the first competitive club action of the year, and the first GAA at any level since Covid-19 grabbed hold of our world and turned it upside down.  

Yet, with the temporary cessation of activities that occurred among various Derry, Donegal and Tyrone clubs over the past week, it is abundantly clear that the optimism we felt only two or three weeks ago has already been dented. 

Replacing it are the all too familiar feelings of apprehension and unpredictability. 

From a GAA perspective, the main playing population are of course fairly unlikely to be impacted directly by Covid, given their age range and, by and large, their general health. 

While some players may have family or friends who are vulnerable to the virus, the natural feeling of invincibility that youth brings means that, within many team set-ups, the threat of Covid can feel irrelevant.  

This extends to wider club activities where the yearning to return to normal, combined with the negligible threat of the disease due to low numbers, creates an environment where compliance with the various Covid regulations is waning fast.

Working in healthcare, you get an up close and personal reminder of the personal nature of anyone’s health concerns. 

One of the most fascinating and challenging areas to deal with is chronic pain. Many of us will have heard a local hypochondriac’s problems described disparagingly as ‘all in their head’.  

Our modern understanding of the actual biology of pain means that we know that all of it is effectively ‘in our head’. From a broken leg to pain without any physical source, all pain is real to the person suffering it.  

The easiest example of this complexity is the phenomenon of phantom limb pain suffered by an amputee. In such presentations, the patient continues to experience very specific and very real sensations, including pain, in a limb that isn’t even there. Such pain is the same and as ‘real’ as if you have stubbed your toe.  

Patients often try to validate their pain by stating that they have a ‘high pain threshold’. To be honest, this always raises a wry smile as no person can know or experience another person’s pain.  

It is for this very reason that men on a labour ward are best advised to never ever utter words or anecdotes, no matter how inspirational they may seem, that suggest they can imagine what their partner is going through, or offer helpful suggestions about how they should cope with it.  

Simply put, pain is a highly individual experience. 

A key concept in this modern understanding of pain is the ‘threat’ attached to it and how this directly impacts upon the symptoms experienced. It reflects the basic evolutionary skill of past experiences or learned behaviours influencing future responses so as to protect the person from harm. 

Examples familiar to us all are people who are scared of dogs or scared of spiders. They have a palpable and very real fear. The same thing applies for those who are afraid of water.  

To some, these fears seem nonsensical, but saying ‘ah you’ll be fine’ or ‘it doesn’t bite’, won’t make a button of difference. The threats perceived are valid, real and must be respected.

Which brings me back to Covid.  Yes, the numbers are small. 

Yes, the likelihood of catching it is tiny.  

But it is still with us, and, if anything, cases appear to be on the up. For some within our community, it is a real and present threat to them, a family member or a loved one. 

If you have a friend or child visiting who is scared of dogs, do you put the dogs in a kennel or another room or do you allow them to roam around? 

If you know someone has a fear of deep water, would you push them in the deep end? Ok, I know someone who would do just that, but I ended up marrying her, so I can only blame myself.  

What I’m saying is that a person’s fears should be respected. And when it comes to Covid-19, given how little we still know about it and the contradictory messages surrounding it, it’s hardly surprising that many remain apprehensive especially if they, or a loved one, is particularly vulnerable.

While those of us involved in football are delighted to see it back and remain hopeful everything can continue as planned, we need to be mindful of those that are in a different place.  

I am in the camp that believes we should return carefully towards normal as there doesn’t appear any other way out of it. 

This doesn’t mean that I should somehow disrespect those of a different mindset or somehow imply that they are ruining it for others.  

Instead, we can show respect by continuing with the various safeguards such as avoidance of dressing rooms, continuing to sign in to training sessions, maintaining hand and equipment sanitisation and limiting gatherings at matches.  

Compassion and care were many then calling cards of many GAA clubs during the lockdown. 

But there is no point patting ourselves on the back for bringing food parcels to people during lockdown if we disregard these very same people’s valid concerns and fears now by being complacent in terms of our Covid responsibilities. By playing fast and loose with the rules and guidance, it must feel like we are releasing the dogs on these people just in our eagerness to play a bit of ball. 

In the early weeks of the crisis, we were all crystal clear with regards our priorities. As championship action nears, we cannot allow our natural inclinations to take our eye off the fundamental importance of our health and that of those in our community.  

Complacency is a familiar enemy for sports teams, but this year it takes on added importance. 

Considering what some are living through, remaining as compliant as we can with everything on the Covid front is the least we can do.

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