Positives and Negatives

Life is full of opposing forces that might be balanced, or even harmonised. Good and bad. High and low. Yin and yang. Pleasure and pain. Credit and debt. Overt focus on the negatives can lead to a spiralling nihilism, whereas blissful ignorance of them might promote an unrealistic mania. We’ve reflected on a few of these factors from the past months and thought we’d share them.

All work and no play makes MedFI a dull boy?

During the two months of April and May, our working pattern was amended to staff a ‘Corona-rota’, a souped-up version of the normal roster. It felt like near-constant work, the usual ebb and flow of shifts lost as we toiled literally day and night against this novel disease. The statistics, however, belie that feeling; for the most part I worked pretty much the exact same amount (in terms of hours and days) as in the antecedent two months.

I suspect this feeling of being stuck in a perennial work/sleep cycle was being driven by a lockdown-induced lack of alternate activity, although the general vibe of the community played a part too. The other contributing factor was a 5% increase in the amount of hours worked overnight. The increased night work and day-night switching massively increased my sleep debt and contributed to a more zombie-like state than usual. A positive corollary was, owing to the way in which doctors’ pay is calculated, a subtle increase in pay during Corona-rota times.

We’re not talking ‘hero pay’; indeed at the risk of sounding insensitive during a time when many have faced furloughing, unemployment and other significant impingement on their finances, the amount wasn’t very much at all. Think Pizza Express for two, sans alcohol. With this small amount of extra capital, and on course to fulfil our ISA allowance thanks to our savings rate, we chose to do something novel. We eschewed our normal investing strategy of using low-cost, global equity indexed funds and bought individual shares in a company. Whether they rise or fall, it felt good to mix things up and enjoy a first attempt at a different type of investing. 

PPE positives

When occasions arise that one needs testing for some disease, there exists a period you spend quietly praying that you test negative. Interestingly, now that Covid-19 antibody tests are increasingly available for NHS staff, the opposite seems to be the case. People want to be positive; to have had the disease and not even known about it. The sensitivity of the antibody test (i.e. whether it can actually detect whether you’ve had the virus or not) isn’t 100% – equally it’s not yet known whether having the antibodies confers long-lasting immunity. Still, most of our colleagues have expressed a desire to test positive for the antibodies anyway. 

We received a text alert quite soon after having our test: NEGATIVE. So negative, so quickly. No Covid-19 antibodies found flying around our blood stream. We hadn’t unknowingly contracted and cleared Covid-19 without so much as a sniffle. The upshot of this is that PPE seems to work! We’ve been face-to-face with dozens of patients undergoing aerosol-generating procedures and spent many hours in the Covid-19 bay(s). Despite that, despite the flimsy plastic gowns that rip like tissue paper or the now-recalled ‘safety goggles’, we’ve managed to avoid catching the virus so far.

Positivity from negativity

The recent wave of international protests have brought the injustices and inequalities of the world back into sharp focus. The disproportionate number of arrests (27%) and incarcerations (40%) of African-Americans compared to their percentage of the US population (13%) demonstrates significant inequality. The cause for this is undoubtedly multifactorial, although racism within the justice system appears to play a part.

It’s easy to point the finger trans-Atlantically; this is an American problem, no? No. The statistics are just as damning for the UK. People of BAME ethnicity represent under 15% of the UK population, yet are up to three times more likely to be arrested than caucasians and represent nearly 30% of the UK prison population. Again, this disproportional representation probably reflects a medley of factors that affect BAME communities.

In a worryingly similar trend, patients from BAME backgrounds are more likely to die as a result of Covid-19. Those from ethnic minority backgrounds had a two-to-four times higher chance of hospital death. Over 30% of intensive care deaths were in those of BAME background, a disproportionately high number. Similarly, deaths in BAME healthcare professionals were between two and three times higher than expected when compared to their representation within the NHS workforce. There are multiple reasons cited for these statistics, such as workplace factors, higher occupational exposure, higher levels of deprivation, pre-existing comorbidities, economic vulnerability and, sadly, racism/discrimination.

It seems hard to fathom any positivity in the face of such inequality. Awareness, education, and bringing about true systematic change are perhaps the positives to come out of this. In FI(RE) it’s often about being passive, from portfolios of passively managed funds through to passive income. Much like our new foray into buying shares, the evidence of the on-going inequality in our society means that, when it comes to promoting equality and justice, we should all be taking an active approach instead. 


Mr MedFI.

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