Life during a pandemic

I was approached by one of the science communicators from the team of Indian scientists who have gotten together to spread awareness and bust myths around the CoViD-19 pandemic. They have been working hard to make the presentation of facts and precautions to be taken in creative ways to appeal to the public. They have also added in as many languages as possible to increase their outreach. I illustrated one such story. https://indscicov.in/for-public/popularization-resources/going-out-and-returning-home/

Abdul goes shopping for the family

Abdul woke up in a panic: Arre! I am going to be late for that strict Ajit Sir’s class again! He’s definitely not going to let me sit for the final exam now! 

He then sleepily realized there was a lockdown; college was closed and he was at his parents’ home. He turned over to try to go back to sleep. The one room house was already bustling with activity—Ammi had started making tea for everyone, Dadi’s knitting needles were already click-clacking, and Abba was doing his namaz. He might as well wake up, he thought, as he couldn’t sleep through all this commotion! 

As he brushed his teeth, Abdul thought about how much he missed the hostel room that he shared with Satish – a room which was probably bigger than his parents’ house. He thought of the endless conversation about politics he would have over chai with friends. And the general sense of independence he felt when he was at college. They closed the college and hostels almost three weeks ago and he had to take two jam-packed trains and a three hour shared jeep ride to get home! It was a tense few days for everyone, and for a moment, he tried to relive the happiness he felt when he finally got home.  

“Abdul, it’s so late. I told you I need mutton and tomatoes from the market today. Go get them soon! The shops will start closing,” shouted Ammi. “But be careful. Wear a mask. Don’t touch anything. Stay away from people…” Ammi had already started with her long list of precautions and instructions. 

“I am almost out of my BP medicines. Can you check if the medical shop has got stock yet?” Dadi added.

“OK OK I’m going. But I am not going tomorrow. Or even for two more days after that. So tell me everything you want now!” Abdul replied. 

“Beta, buy me a newspaper, no? Buy me tomorrow’s also if you can find it!” Abba added with his usual humour. Everyone, including Dadi, groaned. But they all know that his silly jokes were what was making this whole situation feel slightly normal.  

Abdul’s elder sister was out of the country, but would call every night and give them new instructions. She was the one who had designated Abdul as the person to go out of the house and get essentials. “Everyone else is old and is at a higher risk” she had said, adding “What else are you doing at home anyway?” Most recently, she had instructed him to wear a mask whenever he goes out. 

Abdul picked up one of the washed masks that dadi had stitched out of an old dupatta. “Wear that shawl I’ve kept near the door for going out.” Ammi pleaded. “It’s too hot Ammi! I am not doing that anymore. I will just wash the clothes I am wearing out as soon as I get home.” said Abdul as he put his slippers and left.

Abdul waited in line in the round chalk markings, first outside the medical shop and then the vegetable shop. Good thing he still had an unlimited phone plan — at least he could catch up with his friends from college while he waited. 

He finally got to the butcher’s shop where there didn’t seem to be anyone else around at the moment. As Karim Chacha was cutting up the mutton, he shouted questions at Abdul from the back of the shop: “Everyone OK at home?” “When do you think this lockdown is going to end? You must be reading all the news on your phone, no? What are they saying?” Abdul put his phone away. It was nice to talk to someone in person outside his family, even if they were shouting across the shop and the conversation was muffled by their masks. “Ya ya, everyone at home is well. Just a bit worried, that’s all. I don’t know about this lockdown Chacha: seems like this is going to go on for a while. Not sure what the plan is!” Abdul replied. He lingered a few minutes and chatted with Karim Chaha about the current economic scenario.

When Abdul got back home, Ammi had left a small mug of water, soap and a dry cloth outside the door. He removed his slippers, washed and wiped his hands. He then dipped the cloth in soapy water to wipe off the cardboard box of medication. She had also left a clean handkerchief and bottle of hand sanitizer which he used to wipe his phone. (He had got a good scolding from Ammi last time he came back and forgot to do this. She had proceeded to threaten to take away his phone altogether.) 

He came in and handed the mutton and vegetables to Ammi. She started washing everything thoroughly before storing it away. He placed the medication box on a table, and then went to take a bath and wash his clothes and mask. 

Abdul came back to the table, carefully opened the box of medication and transferred the pills into a small glass bottle. His Dadi was old and he was very worried about her getting COVID-19. He threw the cardboard box into the dustbin near the main door. He then washed his hands and the outside of the bottle with soap to be extra careful to get rid of any remaining viruses before handing her bottle: “Here’s your medicine Dadi. Stock came yesterday.” 

As he was hanging out his clothes to dry on the common balcony, he realized that he had forgotten Abba’s newspaper. Never mind! “

Lockdown diaries iii

Driven by the fear for our lives, every research lab across the world is investing all resources into finding a vaccine or even a reasonable way to stop the SARS-CoV2 rampage. Every individual or organization that can contribute to that cause, is racing against time. We crossed the 100 day mark since the world knew about the novel coronavirus disease. The numbers are above 1,600,000 cases in the world which is an average of 16,000 people infected every day and about 950 people dying each day out of that disease. Too many numbers and too many comparisons with previous pandemics or earlier viral outbreaks and the unpredictable trajectory of this virus. The blame game and the conspiracy theories flood our news feeds.  

It seems like a deep dive into the ocean of overwhelming information and misinformation on this new disease. And every individual comes up with their theories and hypotheses. Part of the world admits that it is driven by fear and worries about how this pandemic ends and the other half is busy behaving like Ostriches- in denial cooped up in their dens, hoping no inconvenience shows up in their plans and lives because of a damned virus.

A cure is nowhere near and expecting scientists to pull one out, like the rabbit out of the magician’s hat, is absurd. Vaccines take years of research and trials before it benefits the public. There might be interim solutions but they come with their share of side effects. Until a feasible option is available, why not comply with the common sense of staying away from people to break the infectious chain? There is enough proof of health workers who have died fighting on the frontlines, irrespective of the age group. The only way non health workers can help is to stay away and stay home.

Every member of my family is negotiating their way through the barge of infected individuals headon. A constant worry underlies my actions and reactions through the day. I cannot help but wonder if I should be doing something. It is extremely frustrating to stand on the sidelines and watch them helplessly take on the wrath of the pandemic. Yet on every call, every message, they assure me this is the best I can do to share their burdens.

Lockdown diaries ii

Chaotic as expected. Everybody is scrambling to save their own asses or expecting the higher ups to take better decisions for the sake of the greater good. Both the extremes clash in most cases and results in inaction. The leaders are failing people and a lot of people are failing their communities. 

Spoke to G & M. Their respective hospitals have opened their doors to suspected and positive cases. They look around their own colleagues and see an extremely low morale. Doctors or not, they are humans. M fretted over why has the hospital shirked away from the responsibility at such unusual times. With the lockdown on, a lot of employees have trouble getting to work- why not do something for their transport? All the prediction models say we are yet to hit the peak of the outbreak, then what are we waiting for? Indecisiveness at higher levels of management delays actions that can stop the worst from hitting the population. G worried about colleagues fussing over being sent to the frontlines without proper protective gear. Fear can be at an all time high as compared to the sense of responsibilities. In these unusual circumstances, it is important for people to rise up to the occasion and dispel more than just duties. Why is it so difficult to act for the sake of mankind unless one of your loved ones is suffering? Why are we failing to understand the urgency to act and try to avoid dangers of the situation? It is not such a pleasant state of mind to go to work with people who are ready to run away from the pile of problems owing to the pandemic, knowing fully well that they are the only ones equipped to ‘flatten the curve’ of the rapidly spreading disease. 

This pandemic is a result of not only a severely contagious mutant virus but also because of multiple weak links handing down chaos to people around. When the pandemic is over, there might be a major chunk of the population suffering from Post Trauma Stress Disorder. And may be much more that we cannot anticipate yet.

Lockdown begins

Last night, the Prime Minister called for a 21 day lockdown. It was 8pm. Four hours to the beginning of an unprecedented halt to our daily lives since the Indo-Pak face-off in 1971. Panic-stricken public went on a hoarding rampage right away. Our generation (millennials) were as confused as they were when they hit their teens. They have never witnessed any such interference in their daily lives. The educated mass scrambled through every possible electronic source to check on ‘What on earth is this virus? And why is the whole world in a frenzy because of that minuscule particle? Why is the health industry in such a bad shape? What is the government doing?’ All the research fuzzed up the brains even more. The innumerable infographs on statistics from earlier pandemics to the variables in the present scenario and the comparative studies of action taken by the other countries were of no help to unclench the knotted up guts.

On the other hand, doctors pretended to go about their daily lives, suppressing the fear of life into the deep corners of their minds, making sincere efforts to ensure the growing fear doesn’t clog their judgements in treating patients. They turn a blind eye to the sword of a virulent infection hanging beside their neck and continue to look for hope in the recovering patients. Hope rises within them, as they sign off discharge sheets for few, yet the fear, for numerous patients being admitted everyday, is weighing heavier. Long duty hours as per the roster come to a close and begin again. There is no scope to hang up the gowns, or change the ever-so-scarce gloves or masks and walk out to breathe the fresh air. The cycle of the tests to treatment goes on and the faces behind the masks continue fighting this battle silently. 

They won the battle today. They survived today. Tomorrow will bring in more challenges. Their lives had reached the proverbial living one moment at a time…

The unusual war had begun three months ago in a faraway land. And now it is at our doorstep. The health sector stands guard on the frontlines. Their only weapons – team of health care workers, their only hope – lesser number of positive cases. We sit in the comfort of our homes and keep a check on the numbers increasing on the screen, while they scuttle around to save whoever comes their way until they have to send them home or send them to the morgue. We fret over the graph not flattening while they fret over the survival of the fazed and ill people around them. We worry about when and how our lives will go back to normal while they wonder if they themselves will survive the pandemic.

The war with the grossly unmatched opponent began

As the lockdown began for the general public, a countdown began for the health industry workers.