We are living through extremely uncertain times. Lives have been suspended in most cases and we are all waiting for ‘normalcy’ to return. There is no clarity on how long this kind of life is going to go on and if what we knew as normal is ever going to come back. The present state is the new normal. Apart from the immediate fears and uncertainties, few of us already know that the short lived memory of our race will help most of the population to recover in a year’s time and go about their lives as if nothing ever happened. The minority of the population who will never be able to forget the deep traumas and wounded souls that will come out on the other side of it, will suffer for the rest of their living days.
The minority here are the frontline warriors and casualties. It is not only the healthcare or the essential workers but also the families and friends who have endured a loved one’s suffering or loss. And there is another category of people who have screamed at the top of their voices to follow the basic rules of handling the virus and stay safe for their own sake and the community’s sake. To all the nay-sayers, I hope it was as simple as you learning your individual lessons. But because of the absence of the tiniest sensitivities or empathy, others suffer. The slightest carelessness can lead to life threatening complications in an otherwise perfectly healthy person and this somehow seems a very difficult proposition for the majority of the population to understand.
In one case, the last message said “my oxygen levels are sinking further and I will get on a ventilator. Talk to you later”. Unfortunately, there was no later. The wife continued her home quarantine, and never got a chance to say a final goodbye to her husband. Only a burial that she witnessed over a video call. No one held her while she mourned the loss of her husband to this unpredictable virus even though he was winning the fight against cancer.
For another acquaintance, the treating doctors said, “there are signs of improvement in your husband’s condition, yet the danger of crashing is still hanging around”, a fortnight gone by and she is still waiting for her husband to come out of danger. Despite being a doctor, she cannot predict her husband’s state and she has no clue what to tell her 5 year old daughter.
Another friend got a call from his younger brother in the early hours of the morning, complaining of shortness of breath and that he was tested positive 6 days ago. His whole life flashed in front of his eyes and he quietly apologised to his kids for not being there to see them through their teens or adulthood. His only mistake was he assumed the pandemic was a hype and he wouldn’t be affected by it but now he was trapped in an apartment alone in an unknown city, far away from home and was probably not going to make it. He was saved, though after a week of hospitalization and timely pumping of steroids into his system. No one knows what long lasting damages (both mental and physical) he will come home with.
There are many more stories of suffering and there are equally high numbers of instances of our race attaining new heights of insensitivity and stupidity. Literacy has never mattered in such times. And common sense has become a rarity. Comparing the present pandemic to the Spanish flu, a century ago, doesn’t make any sense because we have better resources to handle health issues now yet our collective IQs have taken a nosedive into the ocean of complete idiocy. Four months and counting… I live in morbid fear for my senior citizen doctor parents who are bound to continue their work and the critical care specialist brother and sis-in-law who attend to their moral and professional obligation of dragging people out from the clutches of death. I can’t seem to escape the endless nightmare…
It has been a while since I devoured a book at a stretch without thinking about a break. In fact, the thought of taking a break for lunch was an unpleasant one. As I began the book, “The ocean at the end of the lane”, I was expecting a version of fictional autobiography. I am not sure what that means but that is what I have understood from the innumerable interviews and conversations I have heard of Neil Gaiman in regard to this book. This was supposed to be an accidental novel that came into being while tugging at the strings of nostalgia.
I tried hard but by the end of a marathon reading, I cried. It was deep melancholy intertwined with a strange sense of peace but that feeling was so far off it seemed like I floated in a void without a sense of reality. The book wasn’t only tugging but yanking emotions in directions that I didn’t know existed or felt. The roller coaster of emotions ran through fear and peace, joy and sadness, guilt and worry but through every bit ran an underlying sense of belonging.
I will probably go back to the book again if I ever think I have lost my empathetic being. But right now I cannot thank Gaiman enough for such a heart wrenchingly beautiful narrative.
The crunching of dry leaves made her turn around and check for whatever was following her. I stood there, bare feet smiling at her. She smiled back with concern in her eyes. “You are not supposed to be walking bare feet in the garden. Your mother is not going to like it.”
“Please don’t tell her. I couldn’t find my chappals and I had to catch up with you”, I said.
She walked back to me with the warmest of the smiles, took my hand in hers and we headed towards the house. “Don’t you have to pick flowers for the puja?”, I asked her confused about the direction we were moving. “Yes”, she replied, “we will go back into the garden but first, we need to find you a pair of chappals.” I didn’t mind the walk up and down from the house to the garden as long as I could shadow my grandmother. We went back to pick a few flowers for her daily puja and then holed up in the puja room for two hours. I had no role to play yet I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.
This was a daily routine. Dad would drop me at Bou’s house around 10 am after morning school and pick me up after a few hours. One could make me do anything with the greed of taking me to see Bou (maternal grandmother). Her house was the warm comfort space that every child looks for… until she was gone and the house stood as a cold reminder of her.
After her passing away, we moved into that house. Every day, every moment, for the next six years, was torturous to navigate through emotionally. But as a 10 year old child, one doesn’t understand grief, except that it is a dark sinking feeling that you find painful yet cannot pinpoint at it. I wondered if I had done something silly for her to abandon me abruptly or if there was a way I could apologise and coax her to come back. Little did I know that it was goodbye forever without saying it explicitly.
It’s been 24 years, yet the loss pricks like it happened yesterday. Certain losses become a tacit mourning for eternity. There is no time limit on how long it takes to come to terms with the void carved by the absence of a loved one. At times of complete despair, I reach into the void, looking for her presence that would warm up even the coldest of the souls. Not necessarily the yearning is fulfilled but I cannot resist the urge to dive into that vastness with the hope of finding her. I was used to being Bou’s shadow and shadows don’t exist without the subject that casts them. At the loss of my anchor, I never stopped grieving but life went on and I walked along with it, hoping someday I will find something to hold onto. Twenty four years and counting….my search continues.
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.
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.
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.
As the lockdown began for the general public, a countdown began for the health industry workers.