June 24, 2020

Confusion and Hope in the Time of #Corona

The muse has been knocking away in my head-heart for several days now.

“You’ve gotta write…you’ve gotta write!” she exhorts.

“Yes…yes, I agree…but about what?” I ask.

No answer.

That is not new. She does not make my (writing) life easier for me, from that perspective.

On pestering her she complies a bit.

“#Corona”. That’s it. A single hashtag.

“Which corona?” I stubbornly persist, knowing well which corona she’s alluding to.  

“Not of the sun nor that of the flower; not the beer and certainly not the corona of the male genitalia” she curtly replies.  

However, on further probing, she has made it clear to me that whatever I ‘pen’ down for #coronavirus and #COVID-19 must not be too didactic or academic.

Regarding that latter point…I get it. And I believe I can rise to that challenge.

You see, I’m an academic-minded, research-oriented emergency physician, thus I can write uber scientifically about COVID-19 from the emergency department perspective. Or I can pseudo-intellectually pontificate on the pandemic’s bio-psycho-social toll on humanity. Or I can get into a sanctimonious rendition of how local and global health systems are abysmally unprepared for something this unprecedented.          

However, what my muse and I are also quite aware of is my confusion. Despite years and years of training, practicing, honing my skillset, and more, I feel untethered. There are days (and nights, hell yeah) when I feel paralyzed thinking of being at the frontlines of this battle without any clear end point, and against an invisible army.

I don’t worry just for myself. I also worry about my healthcare colleagues, whether they are in Pakistan, China, India, Italy, USA, Kenya, or any other nation for that matter.

We – the healthcare work force - wish to do right by our patients, however, the added burden of this illness on an already over-burdened and fragile health economy makes it harder.

We – the healers – keep pushing ourselves in the face of insurmountable odds, such as lack of personal protective equipment and testing capabilities, limited treatment options, and so on.

We – the COVID-19 warriors - worry individually and collectively about our patients, regardless of their COVID-19 status.

We – the community of medicine – worry about our families too, unsure if, or rather when, we will be taking the infection home to our parents, partners, children…because no amount of social distancing can keep us away from our loved ones past a certain point. 

Below, I list just a few of the pandemic-related questions that come to my mind.

  • What if I can’t serve my pediatric patients optimally during my ED shift?
  • What if We can’t serve all our patients adequately in the hospital?
  • What if I trigger an asthmatic flare in my child quarantined at home?
  • What if We get our elderly diabetic and hypertensive parents unwell?

Perhaps I am delving too much into What ifs of this pandemic. What is is that the global We, not just the healthcare work force We, is feeling vulnerable. We are not only feeling it – we are vulnerable. 

Now all that vulnerability may lead to ultimate doom and gloom, but I have witnessed glimmers of utmost joy and passion too during these trying and testing times. I have seen teams activate themselves remotely and follow through on tasks with pride and dedication. Same teams that may have been difficult to manage face to face in the pre-pandemic era are demonstrating effective and efficient collaborative work ethics during the pandemic. 

What I did not mention to you at the outset was that I also happen to be an innovator and intrapreneur (versus entrepreneur, a distinction that I’m happy to get into under non-pandemic circumstances). With that under my belt and a few years of reinventing myself as a creativist, what I have figured is that challenges are really opportunities to learn, grow and improve. And that is how I tend to look at COVID-19 now.  

My confusion that I alluded to in the beginning may simply be indicative of not knowing what I don’t know. That is likely the case for the global We. But what the past few weeks alone have also shown me is that humanity (2.0?) may be preparing itself for the new or next normal, whatever that may be. Like a phoenix emerging from the ashes of the previous one, not knowing what the new form will be.

And that is hope If We choose to see it as such.  

Dedication: This story was inspired by a critically sick child suspected to have COVID-19 on whom the author had to perform CPR. The author dedicates this work to all patients affected by COVID-19 and to the global healthcare workforce. This story was first published by Spillwords Press 

Asad I. Mian, Karachi, Pakistan