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Sat, May 08

Community View | COVID-19 pandemic has been calamitous

As I sit in my study this New Year’s Eve and reflect on the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020, I can’t help but express my deep regret to millions of people throughout the world who were afflicted by it. I express my deep sympathies to the many hundreds of thousands of families who lost their loved ones; the many millions who lost their jobs, and the many businesses that closed their doors for good.

Unemployment is real high and the gross national product has contracted throughout the world in rich as well as developing countries. Personal savings have diminished or are exhausted, and the resilience and reserves of people to fight this challenge is decreasing by the day.

Of all the people who get a swab test one-fifth of them are testing positive right now. If you are tested positive your spouse and children automatically go on a two-week quarantine. But for the unlucky person who tests positive for COVID-19, there starts a huge physical, emotional and social challenge.

He or she will have to abstain from work and miss a paycheck or two. Quarantine will start which is not just a self lockdown, but is also a complete separation from family and friends and coworkers. The home which you take for granted is no longer that home. You can’t share the same bedroom, bathroom or kitchen. You are invariably restricted or isolated to a small room in the house where you get your meal on a disposable plate served by gloved hands, masked faces and pitiful eyes. The only good news is that it could end in two weeks if you didn’t contract the disease.

About one-fifth of people who are tested positive for COVID unfortunately contract this disease and many of them end up in a hospital. The circumstances of treatment are much different for these patients compared to hospitalization for other illnesses. Contrary to treating a regular illness, when you are afflicted by this disease you are treated like an untouchable Dalit. Doctors and nurses talk to you through space suits. They touch you with gloved hands. You are strictly isolated. Family and friends can’t visit you.

Of course, the doctors and nurses and all medical and emergency personnel are offering a huge sacrifice. Many of them are also falling victim to this disease. There may be a kind-hearted nurse or social worker who will arrange a Facetime between you and your loved ones. And there you are with all of your physical and emotional issues fighting it all by yourself.

The patients whose symptoms get worse, they start sending text messages to their doctors and loved ones. Those texts may be an alarming sign that disease is getting worse.

There is a tragic trail to these messages which has a sad pattern:

– “I have started getting shortness of breath.”

– “My oxygen was low so they have started oxygen by nasal cannula.”

– “I lost my sense of taste and smell.”

– “I have started running a fever.”

– “I lost my appetite and am losing weight.”

“I am becoming forgetful and had an episode of dizziness.”

– “I have developed blood clots in my legs and doctors are taking me to surgery.”

– “Doctors want to put me on a ventilator.”

Many times the trail of messages ends there because there is no response to your messages anymore and if you call their message boxes are full.

For many of the lucky ones the outcome is positive. They recover and get a new lease on life and their families receive them in their homes. Even then these patients are not completely out of the woods, because many of them will have collateral issues for their future health. But out of the many people who end up on the ventilator, a sizable percentage don’t make it. Unfortunately, the treatment of their dead bodies is uniquely different. The untouchability factor plays a significant role while carrying their bodies to the morgue and their further processing at funeral homes and burials. The memorial services which are historically an important event where family and friends gather to appreciate the life and contributions of the deceased are rushed affairs which are poorly attended.

Last but not least, citizens who are not even the victim of the disease are deprived of so much action. Throughout the country, they can’t visit their children or grandchildren. There are no friendly get-togethers or parties. A grandma who went to the hospital to see the arrival of her first grandson was denied the visit. One grandma in a wheelchair could only see her new arrival through the window of a hospital room. Not many people could be allowed to visit their family members in the hospital even if their loved ones didn’t have COVID. Husbands are discouraged from attending the delivery room to hold their wives’ hands. Tough times are here, indeed.

After 20 million Americans have been exposed and nearly 350,000 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., at this time we are really CORONIZED losing more people in a day than we lost in Pearl Harbor or on 9/11.

The only good news for the new year is the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine. About 3 million people had been vaccinated by the new year. Hopefully this will speed up so we can fight this calamitous disease.

My advice: Get a vaccine, continue wearing face masks and social distancing, wash hands frequently, and be safe!

(M Azam Khan, MD, is a physician with Arizona Institute of Medicine & Surgery, 3636 Stockton Hill Road, Kingman.)

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