We in the US and for that matter people the world over are on a roller coaster ride driven by the pandemic of Coronavirus. Uncertainties, pessimism, fear of the unknown and a catastrophic economic toll have become part of our conversation and also our preoccupation. People wonder if the world would able to come out of this unforeseen and unpredicted nightmare.
History is fickle and memories are often transient and fleeting. Those of us who are fortunate to have resources tend to live in the present. We seldom think or recall that mankind has passed through such upheavals before. Relative prosperity and relative lack-of-want makes us comfortable and complacent. Used to grocery shelves laden with umpteen types of soft drinks and equally abundant varieties of toilet paper, we tend to become despondent when during crisis we find empty shelves bereft of what we consider essentials for our survival. To us it is startling and discomforting.
Then there are those whose very existence depends on the daily wage that they earn. With widespread lockdown in the world, those are the people who succumb first. Rich countries have safety nets for their poor, poor countries have none.
Human ingenuity however has always triumphed when faced with crises such as wars, pestilence, and natural disasters. The pandemic of plague swept through the world (1347-1351) killing an estimated 125 million people. More recently the Influenza epidemic (1920-1920) ravaged many parts of the world exacting a toll of up to 100 million people. In due course the cause was identified, a cure was found, and appropriate public health measures were instituted.
And we have had wars, financial meltdowns and economic disasters. While those were far reaching in their impact, eventually they were tamed.
The current pandemic, however, is much far reaching in the sense that it has touched every corner of the world. It is also forcing us to make difficult, life and death choices. Since this illness attacks the respiratory system and there were shortages of respirators, some patients were not able to receive a respirator.
Medical professionals had to make some very difficult and agonizing ethical decisions. It required the judgment, not to mention the wisdom, of Prophet Solomon. That has been sorely missing here in the US Administration.
The pandemic is changing relationships and is redefining friendships. A week ago, a dear friend and his wife brought me my favorite Pakistani food. They stood six feet outside the threshold of my front door. I had not seen them in two months because they had been traveling in Pakistan and had arrived back a few weeks ago. Under normal conditions I would have rushed out with open arms and embraced them. It tore my heart, but I kept the social distance.
Through the long evolutionary journey, we have learned that touch is a unique biologic trait that reinforces the bonds and strengthens the relationships. I hope this so-called social distance would not become the new norm. I still have the need to hold my friends and dear ones close to me.
It is going to take a while before it blows over. The pandemic would have eventually sputtered to a halt even if no measures were taken but it would have left a trail of human devastation in its wake.
We have been able to suppress the emergence of new cases by practicing the well-known measures of hand washing, social distancing and minimizing contacts outside the home. These measures have been effective flattening the rising graph in other countries by stopping the propagation of virus. However, the public health experts warn that once the primary upsurge of cases have been flattened, there is no guarantee it would not surge again, and again until the time there is effective vaccine against the virus.
The pity is the without mass screening and testing to separate non-infected people from those who are infected, we never know the weak spots in the demographics. South Korea, Singapore and a few other countries have been able to identify the infected population and thus able to isolate them. We in the US have has had no such plan. Once President Trump boasted that anyone who wanted a COVID 19 test could get one. Like most of his shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements it was nothing but fake news.
While other countries were being proactive, US president dithered, minimized the risk, called the spread of virus a hoax by the Democrats and in doing so lost precious six weeks. By the time the reality set in, the fire was out of control. Trust in leadership is the greatest asset a nation can have in times of crises. In the case of America Mr. Trump with an eye on his reelection later this year is promoting division and conflict in the country and blaming others for his own shortcomings, incompetence and insecurities. When Sean Hannity, a right-wing radio and television host, becomes the sounding board for the president of the United States, scientific evidence ends up in the trashcan.
In these uncertain times I am reminded of an Urdu couplet written by the irrepressible Mirza Ghalib:
Sometimes the restrictions of movements and social distancing appear suffocating, but we must not forget we are not sailing on the deck of a later-day Titanic. It is indeed a stormy and scary night but as we all know there is always a bright dawn waiting in the folds of a nightmare.
Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain is an emeritus professor of surgery and an emeritus professor of humanities at the University of Toledo, USA. His is also an op-ed columnist for the daily Toledo Blade and daily Aaj of Peshawar.
His book of essays and stories “A Tapestry of Medicine and Life” was published recently.
Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain is an Emeritus Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery and an Emeritus Professor of Humanities at the University of Toledo, USA. He is the author more recently of A Tapestry of Medicine and Life, a book of essays, and Hasde Wasde Log, a book of profiles in Urdu. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org