news ticker in my head – scroll, reappear

One of my dearest friends is down with COVID. She is a neurologist who goes in to work at a general hospital everyday.

Right now she is being treated in the ICU of the same hospital. She has a bed, good medical and nursing care and as much oxygen and meds as she needs. These are the blessings we are counting, considering that her immune system was overwhelmed, two jabs notwithstanding.

I have no new thoughts. The same old thoughts have been going round and round in my head since March 2020. With more information – especially contradictions in scientific news regarding corona – getting funneled into my eyes and ears everyday, the nonsense in my head only gets more nuanced, my understanding doesn’t get more lucid!

The healthcare infrastructure in India has always been inadequate, so it’s absurd to think we could scale up at a time like this! When it comes to healthcare, we sometimes seem like a country without a standing army, one that depends on a hastily assembled militia to beat back attackers. In fact, the healthcare system not being overwhelmed in 2020 was the surprise, and what’s happening now is more on the lines of what we expect based on decades of observation.

Yes, the second wave was swift and ferocious, but not unexpected. We knew it was predicted to hit in April. I’m not surprised the world is asking why we didn’t prepare for it. Every year, when forest fires rage through California, I question why the American government doesn’t prevent them by managing their forests better, why it exposes its citizens to the danger of losing lives and homes. Likewise, the world is looking at India accusingly with astonishment and disbelief – you knew the danger, yet you did nothing!

The same thing happens every monsoon when rains lash peninsular India. No steps are ever taken between monsoons to avoid catastrophes like landslides, flooded cities and the inevitable loss of lives.

Qualified people like environmentalists and urban planners have advised successive governments for nearly seventy-five years, but very few of the measures have been implemented because of lobbying by entrenched interest groups that need development to not take place, or ‘development’ to take place in a way that might be detrimental to everybody else. So we have gradually descended into the state called learned helplessness that was first described by psychologists Seligman and Maier in the 1960s. At least, I know I have.

Right now, we have a shortage of oxygen. If what I read is true, why do Delhi hospitals rely on Assam, nearly 2000 km away, for their oxygen? Last October, the government announced that 150 new oxygen plants would be set up on the premises of various hospitals, but only 33 apparently were! And we also have a vaccine shortage now. Like a whole lot of others in Bangalore, my second shot is due but I’ll have to wait.

Balancing economic activity with COVID safety has proved impossible. People have been meeting and there have been large crowds on streets and in shops and markets. Only about 50% of people are masked, not always effectively. All these people are confused by the contradictory information they have been getting about the virus, COVID symptoms, vaccines, precautions, treatment, and even regarding the existence of the virus itself, for one whole year!

Between December 2020 and March 2021 my son and I have gone up into the hills surrounding Bangalore eight times on one-day treks and have often drifted into conversation with villagers. They insist there is no corona virus, nobody has fallen sick in their village, nobody has died, and they sympathise with us for having to live in unhealthy Bangalore!

Only large gatherings are reported in the media, the ones they call superspreaders, though the small ones are equally dangerous. It’s like saying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the only significant collection of plastic pollution, when we know that plastic pollution is everywhere, in every nook and corner of the world that’s overrun by human beings. There have been smaller gatherings over Ugadi, Easter and Ramadan, but the thing is, when things are this bad and confusing, people go rushing to their gods for help. Besides, people need to be around others to feel connected, to feel they are not alone.

Pandemics have happened before. They are random events. We have been the undisputed reigning species for so long that we can’t imagine another species getting the better of us, making us scoot for cover for a change. It’s not just a viral disease, it’s a lesson like plague epidemics of the past were lessons in hygiene that taught people filth, rats and the plague, go together (though the role of rats in the Black Death is now disputed!). The lessons might differ depending on where we live, though – the lesson for the Chinese could be different from the lesson meant for us or Australia or Brazil, if geopolitics underlies this scourge as some news reports claim.

The rapidly mutating virus is hard to vaccinate against perfectly, 70-90% immunity at best. It’s transmitted through the air we breathe. All we can do is mask up, not go close to others and not give it to ourselves by scratching our noses with contaminated, unsanitised hands. Even after receiving our two jabs. We need to protect ourselves – individually – because nobody else can. The government can only order lockdowns and try to ensure vaccines and medical facilities are available.

A pandemic comes in waves. It follows a pattern of its own. There could be more surges coming, in different countries at different times. Governments will be blamed for every surge, and extolled in the media every time a wave ebbs. In the larger scheme of things epidemics come and go and we don’t have as much control over the earth and its other inhabitants as we think we do. Scientists’ projections have some validity but, with all the new variants, there is no telling.

Stories of people dying of COVID are sad. They had no time to protect themselves.

Sadder still are reports of people not being able to reach help in time to prevent death. They tried and lost.

Saddest are stories of very sick patients left waiting for a bed for hours outside hospitals on gurneys, of profiteering by hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, by those who hire out ambulances and hearses, by those who manage crematoria and burial grounds. They were let down by people they trusted.

Beyond saddest are the disgusting stories of callousness and cruelty of bed blocking scams, and hoarding of medicines and oxygen to sell on the black market, if these are true. They were cheated by fellow human beings.

Beyond disgusting are stories that leave us numb with horror, like those of a fire in the ICU of some hospital that charred patients to death. They were . . . what? I don’t know.

And these stories never stop.

Somewhere in the cobwebby parts of our mind we are dimly aware of a few sources of hope. We dare not cling too hard to them in case they prove to be wisps of gossamer and evanesce.

That dedicated doctors are silently working in hospitals all over the country, some of them regularly appearing on TV to answer questions and clarify doubts, or writing informative articles and making videos for the general public.

That our overworked, hardworking, nurses are tending to patients with all their might despite their drastically lowered strength caused by the flight of Indian nurses en masse to the middle-east to take advantage of the 10X remuneration for merely administering vaccines.

That ordinary people, especially our youngsters, have created helplines for people to reach out to, and are working tirelessly to pick up the slack where government measures are inadequate.

That we are back in a lockdown and – since it helped last year – it might work again . . .

Though, right now, it feels like we are pushing against something we can’t budge . . .

Kootgal, Ramanagara, Feb 2021

4 thoughts on “news ticker in my head – scroll, reappear

  1. I liked the two words “learned helplessness “ very nicely written . As you said people in city even now go to buy silk sarees to avail corona discount and the shop is crowded . God save the country people have to take this seriously and follow the protocols


  2. Very beautifully written, Shyamala, if it’s appropriate to use beautiful in these times.
    Anyway I have to appreciate both the contents and the language.
    I feel you should have written in bold font- we need to protect ourselves-individually-because no one else can, lest the important point gets lost.


  3. Very well written, Dr Shyamala. The fact that 200 crores was sanctioned for Government hospitals to start on-site oxygen plants in October 2020 by the Government and then not accepted and implemented by the states because of vested interests is being covered up.


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