Scourge of the corona contagion

– Dr. Geeta Sundar, KMC, Mangalore

SCOURGE OF THE CORONA CONTAGION

It’s a frenzied world now. Fear stricken everywhere. Everyone has a thought, an idea of the calamity befalling us; with the media shouting a gazillion slogans and warnings, and all people can do is listen, listen again and wonder in aghast worry at the chances of survival.

Pump. Pump. Pump. I press my knuckles against the sanitizer bottle and swish the colorless liquid on my palms, slowly lathering it around my hands. Brand new quality, the bottle claims. In-built to combat the new virus pandemic like never before. Not one to believe in claims, but at the zenith of tension, I will not shy away from ridiculous logic.

The corridors are emptied of the usual flurry of people, their chatter, the buzzing of cell phones, the mindless patter of footsteps, and is instead deliberating a calm. A calm before the storm, a calm before the next set of ‘regulars with flu’ zoom in with constricted apprehension, anxiety and hang in suspicion of their fatality. No more are there separate wards, separate sections to classify these patients. Everyone gets looped in as a single unit. Same disease. Same diagnosis. Same prognosis. Ah, if only. Only their genetics, their family lifestyles turn them apart on outcomes. And I, a mere mortal, am no different. Just another recluse with questionable immunity and fancy protective gear.

The intensive care unit stands tall to my right. A place I have been haunting like a corpse for the last fortnight. The sanitizer now chalking off my hands, I push through the door and enter the habituated arena with grudgingly hesitating steps. Far many have come, far many I have declared dead, far many I have given up hope on, and yet, far many more to save in futile, yet nonetheless, optimistic efforts. Yet, it is where I connect the most to, the place that gets my heart beating and my blood racing and my brain working, despite all odds.

I do a quick glance around all the beds; some patients I have been observing with faith stronger than radical, wishing they would make it through, whilst others are new admissions over the night and a few other beds left for the triage that would dash in. I do a quick refresh on my smart phone; despite the boon of the technology, no one seems to know about any possible treatment for the pandemic. I swipe off the updates, but there is nothing to reveal any new developments for treatment. A huge breath leaves my weary body. My eyes ache, my back is hunched, I don’t remember the last time I ate, and all I need is good food and a bed to sleep; but my conscience won’t let me rest till I know I have done everything I can to help these people.

 

The door opens and a few enthusiastic young doctors walk in, talking miles to a many, reading some notifications on their phones. They aren’t physicians, but with short staffing, the hospital has been pooling in all resources it can, to help the community. So, now, we all represent one large doctor fraternity who will stand tall (hopefully, and healthy too), and face the onslaught of the virus sent to destroy our societies, akin to a battlefield, with our armors of knowledge raised, ready to take on this puny little organism. 

But we are in too deep. Out of our depth. The lines are blurred now… Where does morality, humanity, and ethics fall? We might embody a large kinship of healthcare professionals, but when it comes to triage, when it comes to treatment, who do we chose? Who do we say no to? Who do we embrace with open arms? The old man with worse complaints, the pregnant lady, the child or the one who arrived first? And what about us? What about our protection? What about the deadly risks we take as we ensure patient care?

 

**

 

An enclosed facility awaits me. A driver, a fancy car to the drop point. A suit like an astronaut. White walls flooring my vision. Everywhere I see, its white, its plain and quite frankly it gives me a headache. But this is where I dwell in this time of need. A microbiologist, a geneticist flag my sides, all dressed in same attires, equally concerned and interested with what our hands hold. 

White sheets sit in front, my equations spread over them in drawled out characters. Calculating possibilities of exposure, time to divide, multiply, analysing the natural history of disease progression, chances of reduction in the chain of multiplication and we study the virus, in all its counterparts, dissembled, trying desperately to look for a cure.

A chime resonates off my phone. Another outbreak, another update. More confirmed cases, more deaths than we anticipated, the case fatality rates reaching a perennial high for an acute disease this fast. World organizations have issued warnings, protocols on handling specimens and have schooled tons of scientists into dealing with the virus pandemic.

As my colleague runs a PCR on the suspected genome, I let my thoughts wander as I gaze onto my calculations. I understand this particle, the versatility of this virus, the need it harbors for its survival; I am reminded of the natural selection and survival of the fittest. In the last few decades, regardless the outbreaks, the health issues faced, mankind has come a long way from H1N1, H1N3, SARS, Ebola, Nipah to name a few, facing each one with tenacity and temerity. True, we have lost blood and clan, but we have survived, because of our superior frontal lobes and our ingenious brains – and it is what we need to use at this time to understand the measures to control its explosion.

The PCR gets done and we sit to analyse the genome. The padding, the gear seems to be protective enough, or so on the surface, for nobody knows the extent of this virus and its capabilities and what it can invade…and so what of the chances of our security? Is the machinery we handle safeguarding us? What if inadvertently, the virus seeps through a micro cut on my skin? What if I transfer it to my family and I stand to be root cause of their fatality? 

My hands shake as I hold the equipment. That tremor is not missed by my colleagues and one of them rests his hand on my shoulder, a face full of understanding and experience as he nods for me to continue.

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