As Pandora’s box of coronavirus opened in 2020, it engulfed our planet into an abysmal nightmare. As darkness fell, those of us in medicine sought refuge under a lamp called “knowledge” that sparked its flame from scientific evidence. But what if medicine and life itself were being written in real-time on a clean slate?
From the get-go, the medical world switched up its protective parental gear.
Moral responsibility got perceived as heroism. Working in masks and shields by day, they dove into all forms of media to dispel misinformation by night to save lives. A stark transformation from their usually hiding away from the media limelight. Even though they were better prepared with protective gear during subsequent waves, day after day felt like deja vu.
Across the aisle, COVID long-haulers and psychologically distraught populations posed as human burnout of a novel kind.
Never before had the Greek alphabet been used in such common parlance, as now when even elementary schoolers were rattling off COVID variants.
Alpha, Beta, Gamma began to rip our worlds apart.
According to the CDC, the original SARS-CoV2 virus had a basic reproduction number (R0) of 2 or 3, implying each infected person could potentially spread it to two or three contacts.
The Delta variant with R0 of five to nine persons, with myriad mutations on its attacker spike protein, had the potential to evade existent precious vaccines and thus proved an apocalyptic super spreader. According to the Oxford English dictionary, Delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, is used by scientists and mathematicians in equations to denote change. The coincidence of its name in the way it depicted the change in life as we knew it, we were soon to witness, was beyond glaring.
True to the theory of survival of the fittest, change is an essential component of living beings.
Coronavirus also mutates to survive and thrives in supportive media of petri dishes of our human body, especially the unvaccinated, who serve as its welcome haven.
A dangerous disparity between the vaccinated and unvaccinated worlds is reminiscent of “haves” and “have-nots,” this time from fundamental differences in sensibility and empathy.
A sense of entitlement disillusions people with magical thinking for immunity from all things bad. But how could anyone remain immune from what affects Mother Nature?
It felt like the time warp of 2020, as vaccinations inched up, the hope of finally reaching that “endgame” of endemicity appeared to be on the horizon.
However, just as the world prepped to ring into 2022, a new, more infectious mutant, Omicron, emerged.
With the potential to multiply 70 times faster in airways than the Delta variant but ten times slower in lungs than the original coronavirus, it showed the comparatively lower need for ICU admissions and death rates, stirring speculations about whether this could be the beginning of the end of this chaos.
Nonetheless, its tsunami continued to sweep away countless precious lives. Its visceral severity seeped in the grief of loss and long-term sequela. But this time, we were not at square one.
Under immense pressure and time constraints, scientists working behind the scenes brought cumulative knowledge from bench to bedside despite critique from naysayers.
Novel vaccines, new and repurposed drugs, tests that relentlessly chased close on the heels of viral variants spoke volumes of ongoing scientific checks and balances.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
Pandemic data showed the greatest morbidity and mortality from the virus in those with high body mass index, sedentary lifestyles, waning immunity, to name a few.
The rising stock prices of indoor exercise bikes during the shutdown ironically was proof as though of mankind’s bargaining stage pandemic grief.
But is just individual healing going to be the way out of this chaos?
Deep down, as humans, we are all the same.
Yes, the need for future improvements for better access to vaccinations, indoor ventilation strategies exists, as does embracing work-home balance, respecting circadian rhythms, individual will for masking without disdain when sick, even knowing our neighbor’s name and value as occurs out of respect so effortlessly in certain cultures of the world.
Exercise, sunlight, meditation, those best things in life indeed are free but undervalued and undermined, as are physicians’ pleas for medical and scientific compliance.
The virus may be here to stay, but our way out of the apocalypse would be a responsible and responsive global village willing to align with science and communal living rather than decry it.
Hopes that efforts to get society back on its feet from a health standpoint, back to school and work, would boost our confident human psyche to arise like a phoenix from the ashes of pandemic uncertainty and apathetic inertia hunkering down.
Hindsight is 20/20. If it arms our foresight.
Is it coincidental that 2020 be the iconic digits heralding an era when we finally acknowledge nature’s way with some clarity in vision — that of patience as a virtue while respecting constant change?
Onward to another new year would just be a calendar page turn if objects in the rearview mirror of time were not envisioned as red flags looming closer than they appeared.
Through the looking glass wherein “upside-down” is just another perspective as long as our loves are still with us. Could we be the welcome change to this unwelcome nightmare? The real question remains: How far have the naysayers come?
So what’s in a name, you ask? Delta, not just viral nomenclature. Perhaps, a symbol of change, as a surprise gift that cannot be returned but only repurposed to give us the best possible returns. So when all hell breaks loose, may we take a moment to gaze up at the sky, at how willingly the clouds change and transform to the dance of the wooing breeze, as happens wilfully in nature and teach us to embrace our inner Delta and solve our own equations.
Ayushi Chugh is a neurologist and can be reached on Twitter @AyuSheMD.
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