Fear and love in the time of a pandemic

Coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, quarantine, flatten the curve, wash your hands, do not touch your face: These are not terms that I am reading out of any of my of medical school books, these are terms that have become a reality for every household in the world, irrespective of nationality, socioeconomic status, gender, creed, etc.

I write this article not as a physician, but as a person full of fear and hope at the same time. Fear, because I have no idea where this hidden enemy pathogen may be lurking, and hope because every day I see my fellow health care workers, neighbors, and loved ones doing their part to help those who are in need. I fear for the safety of my loved ones, like my 75-year-old father, who is diabetic, has had a CABG and heart disease; fear for my friends and family who are exposed to this virus daily as they have to go to work because they do not have the luxury to work from home or stay isolated. I fear for my own safety every waking minute because at the end of 2019, around the same time that the coronavirus first reared its ugly head in the Wuhan province of China, I was diagnosed with a disease that renders me immunocompromised and puts me in that vulnerable list of people most at risk for contracting COVID-19. At 44, I feel the virus will take me out before my disease will. I am also hopeful my ongoing treatment will heal me, so that does not happen. I am blessed to have a good prognosis and am expected to make a full recovery.

Today was a very emotionally challenging day for me, more than many others, as I have to deal with social isolation and disease at the same time. I saw a woman crying on TV telling a news anchor how her mom took her last breaths due to COVID-19, and she was not able to be there for her and on a video app, told her mom it was OK to go.

I thought of June 2017, when my own mother lay plugged up to a ventilator in an intensive care unit, and I was able to talk to her even while she unconscious, I was able to touch her, read prayers to her. I was able to bring her home, give her last breaths with an Ambu bag in my hand, and bury her in the Muslim tradition. She was able to go to her maker with the dignity she deserved, not lying in a body bag in a refrigerated truck like the unfortunate patients in my home state of New York or be cremated or left unburied like those in Italy.

As I grieve for the over 36,000 deaths from this terrible disease, I urge everyone to not take this pandemic lightly. Think about those 36,000 people and counting who have lost their lives, those who are sick, those who are vulnerable, those who are alone and struggling mentally, financially, physically. Do your part to help end this pandemic. Stay home unless you must absolutely go out; socially isolate, even from loved ones. Help flatten the curve.

Rabia Jalal is a physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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