Navigating the Coronavirus Pandemic-Personal thoughts-1
R. Srinivasa Murthy, Professor of Psychiatry(retd)
As I woke up to an another day of lockdown, at home in Bangalore, I was thinking of how I can be of assistance to the community from my professional experiences and personal journey.
As my minds was struggling with this thought, a friend called to enquire about my welfare. We shared many things and during the conversation I shared two thoughts that I thought could the seed for my efforts to reach the community. At one point I recalled a sentence from the latest issue of The New yorker(Mar 23,2020) titled ‘Hungrytown’ by Zak Helford, describing the work of a food deliverer. The sentence was,
“ the new coronavirus has made all the easy stuff hard”(emphasis added).
At another point, my friend reminded me the Indian famous story of a king and the advice of a sage to him: ‘this too will pass’.
As an extension of this very useful conversation, I thought I will write a daily diary(journaling) and share the same with those who are in contact with me.
The first experience I want to share is based on the many stories presented by the television during the last 24 hours:
‘I could not get bread for my family’ ;
‘I could not find the medicines for myself’;
‘a family of five are walking from Delhi to Aligarh’ ;
‘ police are restraining people who are going to meet essential services of community for lack of identity proof’ ;
‘ today is Ugadi, I can not pray in the temple’ ;
‘ there are no customers for my flowers- what I would have sold for 20 rupees is going for 5 rupees ’.
There were many many such stories of disruption of life- all the easy stuff becoming hard!
Any unexpected life event/social situation presents many challenges. Let me share my personal experience.
At the age of 66 years(in 2013) and after over 50 years of life as a medical professional, I thought I had experienced life in all its variety. However, there was a surprise for me, a life lesson in being sick and caring for the sick, waiting to hit me. In August 2013, I was diagnosed with colon cancer, which was followed by surgery and chemotherapy from August 2013 to March 2014.Initially, I thought I had the reserves and the skills to handle the condition. How wrong I was!
The diagnosis of cancer hit me like a tsunami, wiping out everything of the past in a swift quick move. I recall my first reaction to the diagnosis, offered very routinely by my doctor, during the colonoscopy procedure, ‘You have definite cancer. . . You must have immediate surgery’.
At that moment of diagnosis, I thought ‘my life, as I know, had come to an end’. Interestingly, I had another thought at the same time, ‘I can start my life afresh!’
In 1-week, from an active professional, I had become a passive recipient of medical interventions, about which I knew so little, and much more importantly, had so little control over.
My professional life took a nose-dive, and it looked like I would have to rediscover my professional work with limited travel and lower levels of energy. It’s lucky I am 67 and feel I have given my best and, therefore, have limited desires for professional achievements.
Of all the challenges, the most difficult was to confront the new reality of ‘living with uncertainty’. There were so many issues related to finding meaning in the suffering, thinking of the end of life and a bigger issue of the meaning of life. Out of sheer necessity, I entered an area that I had not given much importance to in all the seven decades, namely the spiritual aspects of human existence. To be frank, this has been the most valuable benefit of the illness and I can say I am at greater peace with myself in this area due to the illness.
( I have written in detail, about this phase of my life: Murthy RS. Lessons of Being a Patient–Personal Thoughts about Psycho-oncology in India. Mens Sana Monogr 2016;14:171-86.-available in blog)
During the surgery and the 6 months of chemotherapy, and 6-year of post-treatment phase I faced seven challenges. I feel these seven challenges are part of the major concerns of all people confronting the ‘UNCERTAINITIES OF COVID 19’ , with varying intensity and duration depending on their life situation.
1. Understanding the PANDEMIC?
2. If found ill, what would the medical treatment be?
3. How would my personal life change?
4. How would my family life be affected?
5. How would my professional life change?
6. What will be my social life?
7. How to make sense of the uncertainty of future life and spiritual issues?
This daily blog will cover one aspect of navigating the COVID 19 epidemic , as applies to the general population in general and those living with a diagnosis of cancer,( the latter group is the focus of this blog: http// my emotionalhealthin.com.
What will be the focus of blog?
The blog will be about 1000 words long.
It will cover
(1) some of the psycho-social events of the previous 24 hours from the Indian and international developments;
(2) detailed consideration of one of the specific challenges and skills to master the same;
(3) experiences of others – readers of the blog.
Let me end this blog with a message of living in these challenging times.
During one of the TV programmes, Ms. Shailaja Chandra, a retired IAS officer had this advice to the district level officials like the collector, district medical officer, “focus on what you can do for the day, think of the next three days and the next week” .
I thought this was excellent advice to focus on the immediate, focus on what you can do.
More specific thoughts in the next blog.
Please share your experiences and any questions that I can respond to.
Thank you for being part of the journey. Remember ‘this too will pass’.
TAKE ARE and BE SAFE.