6-Personal thoughts/Experiences of COVID 19 (April 18, 2020)


6-Personal thoughts/Experiences of COVID 19 (April 18, 2020)

Personal thoughts/Experiences of COVID 19 (continuing thread and updated periodically)

It is over 35 years back I first started work with disaster mental health at Bhopal.
During the last 4 decades, I have learnt the following:
Disasters are a challenge for everybody.
• Disasters are experienced by each individual in his/her own way.
• There are as many ways of coping as rghwerw are people.
• Support of every type limits the suffeting and long term consequences.
• Every type of intervention, meeting needs, human support, music, spirituality etc is helpful.

The availability of experiences can help others to understand, what they are experiencing, and not feel that they are alone in this situation. It will also help the learn from other individuals experiences.

Further, it will also build an understanding the INDIANS response to the pandemic.

Please note that this is a compilation of experiences and opinions.

Please feel to share your thoughts/experiences through my email: smurthy030@gmail.com Your contributions will be added to the thread.

In these 5 postings by individuals from very different backgrounds, the approach to address the pandemic/lock down from varying methods comes through. My sincere thanks to the contributors.

Sri. Bhaskar Barua, shares his concerns and more importantly the measures he has adopted to remain healthy. His utilisation of the past experiences is a valuable guide for all of us. He concludes, wisely, “The person I worry about the least, or none at all, is myself. I do not know if it is the result of happenings in the last twelve months or so”.

Dr.Sudhir Khandelwal, shares his rich experience of more than 40 years of psychiatry , to remain well during the lockdown.

Dr.Rajaratnam Abel share his views about the COVID 19 and the lockdown and draws strength from his spiritual sources.

A young doctor, writing anonymously, sharing his faith that ‘ Does everything happen for a reason’ presents the many thoughts that all of us have in these challenging times.

Sri. Balachandra’s new poem takes us to a different world of looking at the events from a broader perspective. He has shared his earlier poem, ‘Sunset from my window’.(27)

All of them add value to our thinking, feeling and responding to the pandemic/lockdown .
46. Reflections on the lockdown-Sri. Bhaskar Barua, I.A.S.(Retd), Guwahati, Assam.

Over a little more than 72 hours ago, Prime Minister Modi extended the lockdown restrictions in India till the 3rd of May.

Elsewhere, the death toll in a single day in the UK became the highest ever in that country. Interestingly, a view is emerging there that the number of deaths which exceed the monthly average number of deaths during the season in the previous years should be taken as deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the USA, President Trump is stated to be struggling to maintain that he has not dismissed his top medical adviser on infectious diseases, Dr. Fauci.

The USA has suspended funding of the World Health Organisation.

One is baffled trying to relate to these events and make sense of them.

One has also seen an image of a hungry man in India trying to scoop up some milk from a road where the milk had spilt. Keeping him company was a pack of dogs, lapping up the milk with their tongues.

With the onset of the pandemic, and particularly after the lockdown has been imposed in an attempt to check it, many thoughts come to my mind.

Primarily of course, I have been worried about the health of the family, of my wife, our children, their spouses and the grandchildren.

At one level, the worry is proportionate to the distance between us at home and the places where they stay. Another concern is about how they are negotiating the lockdown and the attendant restrictions. Whether they have sufficient food, healthy and nutritious food to last through the period? Adequate in quantity and variety to meet the requirements of three growing grandchildren, two of them strapping six footers, and the youngest, who does not know the meaning of sitting still? Whether they have ways of replenishing their food stocks?.

I have devised some ways of trying to reduce the level of worry by adhering to a daily routine of walking for exercise.

In the recent days,going out for a walk had often not happened because of one reason or the other, some genuine, some contrived to give legitimacy to my laziness, such as getting up late, the sun is too strong, it might rain.

Now that walking by definition has to be within the confines of the small area we have around our house, life has become much simpler.

I get up in the morning, I walk.

No need to worry about the lateness of the hour, whether the sun is too strong and whether it might rain. If it does rain, shelter is within ten paces. I have measured out a path, even though it involves six turns at short intervals, and two about turns as they say in the forces, and one round is 64 paces. I am content to do 30 of those rounds, and feel happy when I can repeat the same in the evening, if I can get to start before the mosquito squadrons descend for their attacks.

Do I not have any worries beyond these?

I am doing the exercise I can get, which is on a much more regular and sustained basis than during non-Corona days.

My wife is devising all manner of interesting dishes with the limited resources at her disposal.

The person I worry about the least, or none at all, is myself. I do not know if it is the result of happenings in the last twelve months or so.

Last year I had to have surgical procedures to close macular holes in both my eyes. The operations were done in Delhi where my wife and I had to stay for three months. Apart from the two weeks or so spent in the hospital and three weeks plus in the home of a relative, most of that period was spent in one room in a guest house. For about ten days after each operation, there were restrictions on my going out, but not so rigorous as in a lockdown. The rest of the time I was free to move around, but not knowing how much my eye-sight would recover made the situation uncomfortable. Now that I look back, my level of worry during those days was more, maybe much more than the worry in the present situation. May be I am too self centered.

When I think of the larger picture, there are worries, certainly.

There may be different views on the effectiveness of the various measures taken to deal with the global pandemic. Lockdown, screening, swabbing, testing, rapid, as well quick, have become part of the daily lexicon. All this is confusing to say the least. Not having acquired any previous knowledge of these matters, I decide not to worry too much about them, hoping that the experts know what they are saying and that the authorities are basing their actions on such expert advice.

But what is worrying is the reactions of society, or to be precise, certain sections of it to the situation, problematic as it is. Ideas such as urine/excreta of certain animals providing safeguard against the pandemic provide a glimmer of amusement in these grim times. If some choose to face the deadly killer with such shields, let them be happy. However, all over the world, our country not excluded, sectarian tendencies seem to have grown. What is doubly unfortunate is that in certain parts of the world, people in authority are also openly propogating such views that tend to blame other countries/people or sections of people . Coupled with these, is the amount of misinformation coming. The sustained manner in which such misleading or incorrect information is being carried on is frightening, as if there are shadowy agencies directing the orchestration of falsehoods.

Heart rending are some other reports.

The miseries of the poor, the migrant labour, the marginalized is bad enough, one imagines. A report about a doctor who contacted the contagion and died not being given the dignity due to one who has been serving humanity is highly disturbing. Apparently his burial was opposed by the people of the locality which he served is unbelievable on the one hand and unfathomable.

One hopes mankind will regain sanity after all this is over, be able to reestablish the values lost, and that the world will be a better place.

47. Our mental wellbeing in Corona Times- Prof. Sudhir Khandelwal, Professor of Psychiatry(retd), AIIMS, New Delhi.

These are testing times, we are experiencing forced social isolation to safeguard ourselves against the COVID 19 pandemic. We must, first of all, understand that this social distancing is for our own protection and safety. It is very different from a curfew that is imposed upon in a city during a deteriorating law and order situation.

Prolonged isolation leads to frustration, stress, followed by symptoms of sleeplessness, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, obsessions, loneliness and boredom, and an increased use of tobacco and alcohol. Keeping our mental health safe and sound during these trying times is extremely important. Escape from this predicament is not in sight, the first step towards a healthy mind is our acceptance of the situation and finding ways to deal with it.

Keeping our lifestyle close to our usual behaviour and routine activities is the very first ground rule. Of course, it is easier said than done, but with awareness, determination and discipline it is doable.

Following guidelines may help.

1. We must observe our usual sleeping hours. Adequate sleep is essential for restoring our physical and emotional health.

2. Maintaining good food habits is just as important now as it is in our normal days; having regular three meals; including fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, herbal tea etc. We must not give in to the temptation of frequent snacking. Staying away from junk food is imperative.

3. Regular physical exercises matter the most. Regular morning walks, daily exercises, and gym workouts have to be shelved. However, there are a number of exercises that we can do within the confines of our home on a yoga mat. Stretches, yoga, meditation, pranayama, relaxation exercises all have proven beneficial effect on our mental wellbeing.

4. Using tobacco and alcohol to fight loneliness and boredom is a poor strategy.

5. Make a work plan for each day. List out the things that have remained incomplete for want of time. Categorize, prioritize, and initiate these tasks. Do not let go of this opportunity. Catch up on your reading, and indulge in your in-house hobbies.

6. Social distancing is the need of the times. Nevertheless, social connections can be made, strengthened and fostered. Fortunately, everyone nowadays has access to telephone, mobile, social networking sites. These should be used to remain in touch with our near and dear ones. And they can also serve to locate long last friends as well as discover new mates. Family comes first, spend more time with your spouse, talk more with your children and play more with your grandchildren.

7. This hiatus in our life should inspire us to introspect to know and improve ourselves.

8. No doubt, uptodate information about the virus, its behaviour, its spread, its effect locally and internationally is a must. Access dependable sources for this at regular intervals. Do not be obsessively searching information at the expense of your other chores and activities.

9. Stay away from fake news and spare your friends and family from posting unsubstantiated content.


48. COVID 19-Past Present and the Future -Dr.Rajaratnam Abel, Chennai.

Focus on the poor
This was not what I had in mind to write this time. I thought of sharing my thoughts on this disease.

This disease has caught the whole world by surprise. Economic plans, travel plans, marriage plans, educational plans have all gone awry. The pace at which it started in China and then Iran and Europe and finally the US is unthinkable. Who expected the US to wilt under this virus so badly with no control whatsoever?

I really do not have to say much about the past. You have all been fed with up to date on information regarding how and where it all started. Interestingly one of my classmates shared the information from a novel written about forty years ago.

It is entitled, ‘The Eyes of Darkness’ written by Dean Koontz. The description is precisely close to what actually happened. Wuhan is mentioned in the story. Did someone actually follow upon the novel? I’ll leave it there about the past.

The present is filled with uncertainty. Never have we seen all trains cancelled in India for three weeks running. In the past, even with the most major natural calamities, the Indian railways would always have earmarked trains that connected the major cities.

Once I travelled from Kolkata to Chennai through Tatanagar, Nagpur, Guntakal and Arakonam due to severe floods in Andhra, adding travel by 12 hours.

We have heard of lockouts but never lockdown. Major parts of the world are under lockdown. Surprisingly today as I write this the lockdown has been lifted in Wuhan, China, allowing people to move about freely. You know the frightening numbers of infected and the deaths. They need no repeating.

It has changed our human behavior. This evening I behaved in the most un-Indian manner. A neighbor came to pick up something. I made him stand outside without allowing him to come inside.

It is the future that is important.

How will we face the future?

First of all, I would like to look at what has been predicted as the likely and potential scenario emerging from the aftermath of this disease.
Recently in a prayer meeting one of the speakers mentioned a few of the different after effects of this pandemic, as points for prayer. As you read you may feel that it requires no super knowledge.
1. Economic effects on the poor. The harsh realities of the effect on the economy are clear. But how would the poor especially the migrants manage?
2. Bio terrorism. Terrorist would find this a valuable weapon in their warfare.
3. Psychological and mental issues
4. Loneliness during lockdown
5. Army could be brought in if uncontrollable
6. More deaths – orphans and vulnerables would increase- as with HIV/AIDS
7. Wars could erupt

Of all these, my concern and focus is on the poor in every country. As millions have lost jobs, even if the economy starts returning to normalcy the poor are going to find it difficult to get back their jobs reasonably fast.

Those whom God has blessed with sufficient resources should identify ways in which they could help the poor in their vicinity and neighbourhood, either individually or through organized groups and associations.

Food and livelihood are the two most important needs of the poor that must be addressed immediately. Open your hands wide and help the poor whenever you can and wherever you are.

I am happy to be part of an organization that is planning ahead for the next three years as this is what they anticipate would require to get the economy back on its wheels for the poor.

Immediately – food, then-livelihood and then long-term rehabilitation with resilience. They have valuable experience from implementing rehabilitation programs after the tsunami of 2004. They anticipate this after math of COVID 19 is going to be similar.

Keep safe distance. Wash hands with soap and water. Wear mask while going outside always till the end of the pandemic. Remember the poor. Help them in whatever way you can. May God bless you and keep you safe from COVID 19.

49. Does everything happen for a reason? Anonymous, (Young Doctor from Australia)

My go to response for a lot of things, especially in difficult circumstances or when things haven’t panned out how you hope, is to say that “everything happens for a reason” and that things “happen how they are supposed to”.

I have always believed this, and I do genuinely believe in this concept, but I do not know when I started living by it.

I was challenged recently whether the COVID-19 pandemic had “happened for a reason”. I was instinctively going to reply “yes” and start listing off all the positive things we could take from this. These lists are all over social media, likely an attempt to keep people motivated. And I would be lying if I said I haven’t read them and become inspired in some ways to remain positive. A time to be with family, to be grateful for what we have, to reconnect with friends, to have a chance to slow down and breathe, to learn a new skill and to maintain a positive outlook during this period. We are trying to promote positivity during a period where everyday life has been completely ripped up and what will happen tomorrow is an unknown. And during times like this, any positive messages are well received and understandably so.

But then is it easy for me to say this?
Am I on my high horse because I am in a privileged position living in the Western world? What about the 4 year child in Syria who has lost parents to a bombing before this pandemic, or the thousands of Americans who may die because of Covid-19, or the millions of families living in poverty in Africa and Asia who don’t know where their next meal will come from. What would their response be if I said that all the struggles they are facing “had happened for a reason”. What would their response be if I told them that they should look at the silver lining, that they should be happy that they get to spend more time with their family, that they could learn a new skill, that they should be grateful for what they have?

What I believe in is because of the life I have lived and the experiences I have had. It would be naïve to think everyone will believe what I do. But that is how it should be. We should not all have the same opinions. People should be allowed to believe in whatever they want without any judgement (within reason). And you may never necessarily understand why they do but it is crucial to remind yourself that you have also never lived a day in their life or thoughts. I struggle with current societal norm where that if your thoughts or opinions do not fit in with the majority, you are automatically “wrong”. Opinions are becoming generic now because of fear.

This pandemic isn’t fair. It was never supposed to happen. People should not be dying because we don’t have enough medical equipment. People’s lives should not have been completely changed because of this. But it has happened. This pandemic has always been out of our control and we are just passengers on this journey.

Yet, I still believe this has “all happened for a reason”. And I know this will make me sound like a hypocrite or another individual jumping on the spiritual bandwagon, but it is something I think I will always believe. And it may be my own coping mechanism. To be able to try to justify things to myself that do not seem fair. To try to make things easier to comprehend in what can be a very cruel and unfair world so I can sleep better at night. And I acknowledge that.

This situation has humbled me. As individuals we are small pieces in this huge universe. This has highlighted that we can work our whole lives towards something, for it then to be taken away overnight. What we think is essential for happiness can be stripped from us through no fault of our own. What it has reminded me is that if everything was taken from me tomorrow, all I would want is to be able to look back at my life and be proud of the person I tried to be. I have made many mistakes, just like anyone, and will make many more in the future. But we shouldn’t judge each other on our past mistakes, more on the people we are striving to be. The past has made us who we are and what I need to remind myself daily is that every new day provides an opportunity to start fresh and try to do something good even for one person. I have been reminded to truly appreciate the good I have in my life. I have my family and the most genuine and caring friends. Relationships that should never be taken for granted. And striving to be a kind, honest, trustworthy individual is a goal we can all aim for.

So do I believe that this has happened for a reason? I will say yes, but I admit that there will be many flaws in my answer. I know that for millions, they will not think this. And they probably have more right than me to have an opinion on this. But my answer isn’t to try to convince anyone else to think like me and I don’t think you ever need to. I need to believe in this to give me hope for the future and I am ok with this.


50. PANDEMIC by Sri. R. (Bala) Balachandra, San Diego, USA.

There are few cars, few people, and quiet streets,
few planes taking off with hardly any passengers,
clear blue skies in LA, people breathing better,
fish and dolphins seen in the canals of Venice,
empty pews on Easter Sunday, no crowds in concerts
or arenas, lines in front of supermarket people
waiting in designated spots six feet apart, no shaking
hands, social distancing with masks and gloves,
binge watching TV, the only entertainment, and probably
more sex, guzzling beer or sipping wine, kids playing,
fighting and crying, cooking dinners from cans, ordering
take out from restaurants, taking walks on the streets
waving to neighbors, making a grateful din to appreciate
workers who have to work, picking mail with gloved
hands, opening it next day.

The ultimate cabin fever, will it ever be over?
We are all in it together, but when will it end?
people helping each other as any decent society
should. Will they be as nice if this lasts long?
When food runs short will there be civility?

This is apocalypse or Kalki’s appearance(1) destroying
the world, end of Kali yuga, Brahma goes to sleep
for nine billion years. Don’t worry, it’ll all be back
when he wakes up, a new cycle starts again.
Or it may be start of the utopia we all long for.
Everyone stays home doing things they love to do,
while machines take over all the work and chores,
a society of lotus eaters with nothing to do
but eat, sleep, play games, procreate and die.

(1)The 10th avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga (the current yuga) to destroy the world. After about 10 billion years a new world will be created to repeat the cycle over and over again. See Gore Vidal, (1978) Kalki, Random House


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