About a week ago I returned back to the United States after a short trip to Nigeria through London, and in the next day or two I will be stepping back into the front lines. Into the minefields of this battle with COVID 19; uncharted territories with no reference points regarding what to expect or what the outcome may be for the patient or the doctor/caregiver. I’m a Physician, I took an oath to do this, to put the patient first.
I am writing this piece not out of fear, but mostly out of the need for posterity and historical delineation of facts, events, feelings and opinions. The knowledge that you might not get another chance to put your thoughts out there makes it necessary that you do so in a concise and timely manner. I have a beautiful family, my wife and three lovely girls that I love more than life itself. I know that by extension I might be putting them in harm’s way, hence I will do all in my power to be diligent in my work to save and protect my patients, myself, my coworkers and by extension my family.
On my recent trip to Nigeria, I had teamed up with another Doctor friend of mine to hold a free medical outreach in a rural community in Imo State through our personal NGOs (The Lean Perspective Inc, and Dabroyal Foundation). We attended to more than 120 patients with varied complaints. They received free BP checks, blood sugar checks, medications and referrals, but most importantly one-on-one health education. Hand washing/personal hygiene was front and center of most of the health talk we gave. At the time of this event, Nigeria was only recording two cases of the COVID 19. It was largely being seen as Oyibo pipul wahalah (whiteman’s problem). Today we are counting about 30 cases in all and there is a palpable fear of an imminent surge in number of cases, with possible fatalities in tow. There are more than 300,000 cases the world over, with about 14,000 fatalities. China and Italy have taken the worst hits, as the world races to find a cure, a vaccine or any mitigating scientific measure.
As this virus ravages the globe, it has a partner riding shotgun; fear. Some unintended untoward but completely avoidable outcomes may result from fear. Ranging from wrong medication use, unorthodox remedies that might be harmful, depression from social isolation, to xenophobia and political mudslinging, it is almost turning out like a sociocultural autoimmune disease where we end up hurting ourselves way more than the virus would or could have. People are proffering remedies that have not been put through scientific tests. Asians are being singled out for social scorn even as they suffer like the rest of us. In Nigeria, angst is being directed at people (foreign or indigenous) returning from overseas, be they symptomatic or not.
Granted, there was a case of a recent returnee in Nigeria who had attended a social event and was later showing symptoms but refused to alert the authorities as directed. He has since been tested and hopefully is in some form of quarantine or isolation pending test results. This should not warrant a mob judgement of all returnees who might be dealing with a lot more than the fear of the virus. Some of them left young families behind and are struggling to travel back to be reunited with them. Some of them are hourly workers whose families depend on their income (which is suspended while they fight through the travel bans to return home to them), they could use a bit of empathy (if compassion is too dear to ask for). Americans could do a bit better than calling the Virus Chinese. We are all victims here. Beating up innocent Asians or Asian Americans will not in any way help in alleviating the burden of this pandemic. We would go farther by recognizing our common traits instead of our superficial differences.
While we adopt all the recommended precautions and practise Social Distancing, I suggest we reach out to one another with our hearts. This way we can hug without touching. When (and not if) this battle is over, we will look at the scars and remember that in the face of a global threat to humanity we were able to find a deeper connection and commonality. The leadership that pulls us together should be the one that starts within us. Let us take our gazes away from the Rocks, Mountains and the Hills, away from Pennsylvania Avenue or Aso Rock, let us look within and find the light so we can guide one another, let us hum a tune of love so that even those that cannot see could hear us and know we are there for them. Let us work together as we walk together out of this dark tunnel.
Written by Uzoma Chukwuocha.
A freelance writer for TELL Magazine.