Thu | Dec 8, 2016

A nation of the walking wounded

Published:Monday | November 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

My experience with the chikungunya virus (chik-V) has, so far, spanned 11 weeks and counting. Heralded by fever, joint pains, then excruciating headaches, the symptoms persisted, somewhat reduced by analgesics until the first relapse in mid-September.

The joint pains during the relapse threatened to incapacitate me totally. However, powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications barely allowed me to carry out my duties (albeit truncated and with incredible effort to work through the pain, stiffness and malaise).

The same scenario, and worse, played out nationally with varying manifestations and degrees of intensity. A pharmacist friend of mine told me that she heard one of her customers refer to her 'sick leave' as, 'chik leave'. Chik leave has been given to innumerable working Jamaicans and the losses in man-hours must surely exceed a billion dollars by now.

The current situation is akin to the Met Office being made fully aware (long, long in advance) of an impending category 5 hurricane that will strike Jamaica head-on, full force. Yet, in spite of this, there is only a mention of its impending arrival and no detailed elucidation of what to expect.

With no tangible preparations to 'batten down', no trimming of trees, no clearing of potential flood-prone areas and no removal of potentially dangerous objects that will become missiles during the onslaught, what kind of Met Office would that be? What if the Met Office's negligence/incompetence left the citizenry uninformed and unprotected and contributed to widespread suffering, and even deaths?

Calls for Resignation

I believe that there would be a hue and cry for the responsible parties at the Met Office to give an account of their inactions and for heads to roll. But, this is not the Met Office. This involves politics, the sacred cow of our nation. Politics plays such a pivotal role in Jamaica that everything else - our ethics, rules, regulations, laws, rights and our very lives - all come in a very distant second.

And, therefore, those who dare to speak out, to complain, to call for accountability, to seek redress, to try to ensure that this never happens again are labelled as supporters of the 'other side' (depending on whichever political party is managing the country). In this atmosphere, Jamaica will never experience efficient/proper governance. I guess we are getting what we deserve.

And so, we have become a nation of the walking wounded. We have been wounded by the chikungunya virus, poor governance, the apparent immunity of our politicians and their advisers, our worship of politics and our lack of respect for one another.

I vividly recall Hurricane Gilbert of 1988. We were hit very hard. Every single Jamaican suffered some loss or major inconvenience and some people died. Looking back now, I had foolishly hoped that people would see the commonality of our suffering and begin to treat each other as the brothers and sisters that we are. But my lofty dreams and hopes faded into naive wishes and we remained divided, politicised, hostile, disrespectful, intolerant and competitive.

No Discrimination

We should always endeavour to find the lessons in whatever life throws at us. It seems a terrible shame to waste our suffering. The chik-V epidemic has not been selective. It has not chosen between race, skin colour, looks, age, gender, rich/poor, political affiliation, stature, uptown/downtown, People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party supporters, the good or the bad, the pauper or the wealthy, beggar or philanthropist.

Chik-V has proven that we are far more alike than we are different. Yet, through it all, through the suffering, the crippling pains, the deaths, we hold on to our old ways - the same old ways that made us unprepared for this epidemic. The same old ways that favours corruption, got us in debts and caused social decline. We are the walking wounded, politically divided and unable to unite around a common cause - the survival of our country.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.