Michael Abrahams | COVID-19 collateral damage
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic just over one year ago. Today, more than 12 months after our first case, we appear to be peaking with deaths and hospitalisations. People’s lives have been severely affected, and not just those infected by the novel coronavirus. The reality is that many, probably most of us, have become collateral damage.
Collectively, our physical health has suffered a blow. Curfews and work-from-home orders have made the lifestyles of many more sedentary, predisposing them to weight gain, which can be a barrier to the control of hypertension, diabetes, and other medical conditions. And because of the deluge of cases, our heath system has become overwhelmed. Hospital wards become full. Emergency rooms overflow. Patients take a longer time to get seen, or may not get seen at all. And as healthcare workers get infected with the virus and are off the job, the crisis worsens. Elective surgery cases are now being cancelled with regularity due to staff, bed or, more recently, oxygen shortages.
Elective surgical cases are cases that require surgery but are not emergencies. The problem is that when these cases are put off, what was elective in the past may develop into an emergency. For example, you hay have a hernia in your groin that is a nuisance. It may become swollen frequently, but you can easily apply pressure and reduce it. But one day it can become incarcerated, a situation where bowel in the hernia becomes trapped, and the swelling can no longer be reduced. This can lead to bowel obstruction, and if the obstruction is not relieved, the trapped portion of the bowel can become gangrenous, infection can set in, and extreme illness or death can be the result.
The fear of going out and being infected can also keep people at home and prevent them for seeking medical care, placing their physical health at risk. And speaking of fear, many of us are indeed living in fear, and the pandemic is taking a toll on our mental health. Many with pre-existing depression and anxiety report a worsening of their symptoms, and these disorders are also appearing in people who were previously unafflicted.
Humans are social creatures. We need to be in the presence of other humans, at least occasionally. We need intimacy. We need to be touched. We need to feel the energy of others and make memories and laugh with them. But the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works. This can be especially devastating for people who live alone. Loneliness is taking a toll on many at this time. A patient of mine recently told me that loneliness was affecting her severely. Her last relationship ended several months ago, and she asked me, “How can I start a relationship at a time like this? You can’t go out and meet people, and everybody mask up like Zorro.” She has a wicked sense of humour, and I laughed at her comment, but also realised the gravity of the situation. Even people in established relationships are not exempt, as there are some whose spouses are currently in other countries, and because of COVID-19 restrictions, they are not even sure when they will see them. The hearing impaired are having a harder time now, too, as mask wearing prevents them from reading lips, further impairing their ability to communicate.
I empathise with people who love to party and socialise, but I feel it even more for churchgoers. For many people, attending church is the highlight of their week. Congregating with others benefits them spiritually, socially, and mentally, and now that activity has been taken from them, or significantly toned down. Interestingly, this also has implications for some who do not even attend church. For example, several churches have programmes for shut-ins, such as elderly persons who are relatively immobile and are unable to leave the confines of their homes. Unfortunately, some of the people who reach out to the shut-ins have now become shut-ins themselves, such as older parishioners who have been instructed to stay home.
And many businesses and industries are suffering. The entertainment industry immediately comes to mind, as it has taken a massive hit. Anyone whose livelihood depends on live audiences and gatherings are suffering. Singers, musicians, dancers, actors, stand-up comedians, people who organise events and those who work backstage and behind the scenes are taking a huge hit. The sports fraternity is also taking a beating. People who operate and work in restaurants, which now have restrictions limiting the numbers of customers gathering in their establishments, and opening hours, are having a rough time too. Salaries are being cut. Jobs are being lost. More and more people are in dire financial straits, which provides an ideal environment in which depression and anxiety can thrive.
As for children attending classes online, this has been another source of stress, not just for students, but for parents, guardians and teachers as well. Some children have poor Internet access or may be unable to afford it, or may just have difficulty learning via this route, and run the risk of being left behind. Children, and adults who work from home and are constantly attending online meetings, report having issues with their eyes from having to stare at screens continually during the days. Also, there are children from impoverished backgrounds who depended on school to partially feed them, and now that has been taken away from them. Going to school also gave some children some respite from toxic and abusive home environments, but now they are stuck there 24/7.
The more we comply with what we know works, such as wearing masks, washing and sanitising our hands regularly, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, practising proper respiratory hygiene and physical distancing as best as we can, and being vaccinated, the quicker we can begin returning to having regular lives.