Fri | Jul 23, 2021

Arna Brown Morgan | Ominous silence of COVID-19 pandemic

Published:Sunday | May 30, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Dr Arna Brown Morgan
Dr Arna Brown Morgan

Our recent silence on the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a loud, booming sound resonating within many of us. Quiet but palpable! Unpalatable and frustrating, but seemingly unbreachable. It is a deep pain that resonates with many who belong to the medical fraternity.

When you approach a problem and see few positive results, after a while you withdraw, hide and lick your wounds and quietly try to cope with the ever-present living nightmare!

Despite Jamaica experiencing significantly better COVID-19 positivity rates recently, the levels are still far from acceptable and the death rates from COVID-19 have in fact climbed to unpalatably high, and often frightening, daily numbers.

We have become alarmingly silent and accepting of our fate. We hope for a miracle through vaccination, but with less than four per cent of the country vaccinated since January of this year it is going to take an unacceptably long time for Jamaica to achieve control of the virus via herd immunity. We now depend on the Government’s weekend ‘lockdown’ policy to help control the multiple indoor parties and beach gatherings which an unruly and mentally fatigued people just keep on planning and attending.

Most everyone knows someone who was infected with COVID- 19, was sick with it or died from it, but that hasn’t stopped us, has barely slowed us, in our fervour to just get on with our lives. At this point it doesn’t seem to matter whether the life lived is long or short. Just a tired fatalism.

EXPOSURE THERAPY

Has the medical community as well as the general population fallen prey to mass default ‘exposure therapy’?

Exposure therapy is a psychiatric tool which is used to treat anxiety disorders. One where the targeted patients are exposed repeatedly to the anxiety source, which is COVID-19 infection. The result is an overcoming of the exhibited anxiety and distress elicited by the stress. This is a coping mechanism. There is significant evidence showing that exposure-based therapy is associated with improved symptomatic and functional outcomes for patients diagnosed with PTSD. The treatment encourages the confrontation of feared stimuli, and the acceptable outcome would be the reduction of a person’s fear of the stimuli. All of these conditions have occurred quite naturally with our COVID-19 experience. Successfully.

It usually isn’t possible to demonstrate a situation like this as the creating of this kind of “exposure would be unethical and criminal”. COVID-19 has, however, presented a real-life scenario!

An initial small but concerning presence of the COVID-19 virus this time last year resulted in school and business closures to an extent exceeding the current existing levels. As COVID-19 deaths mounted, a ‘hue and cry’ took place as an expression of outrage and anger against the winds buffeting our society. Contrast more recently the hurricane velocity storms which have occurred! In fact, barely a month ago, I lost two more medical classmates as well as my next-door neighbour to COVID-19. This was a major upset, at least it felt like a major event in my life and the lives of my medical colleagues as we attended Zoom funerals and memorials, and yet this didn’t resonate ‘outside’ in the world for there was barely a murmur in our society.

It all feels a lot like ‘Exposure Therapy’ to me! I find it easier to accept this theory rather than ponder if we’ve all just been beaten into the ground by the circumstances facing us!

Gun-related violence now gets more attention on a day when COVID-19 kills seven people, or 17. Confusion reigns over a world which at this time is still conflicted over the wearing of facial masks.

HESITATING TO TAKE VACCINES

People are still hesitating to take vaccines much safer than those mandated by our government during our childhood. An 83-year-old tells me that “Nah, no way will I take the vaccine”. She’s healthy, though has comorbidities. She seems strong and vital. Yet the statistics show that eight out of every 10 COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65 years old. She’s way past childbearing age, out of the risk group for clotting problems, may not naturally live the years to experience a feared long-term side effect and terribly at risk of death from COVID-19 if infected, so what is holding her back?

A combination of superstition and a historical memory of abuse and experimentation would seem to be the answer which has sadly not been countered by either common sense or science! Or even the fact that by now absolutely multiple millions of people all over the world, and mostly in the privileged world, have already received vaccination with few glitches. Safe, safe, safe!

For this moment in time the preferred action of the medical fraternity seems to be for us to keep as safe as possible with social distancing, handwashing, mask wearing, vaccination (and Telemedicine). Institute this for our staff, family, patients and friends who will listen and to try to continue to practise medicine as best we can under significantly less than ideal circumstances, while we hope that the limited ‘stay at home’ edicts coupled with recent punitive measures and our prayers will help prevent another significant outbreak of what is demonstrably a more virulent virus.

But for us to flourish, or even heal from the ravages to our health system and economy over the past year, the Jamaican people will have to ‘wake up’ to the COVID-19 reality and make the choices which will allow us to be COVID-19 healthy. Trying to participate in life as usual with the current levels of COVID-19 in our communities won’t work! We need to put the debates behind us and rescue our country!

- Dr Arna Brown Morgan is a family physician, regional treasurer of the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, and past associate lecturer in the family medicine programme at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.