Corona Conundrums – Reporting from Kerala.

“Trust the Wait. Embrace the uncertainty. When Nothing is Certain, Anything is possible”

     The lines by Mandy Hale, creator of the social media movement, ‘The Single Woman’, seem clairvoyant of pandemic Corona. We all may have endured extreme personal tribulations, but a global calamity of this magnitude threatening our way of life is unique; inimitable. As millions are affected, there are millions of anecdotes, from intense tragedies to trivial discomforts; of death, suffering, disruptions, confinements, and lost jobs, of heroics, sacrifice, and altruistic endeavors – the list is long and alarming.
     From my leisurely, retired life in Houston, our ‘annual pilgrimage’ to Kerala was about over, when the virus struck. We could have traveled, but some premonition prompted me, ‘better, don’t’. I am glad that we didn’t.
     My reflections are from a Kerala perspective relating to what I observed and heard of the ‘misadventures’ of Covid-19.
     The first Corona patient of India, a medical student from Wuhan, came to Kerala and experiencing sorethroat and a cough, reported to the local health inspector. She was immediately admitted to Thrissur General hospital. On January 30, she tested positive to Covid-19, was isolated, treated, offered emotional counseling, and was discharged on February 19, into home quarantine. Approached by the social media, she was concerned about her family having to face stigma and contacted the health authorities, who handled it discreetly. “I was afraid of my family members could be infected too”.
     Kerala is praised globally for its impeccable efficiency in handling the monstrous bug. After the recent debacles with the floods and Sabarimala controversy, the communist government is scrupulously managing the myriad of issues with the pandemic. The state is coordinating with the Center and its decisions of lockdowns, an efficient team implementing them, as applicable on a district level. The system is set up to record information from arriving people, screening them, ambulances taking the symptomatic ones to hospitals, others quarantined in designated places or own residences, food provided, and constantly kept in touch. The general public is receiving free ration packages, migrant workers sheltered with free food, and being gradually dispatched to their states. There are discussions by panels of agricultural, industrial, and economic specialists about handling the fallouts after the pandemic.
     Along with totally dedicated healthcare workers, DISHA tracking with phone Apps, social workers managing 24-hour tele-health helpline, CM’s helicopter service, ‘Break the Chain’ propaganda, NORKA for NRI’s, constantly updated information, educational institutions and public places closed, hotspots declared, Kerala has kept Corona under control, so far.
     Here is an instance to exemplify the leadership’s dedication. A nephew of mine, the accounting administrator of Southern Railways in Chennai gets a call from one Shailaja, and when he doesn’t seem to recognize, she admits, ‘I’m the Health Minister’ from Kerala. She searched and found a Malayalee Menon holding a responsible position in the railways and pleaded for help, in transporting stranded people to and from Kerala! The very same Shailaja teacher who contained the Nipah virus in 2018. And not by chance, the Health minister, DHS, DME, 11 out of 14 DMOs, and 65 percent of doctors in Kerala are females!
    Kerala nurses are legendary for efficiency and empathy. Sister Mridula had this to say; “today I know the scariest situation in life, being stuck in a room, wrapped up in protective gear, sweating, unable to drink, eat or use the restroom for hours, with no one to talk to and at risk of being the next victim”.
    Beyond wiping out human lives and testing the limits of expertise, farreaching tentacles of the microbe are infiltrating every filament of our established norms of life. Stories of parents dying with children unable to reach, events postponed indefinitely, single and old family members isolated, sick ones struggling to find a doctor, doctors coping with restrictions and frustrated patients, workers without jobs, disrupted schooling and several such are commonplace, poignant tales. The state is also receiving their share of criticisms, for not doing enough screening tests or research studies, and not adequately prepared for the influx of Pravasis; fear of impending cataclysm.
    Migrant workers are facing havoc, the states panicking, unable to handle them. Laborers, many with children walking hundreds of miles to their villages, with barely any food or drink, and when eventually making it, many are banned out of fear! Heart- breaking stories of a teenage daughter cycling for thousand miles with her sick father on the back carrier, or the son hand-carrying his father for miles, are routine.
    Keralites are passionately ‘self-convinced intellectuals’ with individual opinions, always a step ahead of others and authorities. In addition to party politics, there is abuse of social media spreading wrong information from ‘scientific gurus’ and criminal minds, disruptions out of ignorance, disobedience, impatience, disbelief in authority, foolishness, arrogance, and sheer personal situations that cannot be contained within the imposed restrictions. Even a Kollam sub-collector IAS officer, was suspended for violating the quarantine.
    Our friends stranded in Chennai managed to fly on US Consulate evacuation flight through Mumbai and Atlanta, landing in Houston after 36 hours. Their experience was ‘more grueling than their trip to Mt. Kailash’, with hours at the hot airports, congested lines, numerous forms to sign, $2000 promissory notes, and many screenings in India, yet none in the US. A lady who traveled from Mumbai to Kerala had nothing but praises for her home state.
    Shifting gear from the negatives and assumptions of doom, we need to divert our thoughts to comforting modes, discover creative ways to escape the misery; contemplate, introspect of what life is all about, rediscover relationships, cultivate compassion, and appreciate the abundance of nature. Do gardening, experiment with cooking, read books, write memoirs, enjoy music, or just ruminate.
    A situation offered to us or enforced on us is perhaps with a designated design, an intended purpose to make us better humans. Let us accept it that way. (May 26, 2020)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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