Above and Beyond
By Devika Brendon
The doctors in the public health system throughout Sri Lanka deserve to be recognised and commended. Not only for their dedication in study, their hard won qualifications and the conditions of stress and emergency in which they often work, but - particularly during this pandemic - for their heroic commitment to the community, which is highlighted by the global crisis which has been unfolding for the past 18 months.
The public hospitals are staffed by dedicated, skilled but overworked, stressed and under supported medical personnel. Public donations have successfully been raised by community groups both international and local to provide much needed facilities and equipment. During the ongoing Covid pandemic, this generosity has also been ongoing, in parallel.
However, the pandemic has shown us that the regional hospitals do not receive the level of recognition, support and financial assistance that the hospitals in Colombo do. Doctors throughout the country have shared the following pictures on social Media, to highlight the extraordinary practical lengths to which medical staff have been prepared to go, to assist the citizens of Sri Lanka, to get vaccinated and receive the protective care they need.
We see doctors and nurses in full PPE, travelling on trucks, climbing rocky terrain with their equipment and gear in backpacks, crossing rivers and streams on ferries, or on foot crossing on stepping stones, even crossing improvised bridges made of tree trunks in forest land, and wading through metre high water during floods.
The physical and emotional resilience required to act in this dedicated way when their skill is needed is highlighted every day by the work of these medical staff. Their team spirit and enthusiasm are evident in the pictures.
Living in the more urbanised areas of the country, city dwellers are often unaware of how remote and inaccessible rural housing can be. People who are elderly, less agile or chronically ill need medical care that is delivered to them at home.
The humanity of this commitment is a welcome feature of the bleak pandemic landscape. As the country now moves forward, out of the worst part of the pandemic, as a result of the outstanding dedication of medical professionals, army personnel and the citizens of the country to the vaccination process, we should continue to recognise and respect the exemplary performance of our regional doctors and nurses, most of whom have families and young children at home, and who have risked their own family lives and personal safety to support us at this time.
As we near the beginning of the third year of the pandemic, it’s a good idea to take a look at what we have learned.
Throughout the world, the human race has experienced a lot of loss: the unimaginable and unrecoverable loss of loved ones, the disruption of job security, the anxiety of financial instability, and the undermining of our personal peace of mind. We have all in our own ways been forced to confront our personal vulnerabilities.
The onset of the Delta variant, before a large proportion of any society had the chance to be fully vaccinated, was devastating.
Professor Priyamvada Gopal recently asked on her Facebook platform: ‘Why is it so hard to meditate on the possible immediacy of one's own passing? Every morning now brings an update about someone's sudden death, and yet it's so hard to conceptualise one's own. That bizarre sense that untimely death happens to other people is very difficult to overcome.’
My family have lost members during the past two years, although not to Covid. Of course, I have been trying to process the huge impact of this. I have been remembering Ursula Le Guin, one of my favourite writers, who portrayed death as a country just past the dry stone wall, which divides the living and those who have passed. And this life is a testing ground. And at some point, all bets will be off, and all debts cancelled.
And in a way, the collective inevitability of death could prompt us to prepare for it. Medical technology and its advances had made us believe we were almost indomitable. But we are now shown that it’s best to clarify and simplify our lives. Death makes us prioritize what matters most to us.
I suggest that, with each loss, we lose a barrier against the fear of our own death. That separating wall becomes permeable, and the reality of yourself crossing it becomes clearer and not remote. Death will never again be something I am personally detached from.
But life is for the living. That’s not just a truism. There’s a liminal transitional space and then - a gradual adjustment. I have learned that it’s something that can be prepared for, even if the loss takes you by surprise at first. I agree with the people who comfort the bereaved by pointing out that it’s inevitable. So facing that fact, which is true for all of us, isn’t life itself more to be valued? While we are still capable of responding to it?
Death puts a full stop on our lives. Or a pause, depending on what you believe.
But our universal human superpower is the capacity to adapt, and use the resources available to us to survive even the most adverse of situational circumstances. There has not been a better opportunity, I believe, in our lifetimes, to develop these transformational perspectives, than the opportunity this crisis has presented to us.
The Covid-19 virus and its variants will be confronting us into next year, and very possibly into 2023 as well. The support we extend now to our medical professionals and those in our communities who are vulnerable, whether through financial hardship, age, health issues or economic displacement, will need to be sustained regularly throughout this period, to be effective.
We will need to go deeper into our personal resources, both materially and psychologically, to adapt to this ongoing and developing situation. It helps greatly to recognise that such crises can stimulate our growth and improve our strengths and capabilities, both on a personal and a societal level.
Like the doctors and medical personnel who go above and beyond in their professional dedication, all of us in our own lives can extend ourselves to navigate this harrowing time - and become stronger and more resilient and skilled than we had previously thought possible.
(Pix by Dr. Ashwini De Abrew)