From Stress to Strain

There can be no denying from anybody that 2020 has indeed been a stressful year because of Covid-19 and how it has made many aspects of our lives topsy-turvy

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

There’s little to cheer us up as 2020 is winding to its end, so I was quite tickled by this delightful play of words in this post that I found on my Orthopaedic Association WhatsApp site yesterday: ‘After a whole year of Stress we now have a Strain!’

There can be no denying from anybody that 2020 has indeed been a stressful year because of Covid-19 and how it has made many aspects of our lives topsy-turvy. And yet we cannot help but be sending the usual messages around – ‘Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas’, ‘Wishing you and your family a Happy Festive Season’ and so on – if only to keep up hope and bring on some smiles, although we know fully well that the celebrations have perforce had to be toned down considerably because of the pandemic.

An Eventful Year. Photo – coppellstudentmedia.com.

Although it is not going away anytime soon, as if to remind us of this it has sent us another shocker in the form of a new Strain – alas not a parting shot since more change is likely – the one meant in the quote above. Coded B.1.1.7: this is the mutated version of coronavirus that is now responsible for the new spurts that have started to take place elsewhere after kicking off in the UK. Almost immediately, it has forced in its wake extended lockdowns in various degrees depending on country specifics, so that instead of brimming with joy this end of year season is going to find a lot of people around the world having heavy hearts instead, as family reunions have by law been forced to be limited to very few people.

To complicate matters even further, what was initially thought to be only one mutation – in the so-called spike protein that facilitates the entry of the virus into the lung cells – has since been found to be followed by several other ones. Although the general view is that despite its greater infectivity this Strain does not cause more serious disease, the best that one can say at the moment from a medical point of view is, we’ll have to wait and see!

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that this novel Strain has already generated much strain, more so in countries where the Christmas tradition is very strongly anchored. Besides, however, the strain has been felt also at airports on arrival of nationals returning to their countries from the UK, where rapid testing requirements have been imposed. This happened in Mumbai the day before at the airport, where there was much congestion as the incoming travelers had to wait long hours to undergo their tests and get the results before they could be allowed into the city. Probably similar scenes may have played out in other major hubs in India and around the world too, leading to more strain on already frayed nerves.

All this comes when hope was just being kindled with the introduction and rollout of the Pfizer-BionTech and Moderna vaccines. Despite some high profile personalities – from political leaders to prominent medical frontliners – having shown confidence in the vaccines and been administered the shots publicly so as to encourage people to take them as well, the rollout plan too is facing some strain already. In fact, partly as a result of poor communication and partly because of fake, alarming news about vaccination, there is reluctance about being immunized on the part of segments of the population which vary from country to country. In the US there is a movement called the anti-vaxxers which has been active for quite some time and is squarely against any kind of vaccines.

Another category is characterized as vaccine-hesitant for more plausible or personal reasons. One case that I read about was that of a lady whose daughter developed a condition known as Crohn’s disease – a chronic debilitating inflammation of the large bowel – as she grew up, and the mother attributes this to vaccination. She is therefore not at all in favour of the anti-Covid vaccines, and this is understandable from her point of view although Public Health experts would be worried were this attitude to become more generalised.

This year continues to be lived under the shadow of the pandemic and everybody has been impacted in one way or another. On a personal note I have had to deplore the passing away of some colleagues, Dr Bruno Cheong for example. I had met him last about one week before he had examined Patient Zero who was the local super spreader. I referred a patient to him a few days before and we talked for a few minutes in the premises of the Nouvelle Clique Ferriere late one afternoon as he was walking to his car. The next thing I learnt was that he had been quarantined at Souillac Hospital along with other staff from the clinic, and the subsequent turn of events turned fatal for him. The profession and the country are honoured of course that Flacq Hospital has been renamed after him, but that he had to go prematurely from Covid-19 is hard to accept.

Within a few days of each other I learnt of the passing of two other colleagues and friends, bringing back some memories of shared moments. Dr Laval Appapoulay and I worked as Medical and Health Officer together at SSRN Hospital; he was already there when I joined in 1972, and we were also neighbours in the hospital quarters. One episode that brought a smile to my face as I remembered Laval was when I called him from the Casualty about a patient who I was referring to Internal Medicine where he was the duty doctor that day. ‘Laval,’ I said, ‘mo enan ene patient avec felure cardiaque.’ (‘Laval, I have a patient in cardiac failure’). I can never forget his rejoinder to my innocent gallicism: ‘To le dire moi so le coeur ine fêlé!’ (‘You mean to tell me his heart has cracked!)

The other is Dr Santosh Soowamber, a psychiatrist, who passed away in Marseilles. His brother-in-law Dr A Boodhun and I had been colleagues at SSRN Hospital too, and when I was proceeding to CHU La Timone in Marseilles for a Fellowship in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery in 1985, he contacted Santosh to look after me there. And so indeed did Santosh! We became very good friends, and there were many evenings spent with him and his loving family at their residence not far from the hospital.

When 2020 is over, there’ll be many more novel souvenirs added to the store of existing ones. Do we realise that we have the equivalent of a world wide web of memory data inside our heads? humani.wwwbrain.com …

Merry Christmas to all.


* Published in print edition on 25 December 2020

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