The new world and our new existence
Much has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic - but are there lessons we can take into the future?
Historically, the last pandemic – the H1N1 influenza outbreak (known as the swine flu, first described in April 2009, Wikipedia) – was at the beginning of the 21st century and occurred only a little more than 10 years ago.
Earlier influenza pandemics, such as the 1968 outbreak of Hong Kong flu, caused an estimated 1 million deaths, and the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 supposedly claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention). But the rate at which H1N1 spread globally was unprecedented and we experience the same phenomenon with the current COVID-19 encounter. Also, given the fact that the influenza pandemic at the beginning of the 20th century took so many lives and considering that the means of travel were a lot slower, I wonder how much we have learnt in the past 100 years.
Has our behaviour changed in the past century? No, I don’t see it. It’s the opposite: we have more people in less space and social distancing has only been practiced in the past six months, since the onset of this current pandemic. Up until the beginning of this year, only ten months ago, we madly flew around the world, going to places whenever and wherever we wanted.
We have certainly squeezed into spaces close together. We have not taken time out when sick and/or stayed at home to contain the spread of bacteria and viruses. We have not stopped for anything, let alone for mental health or a break to digest, reflect and contemplate. Up until several months ago, many people were going crazy by running around like headless people (rather than chickens). Some felt there was not much consideration for others, the environment, or our community. According to the World Health Organization, there were (and still are) high levels of people suffering from anxiety, social disorders, or depression because it was (and still is) all a little too much.
Look at us now, forced to stay home; ordered to isolation or quarantine. We are forced to stop and stay still, stop the madness of travelling and, in doing so, stretching our own resources to the max. I believe it’s time to stop, breath, reassess and think about the learning from this situation. And we must do it beyond ourselves; we must consider our children, our friends and family, our immediate environment and the planet.
Walter Reed Hospital (USA) flu ward during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 - 1919
As health practitioners
Being a registered health practitioner comes with an obligation, as we have learnt in the past few weeks, and we have very quickly had to pick up our game. At the same time, we are privileged to work, even only in emergencies – but what an award! Weren’t we just recently craving the attention and acknowledgment of the western medical profession? I understand, not all of us are ready to step it up, to embrace this opportunity, because we are not equipped for the challenge. It’s not for the faint hearted and we do have to understand what is expected from us right now and into the future. We must run virus-safe clinics (not just COVID-19 but also for future viruses that show up and evolve). For this, we must get maximum learning from the current situation.
We had to adjust our clinic environments quickly in some areas of Victoria. Some of us had to create a COVID-safe plan in order to operate even just in ‘emergencies’. Others wear PPE (personal protective equipment) and take patients’ temperatures upon entry of clinic premises, very similar to a hospital setting. Most of us have never learnt or practiced anything like this. Some of these exceptional measures should be adopted into the future.
Also, it is clearly not going to be the last time that a pandemic sweeps the world off its feet. Note to educational institutions: include pandemic training in undergraduate courses.
Thankfully, we are a registered professional body and will be participating in future healthcare models. How we can best achieve that might not be entirely clear, but we certainly have the methodologies and tools of professionals that can contribute to healthcare in an incredible way. Just to be clear, I don’t engage with conspiracy theories. Also, I don’t believe in blaming others; we are the creators of our world and must take responsibility for our actions. We must anticipate the consequences of what we do on a daily basis.
As a community
The past few months have been confronting, stressful and uncertain. Not just for us as individuals but also on a community level. Chaos has the potential to bring new orders once the dust settles. Right now, as the turmoil still rages around us, we as a community can not only learn from current circumstances, but also start discussing changes as the bases for a better future. Do you know what’s great about it? There are so many people right now craving change so that our children and their children can grow up and experience a peaceful planet, so they can continue the work and live happily ever after.
I know that right now is an opportunity to build a new foundation for a better structure. And it doesn’t matter how little or how much you can contribute, every single action counts. It is always the small steps that make a big difference.
Let me inspire you to start talking about this ‘better’ world that will provide us with more life quality after the big pause. To continue to live the same as we did before is simply no longer an option for me. Let’s consider new options. How can I contribute to being part of a better and safer world? What would that look like? Pick up the phone and talk to your friends and colleagues now. Start making those atomic changes in your own life – every little step counts. Remember, it’s up to us and we have to take responsibility for our actions. Right now is a good time. Stay safe and well.