Posted on February 01 , 2021
Lessons From COVID-19
The number ‘238’ written in Russian -- as seen in the top left hand corner of this document -- may not mean much to most people, but to me it is an everlasting reminder of my near-death encounter with COVID-19. I see this paper like a grant of death-row clemency, an eleventh-hour call from the Governor. It is the document which allowed me to walk out of Hospital 52 in Moscow. I had been told that if you test Positive and are admitted, there are only two ways out of that building: a series of negative tests and a discharge, or wheeled out in a body bag. On my first day, having just been assigned a room, what do I see out the window but two men in hazmat gear, a stretcher and body-bag between them, another image I will never forget. It’s obvious these things are happening. Our stark reality has been clear for a year. But I was nonetheless so troubled by the immediacy of this encounter that I couldn’t sleep until my son, who is 8 hours behind Moscow time, read me a book for almost an hour until I dozed off. For the next two days my condition deteriorated. I was sure I was not going to make it, to the point that I wrote to my son and my brother about my will, communicated all my passwords and critical information; did my best to quickly, in the midst of illness, get my affairs in order.
While the following five days were the sickest, the lowest I have ever been, this beautiful document is sufficient to say that I survived. The attached excerpt shows my name in Russian, Хан Джозеф Махмуд Анвар….. (Khan Joseph Mahmood Anwar) along with the doctors’ signature confirming that I was negative and had antibodies. ‘Gratitude’ doesn’t begin to capture how indebted I feel to the medical professionals who provided care, my family and friends who provided support and comfort (as much as one can remotely). That being said, I had plenty of contemplative solitude that week and I’d like to discuss the lessons learnt and re-learnt during that nadir. They have helped me live a better life- hopefully be a better person- and if there’s a chance they could do the same for others, they’re worth writing. Here are the first three.
Lesson #1 -- I learnt that COVID-19 is real:
Don’t get me wrong, I never doubted its existence or urgency. I’m not an anti-vaxxer and don’t subscribe to any conspiracy theories (though the Denver airport piques my curiosity). I’ve kept up with the news, and known folks who have tested positive, but after a year it was regrettably easy to become complacent. It hadn’t happened to you yet, and some part of your brain slides into thinking that means ‘it won’t.’ But COVID-19 is real and present, and every day you aren’t infected is owed to precautions that must be maintained. It only takes one sneeze, one cough, one handshake from a contagious individual. Although I had been wearing a mask and mostly maintaining social distancing, not everyone around me was, and it seemed beyond the scope of the social contract to say something, or markedly change my behavior. Then one Saturday afternoon in November I found myself feeling as if I had the flu. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and by Wednesday was in a Moscow hospital in Moscow positive for COVID. I can tell you it is REAL.
Lesson #2 -- I learnt that COVID can be deadly in more ways than one:
I can tell you it is nothing like I have experienced before and I have been in hospital with a heart attack and had multiple stents put in. I promise you this disease is different: COVID not only eats at your body, but it also eats at your soul. It taxes you physically, mentally and emotionally. No wonder that during my stay in the hospital, doctors not only checked my temperature, oxygen level but also asked how I was doing psychologically. During the week that I was in hospital, there were two days when I thought I felt so close to death that I began cobbling together information about my apartment to ease the burden for my brother and son after I passed. I am of the utmost confidence that the emotional support of my family and friends played a vital role in my recovery. Your immune system will fight for your body but you need many more voices in your corner to fight for your mind.
Lesson #3 --I learnt that when you come face-to-face with death, you see things clearly.
All those larger than life figures, the politicians, the community leaders, the so called experts shrink down to their real size. You see their value in terms of their deeds and not exaggerated by the hype, often generated by themselves. You realize that most of these icons are more often than not serving their own agendas rather than pushing forward the welfare of the people who blindly support them.
There will be more writing on these lessons to come. I hope you’re in good health, and if you are please do not take it for granted. Thank you for reading.
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