By Dr Elias Chakabwata
The advent of Covid 19 pandemic has drastically changed a number of things. Indeed it is no longer business as usual as people all over the world are perplexed and try to come to terms with the “new normal” which characterize the times we are living in.
At an individual level one does not know whether what they are feeling is an ordinary cold or it is the Covid 19 virus in its initial stages of attack. One thing for sure you don’t want to sneeze in public in times like this as you may scare people away as they scurry for cover from the attacks of the invisible army whose effects are visible!
If there was a time when people valued cleanliness it is now. People are frequently washing their hands as recommended by the authorities and sanitizing them at regular intervals. The issue of social distancing has affected many social relations as friends can’t afford to sit closer to each other to share secrets.
At family level people can no longer visit relatives or friends. One thing in almost every human being is an in – built sense to pick a signal whether people you are visiting have welcomed you or they are practicing public relations and putting on plastic smiles as they try to figure out how to make sure they don’t get the virus that you may have brought upon your visit. Some have gone a step further by writing at their gates “No Visitors Please”.
The issue of family get togethers, birthday parties and other related functions for now is wishful thinking as the authorities have put in place mechanisms to manage the spread of the pandemic. The lockdown measures have prohibited gatherings in the interest of public health. Human beings are social beings. Now there are those who are finding it hard to function well without visiting friends and relatives. Some are depressed because of this.
Mental related conditions have affected a number of people because of the changes in the way of life. Newspaper headlines are awash with gender based violence which is on the increase in homes.
At community level ,the suspension of Church gatherings and other public gatherings have really hit hard on some people. Some people are finding it hard to pray on their own in their homes since they are used to gathering either on a Saturday or Sunday for church services.
Attending an online church service to them is a nightmare as they may not have the data to go on line. Not only that some don’t even have mobile phones that are compatible with whatsapp or other social media platforms. To some extent the gap between the haves and the have nots is widening. Those who have the means are upgrading their machines and acquiring the latest technology to access good quality services online.
Then comes the situation when one falls sick from the Covid 19 pandemic and it gets to be known by family members and friends. This time becomes a traumatizing period as you face ostracism as those who used to call you even cut calls lest the virus be transmitted via radio signals!
The sight of your spouse or child putting on protective clothing entering a room where you are in self-quarantine is a scary experience. Psychologically you get stressed and a sixth sense kicks in to tell you that “you are now a rejectee and no one cares”. Wait a moment more is to come.
If you have a whatsapp compatible mobile device those who get to know of your challenge start bombarding you with all sorts of advice. Some concoctions without names are prescribed by self-anointed medical practitioners. Some of the concoctions may bring relief while others may bring more woes to an already burdened soul.
If funds are available the City of Harare health department frequents your place to check on how you are doing and again the personal protective equipment they will be clad in is a stress inducing thing. Their whole body is covered and you only recognize that this is a person by the movements and when they try to carefully engage you to complete some forms which may be part of the routine checks.
Most of the time you are alone in a room sometimes because of financial constraints you may not even have a radio to entertain you. The silence in your room will be so loud to miss it! When you hear footsteps you start guessing whether someone is bringing food since it may be lunchtime or maybe another official from one of the organizations has come to conduct an interview via a keyhole. Eish!
Can you imagine the mental torture that may be going on in this person. Emotions will be somersaulting. The idea of death lingers and strongly gather momentum in the mind as they receive daily updates on the ravages of Covid 19 pandemic. “So many people succumbed yesterday to this pandemic”, boom comes the news!
The mind becomes the battle field as unseen forces compete for attention and space. One will be saying “you are already a statistic” while another one will be saying “you can make it”. Now it depends with which one you entertain, you can either become paralyzed or energized to live on and fight one more day.
In some instances the person not feeling well is admitted in a health institution. The woes continue to mount as they try to adjust to this unfamiliar territory. On a daily basis he or she sees these people dressed like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. Lord have mercy! The mental anguish is too much.
As though that is not enough, no visitors are allowed to come and see you once you are in there. It looks like you are in a prison for some heinous crime that you may have committed.
Back in the community, the stigma is too heavy to bear as rumor spreads like wildfire that you tested positive to Covid 19. All of a sudden even the young man who used to supply you cobra starts to give excuses ranging from the shortage of the chemicals to the shortage of food at his home to cook and get energy to go around and sell the cobra!
It is a torrid time as even the guards at a local public water source bar your family from accessing water because they are using yellow containers. Honestly one tries to think of the relationship between container color and water. All sorts of excuses are given to make sure you are frustrated. In some social media platforms you are removed with the administrators giving flimsy reasons why you may have been removed from the group.
If you have a family the mental anguish is exacerbates by failing to see your children as you live in isolation. The emotional turmoil is inexplicable.
In the event that one eventually dies from the pandemic, the surviving family members experience floodgates of challenges. The funeral parlor sends its team after a couple of hours. The police officers are hesitant to come and do the formalities that are usually done when one dies at home.
Now there comes the next hurdle there is nobody viewing, the room where the person passed on is fumigated so are the surrounding structures including cars. The undertakers are in heavy combat ready to defend themselves from the invisible enemy who attacks living visible evidence.
The funeral is a marathon one with very few people in attendance in line with the statutory requirements. Loneliness reigns supreme. The pain of losing someone close to you to covid 19 related sickness is tough.
The funeral is short circuited to comply with the “new normal.” The issue of closure is not easy as there is no time to go through the usual formalities like a night vigil and body viewing.
It is very important that we realize that we are in an emergency. Let us try to support one another during such times be it morally, financially, spiritually and any other ways feasible without endangering our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. Below are a few suggestions:
1. Call the family which is affected and offer words of hope instead of depressing news.
2. The person who is sick should have access to some things that they love to do eg listening to music, playing an instrument or some other form of entertainment to keep them occupied wherever possible.
3. Those who enjoy prayers should be allowed to pray in their closet and wherever possible give them the media to use for their activity as support.
4. As people take concoctions or homemade remedies they should also take scientifically proven medication to help fight the invasion of the virus.
5. The person who is sick should be selective as far as news he or she listens to , avoid hearing continuous ravaging effects of the pandemic as this may result in depression.
6. Society should learn to support the sick and the affected loved ones without stigmatizing them.
7. All the necessary and recommended procedures should be followed yet still displaying love and care in the process.
8. Those who can send messages via mobile devices should do so to encourage the sick person as well as their support structure at home.
9. Those who like reading should be given their favorite literature and some enjoy writing they should be allowed to write whatever they desire to write.
10. While in isolation keep yourself occupied if you can. Don’t let your mind wonder in all directions. Instead of saying “ what if I die ?” ask the question “what if I recover?”
A word of caution to those who believe in spiritual healing, you can pray at a distance without getting in contact with the person who is sick just like the story of Jesus Christ and the Centurion’s servant. There is no distance in the spirit realm.
After the prayer do not put the person who is sick under pressure to testify that they have been healed. Allow them to get tested again and thereafter a way forward can be designed. Some will not feel comfortable to share their testimony because of the stigma that sometimes results even after one has recovered.
We are still hopeful that the Covid 19 pandemic shall be a thing of the past and mankind shall once again shake hands and walk around without masks. We continue lifting our eyes to God the Almighty for His interventions. There is still hope in the middle of covid 19 pandemic.
Dr Elias Chakabwata PhD D.D is a Bible Scholar and a professional counselor