Reflections on the Pandemic, Infodemic, and Photogenic

Every continent except Antarctica is consumed by COVID-19, with no country spared, and the presence of the pandemic weighs heavily on humanity, impacting everyone, every day, and everywhere.

Life as we know it has essentially changed over about six weeks, in ways that no one really anticipated. Ever since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China, on November 17, 2019, we have become reliant on information provided by government leaders, medical organizations, and news and social media, each colouring the global crisis in attempts to justify their viewpoints. The pandemic has triggered an infodemic, and we find ourselves struggling to find sense in it all.

For me, COVID-19 has affected several aspects of my professional and personal life. I am a physician working as a hospitalist in the United States, caring for patients sick enough to have been admitted to hospital. I am a frontline healthcare worker, witnessing firsthand the heart-wrenching toll of this disease. I am passionate about my job, and I am acutely aware of the shortage of resources such as personal protection equipment (PPE). Mindful to conserve and minimize use and waste, I am trying to do my job to the best of my ability without compromising care for my patients, without jeopardizing my own health and that of my loved one, supporting my team and the healthcare co-workers with whom I am fighting this battle daily, shoulder to shoulder. I salute my medical fraternity and all other frontline workers within our medical system who have allowed us to continue to bring essential services to our communities and kept us going through this crisis.

Residents wearing face masks practise social distancing as they stand in a queue for free rice at the St. Joseph’s cathedral in the old quarters of Hanoi on April 27, 2020, after Vietnam eased its nationwide social isolation effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. – Vietnam eased social distancing measures on April 23, with experts pointing to a decisive response involving mass quarantines and expansive contact tracing for the apparent success in containing the coronavirus. (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)

The world has overnight adopted the concept of “social distancing,” which is essential but hard to implement when individuals lack an understanding of what it means and why it is necessary. Keeping six feet away from another human, as the Centers for Disease Control advises, spotlights the sheer desperation of some who fear to lose their daily wages or simply do not see a way to escape their current living situations. While some thankfully have the liberty of working from home, as a hospitalist, I cannot social-distance from my required presence in the hospital. I worry about my elderly mother, with whom I live, trying to explain to her why I distance from her when I return home from work, how I am trying to protect her from me, and how, given the global repercussions of the disease, it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part. I explain to her she also must social-distance to help contain and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Our families are impacted, our loved ones imperilled, and I feel deeply empathetic with the turmoil this can create.

Downtown Chicago

In addition to practising medicine, I love to capture the world with my camera lens. I am an amateur photographer and an avid traveller. To me, travelling is a passion that can fill every void. Travel is my sanctuary when I am in new places, capturing life with my lens, documenting in pictures my exploration and discovery. Inability to travel and feed this desire has left me feeling empty. The world seems to have stopped, and it is asking us all to do the same. Despite our wants, desires and long term planning, we have all been reminded that nothing can be taken for granted and nothing is ever promised. Booking a travel itinerary, which was as easy as a few clicks on the computer, is now a distant reality. I am uncertain about what international travel will even look and feel like.

In the gift of time that we have all been given, I try to stay optimistic and nurture other passions like experimenting with and expanding my culinary skills. As I walk the streets of my hometown, downtown Chicago, my camera lens captures the empty streets of a once-bustling metropolis, desolate in a backdrop of utterly magnificent architecture. I realize I am capturing moments that history will document as the COVID era. The once-busy, luxurious downtown streets of beautiful Chicago are silent and empty with an air of eerie melancholy that makes them seem like a scene out of an apocalyptic science fiction movie, far removed from the reality of what this city was only a few weeks ago.

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While there is much uncertainty as to what life will look like even in the near future, I want to remain hopeful. Learning to adapt to change is what will build our collective resilience. With optimism and growing resistance, I continue to define my own “new normal,” and I wish the same for you all. Finding something to do, love, and look forward to will give meaning to our lives at this uniquely challenging time.

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