How Would Posterity Grade Us on our Handling of COVID-19, By Nana Dadzie Ghansah

Coronavirus Emerging Infectious Diseases Global Health Global Pandemic government and politics Health System Weaknesses

There are subjects you study in med school that are meant as instruments of torture. One of these is “Embryology” – the study of how the fetus forms from the fusion of the female egg and the male sperm and how all the organs develop and end up at their final spots. I bet you didn’t know that the heart started off as a tube!

With that intro, let’s go back in time to 1989…back to the University of Leipzig. It was one night in the winter, the night before an all-important embryology exam that would make up 30% of the total score in Anatomy. My study partner and I had been cramming for hours. I was still stuck on how the zygote went from one cell to 16!

Out of the blue, my study partner (SP) went:

SP: I wish I had a gun!
Me: Huh?
SP: I said I wish I had a gun.
Me: I thought I wasn’t hearing right. What for?
SP: I would break into Prof. Schmidt home, put the gun to his head and demand, “Give me a “C”! (Prof. Schmidt was the Embryology professor)
Me: Why a “C”? Why not an “A”?
SP: Do I look like an “A”?
Me: (laughing) NO!
SP: You see! Also, if I ask for a “B”, he might hesitate. In the interim, his wife could call the cops. By the way, is Prof. Schmidt married? He looks like he lives with his mother.
Me: Does that matter? Continue! (still laughing).
SP: However, if I ask for a “C”, he won’t think twice about it. See!
Me: Do you even know where he lives?
SP: Necessity! We’ll find out!

We both laughed and laughed and laughed and then continued studying. We did not break into Prof. Schmidt house. None of us had a gun. We didn’t even know where he lived. We just studied and took the test the next day. Suffice it to say, we did quite well.

I look at what is going on around the world and I wish I could coerce someone, anyone… with power to give the world a better grade than what we are staring at!
A pandemic is not only threatening to take life but the world is at risk of a recession…even a 1920’s type depression!
From China to Iran, to Italy, to even the US, mistakes in responding to the outbreak of COVID-19 have allowed it to reach pandemic status and like my study partner and I that night before the embryology exam, we in the US fear we might fail. Fail to hold the outbreak in check and end up with the same degree of misery the Italians are going through.
Back in 1989, my study partner and I wondered if we had prepared enough for an embryology test and wished we had not procrastinated. Today, we know that as a nation, we procrastinated and are not ready for the spread of COVID-19 that faces us.
Unfortunately, there is no Prof. Schmidt we could possibly intimidate for a better grade. All we can do is prepare.

Yet, in a time like this, I find myself thinking of hope. Hope, that everything turns out ok. I find it strange to feel that way because I am really not a hopeful person. I think life sucks and then we die. And yet, something asks me to find some hope and hold on to it. Something tells me to hope that Providence looks kindly down on us. The cynic in me is finding it hard to do that since that is akin to prayer and I believe prayer only works once you get off your knees and act. But what can I really do apart from going back to work next week and hoping I do not get infected… and there again, the “hope” word raises its head.

So I’ll give in and if someone out there is looking kindly on us, all I ask for is a “C” for the world. Yes! a “C”!
Look at us! Are we “A” material? Look at what we have done with the earth and what we do to each other? Look at how individualistic and selfish we are? Even a “B” is a stretch. So I ask for a “C”.
I do not know what a “C” brings us but I bet it is better than the sickness, death, and recession bearing down on us.
And I hope whoever is out there will listen.

Nana Dadzie Ghansah is an anesthesiologist who lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky

Feature photo: “National Testing – Kyrgyzstan” by USAID/Kyrgyz Republic is licensed under CC BY 2.0


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan