Lock down begins. I thought, going to work that I would see a ghost town. I did not. The traffic has definitely reduced, but there are still people on the streets. The shops are closed, or closing. The police stops are increasing. The first day, I was underwhelmed. I did not meet a single policeman on my way to work. Today, I was stopped more times. The grip is tightening slowly, but maybe not fast enough.
I met a police woman this morning who did not have a mask on when she stopped me. I was not wearing a mask myself, because I had been sitting alone in an air-conditioned car. Our separation was just about a metre. I showed her my cards. She waved me on. And then I asked her where her mask was. She said she did not have one. I picked up a spare N95 in my bag, gave it to her and drove on, my mind teeming with questions.
Yesterday, the neurosurgical world lost a giant. I was privileged to sit in Prof Goodrich’s lecture in October last year. He was talking about his experience in leading work all over the world to separate craniophagous twins. These are babies born joined at the head. Successfully separating them is the holy grail of neurosurgery. This man had led teams to do this surgery over and over again, and succeeded. All over the world, neurosurgeons use his protocols to do this surgery. He had been on ventilator until yesterday in the morning. And then he could carry on no further. All his expertise. All his humanity. All his knowledge, taken away by COVID 19. A top doctor, in one of the world’s most advanced critical care hospitals, had become a casualty in a battle that is real.
It is not real here yet. It is almost as if we have not seen the havoc that it has wreaked across the world. We are playing with fire, whilst waiting for the fire truck to arrive. There are lessons we should have learnt long ago, but time has run out. We have crowded asymptomatic people together in markets, trotros, taxis, streets, and now, in the shadow of the lock down, they are settling in homes across the country, and maybe the virus has followed them.
The battle front has not changed. The planning is still fragmented. The moving parts are not clicking together yet, maybe they will . For now, i just hope that the coordination that is so basic to any glimpse of victory, miraculously manifests. That out of the chaos of ineffectual public education, wretched health care, and unprotected frontline staff, something arises. Some kind of Phoenix, out of the ashes of trial and error, to save us from the catastrophe that we are manufacturing for ourselves.
As the storm brews, I am learning a bit more about the country I live in. I have always known about the goodness, and some of the bad. I have also seen some of the harm that dithering can cause, how crucial it is to plan systematically. Now I have even how leaderless people feel, and how the lack of selflessness of the people in power, just mirrors the soul of the governed. The panic that emptied supermarket shelves, the cold heartedness that drove prices of staples upwards three/four times over. How will we win any battle saving ourselves, when this virus just awaits the chance to invade the straying individual.
I have seen the masks multiplying in town, as the fear settles. I have seen people protect themselves from the hidden pestilence, in places where no virus would want to be. And it is striking, that whilst the masks are used indiscriminately all over town, the people who face the virus head on, are running out of equipment.
We have lost the battle to contain this virus. It is now only a matter of time, and numbers. The curve is growing, it will peak, then flatten before the virus blows over. And only discipline and community will tide us over. If we stay indoors and take mobility away from the virus, and keep it from infecting even more people outside, maybe we begin to win. Maybe we free the health workers to do the best they can.
Maybe we will protect ourselves from losses we cannot recover from.
Dr. Teddy Totimeh is a Pediatric Neurosurgeon who practices at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital in Ghana