Uncertainty, Inconvenience, and Disaster

I imagine we can all agree on this one thing. We are living in uncertain times. 

The global pandemic created by Covid-19 has been disruptive in many ways: to families, to routine, to livelihood, to education, to government, to business, to friendships, to socialization. It has disrupted sameness. And we don’t like it. It is no secret that we human beings do not like change, yet this virus has imposed change in nearly every conceivable way. It is inconvenient and it is uncomfortable for us. But for the nearly 100,000 people in the US who have died from the virus,  it has been a disaster. We all want to know when this will be over and we can go back to normal.

Far apart from the world of Covid-19, yet similar, neurorehabilitation specialists attend to disaster every time we meet a person who has had a stroke. They wake up the day after their stroke to a changed world where restrictions are imposed by their own bodies. Their world is disrupted. The medical team stabilizes their organ systems; we are called to the disaster to attend to their movement system. Our work determines how long their restrictions will last. They want to know when it (the effects of the stroke) will be over and when they can get back to normal.

Stroke patients ask many of the same questions after their stroke that we (Isolated at Home) find ourselves asking about the ongoing pandemic. The parallel is striking.

Stroke Patient (SP): How long will it be before I can walk?

Isolated at Home(IAH): How long will it take to flatten the curve?

SP: Will I be able to return to work?

IAH: When can I reopen my business and get back to work?

SP: Am I going to have another stroke?

IAH: Am I really likely to get the virus?

SP: I’m stuck at home because I can’t walk and I can’t drive. How can I go anywhere?

IAH: Why can’t things open up so I can get out of the house and go somewhere?

SP: When will I be able to do the things that are important to me that I care about?

IAH: Why are we being ordered to stay at home and kept from doing what we want to do?

SP: How can my family survive financially if I don’t go back to work?

IAH: When can we go back to work so the bills can be paid?

SP: Some people say I’m not going to get better and others say I will. How do I know who to believe about what is going to happen to me?

IAH: I hear varying reports about the medicines and vaccines. Who should I believe?

We seem to have questions in our Covid-19 world similar to that of our patients. The pandemic has created uncertainty and inconvenience and, for some, disaster. But fortunately for us, our uncertainty due to Covid-19 is a temporary inconvenience. For our patients, their event was a personal disaster of much greater magnitude and consequence, not a mere inconvenience. But we and our patients all want the same thing. We want the uncertainty to go away so we can get back to normal . . . the way we were the day before the virus … or the stroke.

In the US, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. That is 2160 new cases every day. That is 2160 personal disasters a day. Heart disease has been the number one killer of Americans for the past 80 years. No epidemic or pandemic has ever lasted that long, not SARS, not MERS, not Zika, not Ebola and I don’t imagine Covid-19 will either. 

I am not trying to downgrade the importance of what is going on right now with this very contagious, fast-moving virus. But I am wondering if this pandemic and all the uncertainty it brings, could remind us and sensitize us to the 2160 world changing events that happen every day in our country. Let us make sure that we have an excellent response plan and focus on getting our patients back out into the world. Let us understand the difference in inconvenience and disaster. Let us keep the hope and see the possibilities for them. Let us use our knowledge and skill and not let them be swallowed up by uncertainty.

All of us could use some certainty right now.