Learning Lessons From COVID-19

Let's talk peace — the outgrowth of understanding from this difficult time.

Posted May 22, 2020

Kristin De Soto/Pexels
Source: Kristin De Soto/Pexels

This is a guest post written by Fakhria Masumi Khorrami, M.D.  Dr. Khorrami offers a physician's perspective on the pandemic crisis based on her own experiences. It is a message from a medical doctor, whose husband is also a medical doctor, to anyone who reads it regardless of geographic boundaries and socioeconomic standing.

Dear Reader,

Staying home these days because of COVID-19 is growing to be a somber way of living.  There is a feeling of fear and uncertainty as to the developments before each new day, and it is a unique experience, indeed.  Whether one is an essential worker or a stay-at-home person, a tiny, invisible but deadly virus has mercilessly waged a full-fledged war on us all. 

Destroying and crippling people and institutions in every corner of the world, this virus has created a turn of events that has been a surprising, frightening, and overwhelming phenomenon for each and every one of us. It is also a time of deep contemplation and reflection about the notion that we are all in this together, regardless of distance, geographical, ideological, and economical boundaries. Indeed, it is also a time for reaching out and filling in the cracks of division and disparities that have existed for several decades among people and nations of the world. Above all, I take it as a moment of pause to truly and genuinely reflect on the lessons to be learned.

It is highly likely that you have experienced some moments in life when you were afraid, uncertain, or didn’t know what to do. A few of mine that allow me to empathize are:

  • The thundering sound of Soviet military jet planes in 1979 while finishing the final years of medical school in Kabul, Afghanistan
  • My escape from the brutal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan while witnessing family members and dear young classmates vanish every day
  • Finding myself in foreign lands, trying to work as a medical doctor including in refugee camps, and eventually making it to the USA
  • Becoming a practicing physician in America anew, while raising a family and working, only to be topped with my personal health crisis and becoming a cancer survivor a few years ago 

I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to live and work in this great country. To the best of my ability, I have endeavored to share my contributions with the society in which I live and cherish.

My over 30 years of medical experience has given me the opportunity to meet tens of thousands of patients with whom I engaged in a trusted way regarding their health issues and struggles. I have found Americans very hardworking, honest, and helpful people, carrying big hearts. Their busy lifestyle, however, may have thus far afforded them a lesser degree of in-depth pause about people living outside America. I also think they have not felt the need to do so because they are self-sufficient. 

For long, I have thought that using might and force, resorting to aggression and invasions, were not going to solve the world’s problems and challenges. I have witnessed a series of wars and conflicts over the last four decades, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulting in the defeat of communism and the perpetual chaos in Afghanistan to this day, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, Chechnya, the Sudan Conflict, US-Iraq War, US-Afghanistan War, the Syrian War, the War in Yemen, to name a few. 

These man-made wars turned out controversial regardless of the motives they were waged for; they resulted in overwhelming destruction, fear, uncertainty, displacement, morbidity, financial chaos, and above all the loss of millions of precious lives. This history, which has been written, confirmed my thinking that most wars could not restore peace and security. 

It is important now more than ever to understand and have empathy/sympathy for the pain, suffering, and feelings of uncertainty that debilitate our fellow human beings anywhere and everywhere in the world, for some of whom—like in Afghanistan—unfortunately have become a way of life. 

We are facing the unforeseen and monumental burden of a nature-made war in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, as everyone—without differentiation—is seeking relief. While spending time indoors using social media and virtually interacting with each other, we’re seeing and hearing what is going on in the world. In consideration of its magnified socioeconomic impact and geographic spread, we cannot fight this war with conventional tools and means.

We may feel helpless but we must not be hopeless. We must tackle it in different ways, deriving strength from our value as human beings, gifted with a conscience—guided by Almighty God. As part of the human race, at the bottom of everyone’s heart, there is a wish for the COVID-19 virus to go away. Whether we are a believer or non-believer, we need to build on this wish.

Wars don’t have winners but rather millions of losers. As we claim civility, we should combine it with science, technology, know-how, and solidarity as tools to fight this—and subsequent—battles for the best interest of ourselves and our fellow man. Let us encourage our younger generations that bravery is to settle disputes and differences rationally—to save lives and do good like our healthcare workers are doing—and not through the use of lethal weaponry, if we claim to be one civilized human race. I hope people in my loving place of birth, Afghanistan, also consider this concept.  

Man is created free. Each individual operates on his/her own will and choices. As humans, they cannot be forced to hold a dictated opinion or belief. They are capable of learning and adapting to best support their societies if encouraged in a positive direction, provided with good resources, and attempt to understand one another. This is the only way we can get to peace.

Amid the unthinkable and unfortunate sufferings and agonies caused by COVID-19 around the globe, a strong message of hope and determination emerges and stands tall, which is that our strength is in our unity, coexistence, and belief in our will; our victory is in our resiliency.  

My deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who lost their precious lives to COVID-19. Wishing all health, safety, and peace.

I conclude my remarks with a poem by Saadi, the famous Persian poet of the 13th century:

Human beings are parts of one whole                     
In creation, of one essence and soul

As one part is afflicted with pain                              
Other parts uneasy shall remain 

If you are mindless of others’ pain                            
The name human thy cannot retain.

Thank you.

Fakhria Masumi Khorrami, MD