All around me, I sense a growing indifference to the dreadfulness of the disease called the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. It is not a mere disease, it is a pandemic. As most countries of the world are observing lockdowns in one form or the other, and self-isolation is considered the fundamental barrier between human beings and the coronavirus, it is becoming painfully evident that governmental injunctions do not hold much weight when in repudiation of the very essence of humanity.

Lockdowns and self-isolation only work if implemented with a strictness applicable to a high security jail. Regular humans do not show full compliance to quarantines even if their lives and those of others depend on them.

Pakistanis are aware of the existence of the coronavirus. They are in lockdown. They are practising self-isolation. But are they really? Is there an increasing sense of restlessness? Not just for material imperativeness, aren’t most Pakistanis dying to resume their normal lives? Not merely the daily wage earner or the meagre monthly salary earner, aren’t complaints of present nothingness of life transmitting from every class of people? The coronavirus is there, but people do not seem to be much bothered about its deadliness anymore.

That is something I find truly scary.

You hear about the pain of the survivors. It makes you go still, as you utter a silent prayer and reach for your mask even in the safe seclusion of your room. Do most people understand the timeline of the coronavirus? Is there any genuine realisation of the pain the coronavirus patients go through? The stories from doctors who treat the coronavirus patients are a lesson for those who trivialise its reality. Boredom over safety, job over safeguards, money over health, excitement over precaution, what is it going to be, my dear Pakistanis?

COVID-19 is here without an exit date. Its vaccine is non-existent right now, for many more months. COVID-19 is terrifying for the way it spreads, for its global pandemic status, for the indescribable pain it causes to its victims. The very words coronavirus or COVID-19 are made up of countless skulls and crossbones.

The invasion of the coronavirus is silent. There is no alert. A human being coming into contact with an infected human being, who may appear to be absolutely healthy, a little unwell, or asymptomatic, contracts a disease that has redefined the word “virus” in 2020. For days it may be without any outward sign. Once it manifests its symptoms it remains nondescript, occasionally.

Some of the early symptoms are dry cough, slight fever, and shortness of breath. Some people also develop a headache and a sore throat. Some complain of fatigue. Some think they have a cold. In rare cases, diarrhoea appears. Not a case for any real panic, but to not panic is one of those things human beings are fast unlearning in the time of the coronavirus. For that stage, doctors suggest treatment in consultation with a physician, but hospitalisation is not recommended.

Then there are the serious cases. COVID-19 accelerates when a patient’s immune system overreacts to the virus. Dr Nathalie MacDermott of King’s College, London says, “The virus is triggering an imbalance in the immune response, there’s too much inflammation, how it is doing this we don’t know.” That is another terrifying facet of COVID-19. Every few days, new symptoms, new degenerations of body appear. In some patients in the US, severe blood clotting has been reported.

Patients develop pneumonia, which, in turn, creates shortness of breath and difficulty to breathe. As a lifelong asthmatic, the memory of my childhood asthma attacks when each breath took the life out of me takes my mind to the ventilated bed of every coronavirus patient. What else matters when you are unable to breathe?

Reportedly, 16 percent of the coronavirus patients get to that stage.

An Italian cardiologist Fabio Biferali was in a Rome hospital for eight days. He says he was “isolated from the world.” The most difficult part of those eight days was the night-time. That is when his fears haunted him. Biferali says, “I couldn’t sleep, anxiety invaded the room … nightmares came, death prowled. I was afraid of dying without being able to cling on to the hands of my family and friends, despair overcame me.”

The coronavirus patients, in ICUs, find hope in their doctors’ eyes, in their quiet words of comfort.

And then there are the six percent who reach the critical stage. The number is merely an estimate. The coronavirus has a way of changing its itinerary without notice.

The critically ill are alone with the PPE-ed medical staff who take care of them with every iota of capability and care they have. The immune system spirals out of control, wreaking havoc throughout the body. If the blood pressure plummets to a precarious level and the working of vital organs decreases, the biggest danger is that of going into septic shock.

The medical experts state: “Acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by widespread inflammation in the lungs stops the body getting enough oxygen it needs to survive. It can stop the kidneys from cleaning the blood and damage the lining of your intestines. If the immune system cannot get on top of the virus, then it will eventually spread to every corner of the body where it can cause even more damage. Treatment by this stage will be highly invasive and can include extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation. This is essentially an artificial lung that takes blood out of the body through thick tubes, oxygenates it and pumps it back in. But eventually the damage can reach fatal levels at which organs can no longer keep the body alive.”

The worst part of the coronavirus death is the loneliness that shrouds the patients, cut away from their family and loved ones, before they are shrouded in a sealed plastic bag, put in a disinfected, not-to-be-opened coffin, marked as another statistic.

The stories of the coronavirus survivors, despite their days of excruciating pain and night terrors, reach us.

The stories of the coronavirus dead go with them.

The pain of the coronavirus dead will always be untold.