COVID TIMES

The morbidity of the current phase the world is experiencing needs no introduction. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect something like this. As a child, my Social Studies teacher explained, in detail about a disease, an epidemic and a pandemic and the impact of an epidemic on the economy. The teacher insisted that these topics are important from the exam point of view.

Those long, sleepy, boring afternoons were gone writing down notes about all these topics. I always wondered why Social Studies class was during the after-lunch session. I cursed the Ministry of Education for including these topics in the syllabus.

“With all the advancements in Science, Technology and Medicine, is it even possible to have a pandemic? Why are they making us learn all these definitions?”, I complained to my friends. Today I have to eat my words.
“How did we get here?”, sometimes I wonder. How did we forget to learn from the experience of other countries suffering from this crisis? Why did some national leaders get complacent and what on earth convinced them that this deadly virus will not reach their shores? With a plethora of social media platforms like Whatsapp, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and what not filling up our airspace and phones with a tsunami of information from every far corner of the earth, how did we not take care and proper precautions to avoid the spread of this deadly disease? Did we really need the government to lay down an iron-handed rule before we take things seriously?

While some people took the required precautions, some of us took to the beach. While some headed to the supermarket to hoard up supplies, some used the time to party with friends and family. I don’t blame any of them, in fact, I never expected the world to come to a standstill, nor did I believe that so many innocent lives will be lost.

Today the hospitals are like a war zone and all the hospital staff are the brave soldiers fighting to save humanity. The police force that normally is engrossed in fighting crime is playing the roles of either a kind mother begging people to stay home or a desperate father who does not hesitate to serve a few hot ones with his cane just to keep people safe. The internet is flooded with sad stories, the newspapers are crying out woeful figures of fresh new cases and news channels on T.Vs, show videos and images that bring tears to the eyes of even the hardest hearted person.

My heart is filled with pain for those who are suffering and fear for the safety of my family and friends. Doubts loom large in my mind about how long will it take for this dark spell to break? When will the economies around the world heal? Is there any use in the blame game that is making rounds in the world of rumours? These dark times forecast a bleak tomorrow. As the world is choked with desolation, all we can think of now is to get down on our knees, look up to the sky and pray.

Pray for hope, pray for the lives that are battling for a breath of air, pray for a safer tomorrow for all of us. Stay home and stay safe.

Lessons Learnt From COVID-19 Pandemic.

Today, all headlines are dominated by information about or related to COVID-19. Social media too is inundated with the same topic, even comics and jokes are not spared. I don’t blame them for this. If one looks at the latest updates, a staggering number of people are infected in different countries around the world. There are close to 200,000 people affected in 146 countries and the number of fresh new cases continues to rise.

According to the World Health Organisation website, “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that causes illnesses ranging from a common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).”

In light of this, it is very easy for people to panic. More than fear of our safety, we are concerned about our loved ones who are elderly and vulnerable. It scares us to hear about all the people in China, Italy, Iran, Korea, Spain or anyone in any other country who are suffering and live in fear.

Thinking about what we can do to help the situation has motivated me to write this post today. Here are a few precautions and measures we can take up to help our family and friends, in improving the situation (many of these things we already practice in our daily life).

  • No more handshakes and hugs to greet people. From now on, join your hands and say “Namaste”. 
  • No more touching or rubbing the face unnecessarily.
  • Washing our hands frequently is an excellent habit. Especially after we visit the washroom, before and after meals, before and after we meet people and lastly, after we cough or sneeze.
  • Cover your nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing, preferably with tissue paper or fabric as the germs die after some time on the surface. Always,, dispose of used tissues carefully, so that the infection does not spread.
  • Some of us have the habit of touching different surfaces, even when not required. For example, we run our hands along the railing or rest our hands on a table etc. Try to reduce touching unsanitized surfaces when you are in public places.
  • For now, until we get a grip over the current situation, avoid crowded areas and maintain an arms distance from people.
  • This particular one is important for the current situation. If possible, stock up the pantry to last for two weeks, so that you can avoid going out frequently. I don’t recommend panic buying, but this is just a way to minimize the need for frequent visits to public spaces. 
  • There are many herbs and spices, that boost immunity and help alleviate the problem. Tulsi (basil) tea is said to relieve and prevent respiratory illnesses. Turmeric boiled in milk helps relieve irritation in the throat. Eucalyptus oil helps to ease out nasal congestion. There are many other such small remedies which are worth trying.
  • Take vitamins regularly. A healthy body has a better chance at fighting infection. At the same time, I want to stress the importance of a healthy and balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables supply the body with the required nutrients to build our immune system. 
  • Sleep is as important as a healthy diet. Being deprived of proper sleep can hamper the body’s chances to heal itself. Get a good night’s rest and by that, I mean a full eight hours of sleep. The results will be excellent for your health.
  • Everyone should adopt a mild exercise routine. Yoga has many exercises that help keep the respiratory system healthy. Some very useful yoga asanas are Bhastrika, Kapalbhati, Bahya Pranayam, Agnisar, Anulom Vilom, Bhramari, Udgeeth etc. We can find step-by-step instructions on these asanas, on the internet and Youtube.
  • And lastly, do not panic and stress about what might happen. Watching continuous news updates on the spread of this virus can add to your stress levels. We all know that stress kills, so do not lose your cool over the Coronavirus. Take all precautions and have faith in your preparedness.

These are some things that came to my mind. If you have more suggestions to add to my list, I will be extremely happy to hear from all of you. However, I would like to add here that the above precautions are something that will help us in life, irrespective of a virus pandemic or not. Cultivating these habits will keep us safe in the long run. Wishing you all good health.

Depression is Not Always A Psychological Issue

Depression is often seen as a psychological disturbance where a person is persistently sad. The other symptoms include having trouble with concentration, getting easily annoyed by small things, unexplained anxiety, a negative perception of every situation, morbidity etc. The description I have given here is not the textbook explanation of depression or any symptomatic guide to detecting depression. These are traits that I have seen in a few patients of depression that I have encountered.

In fact, I have endured most of these very symptoms at one time in my life. My continuous work stress led me to believe that I might have a serious issue on my hands. So, I booked an appointment for myself and visited the doctor. After hearing my case, the doctor just prescribed a mild antidepressant and some sleeping tablets for me. He did not bother explaining my problem to me or tell me why I needed those pills. I was dismayed at this behaviour, but I still took the medicines. I tried them for 2 weeks and found no improvement. Moreover, I was always sleepy, which got me into trouble at work. When I went back for a followup visit, the doctor wanted to increase the dosage. I was not convinced, so I decided to take things into my own hands.

I did some research on the matter. There were many articles about the seriousness of the illness, the stigma attached to it, the symptoms and possible treatments techniques etc. But, most of the information was only from a behavioural and psychological standpoint. I wanted to avoid taking antidepressants and sleeping pills. I turned to yoga, meditation, walking, and other hobbies to keep my mind stress free and relaxed. It helped to a certain extent, but every now and then, my mind would take a turn into that dark alley where the shadows lie.

This is when I found an article about how nutritional deficiency leads to mood swings, anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability etc. All these symptoms point towards depression when they persist over a long period. This got me thinking, I immediately booked a lab test for myself to check if my problem was less psychological and more to do with nutrition.

I was having B complex deficiency along with being anaemic. This meant I was having a deficiency of iron, vitamin B9, B6, B12 among other things. The article I had read suggested that a deficiency of all the above vitamins along with magnesium, selenium, iodine, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D etc tend to lead to depression. I took the results to a local doctor and he prescribed a set of vitamin supplements and a new diet plan. Within a few weeks, I was feeling more like myself and eventually, I made a full recovery.

What shocked me about this episode, was the psychiatrist that I approached at first, did not ask for any such tests. He did not check about my general health, my eating habits or any other symptoms apart from psychological ones. He was in a hurry to just prescribe antidepressants. My initial research always spoke about the psychological factors and aspects and hardly ever spoke about the impact of nutrition and food habits on our mind. They speak very vaguely about eating healthy food and avoiding junk food. But I had no idea, a simple vitamin or mineral deficiency could disrupt our mind, behaviour and attitude as well.

I was lucky to get out of this mess without any damage done. I want everyone to become aware of the impact of nutrition and healthy food on our body and also our mind. If you suffer from depression, anxiety or any such psychological problems, make sure you also check for any vitamin/ mineral deficiencies and hormone imbalances. I am sure your doctor would have checked on this, unlike mine. But, it is always better to be informed about all the aspects.

The Way To Meditate

Meditation is a form of relaxation and relieving our body of all the stress and tension. It is also a way to reconnect with our inner-self, to become aware of all those suppressed emotions that we keep bottled up, without any outlet. We can talk about the benefits of meditation and how it is helpful to destress us but, how does one meditate. When I researched what meditation was, they said, “it is a state of clear and open mind that is free of all thoughts.” Initially, I found it hard to actually sit and meditate. I was not able to clear my mind of all my thoughts. In fact, the more I tried to clear my thoughts, the more they kept overwhelming me. I decided that it was time to make a serious effort to learn some way to meditate.

As always, I tried the traditional approach of going to a teacher to learn. I told her about my trouble with clearing my mind and how I did not understand how to do it. She took me in and taught me a technique to start off with and slowly get into a meditative state. As per her procedure, she would guide me to relax my body in a progressive way starting from my feet, up to my head. Once my body is relaxed, I should concentrate on my breathing. She said once I achieved it, that was when I learnt meditation. I liked this technique and I practised it daily with her. It felt relatively easy to relax my body and stay breathing. The problem was, what do I do after that? I noticed that while I was following my teacher’s instructions to relax my body and only feel my breath going in and out of my lungs, I had something to anchor my concentration. Once she stops giving instructions, my mind didn’t know what to do next. I felt like a dog that follows its master enthusiastically on a walk. Once they reach the park, the master sits down to feed the birds or ducks and the poor dog is clueless, so he runs around disturbing the birds and ducks.

After reaching this far in my quest to learn meditation, I was more than determined to see the end of it. I now turned to read books to learn what to do next. This is where I heard about ‘Mindfulness Meditation’. It says that rather than dwelling on one thought of past or future, focus on the present. One should take in the sounds, smells, sights of their surrounding without judgement or analysis. Just see, feel and hear. I liked this style as it focused my thoughts that were scattered in different directions and anchored it to the present. I could practise this type of meditation during my commute to the office, sitting at my desk or during walks. I decided to stick to this style of meditation until I felt the need for more.

There is another form of meditation that I liked and learnt when I was researching. In this form, one can concentrate on one happy or peaceful thought and keep repeating it in your mind like a mantra. This particularly helps when one is agitated or disturbed about an event or a person. This way, I can send the person good wishes, good health, or positive results etc.

I started out looking for the best and easy way to meditate and ended up learning more about myself and the way my mind works. There are many more forms of meditation and relaxation. I have listed just a few here, but I hope it motivates everyone to try them and find peace.

Age Is Not Just a Number

They say, ‘ Age is just a number’, ‘You are as old as you think you are’. If you want to feel young, then you have to be young at heart. This is how people view age and the process of ageing. At first, I thought who am I to dispute this. I am not that old yet to debate the matter. I accepted it on its face value.

Now I beg to differ. Not that I have suddenly aged, thankfully not yet. However, I have been in the company of old people due to certain inescapable events. They may not complain about their condition all the time, but just to watch them struggle to perform everyday tasks is tragic. Their mind is keen, but the body is not able to keep up like it used to. We see some people have a tough time holding a cup of coffee without spilling it. Sometimes they have difficulty climbing steps as they keep missing a step in between. It gets even more complicated when the body is fine, but your mind starts to rebel. Hallucinations and delusions are an example of such situations. I am not talking about any specific mental or physical condition that causes these problems. Many such difficulties arise once your age advances.

The sad part of all this is, some of these conditions can be delayed, or even avoided if necessary precautions are taken at a young age. Often we take our body and health for granted and ignore exercises and healthy food. We might enjoy life now, but it all comes due, once we cross our 60s. For those unlucky few, it comes due earlier.

I have picked a touchy topic to discuss, but I intend to highlight the significance of taking care of health and fitness. When our body does not comply, our mind cannot do anything. Ageing is inevitable, but the only thing to ensure minimum pain is healthy food and plenty of exercises. Keep moving and working to keep fit.

This is one advice that I insist on giving. The earlier you get on the road to fitness, the better. Even if you are a late starter, I say it’s better late than never. Bring out your exercise gear and let’s get cracking on health.

Are You Living With a Depressed Person?

Every time we talk about any mental health issues, we only talk about the patients. We talk about their mental state, their emotions, their needs and we prioritize on them. However, it is very important to talk about the people supporting these patients as well.

Mental health issues in themselves are difficult to handle because of all the stigma associated with it. A patient is generally not willing to seek help because of the fear of ostracization and ridicule from society and peers. And this fear, ridicule and alienation are faced by the people taking care of them as well. In fact, I would say the caregivers face a bigger challenge than the patient themselves. They do not have the wounds to show, but they have to bear all the pain and stand strong for the patient and take added responsibility.

I have had the misfortune of witnessing the kind of responsibility faced by the family or friends of the patients. The most common statement they hear is, “You should have been more responsible when you know the situation”. It is almost like it is their biggest curse for being the caregiver. It does not matter how difficult the patient is being, the caregiver always ends up taking the blame. The worst part is that we do not have to verbally blame them or say anything. Their conscience will not let them rest for even the slightest of mistakes. That is generally an enormous strain for anyone. It could end up causing problems for them in the future too.

I do not have a solution or suggestion for this concern, as I am not a qualified professional to deal with mental health issues. I can, however, bring to light this concern and hope that those in the know can show us the way forward. Please leave comments and suggestions if you have any.

Indian home remedies passed down from my grandma

Every once in a while we have all faced some sort of health issue that was too small to visit the doctor, but troublesome enough to make us lose our sleep. Every time, in such a situation, we turn to those trusty home remedies that are passed in our family from generation to to generation. Sometimes, even suggestions from friends and neighbours help us. I have tried to make a compilation of those remedies that I have heard of an tried. I only hope to share them and see if others will find it helpful too.

These home remedies are those that I have learnt from my grandmothers and old aunts that did not have immediate access to a doctor in the old days. Some of these remedies suit Indian climate more than other colder locales. They are all harmless and can be tried at least once before you can decide upon its usefulness.

  • Curd and Fenugreek paste: They say that curd and fenugreek paste, when applied to scalp will help to fight dandruff. Make a paste of fenugreek seeds soaked in water and mix the paste with sufficient curd and apply to your scalp. The mixture leaves a bit of a stink if you do not rinse it off your hair completely.
  • Sesame oil mixed with Camphor: Mix camphor powder with sesame oil and massage it on your joints or painful muscles for instant pain relief. This trick worked well for me. It is an old grandmother’s remedy for arthritis and other rheumatic pains. It helps to improve circulation when you massage well.
  • Gelatine paste with Turmeric and Honey: This mixture helps remove blackheads and white heads on the skin. Mix 2 teaspoons of gelatine powder with a pinch of turmeric and a teaspoon of honey. Apply a thin layer of this on the affected area and leave it to dry. Peel it off your skin to see all your blackheads removed.
  • Paste of yellow split pea (besan) to lighten hair growth: This is an age old technique that South Indians use to lighten hair growth on hands and legs. This besan paste when mixed with rice flour and dried orange peel makes a bath powder. It is supposed to lighten hair growth over repeated use, but the process is very slow. It takes many months to see even a slight change. This paste however is good for the skin.
  • A decoction of cumin and coriander seeds will cure stomach cramps and period pains. This is another old wife’s cure. Drink half a glass of this decoction daily. It takes a few weeks of regular use to start showing results. It is good for digestion, smoothens skin, reduces pimple breakouts and alleviates cramps.
  • Toothpaste to remove pimples: Apply a generous blob of regular calcium toothpaste on your pimple in its early stage. The calcium and the anti-cavity medicine in your paste will prevent the pimple from aggravating and erupting.
  • Triphala powder helps with incessant toothache or bleeding gums. Triphala is an ayurvedic mixture of 3 fruits in the dried form. When you use this powder to massage your gums and teeth, it helps alleviate bleeding gums and received tooth aches. It also strengthens your gums and fights cavities in early stages.
  • Holy Basil: It is a commonly called Tulsi in most Indian households and it is a godsend for most ailments. A tea made with Tulsi leaves helps to fight the common cold and allergy symptoms. You can add a squeeze of lime and a spoon of honey to this tea in case of cough and sore throat.
  • Vaseline Jelly:  Petroleum jelly or Vaseline jelly works excellently for cracked heels. Every night, before you go to bed, wash and dry your feet and apply Vaseline to the cracked heels. Put on socks and go to bed. In the morning you can wash of the Vaseline. In a week’s time you will notice a big difference.
  • Hibiscus flower: Boil the petals of the red hibiscus flower in coconut oil until the flowers are charred. Filter out the petals and use this oil to massage into the scalp. This oil helps to promote hair growth and keeps the hair black.
  • Fresh garlic cloves with warm milk help with blood pressure control and fights cholesterol. Boil one close of garlic in a glass of milk and drink it on empty stomach in the morning. It tastes pungent and is basically yuck, but, is an effective remedy for high BP.
  • Aloe Vera: Aloe has thick fleshy leaves with thorns on the edges. Aloe Vera has numerous health benefits. The one that worked for me is that it helped me get over the acid burning sensation in my stomach and esophagus. How to use: scrape the outer green skin and the thorns. Take a piece of the white gelatinous part and wash it thoroughly in running water to get rid of as much slime as you can. I used a piece half the size of my pointing finger, dipped it in sugar and chewed it thoroughly and swallowed it with water. This has to be taken early in the morning on an empty stomach and do not eat or drink anything for the next thirty minutes. I did this for ten days. This remedy worked very well for me.
  • Coconut Water: Coconut water is the most wholesome food that one can survive on. It provides the body a concoction of all essential minerals and vitamins. In case of nausea, diarrhea or severe stomach agitation, drink a glass of coconut water every few hours to replenish your lost body fluids.
  • Potato peel is good for skin lightening and acts as a mild bleaching agent. Wash the potatoes to remove all dirt and take out thick layer of the peel. A paste made from this peel can be applied on your skin to help lighten it.
  • Onion Juice: Onion juice is known to promote hair growth. Take a quarter piece of red onion and grate to using a grater. You will be left with onion pulp and milky white liquid. Strain this juice and apply to your scalp and hair roots in the affected area. Leave it on for 20 minutes and rinse with water.
  • Ginger juice with Honey: Ginger juice with honey is an old remedy to remove impurities from the blood. When you have frequent acne breakouts and skin rashes you can try this quick trick. Take a tablespoon of Ginger juice and add a dollop of honey to it and take on an empty stomach in the morning. Sometimes you can also chew on a small piece of ginger dabbed in salt. It will reduce the occurrence of puss filled boils and those white top pimples too.

I am sure that you have heard of quite of few of these preparations from your friends and elders too. They have served us well in the olden days before advanced medicines and medical procedures were invented. However, do not depend on these remedies when a problem persists, always consult a medical doctor and take the right medicines. These home remedies are something to help along with the doctor rather than to replace them.