Author: Ugochinyere Vivian Ukah, MPH, PhD
This year 2020 was going to be a great one, I could just feel it – those were my words at the start of the year. I already had my yearly goals, both personal and career-wise, outlined; the latter which I had discussed with my mentor who seemed to be impressed. As a postdoctoral research fellow, my main focus was research in maternal health, which would yield lots of publications and conference attendances. For these, I had ideas, analysed data waiting to be written up into the manuscripts, and results to be submitted as conference abstracts. I was excited as I had also recently received a visiting scholarship to conduct research for some months in a Scandinavian country. Finally, everything was coming together for me; the only thing left was getting a job but I was optimistic.
The news of the virus first came to my attention early January 2020 from my Chinese colleagues and friends. However, it seemed so far away and never in my wildest dream did I think it would come anywhere close to me. After all, China was hundred thousands of miles away from the country where I was doing my fellowship in North America and even farther from my home country in Africa. I sent a few emails to check up on an older friend who now lived in Beijing and everyone that I knew from or in China. They were all fine, so that chapter was closed, or so I thought.
It only took a few weeks for the virus to creep into the Western region of North America. By this time, my concern had started to grow as I had close friends in those regions. The news outlets in the country were slowly beginning to cover the virus, often in controversial ways. Could younger people be severely affected, were black people safe, were masks useful? Some many questions lingered on, with some people even calling the virus a hoax. People were starting to panic-buy but I refused to be one of them; my city was still safe.
The next conference I was supposed to attend in March got cancelled, that was the first time I really felt the impact of the COVID19 virus. I was pissed off, after all the World Health Organization had not yet declared the virus a pandemic; I think I spoke too quickly as the next week, it was officially declared so. Before I could blink, all my other conferences got cancelled or postponed, so did my scholarship. We were asked to work from home and every day, our emails were flooded with news of the pandemic; I also spent a lot of time trying to get re-imbursements. Everything had changed in my city almost overnight – grocery stores filled with long queues, the subways half-empty, the streets sparsely populated, and every store had run out of toilet paper, and Lysol wipes.
With the virus spreading all over the world, it was only a matter of time before I directly knew two people who had been affected, including a former high school mate who died from COVID19 complications. It almost felt like the Apocalypse and no matter how calm I wanted to remain, I could not help but think about what would become. As a postdoctoral fellow, I wondered how I would be affected. Being a semi-introvert, I had no problems staying at home but work-wise it was hard to be productive and I am still trying to get used to it. I also wondered – what about my research goals, what were the chances of finding a tenure-track position in this climate, was this a good time to write research grants (on COVID19 just like everyone else)? There were so many things to ponder but as a person – my prayer is for my family and friends to remain safe, and also that maybe one day the world would return back to (semi-)normal with good lessons learnt for the future. Call me over-optimistic but I still believe that 2020 will be a great year after all; at least this is my hope.