I hear the kids talk. They call the virus, Rona. That’s funny. A bit intimate but funny.
The virus is, of course, the no-longer-novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 which is very scary, very contagious, and has quickly spread around the world in time to ruin everyone’s Christmas shopping experience.
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic is not funny. The human pain and suffering are all too real. Over the past months of isolation and quarantine, the pandemic has exacted a great toll on our psyche.
For some, humor can be a mechanism for healing. Well-constructed humor and good-natured laughter in the health care setting can help improve a patient’s mood and elevate quality of life.
Humor helps doctors and nurses deal with the stress of caring for patients who are suffering. Amid sickness and death, good humor can foster cooperative working relationships and improve morale. Those that can fearlessly smile even in the face of a global existential threat generally inspire confidence and collaboration among their medical colleagues and patients as opposed to those who frown.
As typhoon-tested people, Pacific islanders have developed a sophisticated sense of humor thick with irony and wistfully accented with unpretentious wisdom. When so many in Adelup and the Government of Guam became infected with Covid-19, the people joked that the sickness was no longer Achoo! Now, it’s “Bunechoo!” …oobaa skoobaa! The joke recalls the glory days of Jesus Chamorro, the earthy political pundit who ruled Guam’s radio airwaves in the 1970s and 1980s with sarcastic wit and wisdom.
When local public health officials jokingly scolded the people of Guam for stupidly spreading Covid-19 because the people couldn’t follow simple instructions, many wondered if that jovial public humiliation could possibly have been taken as good-natured humor by our old time thought leaders. Probably not. Because that joke just ain’t funny.
What should you do if you don’t understand a coronavirus joke? Be patient. Due to the viral incubation period, if I tell you a coronavirus joke now, you may have to wait two weeks to see if you got it.
Studies have found that patients use humor as a coping mechanism to reduce the frustration and fear associated with the insecurity of being sick. When properly done, humor serves as a means of narrowing interpersonal gaps, communicating caring, and relieving anxiety associated with medical care.
Regarding difficult public health measures now being utilized to fight Covid-19 in Guam, involuntary hotel quarantine has provoked the most anxiety. In the spirit of Christmas, one can use four principles of public health ethics to examine the naughty or nice aspects of involuntary hotel quarantine: Solidarity, efficacy, integrity and dignity.
The principle of Solidarity dictates that Public Health’s prime directive should be the well-being of the community rather than the individual. Under this model, a person is viewed not as a discrete individual, but rather as the locus of a network of nurturing and caring relationships. Who would have thought that one day we would be smoking marijuana at a family gathering on Guam but the illegal part would be the family gathering?
The principle of Integrity dictates that involuntary hotel quarantine violates the Pacific Island culture of communal caring and such hotel quarantine is disrespectful of the family-focused values of Guam’s people.
We, in Guam, understand that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Preventing people from quarantining in their own homes is a basic violation of human rights. For Guam Public Health to rely on involuntary hotel quarantine for many while letting a privileged few quarantine more comfortably at home is obscene.
What type of jokes are allowed during involuntary hotel quarantine? Dirty inside jokes!
Despite the graceless impatience of some critics, I say loudly and proudly that we the people of Guam are doing good. We wear our seatbelts. We listen to the governor. We wear our masks.
The majesty of coping during these difficult times should not be taken for granted. We have many, many people who have been meticulously doing what they can do to slow the spread of disease. Sanitation workers, grocery clerks, food delivery specialists, airline cargo crew and frontline healthcare professionals have all been hard at work throughout this pandemic.
The U.S. surgeon general confidently said recently that we could beat this virus. He was surprised that Guam had not already done so since our community is small, self-contained and full of resilient Pacific Island people. After his rude welcome in Hawaii, he also appreciated us not arresting him for going to the beach.
The fact is that many of our industrious, self-sufficient neighbors have been safely hard at work.
Meanwhile, anxious others have been sheltering in place and gorging themselves on Netflix and millions of dollars in federal aid. Amid a forest of bureaucrats paid to stay home, landscapers and bush cutters and trash collectors are sweating outside in the sun striving to keep Guam clean.
The funny thing about a life of sunshine and sweat is the protection that seems to be conferred against the novel coronavirus. Island fishermen, farmers, and outdoor chefs seem all to be doing very well. Along with the 3Ws, po’asu may be therapeutic against Covid-19.
According to some Public Health experts, this pandemic has turned us all into horrible children who can’t be trusted to stay home alone. Socially isolated with nothing but TikTok, our existence has become a bad situation comedy. Life in 2020 has become the “Groundhog Day” looping version of the “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie jumped the shark.
Humor helps us cope with the new normal that has taken away the intimate human interaction that makes life bearable. Without humor, we are left with a virtual, distant, monotonous, repetitive and too often unpleasant situation like when we all first had to learn to write in cursive. Properly dosed and administered, humor is medicine for Covid-19.
Why do they call it novel coronavirus anyways? It’s a long story…
Dr. Vincent Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org