The world is on hold, my breath is on hold

by Dr P Ravi Shankar MBBS, MS, FAIMER Fellow *

The world is on hold
Towns once thronging with humans
Empty with the police maintaining the peace
My steps resound noisily on the deserted sidewalks
The restaurants, cafes, and bars eerily empty

My breath is on hold
The virus has attacked my lungs
I drown in my own fluids
Each breath was a struggle, a gasp for air

Talking to a fellow human’s a risk
Always be mindful of the SOP
Provide everyone their personal space
Handshakes, high fives, physical contact
Avoid, out of the question
You sanitize everything in sight, left and right

I am still in the ICU
Tubes snake in and out of me
I am slowly being weaned
Off the machine that breathes

‘Everyone’ wears the Mask of Zorro
Some match the mask with their dress
Others just do not seem to care
You open your mouth to eat, wary
The virus is lurking to pounce

The medicines seem to be working
My breathing is becoming easier
The fluid in my lungs is draining
I breathe a sigh of relief

Many work from home
Students learn online
Interacting in virtual ‘learning spaces’
Large campuses and physical spaces
Remain shuttered and unused
Seem superfluous during the ‘new normal’

Can I pay the bills?
Will my insurance cover the costs?
Or will I have a huge bill
Encumbering me for the rest of my life?

Men and women wait with despair in their eyes
Hunger gnawing their bones
For work, for customers
For travel and tourism to resume
In a world on hold
Waiting out the pandemic

The doctors say
I am lucky to have survived
A violent attack of pneumonia
Will my luck turn soon to despair?

Governments feverishly struggle
To balance lives and livelihoods, scared
Desperate men will take the law in their hands
Storm citadels of power
And set off a chain of bloody insurrections

My neighbour in the corner
Is still on the machine that breathes
Hums, squeaks, and whistles
Can be heard throughout the night

Humans sitting and eating together
Is deemed too much of a risk
You are directed to ‘takeaway’
And eat in the safety of your home
Where you shelter in place
Hoping you are safe

My condition waxed and waned
I slipped into and out of consciousness
The breath of life was on hold
And death squatting at the door

An Englishman’s home is his castle
The virus, however, often breaches castle walls
Visitors are looked on with suspicion
The world retreats online
Physical distancing’s the order of the day

How much will I recover?
Can I play the games I love?
Take hikes in the mountains
Or will the slightest effort
Leave me gasping for air?

What will the future bring?
Will the vaccines work?
And return the freedoms we once took for granted
Can we boldly walk through the physical world?
Not having to look over our shoulder
At an exponentially multiplying microscopic foe.

Bio: Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He specialized in M.D Pharmacology (PGIMER, Chandigarh, India) and is a FAIMER Fellow in Health Professions Education (PSGFAIMER). He has over twenty years of experience and has worked as Professor, Associate Dean, Curriculum Committee Chair in several Universities. He has around 700 publications in various national and international reputed journals and has reviewed more than 640 articles. He has written chapters for seven books published by internationally established publishers. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer. He has facilitated health humanities modules since 2007 in different schools.   E-mail:

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The Online Journal of Community and Person-Centered Dermatology (OJCPCD) is a free, full text, open-access, online publication that addresses all aspects of skin disease that concern patients, their families, and practitioners. ​It was founded in 2012 by Dr. David J. Elpern, M.D. in Williamstown, MA. with technical help from Inez Tan.

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