Road from Corona to Art & Calligraphy

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Road from Corona to
Art & Calligraphy
Dr. Umaira Ahsan*

As a medical doctor by profession and a medical educator to future doctors by heart & soul, my journey through Covid-19 revealed a new aspect of my personality punctuated by perseverance and resilience.

Coronavirus – officially SARS-CoV-2 – took the world by storm, drastically impacting healthcare, wellbeing, education, industry, and life in general. The virus, which the World Health Organization now reports jumped from bats to humans through an undetermined animal, is ravaging the world. Nearly 130 million people have been affected by Covid-19, and nearly three million have lost their lives as a result of the deadly virus. Pakistan is currently battling the third wave of coronavirus, reporting over 4,000 infections daily amid an increasingly bleak picture. So far, 673,000 Pakistanis have tested positive for coronavirus; while 14,530 have lost their lives in the battle.


The emergence of the first wave of Covid-19 resulted in many medical professionals answering the call of duty. I volunteered my services for the establishment of the country’s first dedicated telemedicine network established at University of Health Sciences, Lahore, and continued my training and public awareness sessions. Many frontline health workers were amongst those affected from this fast and furious disease.

The Hippocratic oath which I undertook back in 1995 to serve humanity above all, did not allow us doctors to sit idle at home, immersed in front of screens, mobiles, social media, or spend more time with our families. Owing to our duties and possibility of exposure as well as risk of transmission, we had to remain isolated in our own rooms with limited interaction. After long hours on duty, we could not roam in our own residences or interact freely with our loved ones (children and elderly) to protect their lives.

On a misty cool morning of October 19, 2020, I was heading towards my workplace – Gulab Devi Chest Hospital/Al Aleem medical college, Lahore – to perform the supervisory duties at the term exams of third year medical students. A colleague, recognizing visible discomfort advised me to rest and relieved me of the duties. Meanwhile, as the initial lethargy and weakness set in, my temperature rose to 104oF. By now, the realization of a possible Covid-19 infection had set in and a new set of personal and social SOPs began.

SOPs include isolation, conducting PCR diagnostic tests, and so forth. While suffering from loss of appetite, taste, and smell, the hardest part was waiting for the test result. Beyond thinking of the safety of my family members and friends, something else was going on in my mind. Covid-19 was causing stress and depression among the general population, but those suffering from the disease were coming out of it with diminished intellectual capabilities, and mental anguish due to the social tantrums they faced alone in the condition. Research showed that 1 in 5 Covid-19 patients developed depression, anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, or chronic stress while facing the disease. The combination of pandemic stress and physical impact of the virus on the body impacts health, lifestyle, and social interactions. Moreover, the isolation phase can also contribute to anxiety and depression, especially as loved ones cannot be close to the affected patient. These facts, and the old adage, “Time is money”, made me consider how to best utilize my time in isolation in the best possible way.

After the initial two or three days of isolation, I was tired of TV and social media. Constant usage of electronic devices further strained my eyes and started causing headaches. There was a small water color paint box and a sketch book in my room which was gifted to me by my brother a year back. One morning, I decided to open it up and see what painting would be like. The world was so colorful and meaningful that I wanted to indulge in it with my mind and soul.

How the two weeks of isolation passed, I do not know – but what I do know is that every single day was a new beginning, a chance to do something new and better. Every new morning, I felt grateful to Allah SWT for blessing me with another opportunity to do something meaningful. The isolation period slowed down the pace of life around me and allowed me to appreciate each day as a gift, a valuable blessing, and an opportunity without bounds.

The color palettes and sketchbook that I picked up just to try one day, captured my attention and imagination. Slowly but surely, I embarked on a journey to learn more about this wonderful and therapeutic pastime. I attended various online sessions to expand my work from painting to calligraphy – using the directions of the renowned family behind Darussalam network, the largest international publishers of Islamic literature. Similarly, I took inspiration from the various historic art of my pride, passion, and inspiration – the Pakistan Air Force.

I invested in my hobby by adding professional painting supplies from the arts and crafts stores in Lahore. I started using acrylic paints and charcoal sketching in my work. During the isolation period, I made 25 frames for my family members, friends, mentors, and colleagues – from paintings of breathtaking natural views I had seen on my tours around Pakistan to Islamic calligraphy. The highlight of my new found pastime was the display of my painting at fantastic tea exhibition PAF Museum Faisal, and subsequent recognition by the organizers. I also shared my work with renowned editors, motivational speakers and calligraphers, who also encouraged me and advised me to hone my passion.

Dear readers, Pakistan is currently battling the third wave of SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus. So far, nearly 700,000 of our fellow citizens have tested positive for coronavirus; while 15,000 have lost their lives in the battle. I would like to conclude by emphasizing that vaccinating your elder family members is a lot better than not vaccinating at all. Consult your family physician, and take the elder members of your family to get their vaccine. For younger members, professionals, and those tasked with outdoor duties - don’t forget to wear a mask!

*Dr. Umaira Ahsan, MBBS, M Phil,
CMT, MHPE(cont.), PhD scholar UHS.
Associate Prof. of Pathology,
Al Aleem Medical College/
Gulab Devi Hospital, Lahore.
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