Pandemic Homage to Marshall McLuhan

The most profound sage of the digital age, Marshall McLuhan, had some of the best lines. Here’s one that had taken this pandemic for me to finally understand: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

Well, it’s a side mirror in this instance, but hopefully you’ll get my drift. Before I go any further to tell you the tale I wished to share, allow me to make a distinction. I am about to talk about the health system in general, and not any specific doctor or healthcare professional in particular.

This distinction is important to make. Healthcare staff the world over have been working flat out, and what I am about to say does not diminish their contribution or service in the least. In fact, it may be helpful to see that there’s a clear difference between healthcare staff, and the health system. They are not the same, and it is to our detriment that we often mix this up.

Coming back to McLuhan’s rear-view mirror, here’s the story. I have gotten involved with people suffering from long Covid; which, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t yet exist in medical lore. As such, this affliction hasn’t been recognised by health systems. But doctors at the frontlines are having to deal with symptoms of a non-disease.

What can doctors do in cases where medical science lags behind the presentation of symptoms in front of them? Doctors improvise, and they have to do it on the side. We can’t talk about it, of course, not if we want them to keep doing what they can for their suffering patients; even if these practices include prescribing herbal medicine.

Let that sink in: a 21st century physician alleviating the suffering of patients with herbs. And it’s worked, at least for the person I’ve been supporting. I can’t quibble, especially as the difference before and after taking the herbal concoction is like night and day; a cessation, albeit temporary in some cases, of debilitating symptoms, and a return to normal functioning.

I have little doubt that the lack of health system oversight that allowed the practice will last. Health systems are one of the best enforcers of standards of practice, with the continual updating of guidelines informed by the latest evidence in medical science.

Anyone with a passing interest in science and who understand the notion of objectivity, will know that all scientific evidence can only be gained by looking at something that’s already taken place; objectivity is retrospective, an event that only occurs in McLuhan’s rear-view mirror. It’s an affliction that all systems, not just of health, suffers from.

Thus, at a time when systems and science are at a lost for an answer to the afflictions of the present, it is the doctors and practitioners on the frontlines within systems who will be marching forward in uncertainty, and out of necessity; and despite being governed by knowledge systems forever gazing at the past by default.

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Martin Choo is a global AIDS advocate based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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Martin Choo

Martin Choo

Martin Choo is a global AIDS advocate based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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