The best-laid out plans of mice and men often go awry

I’ve been a doctor for around 40 years. I was in the USA during the AIDS epidemic and Reagan’s war on drugs.

I’ve been a doctor for around 40 years. I was in the USA during the AIDS epidemic and Reagan’s war on drugs. I’ve treated patients with H1N1, SARS and MERS and I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like Covid-19. We’re still learning about this virus and the best  way to fight it. There has been a lot of suffering, but it’s amazing to see how citizens have stepped up. Volunteers are organising food and help for the elderly, animal lovers are setting out food and water for strays, apartments are organising collections for the local dhobis and gardeners, and everyone is trying to their bit to help.

I was touched to see the number of people who came out to cheer and clap for essential service and healthcare workers a few weeks ago. It is also heart-warming to see how the public and private sector have come together to fight this disease. While we wait to see its impact on our health and economy, all of us are learning to navigate the new normal. The lockdown has given me time to introspect and forced me to change the way I structure my day. Essential meetings are rarer than I thought - Like everyone else, I have been re-evaluating my definition of essential. I was flying from one important meeting to the next crucial one, preparing for them on the plane.

Then the virus struck and all flights were grounded. Meetings where I was deemed essential happened without me and the work still managed to get done. I’ve also reduced my carbon footprint which has made the planet happy. Time spent planning is still time spent — Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” When I transitioned into a management role, I began to embrace this philosophy and planning started taking up most of my day. Now the plans are irrelevant and the time is still gone.

While I still believe in the importance of planning, I will adopt a more balanced approach and allocate more time for just “doing”. In my experience, experts sometimes get bogged down by the minutiae and they may miss the forest for the trees. People especially planners have an outsized belief in how much they can predict and control.  This is not to say that you should disregard expert opinion or that feelings are a good substitute for facts. There are many things experts have studied and perfected. For me, this crisis has been a humbling reminder that plans don’t always work out as intended.  The cloud of Corona in addition to causing a lot of hardship hopefully will bring in the silver lining of learning to live gracefully with uncertainty and coping with the unknown.

Dr sudarshan ballal
Chairman Manipal Hospitals and member of expert committee dealing with Covid-19 situation 

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