As a government doctor in a district hospital, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of constant anxiety and fear as well as about building hope and drawing on our reserves of resilience to carry on one day at a time.
As positive cases and suspects pour in, our supply of PPE, masks, gloves, sanitisers dwindle. The one looming thought—for how longer are we are safe? As the onslaught of routine OPD cases continues, we barely have time to wonder if the feverish child or adult coughing next to us could be a corona carrier. And how protected are we in our rationed surgical or cloth mask, washed and reused daily? As our rapid response teams return from mohallas with positive cases, slum clusters, deras and posh colonies after tedious hours of contact tracing, and sample testing the home quarantined, they are soaked to their skin in sweat in their protective layers and at the end of their tether, with no food, water or washroom use allowed while they are in PPEs. And they pray fervently so that they wake up the next day without any symptoms themselves.
As a slew of notifications and unverified information go viral on the internet, we ourselves are at times left professionally unsure about the right approach. Why cannot IAP/IMA/ICMR/government release standardised, regularly updated e-guidelines--a common collated strategy for the battlefield?
We return home to almost an hour’s scrupulous self-sanitising before meeting our spouse, children and old parents, with the constant worry gnawing at us—are we ourselves the biggest risk to the health and lives of our loved ones?
And there is endless housework waiting—food to be made, dishes to be washed, children to be managed. With no hired help, tuitions or classes in these curfew times, everything becomes our sole responsibility. As the bank balance depletes, with our month’s pay still not released, we briefly ponder how, without our modest government salary, to manage our household expenditure.
Between talk about Hydroxychloroquine or reports of the BCG immunity being protective, we cling to a glimmer of unproven hope in an otherwise bleak scenario.
As we, the faceless ‘women and men in white’, face disease and death daily, it’s the support of our own colleagues and staff that keeps us going. Our WhatsApp group, besides its grim data of positive tests and deaths, has daily buck-up messages from our SMO; a peppy number sung by our resident medical bard; de-stressing tips from our hospital psychiatrist and ‘medical-humour-in-COVID-times’ messages—they all ease our all-consuming anxiety.
As a frontline warrior, I remember my medical college moto: Per ardua ad astra—‘through adversity to the Stars’. We get ready for each day with prayers and resolve to face the worst odds with determination and with the unflinching faith that all this will end soon, and end well...for all.
The writer, Dr Dimple Dhaliwal Srivastava, is a pediatrician, District Hospital, Mohali.