Last Monday, 51-year-old senior medical officer Manisha Jadhav, working in a Mumbai hospital, posted her last message on Facebook before she succumbed to Covid -- “I may not meet you here on this platform”. In the last one year, ever since the pandemic broke out in our country, more than 800 doctors have lost their lives already after being infected with corona. For almost 15 months, our doctors and health workers have been working tirelessly, putting their lives on the line to attend to infected patients daily.
Ask any doctor if they have gone on even a single day’s leave in all these months. Ask them when was the last time they spent time with their families. The fact is, forget recreation, these overburdened doctors, in their heavy PPE kits, rarely get the time to even enjoy their cup of tea – or even a glass of water -- in the middle of their medical duties. Once they put on their PPE kit, they take it off only after their official duty is over. Attending nature's call becomes difficult, at times. This is a typical day in the life of a doctor in our country.
Impossible shoes to fill
Are we even really aware of the amount of immense mental stress and agony our doctors are being put through, as cases of infections have crossed more than two-three lakh in recent days? Despite facing the slings and arrows of adversity, our intrepid doctors continue to put their lives at stake, working 12-15 hours daily.
Then there are the thousands of police personnel who have, for the last one year, fanned out across the cities, manning checkpoints, enforcing Covid protocols at great risk to themselves. But they continue to soldier on through thick and thin. Many of them have died in the line of duty, after being infected with the virus. In Delhi, an assistant sub-inspector performed the last rites of a man whose kin refused his body.
These days, police from various cities are on their toes, arranging injections and oxygen cylinders for hospitals and individuals. Recently, a 49-year-old head constable helped a Covid patient get access to Remdesivir. A few days ago, a couple from Delhi misbehaved with the police after they were stopped for not wearing masks. They even dared the police to arrest them. Naturally, they were taken up on their dare, being arrested later and sent to judicial custody.
In stark contrast
When we see doctors and police giving it their all, we are filled with respect and adoration for these Covid warriors. They can’t even freely mingle with their family members for fear of infecting them. But what about the lakhs of devotees taking a holy dip in the Kumbh Mela? It drives home the fact that humans are by nature selfish. Their desire to experience joys and fulfillment without deferment, even in the time of corona, remains as strong as ever. It makes a mockery of the exemplary role of these corona warriors who remain shining examples of dedication and sacrifice.
Early this month, in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district, social distancing went for a toss, as hundreds of people gathered to take part in the Ugadi festival. So, by all reckoning, the message is loud and clear: religious gatherings and festivities must go on in these abnormal times no matter that the health infrastructure is worn out at the seams. The faith of the devotees matters much more than human lives.
Such congregations are being openly encouraged for the sake of vote banks and religious sentiment, concern for doctors and health workers be damned. The protesting farmers at Delhi’s borders have been openly defying Covid protocols for the last five months, moving around without masks. But even the politicians who visit them to show solidarity with their cause, hardly exhort them to adopt Covid appropriate behaviour.
Maha Kumbh disaster
Last month, Uttarakhand CM Tirath Singh Rawat assured that Covid protocols would be followed during the Kumbh Mela. But politicians generally don’t mean what they say. Our worst fears came true. More than two thousand devotees tested positive, apart from 65-year-old Mahamandaleshwar Kapil Dev Das of the Nirwani Akhada succumbing to the virus.
It was a tragedy waiting to happen. Devotees hardly wore masks and talking of social distancing at such a religious congregation is nothing short of a joke. It was only after the media went ballistic about the potential threat posed by the Kumbh Mela to human life did PM Modi say that such gatherings should be symbolic. Wasn’t it a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted?
We all know how political rallies in poll-bound states have turned out to be another super-spreader extravaganza. Even as politicians of all stripes busy themselves talking about development and poriborton, hospitals in our country are struggling for oxygen cylinders and ICU beds. Patients are dying from lack of availability of oxygen cylinders. Recently, a senior doctor broke down while talking about their helplessness in saving the lives of Covid patients as they were grappling with the shortage of oxygen in the hospitals. The creaking health infrastructure has collapsed under the weight of the Covid monster.
Privileged political class
Politicians who are not following Covid protocols during campaigning know that if they get infected, they will have the best of hospitals and doctors at their disposal to nurse them back to health, unlike the common man, who is running from one hospital to another, frantically searching for a bed. Infected patients are dying at the doors of hospitals, but do our politicians really care? To politicians, we are, “like flies to wanton boys, who kill us for their sport.”
The agony of our doctors and healthcare workers is not going to be over anytime soon. They will continue to battle a health system on the brink of collapse, trying to keep their nerve while working under the most stressful and hostile situations. Saving other lives has become their quotidian challenge, more than their own.
English novelist W Somerset Maugham, who himself was a doctor but never practised, would often say that a doctor must be a patient’s friend, philosopher and guide. In one of his novels, he describes a doctor as ‘person who treats the heart, mind, body and the soul.’ Covid patients, struggling for their lives in a world that looks increasingly dystopian, are looking up to these doctors as their saviours at a time when mankind grapples with the spectre of death every minute.
The writer is former Assistant Editor, The Times of India, and is currently an independent journalist based in Delhi