As I sit in the balcony enjoying a calm morning during lockdown, I am distracted by my father’s voice chanting the Hanuman Chalisa, his daily ritual before going to the hospital. He has been appointed the senior physician in a Covid-19 ward at our district hospital where my sister is a junior resident doctor.
Months have passed since I have hugged them both as their duty requires them to isolate from the family. Meanwhile, I see my mother, anxious, tossing an omelette. Only a day earlier, she had read about the violence against doctors and paramedical staff at Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, over the issue of non-availability of ICU beds.
The country is battling a virus that has devastated hundreds of families. But who is to be blamed? Is it the laxity of the authorities or the paucity of resources?
They say a doctor’s motivation to treat his patients is backed by the patient’s social background (religion, caste, region) but I have grown up in a family of doctors and have closely observed that my father is equally heartbroken by the death of every patient without prejudice.
My heart aches to see my father and my sister tirelessly working in PPEs to save as many lives as possible yet at the dining table, they express their dismay of being blatantly unprotected against the verbal abuse, telephonic threats, physical assault, murder and arson that their colleagues are being subjected to regularly.
The agonising question that boils in my head is — why is there a need for the ‘black badge’ protest against violence on doctors? Is this the reward for toiling day and night, sacrificing their family life when the general public stays protected within the four walls of their houses in the arms of their loved ones?
Existing legal protections for doctors inadequate
There exists the Medical Protection Act (MPA) and the recent ordinance in the Epidemic Act (EA) that makes attacks on healthcare personnel and their living and working premises, cognisable and non-bailable offences.
Both are thoughtful yet they have their peculiarities that still bars healthcare professionals from thoroughly prospering under its umbrella.
Yes, there is a need for central legislation to preserve the security and integrity of this honourable profession. What can also be done is to provide bereavement compensation to the aggrieved families of the Covid warriors that have laid their lives in the service of their country.
Nonetheless, what is of high priority is an awakening of consciousness in the general public that a doctor is a dedicated professional who wants to save every life at his hand and will never deter from the best treatment possible for his patients. The perturbation among the attendants of a patient is understandable but what also needs to be acknowledged is that violence, threats and abuse put the doctors and their staff under extreme pressure, which makes them doubt not only their abilities but also their choice of career.
Often the fault is in the system but the doctors being the ground soldiers have to bear the brunt of the public frustration. In my opinion, people may pay a doctor for the troubles he undertakes but nobody can repay the debt incurred from his kindness and commitment to his noble profession even after threats to his own life.
The phone rings, it’s from the hospital; they have informed dad that for the next fortnight he will be managing the Covid ward as the other senior doctor has tested positive for the virus.
My mother has tears in her eyes. We sit down with her and I quote the lines of a Hindi song that was made as a tribute to doctors: “Beemar hai jo kis dharm ka hai, humsein na kabhi bhed hua. Sarhad pe jo wardi khaki thi, ab uska rang safed hua (We never discriminate patients based on their religion. The border uniform was khaki earlier but now it’s white).”
It is this moment that we all need to realise that the country is fighting one of its worst battles and this battle has soldiers in the form of all the Covid warriors who, with their untiring efforts, are reinforcing people’s faith in humanity.
The onus is on their families too. They have to be as brave as the family of a soldier and uplift the spirits of these heroes. In the words of Dr K.K. Agarwal, Padma Shree recipient and an eminent cardiologist, in his last speech before death from Covid pneumonia: “The show must go on”.
We can get through only if all of us put forth our mindful and conscious efforts.
The next morning, as I sit with my mother in the balcony, I see my father and my sister leaving for their hospital duty, proudly wearing their white apron and carrying the stethoscope around the neck as their favourite piece of jewellery.
Saumya Srivastava is a student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida