A Letter from A Disgruntled Doctor
I graduated from Medical school almost twenty years ago. I realize that nothing much seems to have changed in all these years. So here is an open letter that I should have written twenty years ago on the last day of my internship. Let me add a disclaimer here, the events that I am about to describe are generic and have no bearing with any particular time, place or person. However, let me assure you that these are real incidents that all of us have experienced at some point in our life.
No scratch that.
With a lot of fear and regret I would like to share that I have completed my internship today. It is not just the culmination of five and a half years of sweat and blood but the years before that when I slogged to clear a national level entrance examination. It stands for the numerous family functions that I missed, the birthdays and festivals that went unnoticed, the five years of my youth and innocence that I gave to pursue my childhood dream. I have no one else to blame except myself to have chosen this career path despite my having cleared the Engineering entrance exam as well. My parents didn’t insist on either. I wish they had. But they didn’t know then and neither did I, how India treats its doctors.
I came face to face with violence in the first few days of my internship when a mob stormed into our ward and started hitting the resident on duty with rods, chairs and whatever they could get their hands on. A patient of theirs had died on his watch and they wanted to offload their grief and fix the blame on someone. The resident had to be hospitalized and his vision is still blurry in one eye.
I have lost count of the number of times when verbal abuses were hurled at us. The first time it hurt quite a bit. I cried. I wanted to run home and hug my parents. The sister-in-charge and my resident consoled me by saying that I will get used to it. One year later, I know what they meant. It still hurts when a patient or relative hurtles an abuse but I don’t cry any longer. I definitely do not want to rush back home.
Towards the fag end of my internship came the now dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. It was a huge learning opportunity for us. We struggled with our meagre resources, risking our own health, often going without food. When some of my co-workers tested positive, I was scared but I didn’t have a choice. I had to get an internship completion certificate. Besides, my seniors reassured me. They said that quite a few of them have contracted Dengue and drug resistant Tuberculosis in the past. This is nothing in comparison.
Said it too soon probably. It turned out that some of those seniors were kicked out of their homes by their landlords, others weren’t allowed in their housing society. They told us that they will clap for us from their balconies but for all practical purposes we were pariah. When we went to collect samples from suspected populations, they pelted stones at us.
Today I got my internship completion certificate and I wonder what should I do? A year ago, my path was clearly laid out for me. But now I wonder, should I slog for another entrance examination, clear it and pursue an often underpaid, overworked, three-year post graduation to be subjected to more of this physical and mental harassment? Is it worth to acquire education and then defend my professional fees for the rest of my life? Do I deserve you? Do you deserve me?
Looking for answers
PS: I know there is an ordinance passed that stipulates harsh punishment for violence against doctors. But its implementation will always be an issue. I say this because in a lot of states, its already a non bailable offence and that hasn’t deterred people from hitting doctors. In any case this letter is not aimed at the administration or the government. It is aimed at the collective psyche of our country.