Saturdays With Shivani-We Are A Country Of Ungrateful People

Last week Reuters published an article carrying the headline- One in 7 reported COVID-19 infections is among health workers, WHO says. It further elaborates that in some countries this figure rises to one in three. I don’t have to tell you which way India would be leaning statistically. The article further says, ‘It’s not just the risk of infection. Every day, health workers are exposed to stress, burnout, stigma, discrimination and even violence.

As we crib about the new normal or how the pandemic has cramped our lives, I shall take a sneak peek in a health care worker’s (HCW) life. When the entire country went into lockdown and WFH became a trending hashtag, they were struggling with the logistics to reach to their workplaces. They never had the luxury to sit and complain about the online classes that their kids were attending. The house help wasn’t coming so that needed attention too. Some chose to stay away for weeks on end to avoid endangering their loved ones. Some were shunned by their housing societies or kicked out of their rental homes.

All this while, they reported to work, donned the claustrophobic hazmat suits and tended to patients, in the tropical heat and humidity, going without food, water and bio breaks for hours together. In the third year, most medical post graduates have their exams in summers before which they are entitled to some exam leave. The exams happened but the leave may not have. None of the residents, especially those who stay in the hostels would have gone home after the exams.

Every week as they report to work, they are tested for COVID. The ones who turn positive stoically submit themselves to quarantine or hospitalisation while the others trudge along not knowing when they might join the ranks. A friend shared a post on Facebook about his niece who was negative six times but turned positive the seventh time around. Spare a thought for her and others who are in isolation away from home and their families who must be worried sick. After the mandatory quarantine they will be back manning their posts.

Reports are now coming that there is a severe reinfection reported in a few HCWs. That’s scary because we still haven’t figured out the virus and it is already mutating and attacking. The kind of viral loads HCWs are exposed to puts them directly in the line of fire.

What do I say about the ones who have lost the battle? While we are told there is no data on the HCWs who have lost their lives, the Indian Medical Association compiled a list of 382 doctors who lost their lives. They claim there are more and they can collate the data of nurses and other HCWs as well and that they should be called martyrs.

I don’t think they should be called martyrs. Our country has a tradition of putting people on pedestals and then forgetting all about them. These were regular people who were doing their jobs. They knew they were endangering themselves but they also knew that no one else can fill their shoes.

Then why do we forget that? I am appalled by the violence and abuse that is still rampant. Recently a video went viral where a group of individuals went on a rampage in a hospital after losing a relative. I was shaking in anger and fear at their foul language and threats. I visualised myself in place of those residents because that was my life a few years ago.

I mention this because it shocks me that even in a time like this our country fails to acknowledge and appreciate those who have unfailingly risen up to the challenges to do what needs to be done. We are a country of extremely ungrateful people who assume that it is the duty of people to serve them and they have the right to bash them, ignore them or forget about them. Farmers, soldiers, HCWs, teachers, essential workers… the list just keeps getting longer.

Dr. Shivani Salil

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