A couple of days ago NDTV aired a film shot at the Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai (disclosure – Nanavati Hospital is part of Radiant Lifecare, which is merging with Max Healthcare, my employers) where its ace anchor Srinivasan Jain and reporter Maryam Alvi spent some time in the Covid ward ICU of the hospital. The team donned the full PPE’s and interacted with doctors and other medical staff on duty, saw first hand what it means to be a covid 19 warrior on the frontlines of the battle. They experienced for themselves the stifling and claustrophobic environment in which clinicians and healthcare workers operate. They learnt that once in their PPE’s they can’t have a glass of water or use the washroom for the entire duration of their 6 hours shift. A doctor mentioned that he worries about his elderly parents at home whom he has not seen in two months.
This is a reality well-known to people who are working in hospitals. They look in awe at the sacrifices being made by all the healthcare workers looking after covid 19 patients. The government has made attempts to recognise their efforts. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had on two occasions asked the citizens to support and motivate the healthcare workers (HCW’s) by stepping out on their balconies, banging pots and pans and by lighting lamps. A dutiful nation, spellbound by the Prime Minister’s theatrical gifts generously obliged. The lamp lighting was followed by fireworks!!!
The Armed Forces did their bit by sending the air force jets on a flypast and we had army choppers showering petals on hospitals with excited healthcare workers waving from the hospital terraces.
Sadly, all this has been symbolic. The reality is very different. Consider these facts.
The Resident Welfare’s Association of the tony GK1 Enclave in South Delhi stopped HCW’s going off duty to check-in into a OYO guest house rented by Max Healthcare in Delhi. These healthcare workers had completed their 14 days Covid duty and were to rest for the next 14 days before they resumed their duties. The healthcare workers were sent back to the hospital as the vigilante association demanded certificates that the HCW’s were covid 19 negative. The hotel too was warned of stringent action if it allowed HCW’s to stay on its premises. All these HCW’s were asymptomatic, had no unprotected exposure to any patient and were well with in their legal rights to stay at the hotel. To make matters even worse, Wg Cdr. Virender Sharma, the Secretary of the RWA proudly and shamelessly sent out a whatsapp message narrating the incident titled ”Successful Disaster Management in GK Enclave -1”. The ex-air force officer, didn’t see the irony of the air-force showering petals on the same HCW’s, who were persona non-grata at a hotel in the locality.
This is not an isolated incident. At Max Healthcare, we have recorded incidents where residents of Vaishali, Ghaziabad have objected to nurses staying in a hostel in their locality and the RWA in Rohini in North West Delhi have threatened to disallow nurses to stay in another hostel. The other day, newspapers carried stories of a doctor returning home in the South Delhi locality of Vasant Kunj after recovering from Covid 19 was beaten up by her neighbour. I am sure other hospitals treating covid 19 patients have faced similar situations where their healthcare workers have faced unwarranted stigma, ostracism and assault.
In the light of all this, we must ask ourselves, what kind of a society and nation have we become? We take great pride in symbolic gestures but when it comes to showing some spine, we buckle. We show great respect and pride in the work being done by the HCW’s but when it comes to taking care of them even at a minimal risk to ourselves, we blanche. We are happy admiring hard working dedicated professionals but from a safe distance. We are happy abandoning those whom we would likely depend upon when the need arises. What would happen if the same healthcare workers choose not to treat patients from let us say GK 1 Enclave? Will that be justified? Of course, this would never happen, professional HCWs will never turn away patients because they have been mistreated by the very people who might now be knocking at their doors.
Speaking for all the HCWs, I can confidently say that they are not seeking great honour or appreciation from anyone. They are not hungry for idle adulation from fellow citizens. They are not asking to be hoisted on eager shoulders or be paraded amongst fawning crowds. Most of them are doing their duty and fulfilling the oath they took many years ago when they chose medicine as their profession. They are making personal sacrifices not because it is glorious to do so but because of their total commitment to their calling. They are taking great risks because that goes with the terrain and not because they don’t have families to go back to.
And, all they expect in return is some kindness to them and their families, some respect and courtesy in the ordinary course of life and a little support in these difficult times.
We must ask ourselves, is that too difficult for us to offer?
The views expressed are personal