It was heartbreaking to see the final farewell of Sikkim’s first medical casualty today. After all her contribution towards imparting health care over the years, her active participation in the fight against COVID, the risk she undertook willingly, the sacrifices she made along her professional journey, the final goodbye is simply unceremoniously unjustified to her credit. Her mortal remains wrapped in an impenetrable covering, her family had to tearfully bid their goodbyes from a distance, no last look could be accorded, no rituals for her safe passage to the next realm, condolences muted, prayers muffled. All her colleagues and well-wishers could only join their hands in gratitude, in remembering with pride how she had been, silently watching her being taken away forever – by strangers.
But her death was not in vain. She did not die because she wasn’t cautious or because she didn’t wear a mask or PPE properly, neither was it because she didn’t maintain social distancing. No one would ever endanger themselves or their dear ones purposely. She knew the risks involved. Medical professionals’ risk everything in their line of duty. What was surprising and worrying for us was that she did not have any underlying comorbidity unlike the COVID mortality statistic in the State till date, nor was she a senior citizen. This goes to say that the virus cannot be taken lightly, healthy, young individuals cannot take it for granted that they are less susceptible to contracting it, even after following all SOP’s and precautionary measures, they are no guarantees to safety. She is gone too soon. May her family find strength in her accomplishments and may she rest in eternal peace.
Being a health professional myself, I realise that the threat is real and imminent. I do not have any qualms in admitting that I am fearful for my life and the safety of my loved ones around me. If I am not healthy and fit, what use am I to anyone - my fraternity and my family? Each day I wake up, dress up, take the blessings of my elders and pray that I come back safe from work. What keeps me going is my belief that when the going gets tough the tough get going. We are called “warriors” for a reason. This is the time we need to prove our mettle. If not now then never. However, even if you are not on active COVID duty, you are always surrounded by a high probability of infection. Like in my case. Inside a hospital, it is difficult to maintain “social distancing”. You cannot evade your responsibilities and have to go about carrying them out keeping in mind all safety protocols.
Despite maintaining them, I have had to go for self-quarantine two times in a period of 45 days. I was a high-risk primary contact in both instances. I feel if I were tested positive, it would be less complicated for me to get cured of it than the ordeal I have been through in sitting on the fence, fearing every day of the isolation period, anticipating symptoms, waiting in agony, dreading the test, imagining the worst, suffering in isolation. I feel sad knowing that I have brought suffering and plight to my family too. Having parents who are senior citizens, mother a diabetic patient, two children under 10 years of age, all at home, I am constantly made aware of the hazardous nature of my work and workplace.
My 8-year-old daughter has to lie to her 5-year-old brother about their father’s location in the house, where he stays isolated from them. It’s been nothing short of a game of hide-and-seek with the little one. Its almost as if the secrecy of an extraterrestrial entity in the house is being kept under wraps! I feel like an outcast, a prisoner. Our household caretaker comes to give me food and essentials and runs away dousing herself in sanitizer, without even a word from the other side of the door. My area in the house seems like ground zero for Armageddon! My family and relatives trying to act normal and being supportive, when I can see their questioning eyes and worried frowns on the video calls throughout the day. Regardless of the test result, the fight to maintain my sanity, my mental equilibrium, poses a challenge most days in waiting.
The stigmatization that surrounds this disease is another malady we are grappling against. My neighbours cast suspicious looks towards my family members and are sceptical of being in the vicinity of my house. It would be prudent for them to ask about our well-being if all is well if we need anything than to speculate. I, being a responsible citizen, went for self-quarantine even without any symptoms. I wouldn’t jeopardize anyone’s health & safety on my whim. This throws light on the ignorance and misinformation that lurks in our society.
I am still fortunate that I have my family near me. I have a strong support system as I am in my home town and hence own turf. I can understand how difficult it must be for medical workers who are posted away from family and home to deal with this critical time. To find the strength and stamina to get up and show up every day, to serve humankind whilst wrestling with their fears and insecurities.
I am writing this piece while I am still isolated at home. I felt the need to tell the story of my struggle of not testing positive but fearing the symptoms each passing day and how it affects me mentally. There are many such stories of people from different walks of life, fighting their own battles and ending it triumphantly. I’d like to implore people to be responsible, kind, supportive & understanding. This veil of uncertainty and fear will get lifted sometime or the other. Till then, we need to be aware, stand together and push ourselves to look beyond the darkness. I, for one, will seek refuge in the love that surrounds me and keeps me going. This too shall pass.
The writer is Dr Remon Chettri, a Public Relations Officer at Central Referral Hospital and Associate Professor, Sikkim Manipal College of Physiotherapy, Gangtok. He also holds the post of President, Futsal Association of Sikkim and Publicity Secretary, All Sikkim Physiotherapists’ Welfare Association. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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