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Lockdown is in unlock mode, but COVID-19 has not gone away; the cases are rising. What can we do to be safe? What do doctors say?
Today, as we doctors get ready to go to work, we find ourselves looking in the mirror; and we see something different.
It’s us, yet not us.
It’s been a while since we wrote out our first prescription for you; since we folded our hands and requested you to stay home, when the lockdown began.
It seems like that happened ages ago
Has so much changed since then, that we can scarcely recognize ourselves??
• Is it the grey eyebrow that has cropped up? No, the white strands of hair that I saw in the early years of my training and which rapidly progressed have been a part of me for long, and so shall this be, I guess
• Is it the worry line on my forehead which used to surface occasionally, but has become constant now? No, I realize this is a result of having had so much on my mind all these times; and I can’t remember myself without one anyways
• The marks from the tight fitting N95 marks? Nope, that discomfort is minor compared to the suffering of our patients
• Fatigued eyes, after shifts of duties? No we have been doing those since our medical student days
• Dullness on the face as I hear of friends and colleagues struggling with the diagnosis, or their struggle of good facilities and infrastructure? Hmm, No We have learnt to deal with these challenges as best as we can
• Is it my slumped shoulders that seem to have become burdened by the gloom and despair around me? No, we refuse to feel defeated and lost
What is it, then that is different today?
It’s the look of fear; the trepidation that I feel is visible on my face.
I realize that it is time for a new prescription; one that I must write clearly, succinctly and effectively.
I also realize that this prescription is different from the thousands of prescriptions we write for patients daily.
Usually, when we write out a prescription , we are quite familiar with the medicines and interventions that we will be writing out; we know how they will work, can predict how much they can be effective; and we have clear thoughts on what we shall prescribe next in case those medicines don’t achieve the desired results
We are now nervous, because these are different circumstances.
We have spent the last few months getting to know a previously unfamiliar enemy and equipping ourselves with to fight it. Not only in caring for an unprecedented number of patients, the medical community has had much more on its plate
Traditionally, diseases are studied over years; each aspect of an infectious microbe; its structure, how it enters the body; what changes it brings about; how our body fights it; from the level of each cell, to different organ systems. Drugs are identified, evaluated; treatment protocols are defined, tried and recommended. Volumes of data collected over months are added to research journals, then to text books, and finally to official recommendations of esteemed bodies. This evidence forms the basis of practice of medicine, standardizes treatment and management. This is a process that takes years of consistent work and research, which is collated, compiled, analyzed and reviewed critically. We have been working against all odds, to do all these; condensing these steps into an unforeseen short time span.
As you know, we have also been trying to ensure the safety of our colleagues, families and other patients; often against all odds.
After so many weeks, we confess to you that this seems like a bit of roulette.
We know not where the wheel will stop; and where the ball will settle.
It is what it is.
We do what we must. And what we can. And a little bit more too.
So, today, we must write out our next prescription
What seems simple is often a complicated task. So is this one
The prescription simply reads “You”
Yes, that’s right. You
That’s what is making us nervous.
This is a prescription, which we haven’t been taught to write out ….
Because, you, aren’t a molecule that will act in a predictable reaction in our body; you are not an implant wecan put in with surgical precision and then monitor.
Each one of you human beings is the answer that we seek.
You are what this fight rests on. The titles you gave us, like warrior, soldier, and front liner are now yours, because they have to be. You have to own the title, own your fight and own your role in this pandemic.
“Me, I am just one person”, You say
Yes, that’s true, but with everyone following the prescription, the power of you will add up.
Because it has to. For you. For us
It isn’t as if we are giving up or transferring our role to you. On the contrary, we stand by our commitment to help, serve, treat and try to heal each person, as best as we can. We assure you our hard work will always continue.
We are asking you now, to be our allies, fellow comrades in this battle
The lock down is over. We will not debate the intricacies of the unlocking.
What is important is that the virus never was, and never can be in lock down.
So, all the things that we taught ourselves; staying indoors to stay safe; hand sanitization and washing, respiratory etiquette need to be followed.
In fact, the times to come will check how much we have internalized these. Research estimates it takes 50 to 70 days to make a habit. We have got those days. Let us not break these habits; the chain of transmission still can be broken by you alone. Yes, it’s tempting to get back to life as we have cultivated it for all these years; and natural to miss our loved ones; and we have been doing without so many things for so long. Don’t allow yourself to let your guard down.
When our minds naturally take this line of thought, it is time to remember what else has transpired in the last few weeks:
• The country’s political and economic capitals, where thousands would go to in search of better lives and medical treatments, are deluged with cases
• Trains that transported people to meet their loved ones are now modified into isolation centers
• Maternity wards that saw joyous births have been refurbished into intensive care units
• Sports centers and stadia where thousands cheered for players are used as quarantine centers
• Exhibition and convention centers where exchanges of art, culture and learning are being used for isolation of patients
• Hospitals and laboratories that take years to be set up have been established and are already running at full capacity
I know these are sobering observations; and they should be. They are a reminder that we are facing severe increase in cases, just as we open up.
I feel the same sobering silence as I pass on this baton to you.
I realize that now it you on whom my fate may depend; so in you, I also put my trust. Hence, the trepidation…
No longer is the fight dependent on us. We will continue working, as we have done.
But the number of cases that happen now will decide how efficiently the health system can function; the quality of care that you will get even if suffering from a disease other than Covid-19; and how many doctors are available to care for you.
So, while our jobs remain cut out, it is you who will be the front liners.
The doctors, police, hygiene workers can only do what is needed if the first line of defense is strong and robust.
Hence, the single word prescription: YOU
• Stay indoors. Don’t go out unless you have to. Can you rework your definition of essentials, so that you manage without stepping out?
• If you must, wear a mask. Wear the mask correctly. At all times when you are outside your homes.
• Wash, sanitize your hands.
• Try not to give it to fear and stigma of people being found positive. The numbers are increasing, and so will cases. Understand that no one wanted to get sick.
• Be kind; these are difficult times for everyone. Fear, anxiety, struggles; we all are coping in different ways. Let’s try and help each other as far as possible
Again, with folded hands, we offer you this simple prescription, you.
And request you to follow it, with the sincerity and earnestness that a situation of this gravity demands.
Image source: YouTube
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