In his tribute to frontline health worker, Dr Arun Sharma (53), who had died fighting Covid-19 late in August, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Sidhu had hailed him as a true corona warrior. Over four months after Sharma’s demise, his wife, Dr Sonia Sharma, died by suicide on Sunday. Her last call was to Dr Rakesh Sharma, chairman, Employees Welfare Association of the Health Department to ask for how long she would have to wait to get the Arun Sharma’s service dues from the Health Department.
Dr Arun Sharma was SMO, Amritsar Civil Hospital, and the Health Minister had called his death a loss to the entire state Health Department.
Day after Dr Sonia’s death on Monday, Amritsar Civil Surgeon R S Sethi wrote to the clerical staff of Civil Hospital, saying, “Dr Arun Kumar had contributed a lot in fight against Covid-19. He had died of Covid-19. Files related to his pension benefits were with you but it has come to notice of Civil Surgeon, Amritsar, that the family of Dr Arun Sharma couldn’t get these benefits on time. It was the reason that his family was in mentally disturbed. According to media reports, wife of Arun Kumar committed suicide due non-delivery of benefits and the depression caused due to same.”
The Civil Surgeon’s office sent another revised letter to its head office in Chandigarh to appoint the deceased couple’s son, Vikram Raja, who is pursuing MD from Dehradun medical college, as doctor in the Health Department. He had earlier been offered a Class III job.
Dr Arun Sharma had first made headlines after a video of his performing Bhangra in Covid-19 ward to keep the patients upbeat had gone viral. But sources close to the family said that the Health Department’s show of sympathy didn’t go beyond words.
“Sonia Sharma was left alone. Her husband had gone. She would often discuss it with me that how nobody was helping her to get the pension and other dues. It was a joke that her son was offered Class III job. She was in depression. Her heartbeat was unstable and she was taking medication for this,” said Gulshan, sister-in-law of Sonia Sharma.
“She had taken it to heart that how the whole department had deserted her. She had lost her husband and it was not a bearable loss for her. On the top of it, she wasn’t getting support from the department that she expected to get as reward of what her husband did for the society,” said Gulshan.
The couple’s daughter, a resident doctor at All India Institute of Medical Science, Rishikesh, had to to quit her job and join at Guru Ramdas Hospital, Amritsar, to take care of her mother after death of her father.
Dr Rakesh Sharma added, “Sonia Sharma called me and asked about the delay in pension and other dues. She was my relative also. She would often check status of her husband’s case. Her son was offered Class 3 job in department especially when he is pursuing MD and department is already facing shortage of doctors. She was feeling lonely and was also taking medication for depression. She took extreme step soon after dropping her daughter at her work place. She came back and consumed poison.”
Employees Welfare Association, Amritsar, had also written a letter regarding delay in the payment of pension and other funds to family of Dr Arun Kumar on November 28.
“I had also received a call from deputy commissioner after I wrote the letter. But nothing happened after that. They couldn’t even fasttrack case of a hero,” said Dr Rakesh Kumar.
Arun Sharma had done MD (Transfusion) from Medical College Amritsar and remained SMO at CHC, Fatehgarh Churian. As a Blood Transfusion Officer, he had also played a key role in establishing a Blood Bank in Amritsar. Sonia Sharma was doctor at Municipal Corporation, Amritsar, hospital.
“Dr Arun Sharma was a jolly person. He would always laugh and make you laugh. He was honest and a great human being. He was my friend too. His loss must be unbearable for Sonia Sharma,” said Amritsar Civil Surgeon R S Sethi.
On the delay in paying dues, he said, “Files were cleared by our department. But these were pending with treasury department. Sometimes they take time. Paper work from our side was done. Arun Sharma was my friend too.”
He added: “We had sent the case to appoint his son as doctor. But file was returned back because as per rules there was no provision to appoint someone doctor on compensatory ground. So he was offered Class III job. But now we have sent a revised letter to treat it as special job.”
“It was a happy family till four months back. Then Covid-19 struck and changed everything. Now it will be never same again,” said Gulshan.