May 11, 2021 12:30:22 pm
“When we are in the hospital, our individual identity takes a backseat,” Dr Deepak Verma, internal medicine, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad, tells indianexpress.com.
If doctors believe in this philosophy, so does society. By putting them on a pedestal, we take it for granted that they would surpass every challenge to save lives, for that is their sole duty. What we often turn a blind eye to, is that they are as much human as anybody else. If a pandemic has wreaked havoc in all of our lives, doctors are no less affected, nor are they immune to the despair and helplessness brought about by the onslaught of the virus.
The COVID battle that began last year has exhausted us all. Frontline healthcare workers who braced themselves to fight the virus in the first wave are now on the brink of a breakdown, given the devastating conditions all around. Doctors are unable to cope with the predicament they are in, and it has come to the fore through their testimonies on social media. “We try our best to save a life at any cost. The crisis regarding oxygen and the huge number of infected people has hastened the number of people succumbing to the virus. As a doctor, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that patients died because there wasn’t enough oxygen,” Dr Verma expresses.
‘We have our shares of ups and downs, but it never gets highlighted’
With a record increase in the number of cases, it is only understandable that those afflicted would rely on a doctor’s assurance of getting cured. At the same time, there is perhaps a need for some acknowledgement of what healthcare professionals — who bear the responsibility of thousands of patients while they still try to figure out the virus — are experiencing.
Dr Tanveer Aujla, senior consultant obstetrics gynecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Noida, feels it was much needed for doctors to share their feelings, to let people look through their vulnerabilities. “We are human beings first. We also have our shares of ups and downs but it never gets highlighted. It’s commendable that doctors are breaking these barriers and openly talking about their share of challenges on social media. We also need our own space and mental and physical comfort in such unprecedented times.”
Besides, people are finally being able to get to know about “real struggle in a COVID ward”, according to Dr Verma. “It takes immense mental courage and stamina to withstand a crisis of current magnitude for an indefinite period.”
Dr Bharat Gopal, senior consultant, pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj, believes that the “overwhelming” crisis could have been prevented if only COVID protocol was more strictly followed. “It has been a harrowing experience, to say the least. Often, because of the volume of cases, it becomes overwhelming. I feel that we declared victory too soon and just became complacent. The virus has taken advantage of our laxity”, adding how the mutating virus has left them with “longer hours, tougher cases, cases in which you know do not have hope.”
‘Our colleagues are showing signs of anxiety’
In the wake of the “war-like situation”, doctors are finding it difficult to be calm and stoic, says Dr Gopal. Boosting a patient’s confidence with the harsh reality staring in the face is taking a toll on them. “When we put our entire energy in saving a severe COVID patient, our hopes stay alive. We doctors have an added responsibility of the individual’s life in our hands. It is a mammoth task alongside a battle we have to fight daily and to show up with a smile to motivate the patients,” expresses Dr Manjusha Agarwal, senior consultant – internal medicine, Global Hospital, Mumbai.
The pandemic has cost us our mental health. Some of us still have the luxury to stay away from COVID-related news updates, as advised by counsellors, to manage COVID-induced anxiety. Living through the COVID tragedy, doctors — as much as they are trained to hold on to their mental strength — say their spirits have been shaken by the sheer rate of mortality. “Healthcare workers are under tremendous pressure due to long working hours and seeing the plight of our people suffering,” says Dr Agarwal.
Dr Verma adds: “The second wave is a bigger fright and many of our colleagues are showing signs of anxiety after living with the disease constantly for over a year. The worst part is, we do not know how long this situation is going to persist.”
‘It affects the mental health of my kids’
The anxieties have trickled into their families as well. “Personal and family responsibilities are being kept aside but the fear of getting our families infected by the virus is the biggest issue that is leading us to anxiety and depression,” continues Dr Agarwal. “There is always a sense of anxiety in our minds when we reach home. The constant negativity on television or social media does affect our lives too,” Dr Aujla adds.
Dr Gopal says it is his kids’ mental health that he worries about the most. “My wife and I are both doctors and we are trained to handle crises of any scale. Our kids, however, are still growing up. They are trying to understand the situation and learning to cope up with changes in their life as well as the fact that their parents are on the frontline. To handle this anxiety, as a family we detox for an hour every day – just sit for dinner and talk about everything other than the pandemic.”
At the same time, support from family members is what doctors bank on. “My youngest kid tells me not to worry about anything at home and asks me to put on my safety gears properly. The biggest support they are providing is mental and moral, that is helping to keep us going for such a prolonged period,” Dr Verma says.
No time for mental health consultation
Despite mental health issues, frontline healthcare professionals rely on mutual support and counselling with no time to go for consultations. Dr Aujla recounts: “In the hospital itself, we have created a warm and friendly atmosphere for doctors and other staff members. We have become a family now. We keep boosting each other’s morale and encourage the person in front of us. Positive responses and words of gratitude from recovering patients make us stronger to face yet another day with new enthusiasm.”
“We may be trained to handle a crisis, but being human we do get affected and we are entitled to our emotions. It is an overwhelming time. It’s important we look after our mental health so that we can focus on our work and help our patients,” urges Dr Gopal.
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