As I was writing this note, our Central Government has just amended the 120-year-old Epidemic Act and enacted it to prevent atrocities against health workers. How many countries in the world have had to do this as the Coronavirus spreads everywhere? The fact that we need punishment as a deterrent to protect our health workers sheds light on the dismal state of our society – the total lack of resilience.From across the length and breadth of India to our very own backyard in Meghalaya, we have seen mobs and regular folk possessed by irrationality, bringing the system to its knees and humiliating brave souls and their innocent family members. Doctors have beensubject to the abuse of angry crowds – this is not new. But recent events have proved to be shameful and hurtful and worryingly,they also suggest a trend. Amid a looming pandemic, the ones who are holding the fort are being attacked by the ones they are protecting.
Should we start a blame game? Now is certainly not the time for it. As a representative of the medical community,I can assure the rest of society that a doctor’s pledge is immovable – we only know action and solutions and we try to stay away from opinions as much as possible. But I believe I have the right to share a few words on things that are pertinent to all of us.
The Indian population is vast, and the virus is one that thrives on the availability of hosts. A majority of our population is poor and the housing infrastructure is not enviable. Infected people cannot self isolate as easily as the populations of the developed world. There aren’t enough hospital beds and facilities to cater to everyone in case the pandemic spreads fast. The authorities are trying their best – ventilators, masks, PPEs, fabricated hospital units – everything one can think of is being acted on. But can you manufacture doctors and nurses and attendants?Service to the people is what binds the health fraternity together. These are the people who expose themselves to all the pathogens of the world day in day out so the rest can breathe easy and continue with their lives. The assurance of health exists in modern society because of the health workers.
So what happens when health workers are threatened? What happens when they are made to look like pariahs – told to stay away from their own homes and ostracized? What happens when they are physically attacked? What happens when they are not even given the dignity of a proper burial? And yet they continue their work relentlessly – to protect the people, to fight the disease, to find a cure, to put their lives on the line with no rest and routine, to sacrifice their own family and personal time because there just aren’t enough of them. And did the world forget that the Coronavirus has not replaced other diseases? There are still other patients to be cared for apart from the constant pandemic apprehension that grips everyone.
It is time to introspect. It is time to tell ourselves that we cannot let things slide down like this.The informed ones should stand up and spread the message of rationality and unity. The community leaders should grow a spine and instead of appeasing baying mobs, they should prioritize the truth and the facts. We need to stop providing an environment for the hateful attitude that is rooted in suspicion and ignorance. I wish to spare a thought for the families of all the persecuted medical personnel everywhere. Dr Sailo, you will always be with us, there are no words to describe your role in the health story of this entire region. Dr Simon Hercules, your story broke our hearts, your courage and dedication will inspire us.
Doctors are optimistic people and I am confident that with a united front we will overcome this horrid threat to our wellbeing. Every stakeholder in society has a role to play – each one.
Medical Director,The Children’s Hospital
Shillong – 6
Accept and move on
The appeal of Mr Headingson Ryntathiang in The Shillong Times, (ST April 21, 2020) was very touching. It prompts me to write to the members of Dr Sailo’s family a personal letter.
I begin with my YES to all that Mr Headingson wrote. We can neither undo nor reject history. It is part of us. My brotherly suggestion to them is to accept the “sorry episode” as it came and went and not “put (it) behind us” like sweeping it under the carpet. It is there. Every time you see or look at it, it opens up the wound, it festers and hurts you again. Instead look at it for as long as you want, till it no longer hurts you. Please accept “the sorry episode” and the actors without hurting yourselves again, and believe that the turn of events happened as it did because of ignorance rather than of malice. The actors concerned were perhaps unprepared to rise to the occasion because they must have been rightly confused between reaching out to you and taking care of themselves and those with them so that kind of situation was utterly sui generis. We never faced it before. The later reactions seem to confirm all of the above.
Perhaps it is better not to forgive and forget, but to accept, let go and move on. Believe that no one can hurt you if you do not let him, and that no one can heal you as well as you yourselves. Believe also that very many more people than you perhaps realise were and are WITH you.
We pray God does and will bless you with wisdom and strength.
Fraternally in prayer,
Fr Roland Kharkrang, SDB