Covid -19 : A Call That Matters!

Dr A S Bhatia
It was late night, when I received a call on my mobile from an unknown landline number. A call from landline number after office hours is not a routine affair in this era of mobile phones. Usually these are the official calls during office hours only. With lots of queries in my mind I picked up the call, “Is it Dr Bhatia?” A deep sound with authoritative tone asked. “Yes Sir,” was my two word reply. And what next I heard was a pleasant surprise for me. As the person at the other end was none other than Dr S L Verma , the ever loved and very powerful principal the Govt Medical College Jammu ever had. It was the month of November 1983, when I was interviewed by a committee of experts along with other students for selection to MBBS course after we had cleared the entrance examination conducted by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. It was the time when interviews were conducted after entrance examination was cleared and no NEET based system was in vogue. I do remember a short statured man with golden hairs and pious glow on his face sitting in the centre of committee hall, asking me one after other questions. “Dear Son, I am Dr Verma speaking, I just went through your recent write up, “The story of a stray dog”, published in Daily excelsior. I congratulate you and as of myself, I am feeling blessed that my students are doing so wonderful in their life.” Then there was a beautiful discussion for about fifteen minutes about many thing before Dr Verma wished me Good Night and showered his blessings once again upon me.After the call, I was feeling excited, thrilled and morally boosted. I was surprised, that without any recitation, without any certificate of being a corona warrior or without being awarded any state honor, I was feeling at the top of the world. A simple call from someone who nurtured me as a student made me excited and filled me with all positivity of the universe.
I wondered , whether this type of administrative skill, if practiced today, will be more meaningful during the ongoing fight against the corona pandemic, and can go a long way in boosting the lowering morale of health care workers due to long exhausting working hours and especially when many of them are becoming sick themselves. As a result next morning I tried to work out the condition of different health care workers admitted in different hospitals or on home quarantine because of the disease, they acquired while performing their designated official duties. While interacting with the young doctors I asked them how many higher ups have visited them or if someone from higher hierarchy has given them a personal call on their mobile number to enquire about their health. To my question, what I received from most of the health care workers was a “Mysterious Smile”. This smile of health care workers was entirely different from the smile of Monalisa who has hypnotized the world , the smile which I saw on the faces of young doctors was telling many untold stories. This agonising smile made me very disturbed although most of them preferred not to speak anything. To carry further I contacted Nodal officer IIIM canal road Jammu for corona testing, who had to be taken to hospital after suffering an acute attack of accelerated hypertension after continuously on work for more than five months in corona testing. She disclosed that Principal Govt Medical College Jammu, Dr Naseeb Chand Digra, was kind enough to enquire about her health but to the question if someone from higher hierarchy or someone from the administrative wing of IIIM have bothered to enquire about her well being, again the answer here was the same, “The Mysterious Smile”.
As our fight against corona pandemic is expected to last longer as even WHO has warned that the pandemic would be lengthy and added further that the effects of pandemic “will be felt for decades to come”. Govt Medical college and other health institutions of the Union territory are witnessing more and more health care providers falling prey to the pandemic. But to many it is not the number of HCWs getting infected with the infamouos virus, it is the apathy of the persons at the helm of affairs that is more threatening and alarming. As Dr Srinivas Raj KumarT, General Secretary, RDA ,AIIMS- New Delhi, “It is not the virus that we are worried about. It’s the apathy of the government and the AIIMS administration that worries us. If this continues, we will be short of HCWs to treat patients”. Further an order from secretary health and family welfare Delhi, whereby Government has asked medical directors of various government hospitals to get written explanation from such doctors, who have tested positive for virus, asking them how, “In spite of wearing required protective gears, maintain safe distances and following precautions prescribed for health care workers, they still contracted the infection”.
This ill advised order has raised many eyebrows with Dr Adarsh Pratap Singh, president Resident Doctors Association AIIMS, New Delhi calling it an insensitive move, doctors have opposed this and added that the current trend is quite worrisome. A young medico went one step ahead to compare it with a soldier getting bullet injury form the enemy’s fire while on duty at line of actual control and the commander calling an explanation about it instead of honouring the brave soldier.
Back to our union territory, the local administration here has worked very hard as is evident from the statistical data regarding recovery and mortality and testing per million populations is concerned. Different department of UT are working tirelessly in its fight against corona. But in spite of putting so much aggressive hard work, still we get a “Mysterious Smile” on the faces of our health care workers, in response to the peculiar question of how important they felt when the fell prey to the virus. There is a story of leading gastroenterologist from Jammu, who had to struggle hard to get himself quarantined in a hotel instead of administrative quarantine in a Sarai. Then there is a former medical Superintendent of Superspeciality Hospital Medical college Jammu who had to run from pillar to post to get his report , and succeeded in getting it after three to four days. A young radiologist and former union leader was seen sitting outside a ward waiting for a bed to be allotted to him after he tested positive and had to wait at door for more than four hours. No one has forgotten the viral video of a microbiologist’s wife crying for help after her husband was tested positive. The stories are endless. At this stage of pandemic , when most of the health care providers are exhausted , Administrative Apathy along with Response Fatigue can prove disastrous in this fight against the corona. Care need to be taken while implementing various protocols as advised by Govt of India from time to time but at the same time local machinery needs to be utmost vigilant in taking care of its precious white coat battalion.
That means something is seriously being missed unintentionally. We should not wait till the death of a person in white coat and then run to offer fifty lakhs rupees to his dependents, but instead we have to formulate a policy with strict instructions to the immediate controlling officers , may be block medical officer, chief medical officers, administration of a Medical college or even from the administrative wing from civil secretariat to strictly follow the well being and interests of their health care workers before it is too late, and especially those who have contracted the illness while on duty. A simple message, “Get Well Soon” on the blue screen of smart phone of a health care workers, who is now tired, overworked and exhausted, from his controlling officers will go a long way to boost their morale and will motivate the workers to put their maximum in their fight against the Covid-19 or otherwise as Mirza Ghalib said,
Hum ko maalum hai,
Jannat ki haqiqat lekin,
Dil ko khush rakhne ko ‘Ghalib’
Ye khayal accha hai.
(The author is Vice president Indian Academy of Biomedical Sciences, India and professor and head department of Biochemistry, Government medical College Jammu.)