Sans support, Kashmir's healthcare workers fight COVID19 alone

“The frontline struggle against the coronavirus is often fought by the faceless,” says Dr Azaan (name changed), a third year postgraduate working as a senior resident in a COVID19 designated hospital. 

This doctor is about 50 years old, and although had already acquired a specialty, enrolled for a new surgical branch he had always dreamt of, at the last lap of his training, he found himself tossed onto the frontline to fight COVID19. However being a single parent and the only son, he has ailing parents and children to take care of back home.

“There is a strange conflict between expediency and morals, duty and responsibility, experience and common sense,” he says.  And to balance between these, Dr Azaan feels, he is on his own, “like all healthcare workers right now”.

Dr Falaq (name changed) is a gynaecologist and obstetrician working with COVID19 patients. The “significant risk” she is exposed to in operation theatre worries her family.

There is diabetes, malignancy and old age in her small family. The heroism of helping a COVID19 positive pregnant woman become a mother is strangely mixed with the dread of taking the virus home by her.

She puts her emotions aside and exerts all her sensibilities into adhering to quarantine and distancing, staying away from her family till it is safe. However, she and her family have not seen their struggles “acknowledged”.

“Rather, we have seen a strange ostracization from society, a disturbing rift with the administrators,” she says.

There have been constant struggles for personal protective gear, decent rooms to put up at when on duty, for masks, hand washes, sanitizers, for dignity, understanding, and some acknowledgement, a healthcare official said. “Till date, more than 100 doctors in Kashmir have tested positive for COVID19. As many healthcare workers other than doctors have also been found infected. The unfathomable impact on their families has made many of them feel like outcasts,” he says.

On roads, amidst lockdown, the complaints of harassment despite passes and I-D Cards were not uncommon. “When I left home for hospital, I always had too much on my mind,” says Dr Aariz (name changed), a medical officer working at a remote hospital in Kashmir. “Leaving a family behind, living in a dilapidated room, the complaints of patients, their expectations, everything was on me,” he says. Yet there has been very little in his control. “What I least expected in this scenario was the harassment by police on roads…the regular pleading to let me pass, to attend to my duties,” he said.

This doctor tested positive for COVID19 recently. What followed was something he had never imagined. “I was blamed for contacting the virus, even by the administration of the hospital I was working at,” he says while narrating how the PPE kits were in short supply and how there was an audit for “the single mask” he had been provided with.  “My family has faced worse because of me,” he says.