PEOPLE across the world are still largely confined to their homes to contain the spread of Covid-19. But doctors and healthcare workers continue to be on the frontline of the battle against the virus, putting their families and their own lives at risk. On National Doctors’ Day, we want to express our gratitude to these heroes. According to the Indian Medical Association over 1,200 doctors have lost their lives so far. And those who survived have undergone a range of emotions dealing with the crisis.

Some, like Dr. Saandhra Sebastian, took to social media to express themselves. Dr. Saandhra wrote on her Instagram page, “My mental health has diminished. What keeps me going is that every day I’m out there, the chances of saving somebody’s life increases. I’m working as hard as I can, knowing that the other healthcare workers would do the same if my parents were hospitalised. They’re in their 50s and stay in Kerala. I reassure them that things will get better. Still, I wonder. What if I get COVID? Who’ll take care of my parents?”

What Dr. Aftabuddin Ahmed, a Delhi-based surgeon, has gone through will probably stay with him all his life. “I have seen young and old, men and women, those with and without comorbidities gasping for breath. It is unbearable to watch. That sound – the sound of people trying so desperately to breathe – I would hear it in my sleep if ever I was able to get some. I am on call all day, every day. We work around the clock. The situation is dire but I fear the worst is yet to come.”

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Dr. R.K. Himthani, the head of the gastroenterology department at the Batra Hospital in New Delhi, was not so lucky. He was one of 12 victims who died due to oxygen shortage in May. Dr. Himthani lost his life in the line of duty, having treated COVID patients for 14 months before he was infected. In their masks and gowns, the hospital staff gathered with teary eyes and folded arms, paying their final respects as Dr. Himthani’s body was wheeled out.

Beyond the call of duty

Since the outbreak in March 2020 India’s skeletal healthcare system has been overwhelmed, pushing medical staff into severe physical exhaustion and mental fatigue. With one doctor for over 1,100 patients, as per World Health Organization’s data, the situation only got worse during the pandemic.

Continuous exposure to the deadly virus with a high risk of infection, long shifts without a single break, being in sweat-drenched PPE suits for extended hours, unending flow of patients, packed ICUs and unbearable volume of deaths have put healthcare workers under terrible strain both mentally and physically, causing burnout, insomnia and anxiety.

Despite all their difficulties, there are accounts of doctors who constantly boosted patients’ morale, helping them speak to their families and going the extra mile. Take the heartwarming story featuring Dr. Rekha Krishnan, who works at a private hospital in Palakkad, Kerala. As none of the patient’s family members were around, the good doctor recited Islamic prayers to the Muslim patient during the final moments.

National Doctors’ Day

In 1991, the Government of India decided to mark July 1 as National Doctors’ Day to honour the eminent physician and the second Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. National Doctor’s Day is to pay our tributes to all the healthcare workers who have been our saviours. It has assumed even greater significance since last year due to their pivotal role during the pandemic.

This National Doctors’ Day, while hailing doctors for their selfless service, here are five things you can do to thank and support them:

1. Get vaccinated, encourage others to do so

Vaccines are safe and vaccination can mean the difference between life and death. They will protect against the virus so please get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Confront vaccine hesitancy among friends and family. The risk of serious infections and chances of hospitalisation are lower among those who have taken both jabs of a COVID vaccine.

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2. Stay home to stay safe

It is absolutely necessary to stay home as our country is still grappling with the deadly mutating virus. The best way to help doctors is to avoid getting infected. Though it’s been said several times, it bears repeating – you may not exhibit symptoms but you could still pass the virus on to someone who will get very sick. Indeed it is a privilege to stay home and stay alive in these horrid times.

3. Wear a mask

If you must step out, please wear a mask and practice physical distancing – staying one metre apart – even if you are meeting your friends or family. Ensure that the mask covers your mouth and nose properly. If you have recovered after being infected, without a mask, you could still catch the virus again.

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4. Don’t panic or rush to the hospital

If you think you may have COVID-19, get tested or use a self-testing kit and quarantine at home. This will alleviate the pressure on hospitals. In case of mild symptoms, you can get an online consultation with a doctor. Avoid panicking and rushing to a hospital to get admitted which might deprive a critical patient of a hospital bed.

5. Be respectful and empathetic to medical staff

Incidents of assaults, false news and blaming the doctors for the situation in hospitals or COVID deaths are unwarranted and go against the spirit of our united fight against the coronavirus. Doctors are our first and strongest line of defence in this catastrophe when the infrastructure is insufficient and qualified medical professionals are scarce. We need to trust, respect and applaud our medics for all the good they are doing despite the system’s limitations.

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The immense courage, personal sacrifices and selfless work of doctors and medical staff in saving millions of lives shall never be forgotten. This National Doctors’ Day, let’s remind ourselves of the several lessons learned in the pandemic – among them are to find ways to invest in healthcare and give medical professionals the respect, compensation and infrastructure that they truly deserve. That is perhaps the best tribute to the nation’s superheroes!

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