The sound of the patient’s rapidly decelerating heartbeat coming from the heart monitor, reverberated in my head long after I had heard it. I could still clearly remember the the old patient’s laboured breath, the unwillingness to live reflected in his eyes, the pain in his moans and the strangely peaceful expression on the man’s face right before he was taken into the arms of God.
I am devoid of any emotion because guilt has numbed all of these methods of expression. There is just so much remorse and melancholy bottled up within me from losing yet another patient in this pandemic that I do not think that I am capable of living with such a cumbersome load on my shoulders. A feeling of helplessness takes over me whenever I see a struggling patient.
Usually it is very difficult to announce to the apprehensive family members of a patient that their loved one has ascended to heaven only to see their heartbroken expressions and tear stained faces.
However, having been a victim to the mass unemployment due to the pandemic, the dead man’s son, his only family, had left him to earn his living. Hence, I myself escort his body to the morgue and pray for his soul to find peace in heaven.
That day when I go to bed, I am plagued by troubling thoughts of dying patients and suffering people making it nearly impossible for me to sleep. It reminds me of the four noble truths acquired by Lord Buddha, especially, after feeling the same astonishment he felt at seeing the amount of suffering in this world.
So to take my mind off any such troubling thoughts, I pick my phone and look at the photos of my high-spirited family staring back at me.
We all looked so exuberant and alive in the picture where we were standing before the Niagara Falls. I thank God that my family is safe from the virus. I am kept in quarantine, being in constant contact with COVID patients so I do miss them a lot. I decide to make a video call to hear the youthfully energetic voice of my children, oblivious to the effect of the pandemic, but I quickly dismiss the idea, seeing that the time was way past their bedtime.
Hours later when the glorious memories of my family rejuvenate me and take away some of my pain, I drift off to sleep.
I am lying on a bed. I am finding it hard to breathe and I am gasping for air. My lungs are on fire! My throat is sore from coughing and the feeling is unendurable. The fire in my lungs ascends to my veins and I find my entire essence burning to ashes. I gasp and wake up with a start. I am panting and sweat beads my forehead. “I am safe, it was a dream,” I say to myself. I pick up the vibrating phone from the nightstand thankful to it for disrupting my repugnant dream.
I look at the caller ID and my senses go into the ‘alert mode’ since it is a call from the hospital. I search for my doctor’s suit in the closet while I am informed that I am to report to the hospital in a jiffy to attend to a patient who is in a grave condition. I drive to the hospital as fast as I can, not wanting the poor patient to suffer very long.
I wear my customary N-95 mask and put on my PPE kit for extra protection. I rush into the ward and begin the treatment. This time steely determination overcomes me. I put in all my efforts to ensure that this patient gets well as soon as possible, for her recovery and to ensure my sanity. By the end of it, she is still weak but alive. Satisfaction grips me and I feel light hearted for the first time in many days.
I leave the room to meet my new friend, a middle-aged man, Akshat, who I had been tending to for over a month. I find him smiling as always but this time the weariness in his eyes has vanished and his face does not look pallid any longer. He is talking to a fellow wardmate when he sees me and greets me with a warm smile. I go to him and after a few check ups ask him to take a COVID test. Seeing the negative report, Akshat gives me a look of pure appreciation and gratitude as he could finally reunite with his family.
That day when I go back to my quarantine room, I give a passing glance to the scars etched on my face due to the tight mask I had worn throughout the day. I realise that my appearance which had mattered so much to me prior to the lockdown, did not affect me now in any way. I touch the scars but barely flinch realising that they are meagre compared to the scars in my heart and the exhaustion in my bones.
The next day, I listen to the grievances of my travel agent friend, Amit, who has lost his job due to the lockdown. I wonder whether I would rather lose my job and sit idly at home suffering from poverty than live the life of a frontline worker serving people. I realise that I am fortunate to be able to contribute to the recovery of my nation and help people even if it is physically and emotionally taxing for me. From then on I work with renewed energy and optimism. I also realise that life is a rollercoaster. When I had made the decision to become a doctor I had imagined an easy and prosperous life, not ever even imagining the possibility of such abominable situations and hardships. I’d say that these times have in a way taught me many crucial lessons in life.
These times have given me much needed exposure to the hardships of life at such a young age and have hardened me making me a more mature person. Maybe it is true – ‘What happens, happens for a reason’ and I think that God wanted me to take back ‘the importance of the life we have’ from this scenario. My lesson from the pandemic is to cherish what I have and be content with my life, what is yours?