New Delhi: National Doctors Day is celebrated each year in India on July 1. This day also marks the birth anniversary of the doctor, visionary and the second Chief Minister of West Bengal Dr BC Roy, who greatly contributed towards the development of medical facilities in the country.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us last year, the vital role of doctors and medical practitioners in our society has once again been reiterated.
“When COVID-19 was first reported in China, none of us knew the magnitude of the problem. We started seeing cases at our hospitals from February onwards. And by March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic; thereon, everything changed,” shares Dr Anil Heroor, Head-Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital Mumbai.
Just like Dr Heroor, many other doctors have a similar experience to share. The pandemic changed lives so abruptly and especially their lives, as they were at the forefront of fighting the virus and saving lives, that they had little time to take out to process everything.
“All doctors are trained to deal with death, suffering and loss but this pandemic has tested the reserves of the most resilient ones. They have been working unrelentingly for more than a year now and most have been dealing with death on a daily basis,” tells Dr Sapna Bangar, Psychiatrist and Head-Mpower The Centre, Mumbai.
“To have to deal with this on a daily basis on such a sustained level is taking its toll but most doctors do not seek help due to the stigma associated with mental health which adds to their burden,” added Dr Bangar.
PANDEMIC TAKES A TOLL ON MENTAL HEALTH OF DOCTORS
Dr Bangar further shares that the current situation requires doctors’ services constantly and that they don’t have time to let themselves pause or reflect on the loss of a patient as there are so many waiting in the queue for the coveted bed.
A certain numbness at seeing so much misery is bound to happen along with physical and mental fatigue.
Sharing a personal anecdote of her friend, Dr Bangar continues, “A doctor friend told me that once she starts to reflect on her emotions, she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to stop her tears. So most doctors are working on a more physical level and not letting themselves ‘feel’ anything.”
However, patients and their physical and mental well-being have been a top priority of these heroes.
“The lessons which we have learned during the COVID is to support our patients throughout the treatment, to motivate them, to always keep their will high to fight against COVID,” says Dr Sahil Kapoor, Consultant, Family Physician, and Wellness Expert, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka.
He further added, “The patients come to us with a lot of fear of dying because of COVID, so it is our moral obligation to stand beside them and help them to cope up with the disease. Mental support is very necessary during these times.”
The act of putting their patients’ life and health before their own wellbeing is a humanitarian service for which we can never thank doctors enough. However, undertaking this immense responsibility and pressure and witnessing tragedy on a daily basis, has impacted both their physical and mental health deeply.
While many doctors have contracted the COVID-19 virus and died in the line of duty, many others have experienced burnout.
“Doctors are facing unprecedented stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, hopelessness and emotional fatigue. Some are resorting to alcohol use to numb the pain and sadly we have also lost a few to suicide,” reveals Dr Bangar.
DOCTORS FAMILIES ALSO EXPERIENCE IMMENSE ANXIETY
However, it is not just doctors but also their families who are under great mental stress. The families have to worry about their doctor members not getting infected and/or spreading the infection to elderly parents or children. Some doctors have had to face stigma in their own resident complexes with families being ostracized.
While these trying times have made doctors stretch beyond their capacity to serve others, the lesson that this pandemic should teach us is to better invest in healthcare and medical infrastructure and research, so that we are better prepared for any such calamity in the future.
It is also vital to look beyond our own sufferings and empathize with the caregivers. It is important to show them respect and gratitude for their immeasurable services.