Sometimes I do look back and think about those golden days when I would simply go back to my family after a long day and my 5 year old daughter would pounce on me with joy.
By Dr Yoginder Pal Singh
‘I am at the house of God. But the angels are holding their breath.’
For us who are working in labs, the days have been long. We have been clocking hours of duty in molecular lab where RT PCR testing is performed. We are working under stressful conditions every single day. We have forgotten our avowed aversion to screen time, and have quietly learned to use WhatsApp to discuss our daily load of samples. My phone just doesn’t stop ringing and even when I am in the lab performing tests, I keep an eye on my phone. Every day we anxiously scan the morning news as some of the stories take a toll on our emotional health. Did I just touch my face with those gloves on? What will we run out of today? Is it okay to reuse my mask? I came in contact with my colleague who was tested positive, does that mean I am may be positive too? These questions haunt me even during the night. My team is scared too but they are holding up well. They are truly brave and when I see my team suiting up in PPE every morning, I feel very proud. It’s like as if I am at the house of God. But the angels are holding their breath!
Sometimes I do look back and think about those golden days when I would simply go back to my family after a long day and my 5 year old daughter would pounce on me with joy. However, this pandemic has kept us from that very joy – the joy of being jolly and playful with your child, or spending some quality time with your wife and parents. In the past few months, I have missed a number of family events. I haven’t touched my daughter in the last 2-3 months. Recently, on 15 July it was my wedding anniversary, but I could not celebrate it with my wife as I am confined to a separate room in the house. I had to give these life events a miss, to maintain social distancing from them and keep them safe. But, I would gladly sacrifice more months even years if that what it takes to keep them safe.
The exhaustion doesn’t come from the extended work hours, but when even after I wrap up my work and I’m back home, I have to be on my toes in terms of sanitation. I am an observant Sikh and I try to follow some personal regulations of Sikhism, and ‘Kesh’ – long, uncut hair with turban is one of them. So, I have to ensure that I thoroughly clean my hair and turban to wash of aerosols if any, as I work in a high risk area. Sometimes I find myself cleaning my hair and turban at 2 AM in the morning when all you really want to do is go off to sleep.
Of all the emotions we feel, for me personally, the feeling of being alienated is the most daunting one. While performing corona virus testing ensuring personal safety is a challenge, but another problem that we have to face is social stigma. A lot of people are shunning us for fear of being infected. As a matter of fact, we recently had a death in the family and I could not to attend the last rites only because I work on COVID samples and some people may not be comfortable with it. Yet, nothing clouds our sense of duty towards the society.
Lives of frontlines workers have changed immensely and mine is just one of many such stories. Healthcare workers across the world have risen above all and leading by examples. I feel proud that I belong to that community.
(The author is Section Head Molecular Biology and HLA, SRL Diagnostics. Views expressed are personal.)