The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.
Its 8 AM and you take a deep breath. You put on your N95 mask, one out of the six sanctioned to you this month. You pray you numbered them correctly and aren’t re-using the one from when that babaji sneezed in your face. You make sure the straps don’t cross each other but also don’t pluck out your hair–what a quandary.
You get into this cab, having sanitized for the 11th time since you woke up, after closing the door shut. You awkwardly wonder about how many people wipe their hands on the seat of their pants after the sacred handwashing ritual–the phrase butt virus makes you chuckle.
Your news app tells you there’s been a couple hundred more deaths and 20k odd new cases since you were last in this cab. If you had your pulse oximeter right now it would tell you that your pulse just shot up to 130, but who cares, the guy without the mask on his bike taking his girl on a joyride definitely doesn’t.
No condoms, No helmets, No masks – it’s a daring, uncaring nation.
You reach your ward, get your updates from your colleague in a hurry while you change into scrubs, and masks, and surgical caps, and shoe covers, and gloves, and surgical gowns, before you open any files – who knows what unwashed hands touched it.
F for Files, F for Foe, F for Fomites.
A year ago this may well have been the diary entry of one of your OCD patients, but here you are, at it anyhow.
You put your notes in while waiting for your rounds with the higher-ups; the faculty members who never seem to find any patient worth actually entering the ward for. Treat the file, not the patient is kind of the norm here. You wonder whether the 92-year-old diabetic inside is going to have another hypoglycemic spell today. You also wonder whether the 22-year-old with oxygen saturation lower than your body weight is still alive. You also wonder whether you’re even entitled to wonder about all this seeing as to how you’re actually just a Psychiatry resident.
It’s time for sampling, so you put on that Styrofoam katora (cup) and that raincoat spacesuit jumpsuit hybrid. These PPE coveralls have REALLY put you off rompers as a fashion choice for life. You trudge on in, swearing to do the most amount of work in the least amount of time possible.
You take out all the samples and change out all the cannulas like the expendable little medic-elf that you are, but you want to make sure the patients inside aren’t too gloomy either. It’s not their fault there’s a pandemic ripping the world apart. There may be a river of sweat flowing out of the nape of your neck by now, but there’s a personal sense of responsibility you feel towards their mental health, so you take some extra time and listen to their complaints about the lousy AC, the runny tea, the poor network coverage.
What you really want to know is how isolation feels for them, whether they feel stigmatised in any way, how you can help with their crushing anxiety – but who’s gonna share all this with a faceless stranger in a spacesuit?
You now doff in the sad little doffing area; a makeshift affair behind a broken door with a broken chair and half a broken bottle of sterilium. You make sure to sterilize between each step as the videos told you to, you take your time even though every cell of your body is basically a dehydrated prune by this point.
You sprint to the showers and douse yourself with saniscrub like its Lux body wash and you’re Kareena!
Once back, it’s time for more notes. You crave the juice they serve here for lunch, but you feel too unclean to actually take more than a few carefully sanitized sips from the bottle.
A few hours and no deaths later, its time for rounds again, this time a quick update of the charts, a quick look through the patient’s vitals, a not-so-quick saniscrub scrub again, and you’re done.
You put all the updates on all the hospital Whatsapp groups and ignore the forwards your mom has sent you about the pros and cons of HCQ prophylaxis. You also try to ignore the fact that it is a Saturday, and had you been home today, there would be mom’s mutton waiting for dinner.
The lines between suppression and repression as defence mechanisms blur themselves daily for all you first-line defenders.
You change out of your scrubs, unplasticate your phone and sanitise it anyway, and hop into your cab, ‘cyber-scrolling’ through the lives of your non-medico friends and cousins, their maskless parties, photo-ops, their gleaming lives where things like lipsticks and heels haven’t been switched out for masks and Crocs. You’re envious, but mostly you’re relieved that no one you personally know, has gotten sick. That must mean it’s not so bad right?
The cab stops, you thank the driver, he thanks you for your service. Small talk ensues about Doctor’s Day a few days ago, about clanging thalis, about healthcare workers being the real soldiers. You’re appreciative, but mostly you’re just irritated that the man won’t lift up his mask to cover his nose. You go up to your room.
Its 8 PM and you take a deep breath. It’s time to wash your clothes.