Amal Baishya

An epidemic, or rather a pandemic, has been a part of our civilization ravaging human population, changing history. The more we become civilized, building cities, developing trade beyond any geographical borders, exploring space, connecting the world with the internet, no less we remain vulnerable to the deadly epidemics that make a mockery of our pride at regular intervals. In 1919-20, an estimated 500 million people, one-third of the world’s then total population, were infected by the H1N1 virus killing over 17 to 50 millions. Today, after 100 years, an eventful period in the unimaginable resurgence of technological developments, we are reeling under the grip of Covid-19.

On each instance of the recorded history, when an epidemic broke out, the doctors and the nurses along with those associated health workers, with whatever tools and techniques they had, rose to the occasion by putting their lives at risk, only to keep the human civilization going on. Their incredible and untiring services to the people in peril have succeeded in defeating the deadly contagions every time giving the much-needed momentum to life. That’s the reason, they are compared to, or rather worshipped as, God. Here we can recall the story of Dr Bernard Rieux, the lead character in the popular novel The Plague by Albert Camus published in 1947, who kept on moving day and night in the Algerian city of Oran treating the infected patients, innumerable in numbers, all around in an unprecedented breakout of Bubonic plague in the 16th century. Today, the coronavirus of the 21st century is equally lethal, and the doctors and the nurses are no less than Dr Bernard Rieux.

It is those medical warriors who take the centre stage to change the scenario, not just by merely treating the affected ones with drugs but with soft touch and love to reinstate the lost confidence in an otherwise panic situation to show the patients the smiling path back home from the Covid hospitals.

But, unfortunately, we often forget this unparalleled contribution and sacrifice of the doctors. Sections of people, under the influence of various factors, grow with unethical principles, often backed by political motives. We become intolerant and violent to any extent even to anything silly that is not aligned to our views. This alarming change in social behaviour could be seen more prominent if we look into the untoward incidents that often happen against the doctors in hospitals.

The lynching of Dr Deben Dutta in September 2019 in Teok Tea Garden in Jorhat where he had been serving without remuneration after retirement exposed the brutality of mob violence under intolerance. His crime was that the patient died in his hand as he started his treatment!

Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the legendary former Chief Minister and maker of West Bengal, was a great physician, philanthropist and politician. It is in his honour that July 1, his birthday, is celebrated as National Doctors’ Day in India. He would never have imagined that even the doctors would, one day, be victims of violence.

The social values and concepts have changed over the years with the change in dimensions in education and globalization. There was a time when a humane link existed between a doctor and a patient. The doctor was the God for the patient. Today, the relation between the two stands materialistic. The faith, the respect and the submissiveness – all are hijacked by the improvements in medical technologies. It’s undeniable, a doctor today relies only on the computer-controlled machines rather than his ‘humane touch’ to get the pulse of a patient. His profession has unfortunately lost the ethical values to a great extent for turning it virtually into a business by trying to see as many patients as he can.

The privatization of medical services has pushed it to a profitable business providing only the elite categories the best caring facilities like a five-star hotel which the poor section of the society cannot afford. The mounting expenditures involved in treatment have increased the mental pressure, both on the patients and the doctors breaking the much-needed bridge between them. Of course, medical ethics is just not a psychological process. The way it refers to technical skill, it involves truth-telling, transparency and showing respect for the values of the patients and their families. Impatience, on either side, particularly during critical conditions of a patient, is unfortunate that may lead to untoward incidents. It happens, particularly when there is a miscommunication or misunderstanding between them. After examining a patient, the physician should elaborately explain the condition of the patient to the best satisfaction of the attendant or patient.

According to the National Health Profile Report 2018, against 11,082 persons in India, we have only one allopathic doctor whereas, as per WHO guidelines, there should be one doctor against 1000 people. This is one of the reasons, our doctors are always in a hurry and don’t have enough time to interact with the patient.

Social intolerance is another reason for adversely affecting the doctor-patient relation. Aggressive behaviour of the patients or their families is equally responsible along with the arrogant and lackadaisical approach of the doctor for developing such an unwanted environment.

The current pandemic is becoming a scale-changer in terms of rebuilding the lost bridge between the doctors and the Covid patients. The health workers are again being placed at the highest esteem of the public. Doctors are being worshipped. It’s really commendable, the way they’ve put themselves into service day and night leaving their home and hearth for long. Their untiring devotion and hard labour in the challenging time of the pandemic have redefined the ethics of medical service yet again reminding us the story of Dr Bernard Rieux of Camus’ The Plague.