Wondering what you can do to protect the protectors? Here's how!
"Courage isn't a matter of not being frightened, you know.
It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.”
The Third Doctor, Planet of the Daleks e Leo Sarmiento
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the healthcare providers, by the virtue of their job description, were at an enhanced risk of enduring mental health challenges. In addition to long working hours and stress experienced while delivering the right patient care, these healthcare providers have their own share of personal problems too, just like everyone else. In India, doctors and nurses work for over 60-70 hours per week on an average, and at times way more, giving them no or very less time to deal with their personal problems.
In ‘Doctor, heal thyself: Addressing the shorter life expectancy of doctors in India’, the authors, Suresh K Pandey and Vidushi Sharma write that it is evident that there are two root causes: stress and depression. These two are interlinked and one leads to the other. Doctors in developing countries are reported to have high grades of anxiety and depression.
Since the very beginning of the pandemic, all the healthcare providers are working tirelessly- day in and day out. We know that healthcare workers managing this disease are in particular a high-risk group. It is known that their chances of infection are as high as more than three times the risk faced by the general population.
Dr Ranjana Srivastava, an Australian oncologist, in this 'The Guardian' article says, "In ordinary times, being a doctor is a matter of privilege and pride. I’d like to think that I give generously, mindful that one day I will lean on others. But my risks have just multiplied." This is the situation of so many frontline workers.
Until now, there have been numerous cases of frontline workers, both physicians and nurses, contracting the disease from their patients and several have succumbed to it.
Taking into consideration the current population of India, the doctor to patient ratio is 1:1493 & nurse to patient ratio is 3:1777 (WHO recommends doctor to population ratio to be 1:1000 whereas nurses to population ratio to be 3:1000), implying a shortage of 4,55,478 doctors & 18,09,757 nurses approximately. This shortage is making the job of the existing healthcare workers all the more strenuous. As of today, India boasts of producing large quantities of PPEs, ventilators and beds in such a short span. But as Dr Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon and Chairman and Founder, Narayana Health said in this Times of India blog, “They did a phenomenal job at a very early stage of the pandemic. Today these doctors are tired and burnt out. Both private and government hospitals treating COVID patients are desperately short of young specialist doctors and nurses, not beds, as media projects.”
Healthcare workers cannot be produced overnight but here’s how we as individuals can help them, especially during such testing times.
The best thing you can do is stay at home!!
We can't stress this enough- everyone needs to stay home during this period of social distancing. Since, there isn’t much, as average individuals we can do to help hospitals and the medical community in battling the virus, the best way to help medical staff is to avoid getting sick! Wearing masks correctly (and not as chin guards), practicing social distancing, maintaining good hygiene are a few things that can help us from falling ill. Please do not go outside unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. Try staying put at home. The lockdown getting lifted up doesn't mean things are back to the way they were. The pandemic is still raging all around us. Asymptomatic patients are spreading the infection and this a new and worrying dimension to the spread of the pandemic. Listen to your doctors, follow the instructions given by them.
Don't ‘Google’ your symptoms!
It is a good thing to stay informed and take interest in our own care but checking your symptoms on the internet causes more harm than it helps. It can cause you unwarranted anxiety. Don’t trust unverified sources and stop using social media for gaining insight into your health condition.
"Everyone nowadays is overexposed to social media and unverified news sources. This not only leads to an increase in acute anxiety in them which sometimes even turns into a psychosis," says Dr Anjan Trikha on All India Radio. Even though this is said about the current Coronavirus pandemic, it is true at all times.
A WHO report on 2 February 2020, stated that we were facing a “massive infodemic.” The hazards of misinformation are vivid—misinformation costs lives. "Please don't think that if you read someone's tweet and it has been retweeted a lot, it's an accurate source of information. It is not. Look for reputable organisations to get your information from," said Dr Mikhail Varshavski, known online as Dr Mike, is a Russian-American celebrity doctor and YouTuber.
Everyone knows how senseless the WhatsApp forwards can get at times. There have been cases of people consuming an excess of alcohol or even consuming ‘hand sanitizer’ to “kill the virus.” Don’t use the so-called 'health hacks' without verifying them from your family physician. Your body might or might not be able to tolerate everything.
While WHO is the most appropriate source online for everything related to the coronavirus, the national health portal is another authentic source. The US government lists a few points on how reliable online health information is.
Boost their mood and morale by sending nice things and expressing your gratitude.
In current times, healthcare workers are overworked and overburdened. One short message or packet of home-baked cookies can make their entire day! Food items aren’t too expensive or personal, and it can be shared with other members of their medical team and staff to make sure everyone feels appreciated. But the best way to send a thank you is to send a small handwritten note. It's important to remember that your doctor does not expect anything more than a sincere "thank you" from a happy patient. A sincere sentiment of gratitude is all any doctor could ask for, and physicians will cherish a thoughtful handwritten thank you card far more than an expensive gift. It is also advised to check on their well-being. This can be done by making a short call or by sending a text message to your physician when you know they would be free.
Send them essential things that might be hard to get in these times
This pandemic has left the healthcare workers with very little time for themselves. If you stay near a healthcare worker, help them buy their groceries and other essential items. Not just them, the other higher risk group is the older population and immunocompromised patients. If you know someone nearby who is considered high-risk, lend them a helping hand to ensure they stay home. This indirectly helps the hospitals by reducing the number of potential of patients.
Please stop believing the ‘Self-Appointed Experts’
The authorities and public health experts are constantly updating the norms to protect the country from this pandemic. Doctors have a tough time on social media where instead of debunking myths about the virus, they are fighting word battles with individuals or groups of individuals who are disagreeing with the global norms and declaring outrage at every possible step. An opinion should not be disguised as expert advice. It isn’t merely irresponsible; it can harm the person on the receiving end. Please educate yourself instead of being ignorant and supporting any wrong ideology.
Don’t hide anything while talking to your doctor; Give the correct medical history
In the undergraduate years, all medical students are taught how to take adequate and appropriate medical histories. It is very important for delivering correct care and treatment. But the most important factor in this is the trust the patient shows in the doctor. Do not hide your past travel history, don’t hide your complaints. Telling your detailed history will not only help the healthcare workers to come at the correct diagnosis but also help you get appropriate and timely treatment.
Although most people do realize that doctors are just like regular people, some are of the belief that doctors are comparable to Gods and can’t possibly make any mistakes.
In this list of ‘things doctors secretly want to tell their patients’, the last point is the most important. “I’m only human. We have our good days and bad days just like anyone else. We try to always have a smile on our faces, be upbeat and cheerful. But we, too, are affected by life’s challenges — work, family, finances, health, and so on. Don’t be too quick to judge and criticize!”
In this world full of rat races, let us rethink our actions and do small good deeds to make this world a better place! While the medical fraternity is trying their best to provide us with the best healthcare services, let us do our part and contribute a bit!