On the Covid-19 front: Gown on, Mask on, Gloves on
‘Creativity in Crisis’ is an anthology of short stories capturing the authentic experiences of 26 British Indian key workers, parents and educators. Here is the first in a series from the frontlines of a hospital ward dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Ready for battle, I begin my ward round. My heart sinks. Another fatality. I call her name. No response. I shake her shoulders. No response. My instinct is to put out a cardiac arrest call, but I cannot. The decision has already been made to not resuscitate her. I examine her body. I confirm her death. This routine has become all too familiar. Time of death 09:02.
I close my eyes and am reminded of history books – bodies strewn across no man’s land. They are names to be signed on death certificates. They are numbers to be added to the ever growing total. They are loved ones who never got the chance to say goodbye. They are civilians spending their final days alone and afraid.
I prepare myself for the worst part of my job. This is the first of three identical conversations I will have today. The dial tone is a siren of impending doom. Pause. My voice is a melancholic melody on repeat over the telephone. ‘I am calling about your mother.’ Pause. As doctors we are given training to deliver the words that nobody wants to hear. “I am so sorry, but I have some bad news…” Pause. “She is dead…” Pause.
The booming voice on the other end falters. This is a sound I will never forget, like a ringing in the ears lingering after a blast. I rapidly wage through his stages of shell shock: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. No time to halt, there are more patients to see.
I find a secluded spot to shed a forbidden tear, adding to a vast ocean that will form as a result of this war. They say that as a healthcare worker, you become accustomed to death. Our profession is one filled with pride and stoicism. Resilience is our battle cry. Our medical degree inadvertently presents us with an implicit shield against emotion. Every death is a bullet, forming cracks in my shield.
The enemy weapon targets the vulnerable. My ward is full of Asian men in their fifties and sixties; I see my family reflected in each and every one of them. My mother is terrified that she has sent her child off to war with a lack of armour and ammunition. There is an irony in this as she regrets the stereotypical push she gave me towards this profession. Yet my fear is that whilst I am off fighting, the air raids fall on our home.
Each day in the trenches, I oscillate between the grief of death and the joy of survival. My heart is full of gratitude for the appreciation from the public, but also carries the burden of missing my family. I am a tank of despair juxtaposed with hope. I have never felt prouder to be a healthcare worker, but I am riddled with the terror of not doing enough. The word hero echoes in my ears, taunting me like a sarcastic bully. You’re a hero but you didn’t save her life.
As we wade through the mass destruction filling our wards, we wonder about the silent bombs that are falling. The strokes, heart attacks, cancers are nowhere to be seen. I worry that they are hiding in fear, decaying in isolation in their shelters. Perhaps this is the calm before the storm, a ceasefire creating a false sense of security before the old enemies return.
There are so many questions I want to ask, but they fall upon the deaf ears of the chain of command. There is so much I want to say, but I am shackled by the stigma of displaying weakness. There is nothing louder than the stillness of death. I silently erase her name from the patient board.
It’s all quiet on the healthcare front.
by Asha Pavithran
*As published in ‘Creativity in Crisis’, Tattva Press, an independent publisher, with a mission to nurture aspiring authors and ideas at the frontiers of Indian culture. All proceeds from this publication will be donated to the National Emergencies Trust (NET)’s Coronavirus Appeal. Buy a copy and find out more: www.tattva.org.uk/creativity-in-crisis