A Tale of Sacrifices

-Dr. Usha Nandini M, (Psychiatry PG, Tirunelveli Medical College, Tamil Nadu)

A Tale of Sacrifices

                   The unsung warriors in our wars with epidemic


*Dial tone* 

*Cough Cough* 

“Always cover your face with a handkerchief or tissue while coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands with soap regularly. Avoid touching your face, eyes, or nose. If someone has cough, fever, or breathlessness, maintain one metre distance. If needed, visit your nearest health centre immediately,” 

Sounds familiar? 

Well, if you’re not familiar with this, congratulations! You’re one of those rare breeds of humans that doesn’t use a phone even for a call.

Warnings everywhere! Red alerts everywhere! Gatherings have been cancelled! Schools closed! Offices shut down! Travels limited! People have been in a state of panic like we are in a war zone. Though epidemics are not as rare as we presume them to be, it’s creating more panic than usual because of various modern day technological developments. Nevertheless one can never be too careful. We’re evolutionarily wired that way. We can’t blame anyone for being panicky.

But have you wondered about the people who aren’t confining themselves during these times. In fact they work more than their usual. Yes, you guessed right- the healthcare workers and professionals. Not just them, the law and order personnel, fire-service people and a lot of other such services are also on fire during such states of panic. Aren’t they human beings too? Aren’t they susceptible to the said virus too? Do they have some kind of super power shield to protect them? Do we even stop to think about these people? 

These are the people who devote their time and energy for fighting off such epidemics and sometimes lose their lives in the process. Did you know that in most of such pandemics a significant proportion of the affected population belonged to healthcare system? Yet they work despite everything for the welfare of the society. 

During the SARS outbreak, approximately 30% of the reported cases were among healthcare workers. In Canada’s Toronto alone slightly less than half of the 182 cases involved health professionals. Three of those professionals died after exposure.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was not any less. Of the nearly 17,000 cases of Ebola virus disease in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, at least 600 have been among health-care providers. More than half of them have died. The outbreak had also claimed the lives of doctors, nurses, and technicians from Mali, Nigeria, Spain, and the USA.

If I start listing out the names and narrate the stories of these war- heroes, it will be pages and pages of tales of sacrifices because there are that many.

Remember the Nipah Virus outbreak a couple of years ago? There was one healthcare worker- a nurse called Mrs. Lini Puthussery in Kerala who lost her life while tending to her patients during the outbreak. She was just 28 years old, at the prime of her life who was also a mother to two little kids. She wouldn’t have imagined that she will die before seeing her children grow. Nobody in her age would have. Yet, she did. While tending to the virus infected patients with poor precautions, she was also exposed and was suffering from the same illness. During her final days, she wrote a letter to her husband telling him that she might not make it alive and asking him to take good care of the children. This letter hit the social media and she was honoured as a hero.

This might sound like any other story to us. A nurse i.e. a healthcare worker died while combating an epidemic. But we forget that she was also a human being, a mother, a wife, a member of this society who should’ve had a full life. Stories like hers deserve to be recognized and honoured for the sacrifice they did. It is inhumane to dust it off as their duty.

It is pointless to argue about whose mistake these deaths are or if they are inevitable. But we can surely think about strategies to prevent such events at least to some extent. Following safety practices and teaching even the lowest level healthcare personnel to follow them is not only beneficial for them but also for the patients that they cater to.

Dear Healthcare personnel,

With the scare of corona virus spreading more rapidly and creating more chaos than the actual infection, we would do well to remember to take care of ourselves first. The altruistic code of conduct says we need to put the patient’s needs above our own, but we can’t serve the patients from our grave. Hence take care of yourselves and the people around you too.


A fellow personnel


  1. Heidi Malm , Thomas May , Leslie P. Francis , Saad B. Omer , Daniel A. Salmon & Robert Hood (2008) Ethics, Pandemics, and the Duty to Treat, The American Journal of Bioethics, 8:8, 4-19, DOI: 10.1080/15265160802317974.
  2. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2018/05/22/kerala-nurse-adieu-husband-before-she-succumbed-nipah-virus.html

Andrew Green, Remembering health workers who died from Ebola in 2014, The Lancet, Volume 384, Issue 9961, 2014, Pages 2201-2206, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62417-X. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014067361462417X)

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