First line of defense

– Dr. Manasi Rege

I am a commoner. We commoners only read and hear
about wars, tsunamis, fires, murders, diseases. For us
these things are just news, these are things that only
happen to someone else. Our strongest opinions are
often limited to the dining table of our house. To put it
simply, we’re just part of a large ‘Janta’. But what if life
has a different plan for us?

Here’s a story of a commoner, who by a sudden turn of
events, went to a war zone to make news.
I am an intern doctor. I hadn’t even completed a week
of internship, when life took a 180° turn . I was at the
nascent stage of internship, learning blood collection
and typing discharge summaries, when all of a sudden
we were called to the superintendent’s office and
told that we had been chosen for the coronavirus
screening at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International
Airport. Coronavirus! COVID-19! That deadly disease
that came from Wuhan! My first thought was,
“Say no and just walk out!” But something inside me stopped
me from shirking my duty and I boarded the bus to
take us to the airport. The most morbid thoughts filled
my head as the magnificent structure of the airport
appeared before my eyes. Normally, every time I
would see this structure, I would secretly wish to work
here. But never in the wildest of my imagination did
I think that it would be to battle a deadly pandemic. I
gazed out of the window in that one hour bus journey
wondering if I would see any of this ever again….
On reaching the airport, however, seeing a lot of
interns from other colleges as well as other health
staff assuaged my fears a bit. We were then divided
into groups and told to start the next day.

Our first shift was an overnight 12 hour duty. The
job consisted of seeing if the passengers had fever,
with the help of thermal detectors and then asking
them to declare if they had any of the symptoms,
any co-morbidities or travel history to any country
with a high number of COVID-19 cases in their self
declaration forms. Honestly, the job was not half as
skilled as blood collection or suturing. But it was not
the skill but the guts to come and do the job that was
the need of the hour.
The first night, we saw about 98 flights that carried
17000 passengers…
In the next 2 weeks that followed, the flights dwindled,
but the restrictions increased. From just following
up the high risk patients, to home quarantining every
person who came from the highly affected countries,
keeping up with the ever changing guidelines was the
toughest task of all.

Of course there were a few celebrities spotted, a few
words of encouragement and pats on the back from
travellers who praised us for our contribution. The
group with whom we worked soon became family. But
most importantly, with each passing day, as COVID-19
made more and more news and crept slowly and
steadily into India, it felt that despite the odds, my life
finally had a renewed purpose to it. As mankind was
fighting a battle with an external force, we felt like the
warriors at the forefront. It taught us, first hand, what it
meant as a doctor, to look beyond money and success
and work for a larger interest, that too at an early stage
in our career.

On the last day of our post, just before all international
flights came to a standstill, was the day of the Janta
curfew where at 5 p.m. we all clapped for each other; a
little token of appreciation for the entire fraternity and
also for our newfound family at the airport.
Then came the ultimate silver lining, when a popular
Marathi newspaper wrote about us and that is when
I was convinced that coming here 2 weeks ago and
agreeing to do this job despite my apprehension was
the best thing I could ever do for myself.

This learning experience of working for a larger
interest was soul elevating and drastically changed
my perspective towards this field. My job wasn’t the
most skilled one, but it is only many little contributions
that bring about huge changes. So here I am, still a
commoner, but this time, not a spectator, but a part
of the news that will go down in history. It will be
remembered as a battle where every human on Earth
came closer by staying afar.
Manasi Rege
GGMC Mumbai

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