He doesn’t know when he can go home, to Malda in West Bengal, next. Time permitting, he will perhaps see his family — wife and 15-year-old daughter, who he last met more than a year ago — on a video call on Diwali day. “I wanted to go home this March, but the pandemic changed everything,” said Shah (37). “I collect more than 60 samples daily from several places, which is a crucial part of the process. It is risky, too, because chances of contracting the virus increase. But I play my part for society. I am not going home because I cannot leave my work under the present circumstances. Besides, there is also the fear of infecting my family members,” he added.
Dr Nadia Qazi (34), resident medical officer at Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon, has also not met her parents, who live in Srinagar, for a year. “My parents are worried about me. But we have been getting more patients so we can’t take leave,” she said.
This Diwali, many health workers across Delhi-NCR are burning the candle from both ends, working extra hours as cases have surged, but refraining from going home to meet their loved ones. The festive season for them has been endless toil at hospital wards, OPDs, laboratories and ambulances. Come Christmas and New Year, they expect the same routine. If Covid-19 cases decrease by then, it will bring a degree of satisfaction. Perhaps smiles too, and with some luck, a bit of family time.
Dr Ram Prakash Rai, an epidemiologist based in Gurgaon, said on the day of Diwali, he, along with the team of frontline health workers, will visit several areas in the city for a screening exercise. “Cases have been rising. We cannot take a break. There are a number of contacts to be traced and any delay could mean more infections,” he said. “This is the first Diwali that I am away from home. My family is worried about me but the right step is to stay away,” added the doctor, who hails from Bihar.
At Delhi’s Lok Nayak Hospital, Dr Richa Narang, senior resident in the anaesthesia department, said her Diwali will be spent away from loved ones, who stay in Ghaziabad’s Kaushambi, as she will be on ICU duty on Saturday. “My mother would want me to come home, even if briefly. But she also realises that it is important for me to be in the hospital to be able to save lives,” she said.
Dr Keshave Singh, the president of the resident doctors association at Maulana Azad Medical College, also hasn’t met his family in several months. “I am working on Diwali. But that’s not something unusual. Doctors work regardless of festivals,” he said.
Dr Ashutosh Niranjan, medical superintendent of Sharda, an L3 Covid hospital in Greater Noida, told TOI, “We usually go to Purnia and meet our extended family during the festive season. But this year, my son and daughter-in-law could not travel from the US due to Covid-19 and I’ll be working on Diwali as we have nearly 130 patients in the hospital, out of whom 32 are in the ICU. This is a hard and unusual time for us. Even to rejoice we need to be healthy and safe, and that’s something we can’t take for granted anymore.”
Dr Abhinav Singh Verma, junior resident, neurosurgery, at AIIMS, will be on duty at the institute’s trauma centre. “My family lives in Vasundhara, Ghaziabad. But I haven’t met them in the last nine months. There are so many cases and admissions due to Covid-19. It is difficult for us to think about anything other than treating patients,” Dr Verma said. “Our children, of course, want us to go to the market to buy candles, diyas and firecrackers and spend time with them on festivals,” added Harish Kajla, nursing officer at AIIMS. “But duty is more important.”
Gurgaon’s chief medical officer, Dr Virender Yadav, told TOI he has not taken a single day off since March. He’s also not visiting his parents, who live in Faridabad. “My parents are old and have co-morbidities, due to which I avoid going home. We are in a war-like situation and we can’t let our guard down,” he said.
Many health workers working on the frontlines have seen their colleagues get infected. They are never sure if they aren’t carrying the virus and don’t want to put their families at risk. “I am staying at a guesthouse and haven’t been home for six months. Some people in my team are infected and I don’t want to take the risk of going home,” said Devender Kumar, who manages the ambulance fleet at Gurgaon’s Civil Hospital.
Sanjay Yadav, a lab supervisor with Ghaziabad’s TB department, said he will celebrate Diwali on his mobile phone. “I am on round-the-clock duty as directions to shift a Covid patient could come any time. There is not a single night when one or two calls have not come to admit patients to hospitals,” he said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic nine months ago, health workers have been among the most vulnerable groups facing exposure to the novel coronavirus.Nearly 650 doctors have succumbed to Covid across the country. In Gurgaon,101 health workers have contracted the virus so far.According to Dr Vinay Aggarwal, a member of the Indian Medical Association, more than 24 doctors have died of Covid in Delhi. “The situation is very serious. There aren’t enough beds available. People should stay indoors and follow all precautionary measures to save themselves and to mitigate the hardship faced by healthcare workers to treat patients in such situations,” he said.