First line of defence against coronavirus

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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 17,000 passengers.

In the next two 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 5pm 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 two 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
Intern, GGMC Mumbai.

Manasi Rege

Dr. Manasi Rege is a Mumbai-based medical intern at JJ Hospital, Mumbai who loves to write short articles and poetry. She writes mainly on her Facebook page known as 'Words Of White Coats' and for 'Lexicon' which is a medical magazine created by medical students.