Pictures of an Assam-based doctor, who carried a stick in his hands when he went to visit a patient in the hospital, had recently gone viral on social media.
This was Dr Diganta Borah’s unusual way of protesting against the brutal attack on a junior doctor, Dr. Seuj Senapati, in Hojai’s Udali. While sympathising with the fellow doctor, Dr Borah, who works at Bhogeshwari Phukanni Civil Hospital in Nagaon, spoke about the fear he and his colleagues live with every day of meeting a similar fate.
“For most of my life I worked in various minority areas of Morigaon. Several times we have to give medical treatment amid threats from patient’s parents. The goons of char area often threat us. That is the reason of this symbolic protest with sticks in hand,” he told News18.
“We are not Gods. We are also human beings. Our capacity is also limited. We serve with limited capacity. But when will people understand us?” he said.
The physical abuse of Dr Seuj Senapati at the hands of rogue relatives of a Covid-19 patient who died recently drew massive criticism. But such attacks on doctors are not new in Assam. This gruesome attack has again broke morale of doctors and health workers taking care of patients by risking their lives during the pandemic. Trembling with insecurity, Covid warriors placed at certain areas are demanding a safer environment for them to serve.
Even in cities and urban areas, conflicts between doctors and patients’ relatives often make headlines. But the risk of life among doctors and health workers working in the interior areas has doubled during the second wave. While vaccination process and treatment facilities are not adequate to fight the raging challenge, the doctors and health workers are facing a tough time dealing with adverse situations in remote areas.
Dr Pujarani Borah, who works at Naltali in Koliabar, also lamented the misconduct of the patients’ kin on different occasions. She said that being a female doctor she keeps receiving threats and abuse from patients’ relatives. Many a times, she has requested the health department for her transfer to a safer place. Her husband, Himanshu Shekhar Nath, is also a doctor, but according to her, his work area is safer than hers.
It is evident that most doctors are reluctant to provide medical care in these challenging times. They are terrified of facing the wrath of close relatives. This fear seems to have doubled between during the pandemic.
“I have been under attack many times," said a doctor at Kawoimari Hospital in Samaguri, Nagaon, on the condition of anonymity. “Some patients flaunt political influence. When a patient dies, we feel insecure about our lives but still we are doing our duty.”
Doctors based in the in tea garden area are equally perturbed. Two years ago, senior doctor Dr Deven Dutta lost his life in an attack by some enraged labourers in the tea garden in Teok. The mob which attacked him consisted of people who grew up receiving his treatment during his lifetime of service in the tea garden.
Since then many doctors who have been providing medical care in this area have expressed insecurity on various occasions. One such doctor told News18, “We have been providing treatment through limited facilities. We send everyone to better hospitals when patients with complicated symptom arrives. We fear sudden outburst from patient’s relatives.”
Doctors working in some other tea gardens say they do not want to work in the area. Tea workers in general respect doctors and offer support but the apprehensions remain.
However, a few doctors do not share this sentiment. According to one doctor who did not wish to be named, the tea garden hospital where he works at does not have access to many basic amnesties including water. Providing medical care amid such limitations is not an easy task. While thanking tea workers for their co-operation, he said he never felt threatened his long years of practice.
“The facility is low though tea garden people have been providing medical care for a long time. I live here and don’t feel any apprehension. I also explain to other medical staff that there is no reason to be afraid. But I can sense they carry a sense of insecurity,” the doctor said.
According to Indian Medical Association, a total of 646 doctors have lost their lives in the second wave of Covid-19 in the country. In Assam, eight doctors have died so far.
At this critical juncture, it is crucial to take special steps to remove the fear and stigma associated with the medical practice to instil a sense of security so that the health workers can perform their duty without threat and abuse.