In the overload of information related to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown, Dr. Sisir Mandal’s demise on Monday, caused by the virus, went almost unnoticed. On Facebook, a handful of loyal patients mourned the death of the orthopaedic surgeon, long associated with the famous Bellevue Clinic, with one of them saying that she still did the exercises prescribed by him for lower back pain. Only by Tuesday afternoon did tributes start pouring in.
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Dr. Mandal was the second doctor to die in Kolkata in a span of just two days. On Sunday, Dr. Biplab Dasgupta, an Assistant Director in Health Services (in charge of stores and equipment), also succumbed to complications caused by COVID-19. But it is the death of Dr. Mandal — a popular figure in Kolkata — that has shaken the medical fraternity in the city, with doctors realising that they are at a far greater risk than they had imagined.
Several doctors attached to private hospitals are now wondering whether it is worth going to work at all until the crisis blows over, even though no is willing to go on record to publicly express the fear weighing on their minds.
Government doctors, on the other hand, can hardly entertain the thought of staying away from work because it is the question of their career and also livelihood, but at least one specialist — in the field of neuromedicine — at the Calcutta Medical College resigned soon after the pandemic broke out in the city because he didn’t want to put his life at risk.
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“How does it feel when someone known to you, someone who’s been working with you, someone who until the other day was a walking-talking presence, is suddenly gone? Dr. Mandal was ageing but couldn’t be called old; sixty is the new forty, after all. And he was fit as a fiddle. But the virus struck,” mourned Dr. Mandal’s colleague, who didn’t wish to be named, but who on Monday decided to stay home until COVID-19 is brought under control.
‘Quit or continue?’
“Many senior consultants and resident doctors stopped practice about a month ago soon after the virus was first detected in the city. But now even the younger lot like us is in a dilemma — to quit or to continue — especially because our parents are worried sick,” said a house staff who is considering taking a break. He too wanted to remain anonymous and didn’t want his hospital to be named either.
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Dr. Arindam Kar, who heads critical care at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute and is also the general secretary of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, said that doctors can take extra precautions but they cannot stay away from work in the current situation.
“Doctors are humans too, and when someone known to them dies, they too are gripped by fear psychosis,” Dr. Kar said, “But as far as I know, those associated with critical care [in private hospitals] are still coming to work. I myself just got home after eight hours in the hospital.”