By Dr Alphonsus St Rose
“Physicians, nurses and healthcare workers, risking our lives on the frontline, took an oath to serve the public and we will do just that. But to the authorities I say, caution, don’t you dare sacrifice us on the frontline by failing to provide us with proper, standardized, protective supplies and equipment. There can be no acceptable rolling back of the standards here for us on the frontline as we too have loved ones, families and friends”.
“One of our important yet humbling lessons, learned from this pandemic, is the challenge of depending on individuals (leaders as well as citizens) to align their behavior (social distancing/isolation) by doing the right things and strictly adhering to the public health guidelines in order to save lives.” Dr Alphonsus St Rose.
What moved me to pen these in recent articles was the painful yet hypocritical reality of our present circumstances. Truth be told we are all scared, not just at the thought of the impact of COVID-19 on all of us, but also at the outside world imagery that is just too practical and graphic to ignore. Our sacrifice is enormous, and its burden, unfathomable. As physicians, we too are battling our anxieties as we try to diagnose and treat patients while managing the fears, anxieties and the mental health of a nation engulfed by this COVID-19 pandemic.
Picture this real-life scenario, where anyone of us on the frontline can be saying goodbye to our families, by going to work daily, knowing that we are neither prepared nor adequately protected from this highly infectious virus. In simple language, this means that some of us on the frontline will get infected and some of us might well die. Some of us may infect our families and loved ones before we know it, some of whom will die. If this is not frightening enough, someone please tell me, what is?
And while we are also exposed to community spread as well, the reality remains, if we are not careful about ourselves and each other, with proper and adequate protective measures in place, our vulnerability increases and the country will be worse off without us.
On the flip side, short of being called unpatriotic (which we are not), is the battle of reconciling the notion of “ask not what country can do for you but what you can do for country” in our present Saint Lucia and COVID-19 pandemic context, seems much like an oxymoron at best.
We are expected to muster not just courage but “moral courage” to step up and do the right thing of protecting citizens and a country ill-prepared to protect us, much less defend us and our families in the event of a tragically fatal outcome. This is not encouraging and is unacceptable. Many of us are still lost as to what the standard diagnostic and management protocol is. Many of us are neither comforted nor encouraged, not knowing what protective measures are in place.
There must be widespread equity and equality in the allocation, safety and protection for all healthcare workers on the frontline and across the board. The animal farm model that has given much gratuitous (unwarranted) shelter, protection, and privilege to some, including in this medical profession, has to now be dismantled in this “new normal life” called COVID-19 pandemic. We are all equal and equally vulnerable.
This, painfully, is a country where many seem not to care until and unless reality hits home; where some of our leaders are less than trustworthy; where the lack of transparency and accountability, with unbridled corruption, is systemic and institutionalized, and where the mindset is “to whom much is given, little is expected”. Decisions made on our behalf are driven by special interest concerns rather than sound judgment even at the expense of risking our lives. We are a reckless and indisciplined society, not ready to deal with this COVID-19 pandemic. Equally, we cannot expect society to deliver what it was never prepared for.
Where is the comfort and confidence needed to marshal a coming-together so necessary for our collective survival? But also, our fears and concerns are not just the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) or masks, but also the harsh reality check of the “in your face” greed, selfishness, sophistry, and chicanery that I have been speaking publicly about for some time now. In the meantime, the status quo pushes a narrative of false equivalence to justify their immoral request for an economic stimulus package at this critical time for all of us. Where are our priorities in these critical times?
The prime minister in his over-exuberance and good intentions, botched the roll-out of the State of Emergency and curfew extension, which undoubtedly is necessary. Sadly, his Cabinet apparently did not advise him about the specific needs of their constituents. He is however right that our focus and battle now have to be centered on a combination of continued robust containment and mitigation efforts to beat COVID-19.
Let us all support each other in this difficult moment, but our leaders must understand that even at this critical juncture they are not immunized against the watchful eye of public and professional scrutiny.