Kallol Dey, Temjen Yanger & Tasüngtetla Zeruiah Longkumer
DIMAPUR/KOHIMA, December 6: Adversity reveals true character, it’s been said, and in recent times no single crisis situation at a global level has held up the mirror to the human race as the COVID-19 pandemic. In Nagaland, as the reality of the pandemic hit home and shone light on the true nature of the society, response of a few men and women brought glimmers of hope in the otherwise gloomy situation. One such commendable response was by retired medical professionals under the banner of Nagaland Medical Council (NMC).
Even as the Health Department was gasping for breath in the wake of the COVID-19 threat, 4 retired doctors responded to its SOS call and volunteered their services. NMC President Dr. Joyce Zinyu Angami, Dr. Phyobemo Ngullie, Dr. Atha Vizol and Dr. Sashimeren Aier stepped forward to render their services. Soon more retired medical professionals from Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung, as well as young medical students, came forward. And without much hullabaloo or social media fanfare, the veterans set out to give back to society.
“Even though we have retired, we are still doctors, and it is our professional calling,” Dr. Ngullie asserts.
Misinformation, panic and stigma around COVID-19 had created an atmosphere where even young healthy adults were shying away from discharging their duties during the lockdown period fearing they would contact the virus. So what made the band of retired doctors, considered as high-risk group and vulnerable, venture out?
Talking to Nagaland Page, both Dr. Joyce and Dr. Ngullie down played the risk factor. Dr. Ngullie categorically notes that it was no reckless mission but a well-assessed undertaking. “We did (medical) self-assessment and concluded we did not have any co-morbidity. Being doctors, we knew that with proper precautions we were not at high risk.”
“People were asking why we were risking our lives but we felt safe because we knew that Nagaland was still in the green zone. Also it is not necessary for us to be in the frontline. But then as medical persons, people can use our service in many ways, such as counseling,” states Dr. Joyce.
Leading by example and realizing that panic would not help the situation, the doctors also made it their mission to allay unfounded fears about the virus. Dr. Joyce recalls that the level of fear regarding COVID-19 among people was palpable. “To mitigate the fear psychosis, we told them that we were senior citizens, and traveling from Kohima. We knew we had to keep up the spirit of the people, also push them to act as responsible citizens and take care of themselves. A major part of our job was educating the people who came to us regarding the COVID-19.”
“When the pandemic started, there was a lot of confusion and uncertainty and we tried to clear doubts in people’s minds. We counseled people on how to deal with the stress and long working hours,” Dr. Ngullie, a Psychiatrist by profession, adds.
Basic Service Providers
For the seasoned medical professionals, who could assess the situation much better than politicians and bureaucrats, it was not about diving head on into the battle against COVID-19. They understood that basic healthcare would suffer as all resources were being diverted towards gearing up for COVID-19. “We realized that since district hospitals were being converted into COVID Hospitals, there would be need for medical care for issues not related to COVID. We then decided to lend our help to those patients,” states Dr. Ngullie. Substantiating her colleagues observations, Dr. Joyce adds, “The State was too caught up in creating infrastructure because of the fact the Nagaland has a very poor healthcare infrastructure and with the onset of the pandemic, they had to concentrate on setting up COVID hospitals.”
“In our role as volunteers, we only took care of people who needed our services, especially those who could not access Out-Patient Services both in Government and Private hospitals during the lockdown period,” Dr. Joyce adds.
Meanwhile, the Health & Family Welfare Department also requested the NMC to lead the volunteers and set up the Out-Patient consultative services for the general community because all the other hospitals were shut down with the first lockdown. “We were able to mobilize volunteers in 4 districts and we opened two OPD consultative services each at Kohima, Mokokchung and Dimapur and one at Wokha,” Dr. Joyce informs.
But with the Health & Family Welfare Department caught up in its own struggle, the veteran doctors and their teams were on their own. They spent from their own pockets ~ or raised funds. The teams took care of the planning, organizing and the logistics without the interference of the Department.
“Some of the hurdles we faced included accessing medicines because even for Out-Patient services we need medicines. But contributions from various churches, the CMOs and medical distributors of Dimapur helped us a lot,” Dr. Joyce states.