As morbid as it sounds, death has become part of everyday living for Grace*.
The youngster was fresh out of medical college when she got an opportunity to sign on as an emergency doctor at one of Bangalore’s main hospitals earlier this year. At the time, she says, it seemed like the Covid situation in India had ‘settled’. “We had apparently flattened the curve,” she recalls. But that was just before a second wave of Covid-19 brought on a terrible tsunami of suffering no one was prepared for.
In the days that followed, the young frontliner went from seeing “a couple of Covid-positive patients a day” to declaring as many as six deaths in a single shift. “I cannot recollect those few days in the beginning, because I was just functioning,” she says. “On many occasions, I could hear patients crashing at the other end of the emergency room, but I couldn’t even go over to try and help because of how many patients I had on my own hands.”
On many occasions, I could hear patients crashing at the other end of the room, but I couldn’t even go over to help
The disease itself seemed to have no age. Suddenly, she was seeing 15-day-old babies and eight-year-olds being admitted into the ER. People in their early 30s with no comorbidities were presenting dangerously low oxygen saturation levels. The emotional toll of having to make difficult medical decisions while dealing with exhaustion on one side and devastated family members on the other was high.
Grace came to a saving knowledge of the Lord when she was eight — around the same time her dream to pursue medicine was born. In the last two months, the pandemic has been testing her raw — as a medical professional, but also as a believer.
Excerpts from an interview:
India currently has the second-highest number of Covid infections in the world. It has lost more than 323,000 people to the virus to date. Are you afraid for your personal safety?
Honestly, no. For a few reasons. I barely have time to eat and drink so, I actually don’t have the time to think about how much I’m putting myself at risk.
But the main reason is because I believe God will take care of me. This job is not something I fasted and prayed for. It was an opportunity that fell into my lap out of the blue. I feel like there’s a purpose and plan for why I’ve been placed here. That’s how I know He will sustain me.
But also, I see this as being part of what I signed up for. Nobody forced me to be a doctor. When I did, I took an oath. That means taking the good with the bad. You don’t get a hall pass when things go south.
I know there are those in my field who made the decision to call it quits amid the pandemic. To be fair, I think that’s because they’re having to think about things that I don’t have to at the moment: like putting their kids, old parents, and families at risk.
I’m not saying I’m absolutely fearless. I do get worried. I’m just learning to leave it completely to God. He is my Calm, my Comfort, my Rock. Death is not my primary fear.
I’m not absolutely fearless. I’m just learning to leave it completely to God
If not death, what are you concerned about, given that you’re right in the thick of the battle against a deadly virus?
I think… losing my humanity. You see all this enough — death, suffering, day in, day out — and you become numb to pain. I don’t want that.
At times, I catch myself wishing for the same detachment some of my colleagues have. It helps them think more clearly. But I also don’t want to lose compassion. To reach a point where I don’t do anything because, medically, I know someone is going to die anyway.
What would you say to other frontliners struggling with anxious fears as they fight this pandemic?
If you’re a believer, I’ll just say this: fear is not going to help you in any way. If anything, your fear will only radiate — and that’s not going to be helpful to anyone either.
Every day now, I’m watching people my age and younger die. If I were to dwell on that, I’d be pretty scared too. But it still wouldn’t change anything. In the end, our destinies are in the hands of our God. What will happen will happen, and we cannot add a comma or a full stop to the plan. So, why take on that extra burden of anxiety?
What are some difficult questions you’ve had to grapple with because of the pandemic?
Sometimes, when I’m discouraged by everything happening around me, I ask why. Why did God die such a painful death for a world so broken? But then I remind myself that Jesus’ death wasn’t the end — and it definitely wasn’t for nothing. The purpose of His death was salvation. He turned an impossible situation around when He rose from the dead to, once for all, reconcile God and man.
That gives me hope that this too is not the end. It’s a very difficult time we’re all going through, for sure — but something great is coming. This is not the end.
In the end, our destinies are in the hands of our God. We cannot add a comma or a full stop to the plan
Would you say the pandemic is shaking your faith or strengthening it?
I think when one sits in the comfort of their home, it’s easy to preach about not being shaken in one’s faith. But, truth be told, there are days when you return home after 12 hours of non-stop ‘firefighting’ — and still feel like you did nothing to make anyone’s life any better. Shifts when you did your best to save three patients crashing within minutes of each other and still ended up with no survivors. Times when it feels we’re all just fighting a losing battle.
In those moments, I really wish I knew what God was up to in this pandemic. He could make it all better in the blink of an eye, but it feels like He’s just watching…
But in those moments, I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that worse things have happened in the world. This feels like the worst, but if you actually look at history, it’s not. We’ve come out through worse. There is a clear-cut plan and purpose — even though we don’t know what that is.
What makes you so sure of that?
God is constantly surprising me with how detailed His plans for my life alone are. A week after moving to Bangalore, I tested positive for Covid. It was a lonely time and I was in a brand-new place, all by myself. However, because I caught the virus then, I’ve had natural immunity throughout these last few months, when a far more severe Covid wave hit.
I haven’t had the chance to get vaccinated, so if I caught the virus now, I would likely have far more severe symptoms, like some of my colleagues who fell sick did. God basically armed me, if you ask me. He protected me by giving me Covid beforehand, so I can be here now to help when help is needed most. That tells me He knows what He’s doing. I’ve seen tiny glimpses of the light, so I believe there is a Light. And I will eventually see it.
What is God teaching you through this time?
He really means it when He says faith as small as a mustard seed. During the peak months of the pandemic, every day was worse than the last. I kept praying for the opportunity to make a difference, but honestly, I didn’t really believe I’d get that opportunity.
When I did believe, He gave. Things like helping me convince my seniors to give a patient non-invasive ventilation when she seemed to have zero chances of survival. I got to watch that patient walk out of our hospital and go home to her family.
Faith can move mountains. Sometimes, you just don’t know how big a mountain you’re trying to move until after you’ve moved it in faith.
Sometimes, you just don’t know how big a mountain you’re trying to move until after you’ve moved it in faith
There are also all these Sunday school songs that mean so much more to me now in this crisis. Count Your Blessings, God Will Make A Way, Rejoice In The Lord Always… Frontliners don’t have any extra or special shield. I am surrounded by the sick and the dying every day. But He’s still keeping me safe. That’s just grace. And it gives me a reason to rejoice — even though my circumstances are anything but happy.
What is your prayer these days?
Prayer seems to always be on my lips these days. Even when I’m taking a blood sample, I’ll be praying, “Please help me get it right. Don’t let me have to prick them 5-6 times.”
Those are the little requests. But mostly, it’s the same prayer. I pray that I can make a difference as a believer, not just as a frontliner. I pray to be filled with so much love, compassion and grace that it bursts out of me, that it cannot be contained in me, and becomes contagious, and impacts those I interact with.
That is not my natural inclination at all. But I really want to make a difference where I am. There should be an upside to being children of God. I pray for that upside. We need to be different. So, I pray that that difference is evident — and that people would know Him because of it.
(*Name changed on request)
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