He touched his forehead. The wound had dried up long back, but the scar still remained.
Dr. Pal had been working tirelessly over these last few months attending to patients from all across the state. He was associated with a major Govt. hospital in the metro city. With the new virus affecting people, the infection rate was astronomical. Every day, the queues would be longer. All his requested leaves had been canceled and the worst part, a strain had developed with his wife. Even before this epidemic, he used to be busy, but now, for 72 hours he had been unable to go home. Not only that, but he could also barely say a "hello" over the phone. His wife Nina was managing a 6 months old baby, all on her own, with no support from anyone. They had a baby-sitter, but she was in her village before the current set of restrictions was imposed and now she is stuck there.
He looked at the clock. Wow! 3 am. He was unable to keep his eyes open. Gradually he dozed off in his chair.
Suddenly he heard a huge commotion outside. He went outside to check. Some people had come to the hospital and were reacting very angry with the staff. Dr. Pal went out to check.
Suddenly, someone shouted,
"Look at this bastard! He is one of them! He did not save my grandfather!"
Dr. Pal figured he was the only doctor stuck in the crowd. Apparently someone had died in the hospital and the relatives thought that the doctors did not care for the patient on purpose and let him die. Ironically Dr. Pal was not even involved in the case. He just went out to check what had happened, but now he had been designated as "one of them"!
Suddenly something hit him badly on his forehead!
"Ah!", he shrieked, as he could feel a stream of warm liquid instantly flowing down his forehead. He was a doctor himself. He knew he had been hit, pretty badly by a stray brick. The security arrived but they were minuscule in number compared to the huge crowd outside. Everyone eyed the man who, they thought, were party to the alleged killing of the old man. More blows resulted and the doctor fell down. His colleagues had by now arrived on the scene and were taking him away quickly to the emergency unit. The bleeding was profuse and many were fearing internal hemorrhage.
Dr. Pal woke up. He was sweating profusely. He looked at the clock again. 4:30 am.
"Ah! That bloody nightmare again! Probably I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life!"
He sat straight in his chair. Enough of sleep anyway, better to grab some coffee and watch the new dawn. He started browsing through the pages of the medical journals. Some new findings of the virus had been published in this edition. He needed to be abreast with the latest in clinical treatment to ensure he could provide the best care for his patients.
Meanwhile, an ambulance arrived. He looked up. The relatives carried an old man who looked in pretty bad shape. Dr. Pal got up from his chair and asked what had happened.
"Sir, he has been running a very high fever since last night. We tried giving paracetamol but the fever did not subside."
"Sister, can you please arrange that corner bed and help the patient?"
Looking at the relatives, he said, "Please wait outside. Let me take a look."
Dr. Pal started checking the vitals. He felt that the symptoms looked constant with those of the new virus. He started writing a prescription.
"Sister, please call one of them in."
A young boy in his 20s came in.
"How are you related to the patient?"
"Sir, he is my grandfather."
"Okay, we will need to admit him. I checked. We need to observe and do some blood tests. At this time, I would not suggest to take him home as the condition might deteriorate. Do you understand?"
"Don't call me sir. I am just a doctor doing my best to help your grandfather recover", he smiled as he said that.
The boy nodded and left.
Dr. Pal kept wondering, thinking to himself, "Human beings are strange animals. When they need something they go to any extent and when the need is fulfilled or not fulfilled, the outcome is clear, they unleash the most brutal version of themselves. If this old man dies tomorrow, it is possible that this young man who just called me sir, won't think twice before hitting me! In a split second, my position would be reduced from a demigod to a murderer. All my education, my best intentions could be so conveniently ignored, as brute force holds the brain at ransom and raw vengeance starts a naked dance."
He had developed this habit of touching the scar now and then. As soon as he was aware, he removed his hand from there.
Dr. Pal looked at the patient once again. He seemed to be sleeping now and in a relatively stable condition. He was around 85 years old. There were no medical history files associated, so there was no way to know what ailments he had. Some tests needed to be carried out before a treatment plan could be ascertained.
He looked at a frame on the wall, that had the Hippocratic Oath printed. He looked at the lines he had read so many times. He needed to be dedicated to performing his duty of service to his patients, no matter what, till his last breath.
With this, he resumed his posture as the sister asked, "Sir, another patient has come. Can I send him in?"
Meanwhile, his wife had called him around 3 times already. But the cellphone was kept silent, so as not to disturb any of the patients resting at night. So Dr. Pal had not even noticed.
Without looking up Dr. Pal said, "Take a seat."
The patient sat down, but the baby started wailing. Dr. Pal looked up and almost fell from his chair. Sitting in front of him were his wife and his child in her lap. But she pretended not to know him at all.
"Doctor, can you please help?", his wife said. "The baby has not been having any food for several hours and now he is running a high temperature. My husband is too busy with work, so I had to come."
Dr. Pal stood up from his chair and told her, "I'll tell your husband to be more attentive to your needs. The baby will be fine. Let me take care of him."
He held the baby up close to his heart and gently applied the stethoscope on his tender chest, as his mom wiped a stray tear from the corner of her eyes.