Wednesday was my first day at Mana Camp Civil Hospital in the outskirts of Raipur. My work is usually in the Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Memorial Hospital in Raipur but as doctors in the government sector, we are all now stretching beyond our normal duties to respond to Covid-19.

As usual, I packed my bag with food, books and masks, anticipating another busy day ahead. Being a tea addict, I asked about whether it would be possible to buy tea in this remote area, with which I am unfamiliar. I was told about a small stall, probably the only shop around this area that supplies tea, so I dropped in to have a cup.

It was owned by a very old lady. She was very warm, reminding me of my grandmother. She chatted for a while, asking about coronavirus. We discussed the chaos it has caused and how it has disturbed the equilibrium of the world. She wondered about this type of disease that has stopped us from talking or touching our near and dear ones. After our pleasant chat, I went back to my duty.

Two hours later, I went back for another cup, only to find that the stall, one of my few routes to sanity, was closing down due to the lockdown. My face fell. But just like my grandmother never lets me feel disappointed or dejected, the stall owner woman too immediately responded. Reading the look on my face, she immediately took a plastic packet of tea she had just made. “I was going to take this home, but you please have it,” she said.

I refused. But she insisted that I should take it as I had to work the whole day. I could not resist her offer and her kindness as these were my only respite. When I reached for my wallet, she refused to take money. “I will not take this money from you because doctors like you are helping a lot of people,” she said. “You should take this tea and don’t try to pay me back.”

An overwhelming gesture

I was so overwhelmed by her gesture. It mattered more in the current situation because the people who banged pots and plates to show their appreciation for us, the “corona warriors”, are asking us to vacate our houses, have accused us all of being money-minded, abused us verbally and physically. The same people who banged plates have claimed that we have not given them proper treatment after they did a Google search of their symptoms and imagined that their minor conditions were serious illnesses.

As government healthcare providers, we are on the frontlines, be it during a natural calamity, a deadly disease or a war, most times without adequate safety measures, risking our lives and not denying care to any patient.

This little gesture of acknowledgement from the old woman was so heartwarming. Perhaps she did not clap or bang her plates or lead a procession. But her kindness and thoughtfulness gave me energy and encouragement to continue our fight against Covid-19. At least after this pandemic, I sincerely hope people will respect everyone involved in the field of medicine for their sincere efforts and hard work, their courage to battle deadly disease, and acknowledge the sacrifices they make in order to protect the world from sickness and harm.

Dr Lily Sharon is a second-year post-graduate resident in anaesthesiology.