I am not a pediatrician, and I am glad that I am not. There was a time in my life when becoming a pediatrician was a genuine career aspiration, but the universe clearly steered me away from it. After becoming a mother and receiving the title of a “NICU mom,” I could see how switching tracks was a blessing for my sanity. Those who continue to provide this noble service may have a different chemical composition of their higher faculties, but needless to say, it is still hard to see a child suffer.
For centuries, there has been much philosophical and theological debate regarding the nature of a Higher Being or God who would let innocent children endure pain and suffering. Without delving into deeper discussions, we can still conclude that a child’s suffering has been enough reason to question the Divine. Today, we find ourselves as citizens of the same world, mere spectators of children dying and suffering, not due to natural causes but rather due to man-made actions by the same humans who would once point fingers and object to the Divine.
There is always an endemic level of tragedy in the world. While an emotionally sound individual with a certain degree of morality might wish for a utopia where such endemic tragedy can be eradicated altogether, pragmatism pushes for coexistence. So, we reconcile our lives to accept this “baseline” level of distress while continuing the struggle towards perfection. However, there are times when the threshold is breached, and this tragedy affects many in some form or another, amounting to a pandemic of distasteful emotions.
Amid all this, a physician wakes up every morning and does their best to save lives.
A vivid example of both figuratively emotional and scientifically literal pandemic can be seen in the images from Italy, Iran, India, and New York in 2020. Morgues were running out of space, crematories were moved to any open ground deemed suitable, emergency departments had to triage equally sick patients, choosing one over the other, and a simple puff of oxygen had to be rationed and accounted for. These were gut-wrenching and heart-rending images. The world cried, prayed, and hoped for a new dawn.
Amid all this, physicians still woke up (or never slept) to do their best to save lives.
But we physicians were hurting then, and we are hurting now.
Today, we hurt because we wake up every morning to go to work and save lives while thousands of children take their last breath, not by coincidence of nature. Our hearts wring and wrench as innocent blood spills, and we cuddle our own a little too tightly every night. We count our privileges yet cry ourselves to sleep because we are not okay. We smile, we talk, we care, we nurture, but we are not heedless; we have feelings, and we are not okay.
We are hurting, and we are not okay.
Turning a blind eye to the screens blaring images of the bleeding world is not the solution, nor is it an option, as it has been the popular discourse. Many of us have deep emotional and humanitarian connections, and we cannot distance ourselves or become unavailable. We walk with heavy hearts, putting all preconceived notions and personal opinions aside. We come together as humans who plead for the pandemic of death, destruction, and emotional turmoil to come to an end. We are not idealists, yet we hold the wish to bring tragedy to a complete halt.
Fareeha Khan is an internal medicine physician.