While mothers find themselves in hospitals and in isolation, their children crave their embrace at home
When her daughter was born in September 2014, her career took a backseat to the more immediate task of raising a child. Dr Shirin Parvin wanted it to be this way until her child Syeda Subha Zaman Suha grew up.
She would drop the girl off at school on her way to the hospital, finish her duties, and rush back home in the afternoon to the embrace and love of her child. The rest of the day would be filled with toys, giggles and bedtime stories.
A couple of months ago, when reports of the novel coronavirus started making headlines, Shirin prepared her daughter for the situation they are in now.
"I told her time and again how the virus is transmitted and why she should not be in close proximity to me around this time. She understands, but she misses me dearly," Shirin said.
On the morning of April 22, Shirin arrived at the doorstep of her Manikdi residence in Dhaka Cantonment after a 24-hour shift at the Kurmitola General Hospital. Her daughter stood at a distance, and got a glimpse of her mother. They exchanged smiles before Shirin retreated to her room, where she lives alone.
Over the last month, she has been living in isolation, except for her shifts at the intensive care unit of the hospital. At home, her nights are spent without sleep.
It is not because Shirin might contract the infection, but the risk of transmitting the virus to her family members that keeps her awake, she told The Business Standard.
A day before her second round-the-clock shift on April 11, Shirin scrambled to bring her mother and younger sister to Dhaka from Pabna by a private car amid the shutdown.
"I am relying on them to care for my family while I am forced to keep my distance," Shirin said.
Novel coronavirus patients are shifted to the ICU only when they are in critical condition and so the treatment often requires doctors and nurses to get very close to them. This increases the risk of being infected many times over than just treating patients with mild symptoms.
With all this in mind, Shirin fears passing the infection to her daughter if they talk face to face, even if they stand six feet apart – the physical distance recommended to avoid infection.
Her husband, a textile engineer, and Suha's grandmother have taken up all responsibilities for the child. Suha still misses one thing – a hug from her mother.
Every time Suha hears Shirin turning the door knob to get food inside the room, she asks, "How many more days will you lock yourself in Ammu?"
"If I ask her if she is feeling sad, she does not say anything but I can feel her pain and can see her shedding tears in silence," Suha said.
For Dr Farhana Haque Happy, living in isolation is not an option as she is the mother of an infant and a toddler. Her seven-month-old girl is still breastfeeding.
Happy was recently posted to the ICU of the Kurmitola Hospital after completing a diploma course in anesthesia from the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
When she was asked to choose a placement by the Directorate General of Health Services, her first preference was the Kurmitola Hospital, not very far from her home in Uttara.
The cheerfulness with which she was supposed to receive the acceptance letter a month later, fizzled out when she thought of her children.
Her husband, a pharmacist, has also been on duty amid the shutdown. So Happy had to bring in her mother-in-law to support the family during this crisis.
"I feel guilty that I am keeping my mother-in-law here with us. She is 68 and has several ailments deemed high-risk factors for the novel coronavirus," Happy said.
There are intense debates in the media and social circles on whether healthcare providers are getting enough protection against the virus, yet the sacrifices they make on a personal level remain largely unknown.
While mothers find themselves in hospitals and in isolation, their children crave their embrace at home. As the nation looks to them for courage and hope, the healthcare providers put on a brave face. Inside, their souls yearn for the warmth of the loved ones as any other humans do.
"I cannot refuse to do what I do. It would be professionally unacceptable and unethical. If we, the nurses, do not provide care, where will the patients go?" said Kanis Fatama, a nurse who has been avoiding contact with her 18-month-old baby.
"Not all patients are dying. It feels good when patients recover and return home. However, when a patient dies, it breaks my heart as if I have lost a loved one. My sacrifice of not being with my child seems insignificant then," she said.