Under One Roof But Isolated From Kids – A Doctor’s Pandemic Diary

From treating over 200 COVID+ women to taking care of her kids alone, Dr Shehla Jamal shares her pandemic journey.

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Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

(This video is part of our series – Her Pandemic Diary. This was first published on 5 March 2021 and has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark one year of lockdown. Watch more here.)

It’s no mean feat – treating more than 200 COVID-positive women and delivering over 60 babies of infected women. But Dr Shehla Jamal managed to succeed, despite the many hiccups along the way.

A 38-year-old gynaecologist at the Rajshree Medical Research Institute in Bareilly, Dr Jamal is a mother as well. And the last one year has been anything but easy.

She has been, single-handedly, looking after her kids and home, and managing work during the pandemic. Her husband is a doctor in the Indian Army, and just like Shehla, he is serving the nation, away from home.

The unpreparedness for the disease left every healthcare worker across the globe in an unimaginably difficult situation.

Shehla was working at a hospital in NCR and was shifted to the COVID ward after the cases started pouring in. She recalls how every minute was a challenge.

Be it discussing the steps to be taken, keeping up with the frequently changing guidelines issued by the Indian government, the WHO or their own hospital – concerns kept mounting.

“On one side, we were dealing with the (COVID) situation at the hospital and on the other hand, I was worried about the situation at home. I was worried about my kids, about their wellbeing. I took extra protection because I knew I have to keep myself safe for the sake of my kids... that’s the only way I could move forward.”
Shehla Jamal

Three COVID+ Cesarean Deliveries in One Night

Speaking about the ‘fear of touch,’ Shehla recalls the night that really scared her – when she performed her first c-section on a COVID positive woman. That same night, Shehla operated on two other infected women.

Returning home that night, Shehla was scared for her life and couldn’t stop crying. Seeing their mother in this state, her 10-year-old son Aaris and 12-year-old daughter Zoha also got worried and wanted to hug her.

“I pushed my kids away. I was crying and there was no one to hold my hand, no one to lend their shoulder for support. For the next 15 days, I kept my kids away from me. And I believe that was the toughest time of my life and of my kids’ life.”
Shehla Jamal

‘It was emotionally draining’ is how Shehla describes the initial lockdown phase. From facing added stress at work, the desire to serve the nation in time of need, days of quarantine, speaking to kids via video call even at home to keep them away, sleepless nights to un-ending house chores, there was no end to the work and worries for Shehla.

Moving Cities During Pandemic

In June 2020, Shehla made a tough, risky decision to move from Noida to Bareilly when the pandemic was at its peak.

“I wanted to work and tried my best but when I asked for PPE kits, some relaxations in duty hours or cooperation from my colleagues, that they should also come to the forefront... I didn’t get that support. In fact, the kind of suppression and oppression that I faced at that point of time... somehow, it broke me.”
Shehla Jamal

Shehla is proud of her decision, as she feels satisfied with the work she has been able to do since shifting to Bareilly. She feels happy about fulfilling her desire, to give back to society.

“My family suggested that I quit the job instead of moving cities. But that is not in my character. So, when I decided, I just shifted. My kids were asking me questions too, because they were really settled in that place. At that point, I felt guilty that maybe I am doing something wrong with my kids.”
Shehla Jamal

Shehla says that she is happy since she stopped feeling guilty for thinking about herself. Being a healthcare worker, she says, it is vital that she takes care of her mental and physical health to be able to help others.

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