Chasing Legacy: A COVID-19 Story

| This is the 535th story of Our Life Logs |

I was born on April 7, 1978, to a loving family that gave me a carefree childhood in Isfahan, Iran. My father was the sole doctor of a nearby village, so he was a busy man. Completely dedicated to his career of healing, especially those less fortunate who couldn’t afford it, made me want to be just like him when I grew up. I wanted to help people too. Despite his demanding career my father always took out time to be with me and I, on my part, enjoyed every second of being with him. Looking back, I can still say that the time spent with him was the happiest of my life, simply because it was by his side.

My father took my education very seriously, but sadly our village didn’t offer higher-level education. Still wanting me to continue my studies, my father had me go live with someone he could trust, his brother. So, I came to Karachi, Pakistan in 1991, a bright-eyed 13-year-old girl, ready to continue my studies. After a couple of years, my parents also came to Pakistan to settle down, and I was ecstatic with joy! Anywhere where my father was felt like home. If he was with me, anywhere would be home.

As I was preparing to enter college at 16, I was brimming with happiness. But that happiness didn’t last as long as I expected. Instead, I was met with tragedy. At five o’clock in the morning on Eid-ul-Fitr, my father unexpectedly passed away from heart complications. Just like that, my world shattered. He left this world before he could see his dream for me realized, and I was heartbroken.

I do not know, to this day, how I survived, how I managed to continue on with school, and finish at the top of my class. All I knew was I wanted to be doctor, I wanted to keep the spirit of my father alive, for his legacy to be remembered, and most of all, I wanted to keep myself going. It was the only way I could survive. Still, my heart desperately ached.

I graduated from DUHS (Dow University of Health Sciences) in 2001. I left school thinking I would follow in the footsteps of my father. I thought nothing could be more important than my career. But sometimes, priorities change. I got married soon and later had the sweetest girl in the world called me Mama. She refused to part from me even for a minute. After years of planning for my career and cultivating my passion for medicine, suddenly…nothing mattered more than this little girl and the children I had after her. I had only wished my father had been there to meet them.

Years passed, and we reached 2020 when word of a pandemic had begun to spread. Doctors all over the country were called forward as front-line fighters in the war against disease, and I knew I had to fulfill the resolve I’d made to myself years ago. It was for the people I loved. It was my duty. It was what my father would have done.

Looking through various job posts for where I could help, I came across an organization that had affordable clinics to help less fortunate people have access to health care. I decided to apply for it. At the interview, I was told,

“When you work as a doctor, you are not just doing a job. You are not doing something that will bring you materialistic benefit. You are doing something that can earn you prayers, blessings, and supplications. That can earn you love, respect, and admiration. That can lead someone to remember you and what you have done for them for a lifetime. That can change the way you look at life and help you change the lives of those involved. Do not take the role you have been given lightly.”

Hearing all of that, it felt like finding this job was fate. I took it.

And so, I started helping patients, both COVID and ordinary cases. Still, while caring for patients again was fulfilling, that’s not to say it didn’t come with its own challenges. My family, who had been so used to having me at home, had trouble adjusting to this new way of life. Plus, working in this line of work can take a toll, especially when you’re getting so involved. I felt lively and energetic about going back and doing what I loved at first, but that veneer of calm enthusiasm only lasted about a week.

Suddenly, I started coming home with aching bones and a splitting headache. My family grew irritable, and all of us often bickered with each other. I scolded my kids for little nothings, and they withdrew from me thinking I had changed. I often wondered if going back had been worth it during those times. Then, as the virus spread more in our country, lockdowns were ordered, meaning our family was even more on top of each other. Put in the confines of our home, I’m sure you can imagine the chaos of having a toddler, two preteens, a teenager, two adults, and two senior citizens locked together. Just a little taste of an average day after coming home from my shift would go something like this...

“Give me back my chocolate!”

“Not until you return my Frisbee!”

“I will kick the both of you if you shout anymore!”

“Kids listen-”

“Mother, please tell them to shut up. I am trying to read!”

And so, it went, on and on, in the initial stages of quarantine and my job.

Still, there were moments that reminded me of why I put myself through all this mayhem. I remember one day, a woman with her three children came into my office. She must have been about in her early 20s, but her face looked worn out, making her look much older. She carried a young child, dressed in patched clothes, and had another clutching her own faded aba. The third stood in front, proceeding cautiously and looking worn out. I gestured her to take a seat in front of me and smiled encouragingly as I greeted her, asking what the reason for her visit was. The answer worked magnificently to amplify the glum atmosphere.

“It has been a few days since he contracted fever,” she spoke, gesturing to the oldest child. “I didn’t have money at that time so I couldn’t bring him here. The children are used to playing together; it wasn’t long before these two became sick as well. I can’t afford care for all three of them, but I was hoping you could fit their medication in one slip. I am sorry for the inconvenience, doctor, but this pandemic has taken away all our meager ways of earning bread. Please show some kindness; may Allah bless you.”

I nodded to her, smiling assuredly and checked the kids. The three were burning with fever. I did my best to accommodate the medicine for all under one payment slip. As we were a charity clinic, the price was just 50 rupees, but even that amount seemed too great for this family. To all these small families that came daily, each story broke my heart and strengthened my resolution to carry the legacy of my father. My father who believed that each human deserved treatment, deserved to be cured, deserved to live even if they couldn’t afford it. He worked so hard to stand by his beliefs, even at the expense of his own health. I tried each day to be like him and help people like this family. It wasn’t easy but every second was worth it.

Despite the fulfillment I felt from my job, it didn’t change how tiring it was and how difficult it was to return home to the chaos. After one especially tiring day, I came home to total mayhem and some members reduced to tears. Naturally, I was thin on patience and the scenario before me made me see red. My daughter later told me that she had never been so scared in her life. I exploded. As I stared around at the wide-eyed looks of my family members, I rushed to leave the room. My oldest bravely approached me.

“Here mum have some water.”

I took the drink. A beat passed.

“How about we all go sit in the balcony, yeah? The kettle is on, I’ll get the snacks.”

I went to the balcony to see my family seated and a chair set out for me next to my husband. I sat down and looked at them, the residual temper inside me dispersing as my younger daughter brought the tea, the rest of the children in tow with