Having spent the greater portion of this week dealing with several sick children, it would be appropriate to take a minute here to salute our healthcare professionals. It’s something that strikes me anew every time I interact with doctors and nurses and other various medical staff: here are people who have voluntarily chosen to make the health of strangers their business, day in and day out. It’s not a task for the squeamish, and it certainly is not for the faint of heart. Anyone would turn their nose up at the thought of messing around with various fluids and tumors and pustules and other unsavoury things human bodies get up to, but in spite of that you have fully-staffed hospitals full of people doing just that.

They get paid well, I hear you say. Unless you’re a doctor with a well-established practice, you don’t really. A lot of Medical Officers—the basic-level doctor that is the one that comes to take your history and check your chart—get paid on the same scale as domestic help in a well heeled home. I know some nannies who get paid more than I ever have at any given time, let alone someone who spent four or five years in medical school being trained to save lives. You’d think we would value that contribution—doctors tend to be reading the sciences from class nine in order to be ready for medical school entry, which is competitive to no end. Add to the mix the disadvantage that O and A level students have when it comes to the dread Conversion-Of-Marks-To-Local-Standard, and you have medical school admissions fraught with stress and trauma. The actual MBBS degree is also no walk in the park. It is a grueling process, rife with exams and vivas and cutting up dead people. There is endless studying. Even when your MBBS is over there are the Steps to take, there are further qualifications to be had, more board exams to pass and more studying to do until you are a skeleton yourself but by God can you fix people. It’s astounding, almost miraculous, how science has evolved so much that we can know our bodies and how to cure them at such an incredible level.

Then consider nurses. Everyone wants to be a doctor, but the nurses are the backbone of any medical setup. The doctor swoops in to do her bit and then you’re left to the mercy of nurses, who are the ones who are in charge of your painkillers, of your antibiotics, of your blood pressure. They are the ones who will monitor your temperature and your pulse, will change dressings and peer at urine bags to make sure you’re making progress. What for? Of course it’s their job, but it’s a job voluntarily taken, and that is the part that never ceases to inspire gratitude in me. One of my children wants to be a paediatric nurse (yes, she’s very specific about it), and in typical desi parent style I keep asking whether she’d rather be a paediatrician instead. She’s been gently insistent about being a nurse for a year now, and I think if she really wants to, then I would let her. That’s the trouble about nursing here, we don’t want our girls—and certainly not our boys—to be nurses and do all the dirty work like commoners. But our problem is that we’re perfectly happy to let the Christians do it, and then we persecute them to the ends of the earth so that they leave. When all the Christians are gone, leaving us to our pure Islam, who is going to empty our bed-pans and give us our drips? Who is going to be the ward-boy and the dustbin-emptier and the administrator of our injections? Heaven knows our children are only good enough to be doctors. Nursing is what lower-middle-class girls do, but it’s also what necessary people do. You can change a light-bulb yourself or take a few panadols when you have a headache, but you can’t heal yourself when it really matters, and that’s why it is a dire need of the day to honour and respect our medical professionals around the country, who risk their lives trying to eradicate polio, who tramp around villages explaining birth control, who run the dispensaries and write the chits and try to pull things along in under-funded government hospitals. All the doctors and the nurses and the attendant staff who work for pittances in hospitals both public and private, and then are sneered at for protesting for better salaries. If they don’t deserve it, who does? Could any of us pull 12 or 24 hour shifts in an emergency ward and then come back the next day to do it all over again? Would you do it for a salary that was less than even half of what you’d pay for an off-the-rack designer outfit?

So here is a big, heartfelt thank-you to all the people who have helped me when I needed it. To that kind nurse who held my hand, unbidden, during my first epidural. To the doctors who vaccinated my babies. To the oncologists who treated my beloved grandmother. To the M.O.s who gave my husband antibiotic drips when he was very ill. To the nurses who were so cheerful and attentive to my mother. To the ward-boys who pushed my wheelchair and the women who changed the sheets. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to all the strangers who did their jobs, but most importantly, helped another stranger in their time of need.