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Death and Disability by Overwork:  An Indian Diagnosis 

Death and Disability by Overwork:
An Indian Diagnosis
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We are helpless, our life has no worth in the eyes of authority “ said the school teacher.

He had recovered from unconsciousness just a few hours ago, his brain had developed huge clots due to thickening of blood, because he was dehydrated overworking. Due to back pressure generated in the blocked veins, there was bleeding in his brain.

“I was out on the election duty, and did not get time to eat or have water. I returned late night and felt nauseated because of the bus travel, so just had a little rice and slept off. The next morning I had terrible headache. Just after the breakfast the headache worsened and I started vomiting. As our leaves were canceled, it was compulsory to go to work. So in spite of the headache I went for a bath, then I don’t remember, till I woke up in the hospital”.

His wife continued: “I heard a big noise in the bathroom and rushed there, found him lying in a pool of blood, convulsing”. She paused to wipe tears, still unable to overcome the horror of that memory, then resumed: “I called our neighbors, one of them took us to the rural hospital in his tractor. They did a CT scan and started treatment “.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“But you are a school teacher, why were you doing an election duty?” I asked him.

“It is compulsory for all govt staff. We must comply or we won’t get our salaries or promotions.” He replied.

This wasn’t new. Doctors often attend many a police, labourers, and other “government service“ personnel serving either the state of central government (under different political parties), who drop either sick, unconscious or dead while overworking. The common factor is they are almost all low level desperate employees who cannot say ‘No’ to the forced additional work thrust unto them. I have never seen a senior officer or a politician coming to the hospital due to physical overwork. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

To add to the inequality, it is the senior officials / politicos, ministers who can avail of deluxe / higher budget private medical facilities including overseas medicare, whereas the actual ones who get sick shedding blood and sweat in the field are left at the mercy of scanty healthcare facility in government hospitals or low budget schemes at private hospitals. Much like the red light cars ferrying ministers getting preferences over even the ambulances for the poor.

Recently a police officer was brought by his colleagues, he had developed high blood pressure due to an extended duty. A blood vessel in his brain had ruptured, causing huge bleeding. With a great effort he recovered from the coma in few days, but his speech is now forever gone, and he is bedridden due to paralysis on one side. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Doctors working in different state / central hospitals too are not an exception. Many tasks / schemes / targets are mindlessly shoved into their routine, presuming that if someone is a government servant, he/ she is a slave to the whims of authorities who can order anything. Besides being taken for granted about 24/7 availability, besides completely ignoring the human right recommendations about working hours, the threatening, demeaning and pressurising humiliation continues almost in every field, where the lower you rank, the worst your slavery.

In a country with excess population, why should there arise a need for one person being burdened with the work of two or three? Why should a school teacher perform an election duty, population stats/ census duty, etc? Why should a police employee work beyond his / her physical capacity? Why cannot the governments hire more people in a country teeming with unemployed youths agitating about almost everything everywhere?© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

If someone wants to work extra for patriotic or financial reasons, they should be able to. But when one is forced to work beyond capacity and legitimate duty, we are encouraging not only health risks, but creating chances of nothing being done correctly. Stress is a major killer via diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and depression/ suicides, and while we encourage Yoga for stress relief, we must also reduce overloading one with the duties of three.

“I sympathise with your condition, you should recover well, but you must avoid such overworking now. Also never fast. Drink plenty of water. I feel bad about your extra duties.” I told him.

He smiled in embarrassment, and said “I feel ashamed that while I teach my students to stand against injustice and inequality, to courageously fight to set right what is wrong, I am myself a coward who cannot do so, for without this job I will not be able to survive. I want to be a good teacher, I love teaching and my students love me very much, but inside, I feel I am lying to them when I accept this humiliation by those who I work for. Believe me, doctor, that even when I got unconscious, no one among those who ordered me extra work cared whether I woke up or not”.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

He was telling the desperate story of many, and I found myself unable to answer once more: that if we have so many educated people who have time to quote history and protest against various political parties or events, if we have so many rich leaders who openly award crores for killing someone (hello, Milords of Indian Justice!), why cannot we distribute duties well and let a school teacher happily just teach instead of dying forcibly doing something else?

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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Dedicated to all teachers.