Sikh doctors shave beards despite religious faith to treat Covid-19 patients: 'Difficult but necessary decision'
Montreal-based doctor Dr Sanjeet Singh Saluja and his brother, Dr Rajeet, took the tough decision in order to wear protective gear necessary to treat patients
For months now and ever since the coronavirus pandemic first broke, medical workers, and first responders have been on the frontline battling against the deadly virus, relentlessly. They are more at risk of contracting the infection, and yet knowingly, the put their lives on the line every day to help and serve those in need. Many have taken dire steps to make sure that they are no threat to their patients, their families, or anyone else that could be in their proximity. Several front liners have taken to their social media to let the world know how difficult, yet how rewarding it is to be able to help victims in this time of crisis.
But a fact that we overlook often is that these people have had to make huge sacrifices in order to be able to treat their patients. For instance, some doctors who are regularly on call, have begun to live independently and away from their families so as to not risk their exposure to the virus. Here is yet another example of selflessness from these two Sikh doctor siblings, based in Canada, who made an "extremely difficult decision" to shave off their beard so they could wear protective gear necessary to treat Covid-19 patients, per several local media reports and PTI.
Dr Sanjeet Singh Saluja, a physician and his brother Dr Rajeet, a neurosurgeon at the McGill University Health Centre’s (MUHC) Montreal General and Royal Victoria hospitals, Montreal, decided to shave their beards after consulting religious advisers, family and friends. They wanted to be fully involved in their medical service which mandated that they wear the N95 mask while treating patients. However, the mask wouldn't fully fit around their beard, which posed a challenge for them to get closer to infected patients.
Sikhism, based on the teachings of Guru Nanak who founded the religion over 500 years ago, believes in the principle of servitude. It is a monotheistic faith and the Sikhs believe in a God, who sees them as equals. Furthermore, a canon of the religion and among its pillars of faith is "uncut hair as a mark of holiness and submission to God's will." The pandemic forced the brothers to reconcile their medical practice with their religious roots.
“As a Sikh man, his beard is an important part of his identity but it was impeding his ability to wear a mask. After much thought, he made the difficult decision to shave his beard off,” the MUHC said in a statement.
While he could have easily chosen to not get too close to the victims undergoing treatment at the hospital, he was well-aware of the fact that health-care workers had been falling sick and were being quarantined. The decision to shave his beard was a hard one and he was thrust into a sort of existential crisis, but 44-year-old Dr Singh Saluja felt that it would go against his medical oath that has been embedded in him if he were to not serve these people in need.
“We could choose not to work, but in a time when healthcare workers are falling sick, we would be adding stress to an already taxed system. We could decide to simply refuse to see Covid-19 patients until viable protection is available to us, but that goes against our oath as physicians and against the principles of SEVA,” he said in a video posted on the MUHC website. “It was an extremely difficult decision for us, but one that we felt was absolutely necessary in this time of need."
“It’s a decision that has left me with much sadness. This was something that had been so much part of my identity. I look at myself in the mirror very differently now. Every morning when I see myself, it’s a bit of a shock,” he said.
“Originally when my brother and I did this, my brother wanted to keep it very quiet and didn’t want any publicity,” Dr Singh-Saluja said. “We still have a really hard time with it." In his career as a physician, he has dealt with various outbreaks, but the coronavirus is in a class of its own and the need for an N95 mask was dire.
“But because Covid-19 has become so rampant in our community, it just wasn’t feasible anymore [not to wear an N95 mask]. There are so many people coming in. I felt I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines. This was an exception to the rule, so we had to do what we had to do to help out,” he said. Dr Rajeet, his brother was faced with a similar predicament and wouldn't have been able to operate on Covid-19 patients.
Health care workers treating Covid-19 patients day in and day out, have been coping amid an acute shortage of personal protective equipment or PPE, like masks and gloves across the world, many media outlets have reported. Canada is also among countries that are facing a shortage of medical gear, as many countries have imposed travel bans and restricted exports during the pandemic lockdown period.
As of 8 May, the total number of coronavirus cases in Canada is at 66,201 with 4,541, per the John Hopkins University Covid-19 map and Ontario, as well as Quebec, are the worst-affected regions.