Covid-19 warriors talk about their experiences and fears amid the pandemic

A doctor wearing a protective gear takes a swab from a woman to test for coronavirus in Dharavi . Photo: Reuters/File
A 24-year-old employee of a software company who landed in Bengaluru from Dubai was the first confirmed Covid-19 case Hyderabad reported on March 2. He was then admitted to the Gandhi Hospital, a Covid-19 nodal centre.

From one case to hundreds, the hospital now has eight floors only for Covid-19 patients.

“If I try and picture myself in that isolation ward, I don’t think I will be able to stay there,” says Dr Nazia Tabassum, MBBS, MS, general surgery, at the Gandhi Hospital, Secunderabad. “It is very depressing.”

“After my shift (once a week), I feel short of breath and have a sore throat for about two days. A friend of mine too experiences it. We don’t know if it is psychological or it is really happening to us,” she adds.

A doctor from the Apollo Hospital, Chennai, says stress has increased because of two reasons — the behaviour of certain elements in the community towards doctors and the lack of access to essential equipment that should be given to front liners.

Though we are working, we may not be earning. It’s a double trauma because we are working and exposing ourselves, putting our families at risk, but the remuneration for the amount of effort we are putting in we might not get at all. It is important when you are the breadwinner.”

Dr Aviral Srivastava, an anesthesiology resident at the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Sciences in Indore, is posted in the intensive care unit (ICU) once a week for a 12-hour shift and then spends the remaining day in isolation. He says: “Obviously there is panic. Patients tend to get restless, but we can’t lose our calm. The patients in the ICU are typically in bad shape. They have extreme difficulty in breathing, and most of them are above 45 years. Even though everything is in accordance with protocol, we still don’t know what’s going wrong sometimes.”

“The problem is that there is no literature available. Studies keep on changing, It’s mostly trial and improvisation, at this point,” Srivastava adds.

Dr Atul Gogia, senior consultant, Department of Internal Medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi, echoed similar sentiments. “The challenge is that there is no specific treatment. It’s predominantly supportive care, and depending on a case-to-case basis, one can try medication or therapy.”

“Every day in the hospital, we have training sessions for health care workers, especially the nurses, ward boys, and technicians. They have to be educated about wearing masks and gloves all the time because they are the first ones to attend a patient,” adds Gogia.

Srivastava recalls the first time he wore personal protective equipment (PPE) gear. “I felt like I was going to war or a radioactive zone. After wearing the gear, you can’t breathe but just survive in it.”

Tabassum, however, had a different experience. “The PPE provided to us is not of top quality. We were not given adequate training initially and learned a lot of things including wearing PPE, through YouTube instead.”

Talking about the other challenges the doctors have to face, Gogia says: “There is a lot of stigma attached to the virus, whether it’s patients or health care workers. People are getting apprehensive. A lot of our colleagues suffer when they get back home for the people living around them feel that it’s they who’ll spread the virus.”

Tabassum recalls: “Two patients, father and son, were admitted after testing positive in the first week of April. The father was unstable. So, we asked his son for permission to put him on ventilator, which he declined. That night the father passed away, and when my colleague informed his son, he started beating the doctor. It was extremely traumatising for us.”

A doctor in Chennai says: “A doctor who tested positive was admitted to our hospital but could not make it. His body, however, could not go to the burial ground because the local mob staged a protest and vandalised the ambulance in which it was kept. It was so disturbing to see this happen.” A similar incident happened with another doctor as well, he said.

“The government’s stringent law to protect health care workers should have come in place before any of these incidents. I think we are still not important and that is being recognised globally. India doesn’t reciprocate in the same ways as other countries because of a lack of education and other factors. But, we are the front liners, we’ll continue to work.”


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