BENGALURU : For the past two months, Dr Ankita Singh has been working in the covid-19 ward of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. She does six-hour shifts every day for 15 days at a stretch with a fortnight’s break in between. It takes her about half-an-hour to don the multiple layers of personal protective equipment—coverall, face shield, gloves and mask.
“Once you’re in it, you can’t adjust it even a bit,” she says. “Night shifts from 8pm to 2am were particularly difficult. I could not go home after work and would stay in the hospital till sunrise,” says Singh.
More than 2,000km away in the 119-year-old Victoria Hospital in Bengaluru, Dr Aseem Banu is entertaining a 10-year-old boy whose mother has tested positive. For the past 45 days, Banu has been looking after patients—and sometimes their families too.
“This boy refused to leave his mother. So we had to quarantine him but keeping him busy became my task,” says the microbiologist.
It’s hardly ever apparent to outsiders, but doctors and nurses too live with the fear of contracting the virus.
“When you wake up in the morning, you do not know if you will come home or be quarantined. Coming home itself is a risk,” says Banu, who lives with her parents and a four-year-old nephew. She has set up a WhatsApp group for all her patients, who update her daily even after they have recovered.
It’s a battle of nerves, say doctors. By 9am, covered from head to toe, Dr Pawan Singh at PGIMS, Rohtak, is examining covid patients with two other doctors. Until his shift ends at 3pm—and it usually runs over —he can neither eat, nor use the restroom nor wipe his face, as the PPE cannot be removed.
After a late lunch at 5pm, he sits down to complete the paperwork. “It’s nearly 10pm by the time I leave for home. Wearing the heavy PPE for hours can be suffocating. Once I reach home and clean up, I play ludo with my wife, which is a huge stress buster,” says the assistant professor in PGIMS’ pulmonary and critical care department.
For Dr Ramesh Revanna, a senior pulmonologist at Bengaluru Medical College, spending time with his teenaged son is how he unwinds after a day in the covid ward. “Six hours of work meant nothing before March, now it seems so long because it’s mentally taxing. Patients and families get hysterical. I will never forget the reaction of the first patient,” he says.
Speed, use of technology and being alert all times is critical in a covid ward, says Dr Sai Praveen Haranath, senior pulmonologist and intensivist at Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad. “Thanks to technology, we can move with speed. Long hours and getting used to people staring at you because you are treating covid patients have become part of my life,” says Haranath.
“Hospitals in Jodhpur were not equipped to deal with such a pandemic. The first positive case in Jodhpur was a boy who had returned from Turkey. There was fear and anxiety even in hospitals. Then a doctor got infected. I realized it was important to stay positive, and cheer others around me,” says Dr Narayan Gaur, deputy superintendent of the covid lab at Jodhpur.
Dr Deven Juneja and his team have not taken a break since the first covid-19 patient was admitted in Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi’s Saket in March. “I remember the first day in the covid intensive care unit in our personal protection suits. We did not have a sip of water for hours. It was so tiring. We would come out sweating with pressure marks on our noses and chafing on cheeks,” says Juneja, associate director in the hospital’s Institute of Critical Care Medicine.
“The fear of getting infected and also infecting our loved ones back home is always in us. But the feeling after a patient would test negative post-treatment outweighs everything.”