Within a short period of first two weeks of April, Delhi and many parts of the country were engulfed in a medical and social nightmare that I have not witnessed in my 45-years of medical career and pray that I do not ever see it again.
By Prof. (Dr.) Ashok Seth,
The second wave of COVID came like a Tsunami and caught us all unaware. As doctors who had been managing COVID patients from the first wave in 2020, and who had kept abreast with the latest developments regarding the virus, the viciousness of the infectivity and steepness of rise in cases was shocking. Within a short period of first two weeks of April, Delhi and many parts of the country were engulfed in a medical and social nightmare that I have not witnessed in my 45-years of medical career and pray that I do not ever see it again.
As the healthcare infrastructure got overwhelmed by sheer number of COVID patients, the professional resilience, the courage, and devotion to duty, which the frontline healthcare workers demonstrated was exemplary. By the third week of April, the shortage of beds in the city resulted in only the sickest COVID patients with increasing oxygen requirements being admitted to hospitals. More doctors and nurses were deployed to COVID wards and the treatment of non-COVID diseases practically stopped apart from emergencies. The Emergency Department of many hospitals became like a war zone; overfull with patients on stretchers requiring oxygen support and with ambulances standing outside with deteriorating patients, and unfortunately shortage of high dependency oxygen beds. The nurses and doctors in emergency were frantically rushing around giving care to all including the ones in ambulances outside, trying to segregate COVID from non-COVID patients, making sure all protection protocols were also maintained to prevent spread and still treat extremely distressed patient promptly, comfort extremely concerned relatives, deal with irate relatives of patients while trying to create beds and to make assessment and prioritise admission of the neediest. And all this was performed while wearing full PPE for sometimes 12-hours at a stretch in which one feels very uncomfortable as cannot even go to the bathroom or drink water. The COVID wards were no different, limited number of ICU and ventilator beds needed prioritization, shifting of deteriorating patients from HDU beds to ICU. As all patients were sick the decision of who was sickest of the sicker was not easy and weighed heavily on each doctor’s mind. While being concerned and saddened many times that a deteriorating patient may succumb, every doctor continued to fight for patients’ lives giving the highest level of critical care expertise, providing confidence, comfort and hope to all. Added to this very shortly were few extremely distressing scenarios: all doctors were receiving at least 50 or more phone calls/messages daily from patients, relatives, friends suffering from COVID, many of them requiring oxygen and requesting (sometimes pleading) for admission, it was panic at its worst…a heartrending scenario. It would have been easy for many doctors to shut the phones off and concentrate on treating in hospital patients only, but almost all doctors decided that they owed it to every person who was suffering from COVID even if unable to get admission, every patient needed to be advised, treated, comforted, and handheld and given the confidence to recover without panic. I know of many doctors who had their own families, near and dear relatives affected by COVID during this time, some of these relatives became serious and could not be admitted to the hospital, some of the doctors got COVID and were in isolation and yet amid concern and care of their own family they continued to perform their duties to care for all patients who needed help even through messages. To add to the frustration was the lack of drugs and of oxygen, no one’s fault…the surge was vicious and unprecedented, the utilisation of such amounts of drugs and oxygen was an aberration, no one even us doctors could have foreseen it, it does take time to ramp up supplies. But it was truly depressing for us as doctors to hear pleas of patients running pillar to post for oxygen beds and feel helpless about it. Many doctors used digital media to create understanding and awareness, educate patients and general physicians and provide confidence to the public. In the middle of the night, when I would sit down to collect my thoughts, I must confess that I was worried and scared for my family members some of whom had COVID and my own wellbeing wondering when I would catch COVID as was the case with many other doctors….it was unreal, it felt as if an alien had invaded us and that we had no weapons to beat the enemy. But the very next morning we would get our confidence back to move ahead and help others. Many doctors felt like soldiers fighting the war with depleting ammunition in trying to save the nation but knew that the country was relying on the doctors, it was the doctor’s selfless duty….to bury personal sorrows, grief, fears, family concerns and still have confidence, comfort and smiles on their face so that patients could see HOPE.
In this second wave of COVID more than 800-doctors lost their lives due to COVID in the line of duty in the service of their country and its people. Our respect and prayers for them as they sacrificed their lives so that other could live.
Thankfully, due to the timely efforts of policy experts and Government, the second wave has passed but the threat of third wave looms. To fight the third wave, we must understand the emotional exhaustion left behind by the second wave on the doctors and nurses. It is saddening that amid all this we also had multiple reports of assault on healthcare workers where grieved relatives take their anger out on the doctors. It is not just saddening but is deplorable and not acceptable. Strict laws to prevent violence against doctors need to be framed and implemented. Doctors are our most important resource in our fight against COVID, we need to appreciate their commitment, respect their sacrifices, boost their morale, and care for their emotions. As a Society, this is one of the most important steps we can take to be together in this fight against COVID and to win.
LET EVERY DAY BE A DOCTOR’S DAY.
(The author is Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute and Fortis Healthcare Medical Councils. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)