We are preparing for a war, praying it never begins, say Chandigarh doctors on the frontline
In the first week of February, the PGIMER administration had constituted a Corona Action Committee. Initially, the committee used to meet once a week, but after the first confirmed case was reported, meetings are now held daily.Updated: Mar 24, 2020 18:21 IST
Wearing a stethoscope, he feels nothing less than a soldier. A resident doctor of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), he is part of the team of doctors fighting the coronavirus from the frontline.
The doctor, who wishes not to be named, is one of the first contacts for positive patients. He accompanies suspected cases to the communicable diseases (CD) ward for taking samples, the most risky part of the job, where chances of infection is the highest.
“Yes, we feel anxious, our families are afraid, but once you wear that stethoscope,put on that mask and enter the ward, you feel nothing less than a soldier!” he says, with a spark in his eye.
He has worked for 12 hours without a break in the CD ward and is now preparing for his next shift. “The hospital is providing us with the best possible resources. Initially, we used to screen suspected cases at the screening centres without any personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, but now the administration has provided those too,” he adds in a non-complaining tone.
But he also thinks that doctors working in the emergency should be provided with N-95 masks, because “you never know who is infected, so at least doctors should be protected. For if your soldier falls sick, how will you win the war?”
In the first week of February, the PGIMER administration had constituted a Corona Action Committee. Initially, the committee used to meet once a week, but after the first confirmed case was reported, meetings are now held daily.
A senior doctor, wishing not to be named, says: “Our day starts at 8am and there are no fixed timings of returning home. To minimize infection, we have constituted a single team that is in direct contact with the patients. In case a team member falls ill, he or she will be replaced by another.”
“We are preparing for a war, which I hope never starts,” he says, adding, “Fear is both ways. The patient is afraid and so are the doctor and staff dealing with them. But we can’t let this fear overpower us.”
President of the PGI Association of Resident Doctors Dr Uttam Thakur says his phone has been buzzing repeatedly with texts from doctors wishing to volunteer to serve corona patients. One text reads: “I know we have a shortage of N-95 masks, but even if I don’t get masks, I am ready to serve!”
GMSH-16: Leading from front for the last 10 years
Dr Honey Sawhney at the Government Multi-Speciality Hospital in Sector 16 (GMSH-16) has been dealing with flu outbreaks for the last 10 years, and has learnt his lessons right from the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.
On Friday night, he received a call at 11:30pm informing that the report of a patient had come back positive. He rushed to the hospital and stopped a few meters away from the patient. He was not wearing any mask or PPE suit. He couldn’t break the news right away to the young man, and at midnight too.
Instead, he cordoned off the passage, asked his staff to not let anyone near
the patient and posted security guards on the slips. He guided the patient to the isolation ward and asked him to rest up.
The next morning, he stood behind the glass partition and broke the news to him. “He was quiet and enquired about his family, and I assured him that they were well taken care of,” says Dr Sawhney, adding that the patient was stable and they were planning to provide cable TV in his room.
“He is provided with regular meals, which are kept at a stool placed near him.The stool and the room are disinfected thrice a day,” the doctor says.
Currently, there are eight suspected cases admitted in the GMSH-16 and one confirmed case. Talking about the preparations, he says: “Total 27 beds are already ready and a male-surgical ward with 27 beds has been disinfected today. So we have 54 beds.”
Dr Sawhney said that the main challenge was dealing with the anxiety of patients or people who have flu-like symptoms. Even during the H1N1 outbreak, everyone wanted to get tested, which is not possible, he says. “In Chandigarh, there are so many VVIPs, and it’s a task to answer everyone’s queries. So, dealing with people’s anxiety is the first challenge.”
There was so much rush at screening centres, they had to open a second one.
“At screening centres, we have to segregate patients very carefully. They are screened for symptoms and suspects are sent to the main screening centre, where they are further examined. Then the actual suspects are escorted to the isolation ward,” he explains.
“Taking a sample is the most crucial part, where there is great risk of exposure
to infection. So, we ensure that the person who escorts the suspects wears a proper PPE suit. Patient is taken to the isolation ward, where the sample is taken. The doctor then exits from another room, where they remove the PPE suit and throw it in the autoclave (a machine that uses steam under pressure to kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores on items that are placed inside a pressure vessel),” says Dr Sawhney.
Amid the crisis, there are no fixed working hours, and the doctors are in the hospital till 11:30pm or 12am, and 24x7 on call. “Family life is obviously affected. Though supportive, they sometimes ask me if I am aware that I have a family as well,” he says.