Covid-19 unsung heroes: Ambulance staff keep the fight going despite threats

Apr 27, 2021 08:25 AM IST

Ambulance drivers and technicians narrate their challenges, sacrifices and motivation while serving Covid-19 patients in Uttar Pradesh.

The second Covid-19 wave sweeping the country is testing the resilience of essential services providers like never before with the number of infections rising at an alarming rate and several patients requiring urgent hospitalisation. The enormous risks taken by drivers and technicians deployed on ambulances with advanced life support systems are often overlooked as the spotlight is often on doctors and nurses. They are among several unsung heroes making an enormous personal sacrifice to ensure India doesn’t give up in the fight against the pandemic.

Santosh Pandey drives an advanced life support system ambulance in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district.
Santosh Pandey drives an advanced life support system ambulance in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district.

Meet Santosh Pandey, he drives an advanced life support system ambulance in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district. Pandey says he has not met his wife and three children for the last one-and-a-half months since the resurgence of infections in the second Covid wave.

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“I don’t know whether I will be able to see my kids and parents again because if I get infected, no one will take my admission [in a hospital]. Even VVIP patients from Bahraich have to wait for admission for hours in the hospitals of Lucknow. I don’t know why patients are kept waiting inside the ambulance for hours,” says Pandey.

His wife Archana Pandey (39) said Santosh was a hero for the entire family. “I have seen my husband only on WhatsApp video calls for the last one and a half months and my kids miss him. Santosh may be an ambulance driver for everyone but for my daughter Astha (12), he is a hero who is not even afraid of corona and helping others at a time when people are hiding themselves.”

His 14-years old son Anshuman said he misses Santosh, especially during the dinner time. “He used to bring something special for us everyday. I feel like crying whenever I see him on video call.” Santosh’s 12-year-old daughter Astha “wants to become like papa”.

Santosh claims to have transported more than 3,000 Covid patients from Bahraich to various hospitals in Barabanki and Lucknow, approximately over three and four hours drive, respectively.

“Sometimes, my technician Krishna Kumar and I face hostile behaviour from the attendants of patients and the hospital authorities. A number of times, we have been kept waiting for hours outside hospitals. During this time, attendants lose their temper. But since we know they are under stress, we overlook their misbehaviour,” Pandey adds.

Anand Rathore, a technician with a life support ambulance in Lucknow, says, “I have transported over 4,500 Covid-19 patients during the last one-and-a half months. We strive to keep patients motivated so that they can recover.”

Anand says at least 12 of his fellow ambulance technicians have died due to Covid in the last one year and over 150 have been infected while transporting patients.

“My family comprises my parents, brother and sister-in-law. But I stay back in my office with other colleagues. My brother occasionally visits me, but we meet from a distance as I touch Covid-19 patients daily. So, I don’t want to put my family at risk of Covid-19,” Anand adds, giving a glimpse of the challenges and stress in the daily lives of frontline workers.

He is however, very realistic about it. “These are the professional hazards we have to face. We want the attendants to understand that if their patient is at risk, then we are also at risk. Misbehaving with us due to poor management by hospitals is not justified. We face abusive language and even physical threat a number of times for no fault of ours,” Rathore says.

Indrajeet Singh, in charge Covid Command Centre ( Ambulances) Lucknow, said sacrifices made by men like Santosh and Anand often go unnoticed. “At a time when the son is not touching his father [due to fear of infection] our drivers and technicians first carry an infected patient in their lap or on a stretcher before they are put into an ambulance. They come into direct contact with Covid patients daily and are unsung heroes of our society; their sacrifices are not praised by anyone. They keep on working wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) kit for hours, despite that they are mistreated both by family members of patients and doctors or staff of hospitals,” Singh said summing up the situation.

“Recently one of our ambulances was stopped by some people in old city, where some young men forced our staff to carry a different patient instead of the person who called for them. As a result, the patient who didn’t get the service died. The staff was manhandled, leaving a scar in their minds,” Singh said.

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    Anupam Srivastava is a Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, Lucknow. Has produced exclusive stories in medical, civil aviation, civic, political and other issues for over 20 years.

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