Tales of pandemic: Worked 5 days in a row, says 108 ambulance driver
Atik Khan, 43, an ambulance driver with 108 ambulance service operated by the Maharashtra Emergency Medical Services (MEMS), was on a night shift when the national lockdown was declared on March 24, 2020. His partner who was supposed to relieve him from duty the next day couldn’t, as all modes of transportation had come to a standstill.
For the next five days, Khan worked 24x7 ferrying suspected and confirmed Covid-19 infected patients to hospitals. With shops and restaurants closed, he recalled knocking on strangers’ doors requesting for food and water.
Khan, together with 200 other 108 service ambulance drivers, were put on Covid duty.
“I was stationed at Churchgate station. When the lockdown was declared, all roadside food stalls where we would have our meals closed down overnight. We were struggling to find even a glass of water. All the while, I kept responding to emergency calls, even from Borivli which is 40 kilometres away,” he said.
“Due to the rush, we had to ask patients to wait sometimes for up to an hour.”
The lockdown had brought the city to a grinding halt, and private vehicles were not allowed to move. So ambulance staffers also had to carry bodies to cremation grounds.
“This doubled our work pressure,” he said.
One evening, a hungry and exhausted Khan knocked on the doors of a few Cuffe Parade residents seeking food. One family offered him and other fellow ambulance staffers food.
“We asked them to give us food in plastic bags as it would have been risky to enter anyone’s house then. I will always remain thankful to the family for feeding us,” he said.
On March 30, when he finally returned to his flat in Govandi, he was worried that he may infect his wife and three children. “I was directly handling the infected patients while ferrying them. Though I always wore personal protective equipment (PPE), I was still scared of infecting my family. So, even before entering the house, I took a bath with hot water on the road outside our house,” he said.
Eventually, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and other non-government organizations began to organise food for frontline workers like ambulance workers.
A year later, Khan waits outside the Lokmanya Tilak General also known (Sion hospital) where his 11-year-old son is undergoing treatment after meeting with an accident. Khan hasn’t been able to go on duty for over a month.
“I have worked tirelessly in the pandemic. But no one from my office has come to meet my son in the hospital, nor have I received my salary for February,” he said.