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Of pandemic pain and relief

They say it’s the darkest before dawn, and as the tough and trying 2021 comes to a close, Parul looks at the high and low points of the city’s healthcare system this year

Written by Parul | Chandigarh |
December 31, 2021 5:45:30 am
The Chandigarh administration, on the occasion of Independence Day, honoured 111 government employees, most of them frontline health workers. As many as 20 from PGI and 35 doctors and paramedics from GMCH-32 and GMSH-16 were felicitated for their tireless and fearless work. (File)

THE HIGHS

‘We took the leap’
Prof. GD Puri, dean and head of department of anaesthesia and intensive care, who spearheaded the Covid-19 initiative at PGI, says the high point of the year was the tireless work put in by health care workers. “Entire North India was looking to PGI for answers during the brutal second wave. We took the leap and opened everything at PGI — the emergency, operation theatres, wards, ICUs, — apart from a sophisticated Covid hospital for patients from across the region, including Delhi.” Prof Puri added that one of the positive outcomes of the year is that medical facilities in the periphery decided to take the onus of treating patients, and upgraded their facilities, approach, learning to admit Covid positive patients and provide treatment, instead of simply referring them to PGI or GMCH-32.

The second wave, he adds, was also a learning experience for them, as they would have regular webinars with doctors in the UK, USA, Italy. “There are so many consultants, doctors, staff who were the backbone of our work here. Dr. Sanjay Jain, Dr. Manoj Goyal, Dr. Tuka Ram, Dr. Bhalla, Dr. Varun Mahajan, Dr. Kamal Kajal, Dr. Karan Singla…Two of them tested Covid positive and were admitted to the Covid ward, and there too, they were monitoring other patients and treating them. So many residents who fell sick would treat patients in the same ward. So, yes, there’s a lot that we endured, yet moved forward, towards safety, better care and hope,” sums up Prof. Puri.

THE HELPING HANDS
As the Covid surge continued relentlessly through April, the daily struggle for many was for hospital ICU beds, oxygen cylinders, life-saving medicines, ventilators. A number of organisations and volunteers from the Tricity went the extra mile. A trust called ‘Serve Humanity Serve God’ rose to the occasion by providing free oxygen service to Covid-19 patients for free 24×7, with volunteers dropping oxygen cylinders right at the doorstep.

The ‘Tri-city fights Covid’ initiative started off as a combined effort of two brothers — Chaitanya Suri and Kartik Suri — with an aim to set up a platform for providing verified information to the public regarding Covid necessities like oxygen, ICU beds, ventilators, oxygen valves. Within a few days, over fifty volunteers joined a WhatsApp group, to connect patients to hospitals not only in the Tricity, but also in surrounding areas like Ambala, Yamunanagar, and even in Delhi.

The Punjab State Red Cross started a tele-helpline, with SIPHER, to provide counselling and guidance to the Covid patients in home isolation. A team of 24 highly experienced medical experts, from across India and abroad, joined as panellists to provide free teleconsultation.

Milaap, a fundraiser set up by Harjot Singh and some like-minded people, worked in a resettlement colony of about 25000 residents, mostly unskilled daily wagers, providing them with basic necessities, like soap, oil, toothpaste, among others.

Ordinary citizens stepped in to contribute free meals and cab rides. Nanhi Jaan launched a campaign ‘Care for Caregivers’, to protect the health care workers in times of the pandemic.

MINI COVID CENTRES
As the city reeled under shortage of beds and oxygen cylinders, many NGOs, individuals and organisations came forward to set up mini Covid Care Centres. Seven such centres rendered priceless service to Covid patients, providing 300 beds.
The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Sewa Society set up a 50-bed centre at Bal Bhawan with piped oxygen facility and was fully occupied by Covid-19 patients. These Centres arranged for everything, and did not charge anything for their services.

Salute to Covid warriors
The Chandigarh administration, on the occasion of Independence Day, honoured 111 government employees, most of them frontline health workers. As many as 20 from PGI and 35 doctors and paramedics from GMCH-32 and GMSH-16 were felicitated for their tireless and fearless work.

A shot in the arm
On the eve of Independence Day Chandigarh achieved a milestone in its fight against Covid-19, with 100 per cent of its population above 18 years being vaccinated with the first dose of the vaccine.

THE LOWS
Loss of lives, physical and mental health, livelihoods…the relentless Covid second wave
On April 12, Prof. Jagat Ram, the Director PGI had said, “We are on top of the problem right now, with the cases rising steeply. By mid-May or June we may experience a peak. We don’t know right now but it will take at least four months for the cases to come down. It is worrisome.” In just a week in April, more than 600 cases were added to the tally. The nature of the second wave was aggressive and often lethal. On May 9, the count of new positive cases hit its peak at 895. Eventually, Chandigarh recorded 1078 deaths due to Covid-19.

Young infected and hospitalised
Doctors consistently observed that the young, people below 50 years in age, were reporting to hospitals with moderate and severe symptoms and were being hospitalised.

Cases among health care workers
PGI suspended physical OPDs in April to contain the spread of the pandemic and hospitals began facing a shortage of health care workers, with more than 15 cases of health workers getting infected in GMSH 16 in early April. GMCH-32 had 223 Covid cases among health workers in April with some also needing ventilators.

Shortage of beds
As Covid continued its march relentlessly, the city struggled for ICU beds, oxygen cylinders, life-saving medicines. Chandigarh recorded as many as 837 cases, and a high positivity rate of 10.2 in April end, with hospitals inundated with calls for help from not just the city, but from across the region, especially Delhi. On April 27, Prof. Ram said, “Everything is full, and we are on the edge, with many critical patients from Delhi desperate to reach Chandigarh and seek treatment.”

Mucormycosis
As the second wave of Covid ravaged the city, at the Department of Otolaryngology (ENT), PGI, doctors reported an increase of mucormycosis cases, among recovering and recovered patients. PGI has already performed more than 350 surgeries on patients suffering from mucormycosis.

Dengue
When the city got a respite from Covid-19, it saw a surge in dengue cases, with November alone recording more than 600 cases of the vector-borne disease. This year, 1,354 cases have been registered so far.

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