“I am leading the fight against Covid-19, I had to get it no?” Dr Sanjay Oak, chairman of the government-appointed task force for Covid-19 treatment, says on a light note. Oak was hospitalised last week after testing positive. He is now recovering, has been discharged and continues to work for around four hours every day.
While doctors like him are leading the fight against Covid-19, they are also wrestling with the dilemma of caring for their patients even though this risks exposing their loved ones. Many also find it hard to keep emotions aside when they treat their colleagues and kin.
According to the Indian Medical Association, 600 doctors have been infected so far in Maharashtra. Of them, 150 are still undergoing treatment and at least 11 have succumbed. There is, however, no public data available on how many immediate family members of the doctors have been infected.
An intensivist in Malad, who treated a number of Covid-19 patients at his hospital, lost his septugenarian mother last week. The doctor says that he fears that he could have been the source of the infection. With the healthcare system of the city strained, doctors have also been forced to violate medical ethics that discourages treating their own family members, as there is a fear that professional objectivity could be compromised. “We lost an uncle of our colleague to Covid-19. When he was not improving, we got several doctors to opine on treatment. When we treat someone known to us, sometimes we tend to overdo it,” says Dr Gunjan Chanchalani, head intensivist in Bhatia hospital.
Chanchalani has witnessed deaths of relatives of two colleagues. “It is depressing. We have been constantly working since three months. We see people known to us die… but we can’t come to work depressed, it affects all other colleagues,” she adds.
Although having a doctor in family helps in early diagnosis and treatment, several say it gets tough to treat family and friends.
When ENT surgeon Dr Chittaranjan Bhave succumbed to Covid-19 on June 1 in SL Raheja hospital, the hospital’s medical director Dr Hiren Ambegaonkar remembers how tough it was to see his colleague and batchmate lose the fight. Ambegaonkar says “they tried everything” to save Bhave. “A scan showed he had developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. We put him on a ventilator, administered Tocilizumab. But by May 28, he suffered a renal shutdown and required dialysis,” he adds.
Ambegaonkar’s wife is a gynaecologist. Both sleep in separate rooms, afraid of infecting one another. As too many frontliners get infected, Covid-19 has blurred the ability to remain professional. “I am treating my own nurses, ward boys and security guards. These are people I worked with days ago. It is difficult, but we have no other option,” says
Dr Shahid Barmare, general physician. “When we treat our own relatives, it becomes a difficult prospect. You are also scared because you know all complications. With Covid-19, the uncertainty and stress level is much higher,” he adds.
Internal medicine specialist Dr Vaibhav Kubal, whose both parents tested positive, first tried treating them at home for 10 days. “I thought I was prepared… but however well you think you are prepared, it doesn’t work like that,” he says.
He would weekly drop groceries at their house, and that is how he suspects the infection transmitted. When his father’s fever persisted beyond 10 days, he had to be hospitalised. Both were high-risk patients due to their age.
Apart from treatment, doctors are themselves facing the challenge of availing a hospital bed. A retired gynaecologist, who had been chair of National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers, says he looked for a vacant bed for two days for his 93-year-old diabetic father who tested positive. “I had all the contacts but nothing seemed to work initially. When he was finally admitted, we couldn’t enter the isolation ward… there was no communication. It becomes distressing to not know how your loved one is,” he adds.
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