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Under PPE suits for hours, doctors handling Covid patients can’t drink water, go to the washroom

To help them handle stress, psychological counselling of staff undertaken, new leave norms in place

Written by MANOJ MORE | Pune | Updated: June 1, 2020 1:14:41 am
At YCMH hospital on Saturday.

Around 5 pm on Saturday, as he stepped out of civic-run Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital, a dedicated Covid-19 hospital, Professor Pravin Soni, head of the department of medicine, had a reason to smile. As many as 27 Covid-19 patients, some of them in serious condition, had recovered from coronavirus and were discharged.

“It was a big day for our medical team as so many patients were discharged at one go. To see the joy which was writ large on their faces gave our medical team immense satisfaction,” said Prof Soni.

These moments were important for the team of doctors, nurses and medical staff, who have otherwise been under immense stress, said Prof Soni. The reason: once the doctors or nurses enter their wards, isolation units or intensive care units, they can’t take off their personal protective equipment (PPE). For several hours, they can’t drink water, they can’t visit the bathroom and can’t even have a quick bite to eat.

“This is because the PPE protocol is very strict. PPE suits have to be discarded only after the doctor, nurse or even the ward boys come out of their wards, isolation unit and ICU once their duty hours are over. After it is removed, the PPE suit has to be disposed of,” said Prof Soni.

In the scorching summer, the fear of dehydration is a real issue. “…I drink plenty of water before entering the restricted area… other medical staff do the same thing. But after one or hour or so, we feel like having at least one sip. But we can’t. This is because if anyone takes off even a small part of the PPE suit, they face the danger of catching the infection,” he said.

The medical staff can’t go to the bathroom for the same reasons. “We have provided adult diapers to our women medical staff as well as some of our male staffers,” said Prof Soni.

“These are challenging times… but when patients leave after recovering from Covid-19, there is … a different kind of joy,” he said.

To help staff cope with the situation, the YCMH administration has changed the norms for granting leave. Earlier, the medical team used to work for seven continuous days and then get seven days off. “Now, the medical team has to work for the first four days, then get one day off and then after every three days, they get one off. This way, after working for a total of 16 days, they get eight continues offs. They are expected to stay in home quarantine during this time,” said Dr Rajendra Wable, dean of YCM Hospital and Medical College.

Dr Wable said it is true that the medical team can’t drink water, eat anything or even visit the bathroom. “Only in emergency situations… he or she has been allowed to exit the wards, dump the PPE suit and get a new one,” he said, adding that each staff has to ensure that they drink sufficient amount of water before entering the wards.

As for the medical staff who have refused to work in Covid-19 wards, Dr Wable said,”Some of them have left but they had genuine reasons to do so. A few had to take maternity leave… but I don’t remember anyone deserting us because of the stress and pressure… it is true that the medical team is under stress but they have all undergone psychological counselling. We have ensured that they are mentally conditioned to face the big challenge,” said Dr Wable.

At the state government-run Aundh Civil Hospital, Dr Sharmila Gaikwad, one of the doctors handling COVID-19 patients, said, “As soon as I get out of the ward, I drink several glasses of water. Staying away from water for six hours is tough, especially in this summer, you need to keep yourself hydrated constantly, otherwise one might just collapse. But… we have to deal with the situation by drinking water before and after entering the wards”.

‘We get seven days leave after after working for seven days. We have to spent those seven days in home quarantine,” said Dr Gaikwad.

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