Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

A family in the forefront: Meet the Khans of Begumpet

“They are the real heroes. They are doing a great job, fighting COVID from the forefront. Right from the Prime Minister, everyone appreciates their work.”

May 5, 2020 1:09:01 pm

HYDERABAD: The Khans are the high-flying superstars of Indian Airlines Colony in Begumpet, Hyderabad. Even as the entire nation grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic amid a nationwide lockdown, the Khans are at the forefront of fighting COVID-19, as a family.

On May 3, after several weeks, the three doctors in the Khan family were at home together after a felicitation ceremony where they were showered with rose petals by residents of their colony. “They are the real heroes. They are doing a great job, fighting COVID from the forefront. Right from the Prime Minister, everyone appreciates their work,” says Gopal Giridhar, a colony resident.

With 22 years of service, Dr Mahboob Khan (56) now works as Superintendent of the Government Chest Hospital which is treating many Covid-19 patients. Despite this, the pulmonologist was overwhelmed by the unprecedented show of support from his neighbours, that too at a time when many doctors across India are facing hostile neighbours. The family has been living in the neighbourhood for the last six years.

“Yes, we were scared initially as we were dealing with an unknown enemy. Anyone could get infected. There were incidents of medical and health workers contracting the disease and some even lost their lives,” admits Dr Khan who was part of the team of doctors and experts sent from Telangana to Kerala this February to study the latter’s experience of dealing with the disease.

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Rajender, president of the residents welfare association, is happy that the felicitation was a success. “We did not have enough time and in the short notice, we could mobilise so many people. This means that our people would come out for a good cause even in times of a pandemic,” he says, adding that they took special care in ensuring people maintain social distance during the small event.

Telangana recorded its first active case on March 1 and by the third week there was a sudden surge in the number of positive cases after 10 Indonesian nationals who reached Karimnagar after participating in the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi were tested positive for the disease.

As of May 3, Telangana has had 1,082 positive cases. As many as 545 of them have been discharged and sent to home quarantine. There are 508 active cases in hospitals, whereas 29 have succumbed.

Dr Khan’s 48-year-old wife Dr Shahana Khan works at the Gandhi Hospital where their daughter Dr Rashika Khan (22) is a house surgeon. Gandhi hospital, the nodal centre for treating COVID-19 in the state, treated almost 90 per cent of the total 545 patients cured of the disease so far.

The trio has seen hundreds of patients now. But is the daily stress of taking on this unknown enemy, tiring Dr Khan out? “No way. Dealing with the disease requires us to constantly update ourselves. The appreciation and encouragement keeps us going,” he says.

However, as an administrator, he agrees, the last month has been stressful. Many a time, when the doctors or health workers found themselves in doubt, it was up to the administrative head to keep the flock together. Taking the medical and health community together with conviction, motivating them, and boosting their morale was a challenge initially.

The Khans outside their residence in Hyderabad. (Express Photo by Rahul V Pisharody)

“I say time is the best medicine,” he says, pointing out that there was panic among doctors, health workers, patients, and the society. Health workers were asked to stay away from their homes and localities. Now the same society appreciates their work, he says. This, according to him, is because of the high recovery rates of patients.

Covid-19 has become part of their lives and is the most common topic of discussion at their dinner table, adds Dr Shahana. “I have to take care of our home too. I cannot neglect the family and patients are equally in need of us. So we do not hesitate to discuss Covid-19 at home and that helps,” she says.

With no domestic help available, Dr Shahana says her work at home has only doubled. She points at her mother, 72-year-old Azimunnisa Begum, who stays with them. “Especially now, she needs more care. She is diabetic and has hypertension,” she adds.

Meanwhile, relatives and friends are worried for the family’s well-being. The family is flooded with phone calls from relatives across the country. Friends, too, keep checking on them. “They appreciate our work and say they are proud of us. That is great to hear,” adds Dr Khan.

At the lane outside their residence where they were greeted by neighbours. (Express Photo by Rahul V Pisharody)

For the youngest doctor in the family, it was almost a baptism by fire. Dr Rashika had always wanted to become a doctor like her parents. “But I never expected my internship to start this way. From Day One, everyone is posted in COVID duty,” says Rashika, who completed her MBBS just recently. For house surgeons like her, this has been a scary experience as none of them knew anything about the disease. “With all the guidance from our seniors, all of us interns are now doing a good job and no one would believe we are fresh interns,” she adds.

Rashika’s younger brother Rehaan (18) is also a doctor in waiting, says the family, adding how they are currently preparing for the upcoming NEET exam. Having three corona warriors at home has inspired him further. “I just remind myself that I have three family members fighting a huge pandemic. This pushes me to achieve my goal,” says Rehaan.

To all those who fear contracting Covid-19, Dr Khan says there is nothing to worry about. The government and the health department are closely monitoring the developments and the citizens need to merely follow the instructions and stay at home, he emphasises. “This may continue for another month and it might take six to seven months for the disease to vanish. But the same situation may not prevail. It is the responsibility of the public to help fight the virus by staying at home,” he adds.

Also in this series | The foot soldiers of Kerala’s Covid-19 battle, 25,000 women who won’t overlook any detail