Updated: February 2, 2021 10:48:37 am
On August 25, 2020, Dr S Nagulan was on intubation, lying on a stretcher as an ambulance rushed him to AIIMS, Raipur – over 400 km from Bijapur, in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division, where he works as a laparoscopic surgeon. That was when Nagulan, 34, learnt that his colleague, Dr Yogesh Gavil, who had assisted him in a surgery at Bijapur District Hospital just 18 days before, had succumbed to pulmonary embulism.
For the state, in those panic-stricken days, it was one more Covid-19 death. For Nagulan, it was the end of a chapter – that of life he had known thus far.
“It was when I realised how serious my condition was. The disease had broken my body; the loss of my colleague made me nervous,” says Nagulan, who had moved from his home in Chennai to Bijapur back in 2016.
The Budget Connection
With a huge 137 per cent increase in allocation, the health and wellbeing sector is one of the six pillars of the Budget. It has also announced a new scheme PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana with an Outlay of Rs 64,180 crore for the next year.
On August 7 last year, he was part of a three-member team conducting tracheostomy on a pneumonia patient. With him were Dr Yogesh Gavil (35) and Dr Rupak Yeotikar (32). To keep themselves safe the three doctors only had N-95 masks.”The patient had tested negative when he went in for the procedure. We realised three days later that it was probably a false negative (case),” Nagulan says.
Like in many other parts of the country, it was a terrible time in Bijapur, too. Doctors at the district hospital say there was a shortage of PPE kits when the number of patients surged in the district last August. “Whatever (kits) we received we sent to the dedicated Covid-19 ward, where there was a severe shortage,” Nagulan says.
It was, he now recalls, “wishful thinking – that my body would see it through even in the worst case scenario. I also believed that I might have built resistance to the virus.”
He was wrong. Of course.
On August 10, Nagulan was the first of the three doctors to develop Covid-19 symptoms. “The antigen test continuously kept turning negative, and I hoped it was a regular bout of flu or viral fever. But I quarantined myself, as did the other two doctors exposed to the pneumonia patient,” he says.
He eventually developed signs of respiratory diseases, making him go for a CT scan. He examined and prepared his own report, which pointed out extreme damage to the lower parts of his lungs. “I had never expected my lungs to look like that. The damage could have only been caused by Covid-19. I was certain.”
On August 25, as Yeotikar developed the first symptoms while in home quarantine, Nagulan was being rushed to Raipur for emergency medical help.
Dr Gavil, who had shown no symptoms, was found dead in his room, his body found hours after death. “He had married just a month before that and had returned right after the wedding to attend to Covid-19 cases,” Yeotikar recalls.
All three doctors’ Covid test reports had been negative.
Yeotikar, from Nanded, Maharashtra, and working in Bijapur for the last several years, says: “The one thing we realised, thanks to the pandemic, is that there is so much lacking in our medical system. This country spends several hundreds of crores on symbology, but doesn’t want to spend enough in research and resource building.”
Nagulan, whose dream was to become a scientist, says the Budget set aside for healthcare is always pittance. “The quantum sounds like a big number for the uninitiated. We know how much of it is actually received…the money is never allocated properly either.”
On Monday, post-Budget presentation, he joins Yeotikar in ruing the lack of investment in research towards better healthcare facilities: “I became a doctor so that I could help understand and explain my world better…I know that being a government doctor makes it doubly difficult to devote time and resources towards research. If my children someday want to become a doctor, I would not encourage them to continue in this country.”
He says the need of the hour is to make specialised and subsidised medical health available for all, including the middle class.
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