Twelve-hour long duty, training doctors, nurses, housekeeping staff, examining COVID-19 patients and counselling their relatives, concern that she might carry infection to her home where her 87-year-old mother-in-law lives, switching off from friends, sleepless nights and calls to psychiatrists for help – this has been new normal for Dr Arti Trivedi, an additional professor with PDU Medical College in Rajkot who is leading the team treating coronavirus-infected patients at the Rajkot Civil Hospital for the past one month.
The scramble began on March 1 when the state government asked the medical college and hospital to prepare for the pandemic. Preparations included planning, setting up a dedicated isolation ward, as well as training staff, Trivedi says.
Eventually, what was apprehended turned into reality – a 32-year-old businessman who returned to the city from abroad tested positive for COVID-19 on March 18, the first confirmed case in Gujarat. Within a week, the number of cases rose to nine.
“Everything was so fast and intense in initial days that I would lose sense of time. I would reach hospital at 8 am, examine patients in the OPD and assess patients in isolation ward. Besides attending official meetings, I have to look after my team, ensure that they have enough supplies and that they take all precautions. Often, I would return home at 10 pm. I started having sleepless nights. I had to consult colleagues in psychiatry department,” says Trivedi, the leading physician of the hospital.
Besides treating patients and guiding the team of around 100 members, including three dozen doctors, Trivedi has to care for her mother-in-law who has diabetes and hypertension. Her husband is also a physician doing private practice. Her elder daughter is a physiotherapist while the younger one is studying neuroscience.
Despite all precautions, a doctor is never fully insulated from the risk of contracting the infection, Trivedi says. She says a doctor may not be wearing a PPE all the time but exposure can happen anytime.
Trivedi recalls an incident while dealing with a 76-year-old woman on March 24. “After her reports came positive, I went to her husband and son who were waiting outside. As soon I broke the news, her son collapsed. What does one do? One instinctively helps the person to get back on his feet even though he was having temperature and other symptoms and I was not wearing a PPE,” she says.
The next day, the woman’s son also tested positive. However, Trivedi, who herself is 57, has gone about her job without any break and hasn’t felt the need to get herself tested for the infection.
“Things have been so fast that I don’t even get time to think about myself. Cooking is the only thing that makes me feel human. Rest of the time, I am like a robot,” says the mother of two.
And how does she keep herself, and her team, motivated even though no proven cure is available for coronavirus and patients are given symptomatic treatment?
“We try to look for clues which tell us if the patient is improving or worsening. If we are able to pick up a worsening patient in time, probably we might be able to do something. Actually, there is nothing on hand which is proven. But if we are able to at least pick up a newly-developing complication, maybe we can take some action on time and save some lives,” says the doctor who has been practising medicine for 28 years.
Does she fear contracting the infection herself? “The fear is as real in me is it is in you. But then, this is my chosen profession. Besides, the outbreak is also an opportunity to try and do something to save lives,” she says.
“My team members are warriors. I am doing what ought to be done. My team – the young doctors, nurses, those keeping the ward clean and sanitised – are risking their lives. They are heroes,” the professor adds as her voice becomes heavy.