With senior citizens being particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, 13.8 per cent of those aged above 60 infected by coronavirus have died in Mumbai, as opposed to the average fatality rate of 5.7 per cent for all age groups. While most doctors, who work as consultants, are practising tele medicine from home, some, despite being senior citizens, are walking into hospitals and clinics every day to treat patients.
The Indian Express spoke to a few of them.
Dr R B Dastur (67), Medical Director of Bhatia hospital
R B Dastur has been going to Bhatia hospital every single day since March. “My age is against me. But I cannot not go,” he said, adding that this is the time doctors need to step out as it’s their duty. “Just like when a fire starts, a fireman cannot say I can’t go inside because it’s too hot, it’s similar for us. This is the fire we need to douse.”
When the pandemic began, 51 staffers in Bhatia hospital got infected. The fear of infection led to multiple resignations, with nurses and ward boys refusing to join work. The staffers in the canteen also quit. Dastur had to go to hospital to negotiate with nurses, promising them accommodation and higher salary.
At present, of the 300 consultants, less than 15 to 20 doctors are coming to work regularly. “How long can we stay away? We have to learn to live with the pandemic.”
Dr Anil Pachnekar (60), General Physician
Anil Pachnekar has been working in Dharavi for 35 years. Along with BMC, he has been instrumental in containing Covid-19 in five hotspots of the vast slum. He had mobilised 50 private doctors in April and started making door-to-door visits to detect cases of cough, cold and fever. The aggressive efforts helped in faster detection of Covid-19 cases.
In Dharavi, home to lakhs of people with low incomes, residents hesitate to interact with civic officials. “But they open up to us. They listen to us as we have been treating them all these years. I realised I have to do my bit in saving lives. So, I let my junior doctors handle my clinic and have started going door to door to look for suspected cases along with BMC workers,” Pachnekar said.
The 60-year-old would do a door-to-door survey from 9 am till 3 pm, visiting over 300 houses daily. He has diabetes but “it is under control”. He had to ensure he does not put his children, both renal transplant patients, at risk. “I used to go home scared. I would bathe for an hour after returning,” he said.
Dr Sujata Baveja (62), Microbiologist
The head of microbiology at Sion hospital did not take a single day off from March until June. From handling laboratory testing to coordinating the fever clinic, training staff on antigen test to conducting sero-surveillance and making policy decisions, she has supported BMC’s efforts.
The 62-year-old lives with her husband, aged 65. She cooks in the morning and leaves for the hospital. “He manages the house,” she said. “As the head of the microbiology department, I knew I had to keep working. How could I take a backseat due to fear of death? I thought either I will be history or become a part of history.”
Dr Behram S Pardiwalla (66), Consultant Physician
Behram S Pardiwalla worked until Wockhardt hospital was forced to shut down fully in the first week of April after 82 doctors and staffers tested positive. The index case was a heart patient who later turned out to be Covid-19 positive. Aged 66, with hypertension, a childhood episode of polio infection and obesity, Pardiwalla decided to stay home and consult through video calls.
“But I realised I cannot consult through tele medicine forever. My family was not very happy when I decided to go back to hospital.”
He treats Covid-19 patients too, but indirectly. Junior doctors report the patient’s condition to him and he directs the line of treatment. “This pandemic will change how we see patients. The personal touch is lost. I can’t touch a patient’s arm to comfort them.”
Dr Avinash Bhondwe (61), General Physician
The IMA Maharashtra president kept his Pune clinic open even when several general physicians downed their shutters in March and April. He has diagnosed 50 Covid-19 patients in three months. His only safety gear — an N-95 mask.
He works for eight hours a day. Once he reaches home, he immediately takes a bath. “Social distancing is not possible at home.”
“Doctors are willing to pay for PPE. But the government needs to ensure that general physicians like me get access to it. If we get infected, the government is to be blamed.”
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