It is around 2.30 pm. Dr Kinjal Nadia, 25, slumps in a chair in the Highly Dependent Unit (HDU) of the dedicated Covid-19 hospital set up on the campus of Guru Gobind Singh Government Hospital (GG Hospital) in Jamnagar where she is posted as a senior resident doctor, after her eight-hour shift, which marked the end of the tenth week of her Covid duty on Saturday.
The doctor, who had to fight off the novel coronavirus herself after she contracted it while deputed to Ahmedabad, says the weeks are now seeming longer.
“Trust me, spending eight hours in a personal protective equipment (PPE) suit is the toughest thing to do. One can’t even drink a glass of water though one has to speak loudly to be heard by patients and assistants through that suit. On the other hand, one loses a litre of water to perspiration. On top of all this, the pulls and pressures of managing 30 patients in a highly dependent unit. Especially, the last hour of the duty just doesn’t seem to end,” Dr Nadia, a third-year resident doctor with the medicine department of the MP Shah Government Medical College, Jamnagar, says.
The GG Hospital is attached to MP Shah Medical College, one of the largest medical colleges in the state having 250 undergraduate seats.
Over the past five months, Dr Nadia has treated approximately 250 Covid-19 patients. They include around three dozen in Ahmedabad civil hospital when Ahmedabad district was seeing a spike in cases in May. She was part of 18 doctors and six consultants who were sent on deputation to Ahmedabad civil hospital. In all, 60 doctors from Jamnagar were sent to Ahmedabad till June, of which five got infected. Five doctors from MP Shah college were also deputed to Surat when the city ran short of manpower and cases increased.
“There was lot of crowding, running around and yelling, both by doctors and patients in the ward. However, all in all, it was a great learning experience,” she recalls. “There were 50 to 60 patients in the suspected patients ward and I and another resident doctor from BJ Medical College had to manage all of them on our own. It was the first time I was managing so many patients in my life. It was also a lesson on how to remain calm even when patients irritate you.”
But her scheduled week-long stay in Ahmedabad was extended by another week. Just as she was packing for Jamnagar, her samples for mandatory Covid-19 tests returned positive on May 7 and she had to stay back. The government shifted her and five other doctors from Jamnagar who too had tested positive for the infectious disease, to a hotel on Ashram Road for week-long isolation. “This was sort of anti-climax—the enthusiasm of responding to the call of duty culminating in requiring one to remain in isolation for a full week. However, the most troubling and unsettling part of it was the fact that my home in Ahmedabad was just a 10-minute drive from the hotel and yet I could not meet my parents,” says Dr Nadia, daughter to an officer with Census Commissioner of India and a homemaker mother who are based in Ahmedabad.
More testing times awaited the 25-year-old after returning from Ahmedabad. For one to enter Jamnagar district, a Covid-negative report was a must or one would have to spend two weeks in home quarantine. After reaching Jamnagar, Dr Nadia underwent another Covid test which returned positive. “I was put up in the doctor’s quarters on the GG Hospital campus. Though I was never worried about the persistence of the infection, I felt very lonely in the doctor’s quarters. I had my colleagues staying in the same hotel in Ahmedabad but in Jamnagar, I was all alone,” Dr Nadia recalls.
A couple of weeks later, she was again in an HDU of a Covid hospital, this time in Jamnagar. Barring a two-day leave to visit her parents in Ahmedabad, Dr Nadia has been at work without even weekly offs for the past six months — shifting between Covid and non-Covid duties every alternate week.
“Dealing with non-cooperative patients is part of duty. But one feels bad when we lose a patient despite our best efforts. It’s painful also as patients die with no relatives around. We do help relatives helping them talk to patients on phone or through video-calls. But no one should die alone,” says Dr Nadia.
Jamnagar district had recorded its first Covid case on April 5 when a 14-month old son of a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh, working in an industrial cluster in Dared village on the city’s outskirts, tested positive.
Besides the core team of 51 resident doctors and 24 consultants of medicine and anaesthesia departments, the medical college has pressed doctors from other departments also on Covid duty. “We are managing the workload of doctors by following rotation… Doctors do have liberty to go on leave. But everyone is working very hard,” said Prof Nandini Desai, dean of MP Shah Government Medical College.
Life has drastically changed for Dr Nadia. She says she wakes up at 7 am, cycles for about 30 minutes, has a plate of egg-poha in breakfast, cycles her way to the Covid hospital, returns to her hostel room at around 3, has lunch before fatigue overcomes her and after a nap, reads her text books between 9 pm and 12 am before retiring to bed. “These seem really to be the toughest times of life. This pandemic has taught me the importance of family, values and of being healthy. One needs moral support in such times. I have shed five kilos of weight during this pandemic. I wish this ends now,” says Dr Nadia.
However, the daily figures from Jamnagar suggest that wish may not come true immediately. The district reported nearly 100 to 130 cases daily in the first three weeks of September before coming down to around 90 per day in recent days. As of Saturday, there were 463 active cases. The district, which had reported its first case on April 5, has seen a sudden surge in cases since July, reporting a total of 6357 cases so far.
Jamnagar collector Ravi Shankar says that it helps that a majority of Covid patients are preferring home-isolation, with 363 of 1230 beds occupied at the moment in Covid facilities. “We understand the load on our doctors and healthcare system in general is increasing…. When caseload was low in Jamnagar, our doctors served in other centres. When they returned, our own caseload had increased. So, some fatigue is natural. But senior faculty members counsel and encourage them constantly in an attempt to keep them motivated,” Shankar said.
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