Updated: January 28, 2022 9:23:11 am
When the pandemic started in 2020 and we started seeing the first cases of Covid-19, the government called us Covid warriors. They showered healthcare workers with flowers. At that moment, I felt like a warrior.
Two years on, the pandemic is starting to feel like a world war — a long ordeal that people are coming to terms with. None of us have faced anything like this in our lifetimes — hopefully, we will not have to face one ever again.
But the pandemic also brought us together. It has shown me how communities can rise to the occasion and help each other. It also taught me about what can be improved in our healthcare facilities. Most of the experiences that I share here are from the second wave of the pandemic. We are a government hospital and are used to seeing a large number of patients, but I have never seen as many people inside a hospital, or waiting for admission outside, as during the second wave. I saw one of our resident doctors, whose parent was admitted to our hospital, take care of six others who were in the same ward. I saw patients help each other out. I saw a son begging us to get admitted as a suspected patient so that he could take care of his ailing mother. I saw a girl spending the entire day in a Covid ward with her grandmother, wearing a PPE kit. (During the first wave, most relatives did not want to enter Covid wards; many did not come back for their dead.)
I saw communities come together to arrange oxygen and medicine. They created isolation facilities in their housing societies. I was in touch with several groups on WhatsApp to help them take care of patients in these facilities.
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We had to take difficult decisions; close admissions because we were at capacity when patients were waiting outside the hospital gates. Some of them were so poor they could not afford to go anywhere else. Despite the directive to stop admissions, I went out without wearing my doctor’s coat and let in some of the people who were in bad shape. Some elderly members of my family needed to get admitted, but I refused.
In a diary, I wrote down the things that could have been done differently — a record for posterity if ever we find ourselves in such a crisis again.
The situation would have been handled better if we were more respectful to the patients and made them feel comfortable. Patients’ comfort was not something we had to think about before the pandemic. Most patients would have a relative stay with them, provide them timely meals and medicines. We realised that simply providing everything on time was not enough. The patients were scared because they could not talk to their family members. During the second wave, we started a video-calling centre so that the family members could remain in touch. We also started allowing some relatives of the elderly and the young patients inside.
When the government said that we were Covid-19 warriors, I believed it. It was my turn, just like our armed forces, to help the people of my country. But being on the frontline also means risking your life. Initially, we did not know anything about the disease. But I saw many doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers taking a risk and entering isolation wards. I saw my team take the lead and work hours on end; not just to treat the patients but also to ensure that they remain comfortable. Despite all our efforts, there were accusations and complaints. I would be lying if I said that these did not discourage us. But a message of appreciation or a card from one of the patients kept us going. Others helped in providing food to the patients, transporting the dead. These acts of kindness helped us get through the worst.
After the difficult time that we endured together, all I have to say to the people of my country is to keep doing these acts of kindness without thinking of being called a hero. There are very few heroes in a war, but the contribution of countless nameless soldiers matters.
This column first appeared in the print edition on January 28, 2022 under the title ‘Stepping up, together’. The writer is the head of the emergency department, Lok Nayak Hospital, Delhi
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