"The coronavirus has unleashed upon us a war-like situation. We, doctors and other medical staff, are working like soldiers. But here, we were not only putting our own lives but also those of our family members at risk," says Dr Sandeep Nayar, a senior doctor in the capital. Nayar's words find resonance with other doctors and those involved with the medical fraternity. The world has been dealing with the pandemic for the last one-and-half years, and doctors have been at the forefront of the frontline workers. Only July 1 - the birth and death anniversary of India's well-known physician and second chief minister of West Bengal, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, which is celebrated as National Doctors' Day in the country - we speak to some of the doctors about their journey, both personal and professional, in these COVID times.
'We were fighting a disease whose treatment we didn't know about'
Doctors agree that this has been a roller coaster ride for them. And amid all the difficulty, this was also a learning phase for them. "We had a myriad of experiences - bad, not-so-bad, helpless and even good experiences," says Dr Shyam Kukreja, Director and Head of Department of Pediatrics and Infectious Disease Specialist, Max Hospital. He says that when the virus first started circulating, little was known of it, even by doctors. "It was intriguing to study how some patients improved while some did not. And it was only gradually that we came to know more about the virus."
"We were fighting a disease whose treatment we didn't know about," agrees Dr Sandeep Nayar who is the Senior Director & HOD, Chest & Respiratory Diseases, BLK-MAX Super Speciality Hospital.
'Working in the PPE kits no mean task'
While the common public cribs about having to wear a mask at work, or outside in the heat, for healthcare professionals and doctors, it is a bigger challenge. "Breathing in those N-95 masks is not easy and we have to wear them for long hours. I go for rounds at COVID wards and I have to be in my PPE kit. It's very difficult," says Dr Nayar. Dr Kukreja admits that being not used to the masks, many doctors would initially feel dizzy after donning them for hours.
The fact that very little extra-curricular activities could be pursued amid the pandemic made relaxation further difficult for doctors. As Dr Nayar, who loves swimming, points out, that with pools closed amid COVID restrictions, there was an absence of his biggest stress buster.
'I haven't entered my parents’ room in the last 1.5 years'
Dr Nayar says that because he treats COVID patients, he has stayed away from entering his parents room, despite staying in the same house, in the last 1.5 years. "Even though I take full precaution, you never know. One small lacuna, and the virus can infect you. So I don't want to put my elderly parents at risk. I maintain social distance from them even inside the house and greet them from outside the room," says Dr Nayar adding, "We discussed this as a family before starting my work in COVID work and they were all supportive. I had told my parents that they won't be seeing a lot of me. But of course, we never expected it to go on this long."
'Don't send your kids to their grandparents' if you have COVID'
Dr Kukreja shares that throughout the pandemic, he has seen parents, who have contracted COVID, send their children to their nana-nani or dada-dadi's place. "This is the worst thing to do. Children are relatively safe and only 2% of COVID patients were kids. It's okay to be worried but it's best to stay in the house in such cases, following COVID protocols. Children are often asymptomatic and when you send them to grandparents', who are obviously in the elderly category, you are leaving them vulnerable. They are the most susceptible age group," says Dr Kukreja.
'Small victories bring joy'
The second wave has been particularly distressing, say doctors, when a lot of people in their 20s and 30s even succumbed to the virus. But amid the crisis, small victories give them joy and hope. Dr Nayar recounts, "A pregnant woman was admitted to our hospital with COVID and she had to be put on a ventilator. The day she walked out of the hospital with a kid in her arms, and COVID-free, it was one of my best memories of these times. Similarly, there was this 89-year-old, himself a doctor, who recovered from COVID, and it felt great. Of course there are countless sad experiences - like when a woman lost her husband when she was expecting - the small victories make us hopeful, give us strength."
Dealing with the administrative side and balancing the personal with professional
Dr Sahar Qureshi, Medical Superintendent, Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital, says that even for those involved with the administrative aspect, this has been a challenging time. "During the first wave, we didn't understand the virus, we now know of the treatment modalities far more than last year. Even we, doctors, were learning with the disease. When our hospital became a COVID-dedicated hospital, infrastructurally, we had to make a lot of changes. Things like where doctors and other healthcare workers should change into their PPE kits, the movements of the patients and doctors within the hospital, minimising chances of cross-infection- all these have to be kept into consideration."
Dr Qureshi also had to balance the professional and the personal. "I come from a family of doctors, so it was not difficult in that respect, but I have always been scared about the safety of my six-year-old son. Also apart from that, when I contracted COVID myself, many people in my family were down with the virus, which took a mental toll, says Dr Qureshi. She also had to undergo bigger personal loss. "One of my father's elder brothers, who I was very close to, passed away from post COVID complications. This affected me mentally, a lot, but I had to continue with my work, throughout. We have to help others."
But as she adds, "COVID has taught us to be patient. And you realise, life goes on."
On National Doctors' Day, as we celebrate our real-life heros, let's follow their suggestions to the T:
-- Continue to follow all COVID protocols. Follow SMS - (maintain) Social distancing. (wear) Masks, Sanitise (your hands)
-- Don't drop guard just because cases are dipping. Don't go out, unless necessary
-- Stay away from WhatsApp and other social media universities. Only listen to experts, consult doctors
-- Vaccinate. That's our best bet against the virus