Covid-19 ward doctor: ‘I am always anxious about my family, but have to do my duty’

Once doctors wear the protective gear, they cannot use the restroom; and what makes matters worse, says Dr Aparna Mahajan, is that “the PPE kit causes a lot of sweat, and even the face shield becomes foggy that comes in the way of examining patients".

“As a doctor who is serving during the COVID 19 pandemic, I do feel anxious. I feel anxious for my patients and my family. And for the medical community as well,” says 37-year-old Dr Aparna Mahajan, Consultant ENT surgeon, at the Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad.

The hospital Dr Mahajan works for was not COVID-designated initially and all the COVID-19 patients were being referred to a government hospital in the district for treatment. It was only in mid-April that some coronavirus patients started coming their way.

A typical day for Dr Mahajan starts as early as 6 am. After fixing a quick breakfast for herself, she drives to her hospital that is 8 km away. On reaching, she first heads to the changing room. “Owing to the pandemic, I wear a gown, shoe covers, an operation theater (OT) cap, double masks, gloves, and a face shield. The entire process of wearing the hospital scrubs and protective gear takes about 20 minutes.”

After wearing the PPE kit, she heads out for a visit to Covid-19 wards around 9 am. Once doctors wear the protective gear, they cannot use the restroom and what makes matters worse, says Dr Mahajan, is that “the PPE kit causes a lot of sweat, and even the face shield becomes foggy, which comes in the way of examining patients”.

The doctor underlines that patient care is no longer how it used to be. “There is a multitude of guidelines which do not allow you to physically inspect the patient. And as doctors, we rely a lot on physical examination. The dynamics associated with medical care have completely changed. It is a very difficult time for doctors indeed.”

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After the rounds of Covid wards, Dr Mahajan either has to go and check on patients who have come to the outpatient department (OPD) or go for surgeries.

Owing to the pandemic, the surgical procedure also requires extra precautions. Every patient who is to undergo surgery has to be tested for COVID-19. Then, ahead of the surgery, a COVID-19 scorecard is created. “I can have up to three surgeries a day. When I reach the operation theatre after my round of Covid wards or from the OPD, I first wear the OT scrubs and then another layer of covering over the PPE kit. Then I scrub my hands up to my elbows, wear the OT gown and gloves. Though the face shield often gets foggy during surgeries, I am able to maintain my composure. That is because surgery is something I really love doing and am extremely passionate about,” she said.

During one of the surgeries, Dr Mahajan recalled, a patient in the OPD was coughing. “She had been coughing for three months and had recently also lost her sense of smell. I immediately ordered a COVID test and it turned out she was positive. I will be honest, I was grateful for all the protective gear I was wearing – it prevented the infection from spreading to my family and me.”

Considering she spends nearly half her day at the OPD, she is among those most vulnerable to infections. Dr Mahajan says when a patient comes in with COVID-like symptoms, she is among the first to examine them. “I get very apprehensive. Examining the patient means there is still a chance of exposure to the virus despite all the protective gear I am wearing. Once I am exposed, I automatically expose my family to the virus. And that is what worries me the most. However, I go ahead and check the patient as it is my duty,” she said.

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Once she is home, the first thing she does is take a shower in a bathroom that is no longer used by the rest of the family. “Upon entering the home, I ensure I do not come in contact with anyone or anything. Once I have completed sanitising myself, I have dinner, spend some time with my son, and then quickly review my schedule for the next day.”

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