It's As if We Are in Battle Zone, Want to Help My Country: Doctors Entering Coronavirus ICU Ward

New Delhi: "It is like we were going to a battlefield. I feel like someone from the armed forces. I want to do something for my country," said 27-year-old Senior Resident Dr Ajay Mohan from Department of Surgery, who is currently posted in D6 Covid ICU ward of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi. He told IANS what it is like being posted in the highest contagious disease COVID-19 ICU ward.

Doctors are at the forefront of the war against the novel coronavirus. When people across the world are scared to come near a corona patient due to its high level of infectivity, these duty-bound warriors enter the ICU, knowing well hostile environment. Their objective: Do everything to make the patients fit and fine.

Dr Mohan said: "In February when I came to know that my name is listed in the institute circular of doctors posted for Covid duty, it filled me wih pride and excitement -- I was to be a frontline warrior."

He said he and his colleagues were in a unique situation. "Very few researches were available then and we did not know much about our safety during our work while treating this particular disease," said

At least six Covid patients and suspects are admitted in the ICU during his 6-hour daily shift. The hours increase the stress levels as many patients come in a critical condition.

Talking about his state of mind while donning the complete PPE kit, Dr Mohan said: "It takes around 20 minutes to wear the complete PPE kit. We had workshops on PPE kits in our college."

"We have to wear the kit for the entire 6-hour duty. We have to wear it before entering the ICU. Once we are inside the ICU, we are contaminated so we can not exit before our duty ends. During those 6 hours, we can't eat or drink or even use the washroom. It feels very hot after wearing the PPE and once after doffing, our whole body is full of sweat. Also it hurts a lot. The shield which we wear, loses visibility due to sweat and moisture in three to four hours, but we have to keep it on".

He said doffing the PPE is even more time-consuming as there are high chances of contracting infection from the aerosols while taking off the PPE kit. "Doffing takes more than 30 minutes" he said.

Dr Mohan said back in his hometown in Kerala, initially he did not disclose to his parents that he was posted in the COVID ICU. "I never shared with my parents that I'm posted in covid ICU for the initial one week as I knew they would get tense." His brother was posted in a hospital in Wuhan city of China and had seen the devastating conditions there due to COVID-19.

"My brother is also a doctor who volunteered to work in a Wuhan hospital during the pandemic in December and January. He was brought back by the Indian government in February after his duty was over. He had experienced a lot. Even he was scared to know that I was posted for covid duty," said Dr Mohan.

"I get calls thrice a day from my anxious mother," he said.

"Major depressing factor about this situation is that I can't meet my friends inside my campus during these days as I am expected to maintain strict quarantine measures post duty too. But I follow it as last thing I would want is to spread infection to my loved ones," said the doctor.

Talking about health workers getting infected from the coronavirus, Doctor Mohan said: "It is very scary, but most of us are ready to go ahead with our duty as our country needs us".

Echoeing similar sentiments, another doctor, Dr. Sayan Nath who is also currently posted in COVID ICU ward at AIIMS trauma centre, said that this is not the first time that doctors are facing a highly infectious virus.

"There have been many incidents when doctors have contracted diseases like Tubour Celosis from the patients...it's just that we have never spoken about these issues before. This is a professional hazard," said Dr Nath, also a Senior Resident from Department of Anaesthesiology and critical care in AIIMS Delhi.

He said doctors were initially very scared of going to the COVID wards, "but this is part and parcel of our profession, so we have to do it anyway".

"The knowledge about the coronavirus is so dynamic that there is a lot of information and misinformations about the disease. The area where I am working is a very high-risk area because there is maximum amount of viral load. But most of us are doing our jobs with lots of dedication."

Doctor Nath said that earlier he was not much worried about the possibility of virus contraction, but ever since he read reports of even young people getting the infection, he is now worried about his safety.

"Initially there were reports that young people are in the low-risk category as far as COVID-19 is concerned. But then I read that even young people died from the disease. I was scared," he said.

The doctor said he feels nervous while donning the PPE kit. "But the moment I enter the ICU, my entire focus shifts to work and serving the patients. I become so absorbed in the work that I forget all my nervousness and other anxieties," said Dr Nath.

About COVID fatality in his ward, he said "Every death feels like a failure for me, but in the medical profession, doctors have to adapt to these situations because if they don't do so, they will not be able to do justice to the next patient they are treating."