“If the rehab is delayed, then what is the use of the surgery?” asks Dr Priscilla V Kumar, a consultant physiotherapist based out of Bengaluru. Her rhetoric question not only points the obvious but also brings to attention a vital concern: an impending increase in the need for physiotherapy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
As more people recover and await their discharge after prolonged treatment and quarantine, getting back to regular life would certainly need rehabilitative care. For the elderly undergoing critical surgery or spending long durations in medical facilities, physiotherapy and rehab sessions will especially be of utmost importance.
“In urgent need of physiotherapy intervention will, for sure be, the post-surgical patients, those with neuro-related conditions, elderly care patients, ICU management patients, especially the ones on the ventilator,” explains Priscilla.
She adds, “It makes a huge difference when we start the rehab sessions right from the beginning.”
Priscilla works with HealthCare at HOME (HCAH) – a home healthcare service provider backed by the Burman family (the promoters of Dabur) and the founders of HAH UK. When the 32-year-old physiotherapist, who has over ten years of experience in this field, talks about the need for rehab, she is, however, not just contemplating a post-COVID scenario. As a frontline worker striving to offer quality care, no matter the circumstances, she deals with several critical patients on a regular basis.
“I completed 92 visits in the month of April 2020 alone,” she quips, adding, “Cases are handed over and we don't say no because somebody has to treat them.”
“The majority of the cases are post-surgical ones, so if the surgeons are working and doing their job, so do we.”
Going the extra mile
Physio and occupational therapists like Priscilla are going against all odds to help bed-ridden patients and others in urgent need of rehab care. This includes making extra rounds, and traversing the length and breadth of the city to reach out to patients stuck in their houses without the appropriate care.
“During the lockdown, we treat six patients in a day,” says Dr Ruchi Saini. For the Delhi-based consultant physiotherapist, who is also working at HCAH, this means travelling from Burari (North Delhi) to South Delhi, which is around 84 km away, every day with her brother to visit her patients.
“This is the time my patients need me the most. Especially someone like Mr Sharma, 65, who is still struggling at home after a severe haemorrhagic stroke hit him two months ago, and 56-year-old Mrs Kapur, who recently underwent a total hip replacement. They need daily physiotherapy intervention considering their current medical condition,” Ruchi adds.
The vitality of pre-op and post-op care is non-negotiable, even in the face of a global pandemic. It is the buffer that ensures a patient is able to walk and resume day-to-day activities, even after undergoing major surgery. Its neglect could result in serious complications due to prolonged bedridden conditions.
“Physiotherapy can help patients start on the road to recovery early,” according to Ruchi, “facilitating the possibility to improve the outcomes of injury type like musculoskeletal and respiratory conditions.”
The need for awareness
To say that the world was not prepared to deal with this pandemic, won’t be much of an exaggeration. “As a healthcare professional, battling this pandemic was never mentioned to us in our textbooks. It is something for which none of us was prepared,” says Priscilla.
One of the biggest challenges that she and others in this profession are facing right now, is related to panic and fear. Most frontline workers tackling the pandemic are worried about contracting the virus themselves. Despite all the protective gears at their disposal – masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles – there is an inherent risk of exposure.
Says Priscilla, “The main mental battle, in the beginning, was, ‘What if I catch the virus while going out to treat the patients, when the entire country is indoors?’”
This is, unfortunately, the truth most healthcare professionals are facing at the moment. Of course, once a cure is available, things will return to normal and it will be business as usual. But until then, navigating a difficult course in the line of duty is the reality for those at the frontlines.
As Ruchi says, “We will have to learn to live with COVID-19, and we will have to continue living our lives, but of course, with necessary precautions.”
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)