Coronavirus outbreak: As Telangana cases rise, 150-year-old Gandhi Hospital now main centre for treatment

Sreenivas Janyala

Secunderabad's Gandhi Hospital is now exclusively treating COVID-19 patients. Express photo

For over 150 years, Gandhi Hospital at Secunderabad has been known for good and free healthcare not only in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad but also in surrounding districts. Established in 1851, and known earlier as Cantonment Hospital and King Edward Memorial Hospital, the 1200-bed hospital, offers solace to thousands of patients everyday. Today, however, it has become the main centre for treating COVID-19 patients. On Tuesday, for the first time since it was established, out-patient services were stopped as Telangana reported 3 new positive cases, taking the total to 36. On Wednesday, the number rose to 39, with three new positive cases report.

The 40 doctors and nurses treating the patients face tremendous risk and stress as each day at least 3 new cases are being reported.

“Doctors, nurses and paramedics treating COVID-19 patients face a lot of stress and undergo trauma especially if they have elderly persons living with them back home. Elderly persons are most vulnerable to catch the virus, and medical personnel have to be extremely careful when they go home from the hospital to their families,’’ said Dr Vinay Shekar, Head of General Medicine, at the Gandhi Hospital. Dr Shekar is on the State Level Advisory Medical Board for COVID-19 formed on March 13 to coordinate the efforts to treat Covid-19 patients and contain its spread. “So far we have been lucky that the virulent strain of COVID-19 that has spread in Italy and elsewhere, is not reported here. Next few weeks are very crucial and it will test our capacities to deal with this,” Dr Shekar said. On Tuesday, the hospital set up WiFi in the isolation wards to enable patients and those under observation to access the Internet.

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“Doctors and nurses working in the COVID-19 isolation are the most vulnerable. In spite of wearing personal protective gear (PPG), they can catch the virus. When they go home, their family members, especially elderly parents, risk falling sick. All the medical staff working with COVID-19 patients are under extreme stress. They work in three shifts so that 24-hour care can be given. So far we have been able to take proper precautions and protect ourselves,’’ said Resident Medical Officer, Dr Annapurna.

Indian doctors walk past the entrance of an isolation ward where people who returned from China are under observation at the Government Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, India. (AP Photo)

“We have to maintain distance from family members for their safety. We don’t carry anything from the hospital and ensure we take lots of precautions. We have to be extremely careful because this is a highly infectious disease and spreads fast. It can be stressful at times because not only are we at risk but we are putting our family members at risk,’’ a pulmonologist said. The team of doctors work in a triage — first, the frontline doctors from the Department of Medicine take the medical history of symptomatic patients and segregate them. Second, pulmonologists and other specialists check and isolate if it is a suspected case of COVID-19. The third stage is admission to an isolation ward or ICU for depending on the condition where specialists start the treatment. 

At least 20 doctors and 40 nurses and paramedical staff are attached to the isolation wards and ICU treating COVID-19 patients. “We have arranged for proper and effective protection gear and masks and hand sanitisers. A team of doctors and surgeons counselled the nurses, caregivers and attendants on how to handle the stress, and the precautions they need to take,’’ Medical Superintendent Dr Sravan Kumar said.  But there is anxiety and consternation among some of the lower level staff as more patients arrive daily. 

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“To concentrate our efforts on tackling COVID-19 and ensure that everyone is safe we have temporarily closed OP at Gandhi Hospital. The in-patients who recently underwent surgery or those who are critical will remain but we have asked all emergency cases including burns cases to Osmania hospital,’’ Health Minister Etela Rajender said.

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