Working overtime, not seeing family members for days, doctors recount struggle during Covid fight

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New Delhi, Jul 1 (PTI) Not seeing their family members for days on end, losing patients and working overtime to save lives -- the COVID-19 pandemic has not only brought physical pain but also caused mental agony for doctors.

On National Doctors Day, these frontline warriors recount their experiences, which for some was the 'worst in their life', while for others, it was so mentally upsetting that they had to consult psychiatrists.

Neha Rastogi Panda, Consultant, Infectious Disease, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon says she could not visit her father, who is hypertensive and stays in Delhi's Rohini, for two months. Her mother passed away two years ago and she hasn't seen her mother-in-law, who lives in Odisha, for over a year.

'During the peak of the second wave, I and my husband, who is a lab person, hardly got any time for family, our loved ones. It would always be only a 10-second call to tell them that I am fine and ask if they were doing okay.' 'For patients, we are always there, either in person or on the phone. But our parents manage on their own. It is too difficult to express the stress and emotions. And, of course, there is nothing called a personal life for the past one and a half year. Most of the time, either I am working or my husband is. We are never home together,' she said.

Dr Pankaj Solanki of Dharamveer Solanki Hospital in Rohini said he and his doctor wife packed their bags and shifted to the hospital when lockdown was announced last year and only returned home in July last year when cases came down.

'I took a two-day leave in January, else most of the time my wife and I are at the hospital attending to my patients. We have a five-year-old child, who usually does not get to see us. My mother and mother-in-law have been taking care of him,' he said.

During the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, when Delhi was battling an unprecedented oxygen crisis, Dr Solanki slept for only '20 hours' in 10 days.

'We made the hospital our home. I would run around to arrange oxygen. I was so stressed that I would sometimes yell at my staff. It was a nightmare. I was mentally upset. Now, I have been consulting a psychiatrist for the last five-six weeks,' he said.

Suresh Kumar, medical director of LNJP, Delhi government's largest healthcare facility, has not taken a leave since February last year.

'Me and my colleagues have been working non-stop. It's been a challenging time for all of us. My family members, including my father and my wife, contracted COVID-19 too. Families of doctors have been dealing with a lot of stress during these times,' he said.

Medical facilities like Jaipur Golden Hospital and Batra Hospital saw patients losing their lives allegedly due to the lack of life-saving medical oxygen.

Batra Hospital also lost one of its doctors to the oxygen crisis along with eleven other patients during the peak of the second wave.

Dr SCL Gupta, medical director of Batra Hospital called it one of the 'worst experiences of his life' as one felt helpless for things that were not in their hands.

'Doctors were sent to the battlefield without any weapons. There was a shortage of medicines, beds and oxygen. We worked really hard and even provided a healing touch to the attendants of patients.

'Patients getting admitted to hospitals would believe that they won't survive since many people were dying. What kept us going were the blessings of the 10 patients we cured even as we lost one patient which was saddening,' he recalled about those days.

Recalling the fateful day on which 12 patients died due to shortage of oxygen, including his own colleague, he said it felt as 'if something had happened to me'.

'I could not see the ICU. I could not meet my colleague's wife and tell her what had happened because I could not bring myself to answer her,' he said.

Gupta's wife is a doctor at the same hospital and his son is a doctor at Safdarjung Hospital.

'We were staying in three different rooms at the same house since all of us were exposed to the virus. That was the only consolation we had that at least we were in the same house,' he said.

Dr Akshay Budhraja, Pulmonologist, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka, said his parents, who live in Jabalpur, were anxious and scared after knowing that he is treating Covid patients.

'My wife, who is a doctor herself, stood by me like a pillar when I was curious, worried, anxious, tired, all at the same time. What I learnt in this deadly pandemic was that more than any medicine, reassurance was the most important component in the management of Covid patients.

'Sometimes, all it requires is to spare a few minutes to address their queries and give them positive psychological counselling,' he said.

Talking about the peak of the second wave, he said every day was a new challenge.

'We saw patients in ICU who were on the verge of collapse recovering miraculously. We saw patients who were doing absolutely fine in the ward suddenly worsening clinically. It was heartbreaking to see patients dying in front of us without having even the last few words with their loved ones.

'An even bigger challenge was shortage of oxygen and medicines when the number of cases were at peak,' he said. PTI GVS/SLB TDS TDS TDS

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