As coronavirus situation in the country turns grim amid a second wave, doctors on Covid-19 duty have come under severe pressure, leaving them exhausted and mentally affected. Constant deaths and a crumbling health infrastructure have left the medical fraternity to seek help from mental health professionals.
Doctors, though familiar with deaths, are emotionally and mentally exhausted due to hours of overworking and constantly having to be in masks and PPE kits. “I feel very helpless standing before a patient whom I had seen recovering in the morning and is dead before the end of the day”, said Dr Keerthi Kurnool, who has been on Covid duty since the first wave. Kurnool, who is presently perceiving her post-graduation degree in Anesthesia from K S Hegde Medical Academy in Mangalore, also takes care of the ventilator arrangement and works at the ICU in the facility.
“We knew there would be a second wave, what we didn’t expect was this rate. In order to avoid exposing more people to virus, we work with minimal staff. Hence, every doctor will end up treating 20 to 25 patients at a time. I live in PPE kits and N95 masks whole day. Feeling suffocated inside it has made me hyper anxious. At the end of the day all I want to do is lie down. I will be too tired to even call my parents who live in Bengaluru and tell them I am doing fine. I witness at least 4 to 5 deaths in a day. And when the patient to whom I would have assured in the morning that his oxygen saturation is improving and he will be out of the hospital soon, breathes his last even before I wrap up for the day and is shifted as a corpse, I can’t explain what goes in my head," she said.
Kurnool is not alone. Several other doctors who have been treating Covid-19 patients, are equally exhausted.
Dr Alok V Kulkarni, Senior Psychiatrist at Manas Nursing Home in Hubballi, said that many doctors, who were his friends and batch mates in medical school, were reaching out to him for help along with others who felt lost amid the situation. The doctors who approached him were stressed, exhausted, and suffered with extreme anxiety, fatigue and sleeplessness. The level of anxeity among them was so much that a few broke down in the ICU and had to pop a pill to manage for the time being. Another patient, a intensivist, suffered from a panic attack and his hands shivered while intubating for the N-th time during the day, said Dr Alok.
Deaths of patients have become a common sight for the doctors, especially for the anesthetists and intensivists. They struggled with decisions of whom to prioritise. Dr Alok recalled that an intensivist friend had teared up, feeling helpless when he had two patients — a senior citizen and a young girl — in the need of ventilation, and there was only one to give.
During the first wave, the doctors, though overworked, were a bit relaxed and sought therapy. However, with onset of the second wave, not a single one had come for a follow up to the health professionals.
The personal life of these doctors had also gone wayward with no or little time for their families. Even after going home, all that they could think of was the death of several patients whom they desperately wanted to save. Several non-medical spouses of these doctors had also threatened their better halves with a divorce if they did not quit jobs. In such a case, Dr Alok said, he had to counsel both.
If the Covid-19 situation did not improve, many doctors would turn into patients and there would be many who cannot be treated. There had been numerous instances where families of doctors had tested positive and could not be treated on time. They were neglecting their own health and well-being, compromising their personal lives for the call of duty. Calling doctors ‘Corona Warriors’ is not an honor, indeed it is something that they earned while fighting the Covid-19 war.