Hyderabad: It’s been four months and a week since Dr Vamshi Vaskula met his family, as he prepares to head to his regular shift at Gandhi Hospital after a few days of quarantine. All these months, day in, day out, the young doctor, a postgraduate in General Medicine at Gandhi Hospital, has been treating critical Covid-19 patients in the hospital’s ICU wings.
Coincidentally, it was four months and a week ago, i.e. on March 2, that the first coronavirus positive case in Telangana was admitted to Gandhi Hospital. Since then, Dr Vamshi and a team of young doctors like him, ably guided by senior professors, have been treating critically ill Covid-19 patients round the clock.
“It’s not possible to meet parents or friends because I could be an asymptomatic positive case and I don’t want to spread the infection. I do make video calls though,” he says, sitting in his PG hostel room on the Gandhi Hospital campus, before reporting for duty on Friday. The hostel room and the campus have become a second home for many senior and junior doctors, as they do their best to maintain critical healthcare services and at the same time, avoid going home.
All tertiary government hospitals in Hyderabad are meticulous in providing quarantine time-off to healthcare workers. Doctors from the three major disciplines of Pulmonology, Anaesthesia and General Medicine are the bulwark around which the entire response to Covid-19 in government hospitals hinges and doctors from these specialties work for seven days and take the quarantine off for seven days.
Typically, a work day for a doctor at Gandhi Hospital, Chest Hospital and Fever Hospital starts at 9 am with the donning of the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kit. “Along with two other doctors, we check each and every patient in the ICU who are on oxygen and ventilator support. On an average, I personally see at least 100 critical Covid patients every day,” Dr Vamshi says.
Once doctors don PPE kits, they continue to wear them for at least eight hours i.e. till their shift ends. Wearing a PPE kit is an exhausting and dehydrating experience, as doctors continue to fight issues like hypoxia, due to decreased air supply. Doctors at all tertiary government hospitals have been repeating this ritual non-stop for the last four months.
“At the wards, after meeting and recording patient data, we then sit with the Duty Medical Officer (DMO) or other senior doctors to chalk out the next course of action. Things like when the patient needs to be discharged, how to control their diabetes, hypertension among some patients etc. In ICUs, the aim is always never to allow any patient to ‘sink’ and to keep monitoring their vital parameters closely,” says Dr Khyzer Hussain Junaid, another Gandhi Hospital doctor.
Dr Khyzer stays in Humayunnagar and has rented a separate apartment while his family members stay in another. “There is no way to meet and greet family members or relatives. It’s just non-stop work and then availing time off and staying put indoors,” he says.
‘Non-stop fight to save critical patients’
For this team of pulmonologists, the Chest Hospital at Erragadda has become a home away from home during the ongoing pandemic.
“It’s a non-stop fight to save critical patients. For me personally, I derive a lot of satisfaction when I save the life of a critical patient. A perception has been created that government doctors are not treating properly, which is wrong. We are doing our best to save critically ill patients,” says Dr Naresh Mamidi, pulmonology PG at Chest Hospital.
Doctors at the hospital work for a day and take quarantine for two days at Chest Hospital. For one full day, the hospital literally becomes home for doctors. “We are provided food here and even a place to take a nap. I travel from the PG hostel at Osmania Medical College in Koti to Erragadda for work. Since the pandemic, I have not been able to meet my family. A majority of the patients who are admitted here are critical cases, and they have to be monitored 24 hours,” Dr Naresh says.
The family of Dr E S Raju, another pulmonology doctor at Chest Hospital, has dedicated itself to public service at government hospitals. His mother is the head nurse at Gandhi Hospital and provides bedside assistance to critical patients. The young doctor stays with his parents at Vanasthalipuram but says that he hardly ever is able to talk or greet them properly.
“It has been a tough few months for us. We have saved a number of patients who were critical in Chest Hospital and at the same time also lost some. The next few months are expected to be critical in Hyderabad. People in Hyderabad do not understand the severity of Covid-19. There are instances where patients go from being normal to critical and die in a few hours, even as we try our best to save them,” Dr Raju says.
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