I am a senior resident doctor at AIIMS, Trauma centre. I have been deputed to the COVID ICU and have been a part of the contingency preparation process from the beginning. We work in four shifts of six-hours, providing 24/7 care. We follow a seven-day work and a seven-day break routine. Currently, I have just completed my break and I am on my second work shift.
Over the last few weeks, life has been hectic especially after donning the Personal Protective Equipment. The donning and doffing of the PPE itself takes about half an hour each. As these gears are one- time use, we forget our normal human needs like food, water, fresh air or even using the bathroom during the six-hour shift. But it’s much worse for some of our US colleagues who clock in 8-12 hours. Since only one PPE is allocated per shift, they wear adult diapers to avoid using toilets.
Our well fitted headgear allows no air leaks but our breathing becomes difficult in a matter of minutes. It is also very hot and suffocating inside. At times the goggles fog up and we can’t see. Since everyone looks the same in PPE, we have struck our names in the front. Communication between healthcare teams is another challenge. Even if I shout, my voice comes out as a mumble. During emergencies, we are extra cautious because even a small communication gap can trigger a lot of concerns. For now, a checklist is prepared in advance and most of our communication is done through sign language. By the end of the six-hour shift, all of us are exhausted and drained out. There are times that I have just wanted to step out and breathe in the fresh air, just for a few minutes. But I know these are luxuries for some other day.
Once the pandemic is over, I would love to visit my parents in Kolkata who are worried ever since I told them I would be on duty in the COVID ward. But I know it’s not possible in the near future. Life after COVID19 is not going to be a ball game, as we are expecting a surge of patients with other diseases who are currently in unmonitored home-based care.
When I entered the medical profession, it was with the sole view of serving people. Over the years and even now, I have seen so many cases of physical assault, abuses coming to light particularly on doctors, which make me question my career choice. Yet all of us get back to work with the same enthusiasm and dedication every day because we know that your life depends on us and we have taken an oath to protect it!