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The Corona Experience

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11 Oct '23
8 min read


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It was a typical day for me, a second year aneasthesiology resident posted in the urology operation theatre, when a nurse frantically announced that the hospital supply of masks had drastically reduced. Little did we know that this was the beginning of one of the most challenging phases of our lives.

           Within a month, the entire nation had come to a standstill. We were all quarantined in various hotel rooms across the city and then began our covid duties. We were posted in the covid intensive care units and our eight hour shifts soon started with the donning of our personal protection equipment(ppe). In the beginning, it seemed difficult, being covered from head to toe in our ppe kits and wearing two layers of masks, which made us feel suffocated. But this was nothing compared to the everyday struggle of the patients who were infected by the virus. They were isolated from their family, their only communication was through infrequent video calls. Since most of the patients were conscious with masks connected to the ventilator, even simple tasks like eating their meals became strenuous. The minute they removed their mask to take a bite, they would gasp due to the lack of oxygen and their mask would be reinstated. We could sense the fear in their eyes when the condition of a patient on the opposite bed deteriorated. The relatives of the unconscious patients would be in agony as they called the covid ICU to enquire about their condition. Each day as residents, our learning curve was expanding. New protocols were arising, different drugs were being proposed for treatment and a massive number of ventilators arrived at the hospital. A sense of panic arose within us as many of our colleagues too started to test covid positive. It was a very difficult task for us, as we had to treat our patients and at the same time ensure our own safety. This was especially problematic in the operation theatres, to assess whether the patient who had arrived for an emergency surgery was covid positive or not, since rapid testing kits were not available at that time. Hence during the intubation of each patient, we had to take utmost precaution.

           Towards the end of the first wave, I had an acute exacerbation of asthmatic bronchitis for which I was put on steroids and an inhaler. My upper airway passages would collapse at certain times due to which I found it difficult to breathe, yet my lungs remained unaffected. But these patients affected by the coronavirus had infected lungs due to which proper oxygenation was not possible. Hence, they were dependent on a constant external supply of oxygen.                                               

           Covid vaccinations were made available to us frontline workers in the month of January and gradually once we were all immunized, the rest of the ones in our family were given the vaccine. The first wave gradually waned and just as we thought everything was going back to normal, the second wave hit us like a bolt of lightning. This time the virus was more virulent, the severity of the disease was much more and younger patients were also affected. There were lines of ambulances carrying patients waiting to be admitted. Soon, the first line of treatment was being offered inside the ambulances for the benefit of the patients. The number of patients kept multiplying exorbitantly each day. General wards and preoperative rooms were being converted to intensive care units. Ventilators arrived in bulk to meet the huge requirements of the hospital. The number of patients under our care had doubled as compared to the first wave. The second wave proved to be a challenge indeed as we juggled from one patient to another in their times of dire need. 

          To further add to the situation, we were now the exam going batch of residents. Our postgraduation exam which was based on our three years of experience was around the corner, hence we were expected to submit our thesis and prepare for seminar presentations as well. So, we had the responsibility of caring for our patients, taking care of our own health and at the same time studying for our exams. Around a week before the actual exam date, the number of corona cases peaked and hence our exams were postponed indefinitely. We hence continued our corona duties, unsure of our exam dates.

         Within a month into the second wave, my maternal grandfather aged ninety years, who was bedridden tested corona positive. My duty had just ended and hence I decided to accompany my mother to visit my grandfather who, at that time according to the guidelines, was under home quarantine. My mother’s elder sister(aunt)had been taking care of my grandparents at that time. Initially my grandmother and aunt both tested covid negative. My grandfather’s condition however began to deteriorate in two days and his oxygen saturation started dropping. We were in a dilemma whether to admit him in a covid care centre or to treat him at home. As we contacted each centre, many of them were completely full and were admitting only critical patients. There was a lack of supply of oxygen cylinders too in many places. Hence finally we bought an oxygen concentrator and I started treating him at home with oral drugs, prone positioning and oxygen therapy. He was extremely compliant to the treatment and the efforts put in by him, with respect to positioning at his age, with his frail body was commendable. 

         At that time, suddenly an announcement came from my college that our exams were going to be conducted in twenty days, and that we were granted study leave. But just as my grandfather was showing slight improvement, both my grandmother and aunt became symptomatic and tested corona positive. Since my grandmother was diabetic, we admitted her in a hospital. My aunt too was diabetic and was taken to a covid care hospital in another city where her son lived. As both my grandparents’ condition was stabilizing gradually, I immediately left by car the next morning on hearing that the condition of my aunt was deteriorating due to her uncontrolled diabetes. Throughout the car journey my mind was filled with the sweet memories I had spent with my aunt. During my vacations, I would stay for a few days at her home. She was a person who cared for everyone like her own children. She would always cook special meals for me and then we would jump on the bus and travel to the nearest theatre to watch a movie together. Then we would eat her favourite burger and fries later in the evening. Another fond memory of my aunt and cousin brother travelling hundreds of kilometres just to attend my undergraduate convocation also cropped up in my mind.

            Once I reached the hospital where my aunt was admitted, I rushed to the ward to see her. I could see that she was facing immense difficulty to breathe even with her facemask on maximum oxygen support. Her glucose levels fluctuated rapidly. Even prone positioning was not helping her as time passed. Hence it was decided that she was to be shifted to the intensive care unit and put on ventilator support. Her repeat chest xray was taken and it was seen that her right lung was almost completely affected. I was allowed to accompany her, fix her mask and attach her ventilator. Just as I was about to leave, my aunt asked me if these were her final days. It was already incredibly painful for me having to watch her struggle to breathe, and now this question for which I had no answer was raised. For once I was glad that I was wearing my PPE kit, as it hid my tears. My voice choked when I told her that she would soon heal. I knew I was providing a sense of false hope but I had no other choice. I then had to return back to my college, as the senior doctors of that hospital were assigned to care for her. With a heavy heart, I flew back home to prepare for my exams which I had in ten days. It was extremely difficult for me to concentrate because the condition of someone so dear to me was rapidly deteriorating. Finally, a week before my exams the news had arrived that my aunt had passed away. For two whole days I was numb and cried bitterly. But I had my exams soon and hence had to gear up and study. I somehow gave my exams with a straight face. A month later we did get our results. I had passed with distinction, but the sorrow that my aunt was not with me to share this joy affected me to a great extent. 

         This entire era of the coronavirus taught us that life can be uncertain at times and hence one should value and cherish even the smallest joys which come our way.

 

 

Category : Personal Experience


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Written by Satvika