New Delhi: “One of the COVID-19 patients came from a very modest background. When I met her on the day of her discharge, I announced to my residents that she is going home today. The patient instantly asked ‘today?’ and I said, ‘do you want to go tomorrow?’ She spontaneously turned around and hugged me. One of the doctors had mobile with him so he captured the moment and that picture is really close to my heart as it emotes the doctor-patient relationship very beautifully”, recalled Dr. Shruti Tandan, Consultant Critical Care Medicine, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai, while speaking to NDTV.
43-year-old Dr. Shruti Tandan who has been in this profession for 15 years and is fighting the Coronavirus pandemic for almost six months now, shares her experience of being a frontline warrior. In conversation with NDTV, she takes us through the challenges and learnings of the COVID-19 pandemic and gives tips on how to fight the battle better.
Work Before Family, Dr. Shruti Tandan And Her Team Fight The Pandemic With Pride
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken the lives of lakhs of people across the world but it has also tested the endurance of those on the frontlines of this battle. Doctors, nurses, and other COVID warriors are working relentlessly and shouldering the burden of the contagious disease. However, in doing so, Dr. Tandan says that she has no complaints. In fact, she believes that these small contributions are nothing when compared to the crisis world is currently facing. She added,
I feel grateful that I am in a situation where at least I am able to do something to change the way things are.
For the same reason, Dr. Tandan asks people to not thank her for doing what she loves and what she has chosen to do. Dr. Tandan and her husband both are COVID warriors and despite being parents of two young girls who are just 6-year-old and 8-year-old, the duo continues to work without a line of worry on their forehead. Talking about how she protects herself and her family from the pandemic especially when she is at work daily, Dr. Tandan said,
When we are working in a COVID area, we try to maintain a social distance from our family members. Initially, we would even isolate ourselves but we realised that in the long run it is not possible so we take all the necessary precautions at work. We are very careful about how we wear and dispose PPE. After finishing our duty, we discard the PPE well and take a hot water shower. I repeat the same at home. We continue to meet our family unless there has been an exposure to a high risk contact or if either of us has even a slightest symptom.
Dr. Tandan, who lives with her mother-in-law and has her parents, brother and sister-in-law living in the same housing society, calls her family her ‘big support’, especially during these trying times. Further talking about the changes COVID-19 has brought along and how the ‘new normal’ has changed her, Dr Tandan says,
My days have melted into weeks and months and PPE seems now like a second skin. So much so that when I watch an old film or television series, the first thought that races my crazy subconscious mind is the missing masks and absent social distancing.
In the last few months, Dr. Tandan and her team of doctors have handled around 400 COVID-19 patients. But, Dr. Tandan feels it has been possible because of her resident doctors who decided to overcome their fears and didn’t bat an eye while walking in the ICU. Talking about her team, Dr. Tandan says,
We are a team of 24 of which 20 work in COVID ICU and this includes consultants, intensivists, and resident doctors. Jaslok was one of the first private hospitals to admit COVID patients. At that point, there were three brave women and two brave men who are my resident doctors; despite being 10-15 years juniors to us (consultants), they themselves volunteered to work in the ICU we had set up for COVID patients and decided to go in physically right from day one. I can’t say it is daunting because I am a little fearless and confrontational by personality but I do realise that a lot of my juniors were daunted. They overcame that fear and worked. As a salute to the inspiration they provided us, we as consultants and seniors decided to give them everything we can, including our physical presence in the ICU for taking physical rounds. It is easier to be fearless and continue to work rather than overcome your own inhibitions, put on a brave face and think about somebody else. This is why I would give them much more credit than I would really give myself.
While Dr. Tandan’s resident doctors inspired her, class 4 workers decided to not show up which became a test of team work. But as Dr. Tandan says, you cannot compromise and refuse to provide service because you don’t have the necessary ward boys and female attendants in the wards to clean up patients, bring medicines from the pharmacy, and carry blood samples and perform other such duties. The doctors and nurses took the challenge and overcame it like a team. Talking about the same, she said,
Probably it took a lot of reformists to abolish the caste system but it took COVID-19 to abolish this whole hierarchy. It tells you that COVID is a huge equaliser. I mean suddenly there was no work which was meant for doctors, nurses, or ward boys. We were all working as a team and doing things together and that created beautiful synchrony and a lovely harmony.
Tension Vs Positivity: Inside A Critical Care COVID Unit
As the name would suggest, the critical care unit hosts serious cases and the atmosphere inside the ICU might sound tensed but Dr. Tandan says that they try to keep things light unless there is a really serious scenario. At the end of the day, doctors are also human beings and they too need love and mental peace especially when a patient who was recovering well is snatched from their hands.
I always say, when you are in intensive care, you die many deaths before your own, noted Dr. Tandan.
On such gloomy days, Dr. Tandan and her team resorts to reading handwritten notes, messages that they have received over WhatsApp or email and collected over the years.
These things don’t come in abundance but reading them encourages you that every day is not a bad day and the sun does shine in between the clouds. Sometimes it is the patients that lift our spirits like when one of our patients was exclerated from a ventilator and was made to walk, she broke into a dance. She was so happy that she has defeated Coronavirus, recalled Dr. Tandan.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.