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New Delhi: “The pandemic has challenged us in a way that I could have never imagined,” said Dr Pruthu Narendra Dhekane, Consultant- Infectious Diseases, Fortis Hospitals Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru while talking to NDTV about his experience of fighting the pandemic from frontline. On this National Doctors’ Day which is celebrated on July 1 every year to honour the dedication and work of doctors, we bring to you the experience of 33-year-old Dr Dhekane, who is one of the youngest doctors at Fortis Hospitals, has been serving in the Covid ward since the beginning of the pandemic without any break.
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According to Dr Dhekane, the pandemic has been hard on doctors but what inspires him to go on even in these difficult times is the satisfaction of seeing patients recover. He said,
When we are able to cure a patient and send him home and when patients say that they are feeling better, that is something very motivating. But in some unfortunate times when we are not able to save a patient despite our best efforts, then also, as a medical challenge, it keeps us motivated to know what else could have been done to save the patient.
COVID-19 Outbreak: So Much Has Changed So Quickly
Since the pandemic started, Dr Dhekane’s working hours have increased from the usual 8-9 hours to 12 to sometimes 14 hours during the peak phase of the pandemic, this includes both Covid and non-Covid duties. The pandemic has also brought changes in many aspects of healthcare including the manner of treating a patient, treatment protocols, dealing with families of patients, working with the personal protective equipment (PPE), interacting with people, said Dr Dhekane.
With so many changes that the pandemic has brought with it, it feels like we are still adjusting. In terms of treatment protocols, we keep up with all the guidelines and international literature to be able to provide the best possible treatment. During the first wave, all of us doctors on Covid duties used to meet once in a day to understand each other’s experience and learnings and to discuss new findings in the field of Covid related researches going on across the world. Things have changed not just in terms of treating patients but also in terms of dealing with their families and explaining things to them. There is no 100 per cent treatment for Covid anywhere and so we try and do whatever best is possible. Explaining this to patients and their families is still not easy. On top of it, working in PPE is itself a very challenging situation. Since the body is covered entirely from head to toe and there is a face shield also, one needs to talk on the top of their voice in order to communicate with patients, their families and colleagues which is very exhausting.
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COVID-19 – The Second Wave
The second wave, according to Dr Dhekane, came a lot more rapidly than they could have imagined. He said that the hospitals were slightly unprepared for it because of which there was a strain on the medical supplies including hospital beds, oxygen, medicines and other such things. The speed with which the second wave went up also put a lot of strain on manpower, he said. Dr Dhekane added,
It was like going to war every day and this is not an exaggeration. During the second wave, my day used to start at 8 am with my rounds of visiting and examining each patient in the Covid ward till 3 pm-4 pm. At any given point during the second wave, there used to be at least 180 patients. After finishing Covid rounds, I used to remove the PPE which takes about half an hour and shower. This was followed by examining patients with mild-Covid which we used to do in out-patients (OPD) settings. The consultations for mild-Covid patients used to run till 7 pm-8 pm. After this, we had to finish consultations for our non-Covid patients which also included online consultations. I used to reach home by 12 am. The only time I used to get then was to just eat my dinner, rest and prepare myself for the next day’s battle.
In the last two weeks, however, the number of patients has significantly come down, he said, because of which the Covid related work has gone down. However, the work related to post Covid complications is still high.
While the challenges were much higher during the second wave, there were times when Dr Dhekane felt proud of working on the frontlines. Sharing one such moment, Dr Dhekane said,
A young American came to India to get married in February when the second wave was still not on the peak. Here, he contracted the virus and got severely ill. Both families were very worried. He fought a really hard fight and got better in about a month. Just a few days back he contacted us and told us that he has finally got married. He expressed his gratitude and even mentioned us to the US media. This was extremely motivating for us.
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COVID-19: The Risk Is Always There
According to Dr Dhekane, while he has managed to not get infected by Covid in the past one and a half years, some of his teammates did get the infections.
We are fighting COVID-19 as a team. We have a team of Infectious disease specialists, pulmonologists, critical care specialists, resident doctors, staff nurses who are working day and night towards patient care. Each person is very important and even though we follow all preventive protocols at the hospital, there is always a risk of getting the infection. Some of my colleagues did get a severe infection but all have recovered well thankfully, said Dr Dhekane.
While talking to NDTV, his wife Dr Reshma Raghunath Ranade, Eye Specialist at a private hospital shared her concerns regarding her husband working in the Covid ICU settings. She said,
I am really proud to see the way he has been working so tirelessly through the pandemic. It is a stressful profession. I know this but I still sometimes get apprehensive wondering if he is taking all the necessary precautions at work because they are so overburdened with so many patients that it just might not be possible to be careful every moment. So as a wife, I am still always scared but as doctors, we have taken an oath to risk our lives to heal others. I try to remind myself of that every day.
On the risk of them getting infected or being a carrier of the virus, Dr Ranade said that as a couple living in the same house, they face this risk every day. She said,
Both of us are fully vaccinated but the risk is still there because we are still learning about the virus and the vaccines. We have given much thought to methods to ensure that the virus does not spread to the house. We take all necessary precautions like frequently cleaning hands, always changing into fresh clothes before leaving work for home. At home, we clean the frequently touched surfaces every day. This is the reason that we have not met our parents for over a year now. We are just two people in the house and both of us try our best to keep the virus away from entering our house.
She added that it is difficult to understand why anybody would attack doctors when they are trying their best and are continuously working towards healing people even while risking their own health.
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Maintaining Physical And Mental Health
One mantra for maintaining mental health during the pandemic that Dr Dhekane swears by is to stop talking and thinking about Covid once he is out of the hospital. He said,
Once my hospital work is over, I avoid discussing anything about Covid. I listen to some music while driving back home and at home, I try to call my family and friends and connect with them to take my mind off from Covid. While there is very little time that I get for myself these days but when I get time, I also do a little bit of exercise. I try to ensure that I take a proper balanced diet every day with fruits and vegetables to keep my energy level high.
Maintaining physical and mental health is extremely important for doctors to be able to give their 100 per cent efforts to patient care, he said.
During the stressful days of medical crisis that the pandemic that brought upon all the healthcare workers, partners and families can play important roles in supporting the healthcare workers, said Dr Ranade. She said,
It has been about three years of our marriage out of which almost one and a half years have been medical emergency years. We were newlyweds when suddenly this crisis hit us and we stopped getting time to spend with each other. But I understand that as spouses, we cannot be selfish in the times like these. We need to support our partners. I have taken up almost all the responsibilities of the household and try to not bother him with anything as much as possible.
Dr Dhekane highlighted that there have been days in the past one and half years when he felt mentally exhausted and demotivated. On those days, his wife has pushed him to go to work and reminded him how many people are dependent on him. He said,
Working on the frontlines without any break would have been impossible without the support of my wife and so much of love and blessings of my parents and other family members.
Learnings From The Pandemic
Dr Dhekane said that the pandemic has changed and will continue to change the healthcare landscape in the country to a great extent. He said that earlier healthcare was not given as much importance as it demands. From budget, policy for healthcare, medical education and medical training system, to improving healthcare infrastructure, stock of medical equipment in both urban and rural settings, everything is changing for the better now, in order to be prepared for medical emergencies like COVID-19 and its multiple waves, he said. While talking about one of the major learnings during the pandemic, Dr Dhekane said,
The pandemic has definitely taught us that prevention is always better than cure. Most people had let down their guard and social behaviour which is the usage of masks, physical distancing, and hand wash. These have heavily contributed to the second wave along with virus mutations. Therefore, infection control practices are something that should never be missed even if the number of cases has reduced. If we don’t do this, we will have to face the third wave very soon.
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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.