‘I see young patients, gasping for breath’: A Kashmiri doctor’s account of Covid-19

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Note: The author of this article is a doctor, who didn’t wish to be identified for fear of reprisal from the Jammu and Kashmir administration. Last week, the administration barred the medicos from talking to media or posting institutional information on social media.

The situation is completely different from the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Amidst fear and despair, I report to a Covid designated hospital to take over my 24-hour shift as a senior resident, who is drenched in sweat.

The exhausted colleague gives me details of the Covid positive patients admitted in our labor ward; as he speaks, sweat drops from his hair to the sides face, so much so that I ask him: “did you shower here after duty?”

The postgraduates are drained and exhausted as well. The phones ringing continuously, new patients popping in endlessly. Surrounded by the much needful aura of the labor room patients, my personal phone rings tirelessly as well. 

There is such an uneasy calm around. Pregnant ladies at home are awestruck about their pregnancy outcome. In this hour of misery and poignance, no one expects a No from you. I don a PPE suit and rush inside. A list of patients queued up for emergency cesarean surgery. 

As I enter the Covid word, the scene is frightening. Unlike last year, I see young patients, gasping for breath. I have a line of patients that need to be operated upon. As I start the first case, sweat begins pouring in from my forehead, my face shield starts getting foggy. 

But against the odds, I muster courage and continue doing the surgeries. In between the cases, I visit my cousin who is admitted in the ICU. As I reach the ICU, the scene is even more horrendous — a 50-year-old man was just declared dead, there were cries all around.

My cousin, who our family knows as a diva, was on the bed with a bag and mask for oxygen and in diapers. I still can’t believe what I saw. Her husband is admitted as well, struggling with breathlessness in another ward. They have three young children isolated at their home. But I am a front line worker, I can’t even take the time to sob and vent out my misery. 

There is so much helplessness all around; attendants arguing over the lack of oxygen, people seeing their loved ones take their last breath. As the flow of patients continued, someone suddenly realised that it was time to break the fast but we were in the middle of emergency surgery, the patient was bleeding uncontrollably. My assistant and I struggled with visibility (our faceshield had fogged). 

We broke our fast two hours later, with a sip of water but only to rush back to the operation theatre within minutes. Then there was a sudden uproar in the labour room. A young pregnant woman was panting, her oxygen saturation had dipped dangerously low. Her husband and brother were weeping and screaming in despair, begging for help but arguing with us at the same time. 

Seeing her condition, I couldn’t comprehend who was more helpless: the woman and her family or us doctors. After hours of stabilisation, we operated upon her at 3 am. But her baby had died. After I removed my PPE kits after hours and reached, my whole body was still numb. The worries don’t end at the hospital.

After the duty hours, we are stressed about our family. This pandemic has brought with itself unprecedented solitude. We want to sympathise and empathise with our kith and kin but the fear of spreading the virus to our loved ones forces us to live in isolation, in our own homes.

In this thought, I got to know that the woman we had operated upon the past night could not make it and had expired. I remembered her husband and brother’s faces. Tears trickled down my face.

Amidst all this gloom, one can only make a heartfelt request to everyone around that please stay at home and follow the instructions being given. This disease is deadly and the fear of losing one’s loved ones is real. Don’t take things for granted. The chain needs to be broken. We as doctors are yearning to spend a normal life with our families again, please let that moment be a matter of the immediate future.

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