There’s a war raging out there now: COVID-19. It’s much worse than that any human kind has ever seen before—so much so that the basic human survival is a big fat question mark. They say mankind had prepared itself to combat any war with its heavy artillery, tech-aided weapon systems, yet we find ourselves helpless in fighting this battle.
I am Dr. Mehek Kukreja, a resident pursuing dermatology in India. The residents are known as the backbone of the system, and all my colleagues from various departments are working in COVID-19. We are amongst the forefront health care providers, the so-called front line warriors in this pandemic. It sure is a mental battle for every human, but it certainly is a grueling one for the medical community.
Going into this battle first requires a lot of gear. Our PPE (personal protective equipment) consists of multi-layered clothing, which includes scrubs, an OT cap and gown, two layers of gloves, three layers of masks, two layers of shoe covers, a face shield, and a goggle. Wearing the entire PPE set in a non-air conditioned room full of COVID patients, especially in this burning summer heat, is beyond exhausting. It’s like a super-heated sauna you don’t want to be in. And did I mention a normal shift in the coronavirus outpatient department (OPD) ranges from 8-10 hours?
What makes it worse is that you can’t even wipe your own sweat. Our goggles fog up constantly and visibility fades away. Even breathing becomes really difficult within minutes of entering the OPD. Even at our loudest we aren’t audible enough to our patients. We are dehydrated during the shift, but we CANNOT eat, drink, or even pee for fear of contamination. All we have to do is wait for our duties to come to an end because we cannot afford to waste more PPE, as it is expensive to replace and there’s not enough of it to accommodate us all. Each minute in that room feels like an impossible task. You want to quit but you can’t—and you won’t. It’s human life we’re talking about, after all, and we’ve sworn to protect it under any circumstances whatsoever.
Working in COVID-19, I have witnessed patients succumbing despite our best efforts, the young and the old alike. I’ve seen entire families admitted in wards, unaware how critical the other is. I’ve seen patients unable to bid goodbyes to their loved ones because they themselves are infected. I’ve seen seriously ill patients running from one hospital to another because of the lack of beds.
It’s surreal and scary. The fear of getting infected by the virus is real, as it is spreading faster than we can fathom. The uncertainty of the situation day by day can be overwhelming and it leaves us hanging on the edge. But I also see bravery in everyone surrounding me. Here we are holding up stronger than yesterday, taking it one day at a time as it comes.
Recently, governments in various countries have decided to lift lockdowns because businesses were suffering and the economy was feeling the pinch. Over two-thirds of states in the US have begun easing restrictions to restart the economy. Like other parts of the world, businesses have resumed with fewer employees and customers, social distancing measures, and guidelines mandating the use of face masks.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus is still very much present amongst us, and it is no joke. While the US and Brazil alone share more than a third of the global cases, it is spreading like wildfire in India and parts of Europe. Yemen is said to be suffering the worst humanitarian crisis. In India the number has reached 5 lakhs (five hundred thousand), while the United States is the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with over 1.4 million cases. The whole world is in a situation where quarantine seems to be both a backup and necessity.
As the number of active cases increases, so does the risk of catching the virus. And now with all the asymptomatic and mild cases being treated at home, the risk has increased further. You can never know which person you meet on the street has an infected family member at home, or worse, is infected themselves. So please understand that THE RISK OF GETTING INFECTED IS MUCH MORE TODAY THAN IT WAS EVER BEFORE.
So please please please do not make the mistake of taking this lightly. Please understand that the release of the lockdown doesn’t mean the chances of getting infected have reduced now. As a doctor, it is disheartening to witness an increasing number of cases and deaths every day. It feels like there is a second wave on the way. Also, a big shout-out to all my fellow colleagues around for being brave by putting their life at risk and serving selflessly. It’s not an easy road ahead, I agree. But we’re in it together, and will come out of it stronger than ever before.
Stay strong. Stay safe. Take care.
– A thoroughly exhausted COVID warrior.
Images: theskaman306 / Shutterstock