What a horrible year this is yaar!’ ‘I can’t wait for this year to end!’. Somehow I found myself and my friends say this often .. last year. Yes, in the year 2019. It seemed like a year of never-ending troubles and everyone thought the solution was to wait for the next year, 2020. Little did we know that 2020 is going to be the worst year that the last four generations have seen. To top it all, the source of this tragic year would be a microscopic organism and even after 9 months, barely be understood by us.
A virus has been the talk of the year and yet we don’t know anything about it. Its origin, course of its infection, treatment for it or even how it spreads so rapidly. It didn’t take it any time to cross the international borders, spread rapidly, affect humans like nothing ever has. At today’s date, everyone is exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally.
In these traumatic times, a group of people, rather a new era of warriors have risen to protect and save humanity in the form of doctors, nurses, technicians, policemen and delivery personnel. While most of the people have been asked to stay indoors in the safe confines of their homes, these people serve humanity like never seen before.
A congested, metropolitan city with a population of over 1.5 crore experienced a pace of spread of virus, that it needed an immediate plan of action. The Government hospitals which were already loaded with the sick, were jam packed further. Private institutions started allotting dedicated wards for patients suffering from Covid-19. But this still didn’t seem like the best possible solution as the number of cases especially the ones with mild to moderate symptoms rose exponentially. That’s when centres like ours came up. One of the biggest challenges in a city like Mumbai is to get space. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation found a solution to this too.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) started constructing a make-shift hospital at BKC grounds in the very heart of the city. With no prior experience of building a hospital spread over 10 hectares, MMRDA delivered the first facility, that is PHASE I within 15 days. This was then handed to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). The centre was well equipped with 1036 quarantine beds, oxygen pipelines, portable X ray and ultrasonography machines, an in house pathology lab, electrocardiography machines, vitals monitoring machines, equipped ambulances, CCTVs and so on. To top this, MCGM out did itself by making the centre paper free so as to reduce the spread of virus through contact with surfaces. Adequate computer systems were installed in each ward. They are being run by a specially designed software ‘Super dr COVID’ which is easy to use. Now with the infrastructure ready, the main task of hiring the people to work was at hand.
The title ‘Doctor’ is usually associated with allopathy practitioners. There has always been an unspoken superiority or demarcation between these doctors and other practitioners. Within allopathy also there are several branches of specialization broadly divided into medical and surgical. On a usual day, a squabble here, a disagreement there is often seen between the various speciality doctors. Now comes the pandemic! The whole community is shaken up. Today it doesn’t matter what kind of doctor one is. We soon realized this is a war and it can only be won if we all came together. This team is a team of ‘COVID warriors’.
I joined this centre a month ago with the aim to serve my society, to help in whatever small way I could to fight against this pandemic. I had often visited the MMRDA grounds at BKC for musical concerts, exhibitions and other social gatherings. I took me a minute to realize that this ground was now a dedicated COVID hospital, a makeshift hospital that didn’t exist till a few days ago. There are bold sign boards put up in the vicinity areas to guide towards the centre, There are even specific gates allotted to doctors, nurses and other medical personal to enter and exit and separate gates for ambulances and patients to enter from. At the very entrance, temperature is checked by a security guard and one then goes through a sanitizer station before entering the main area. Once inside, you are greeted by the 4 feet long map of the centre. Entering a covid facility can be scary, even for a doctor. But the décor of the place somehow inspired hope instead of fear.
I started working the next day. Over the next 4 days I was briefed with the use of the software, I met the various doctors working here and I learnt the protocols followed by the centre. Having worked in BMC hospitals for about 3 years now, I was used to the unhygienic work places, the practice of use of hand written notes and discharge summaries, the over worked interns and resident doctors etc. But here, I was surprised to see a completely new way of doing things. Everything was organized!
Now I saw no demarcation on the basis of what kind of doctor one is. Our team here has doctors who are either MBBS, MS, MD, DM, Mch, BDS, MDS, BAMS, BHMS, BUMS and BPT. I didn’t even know the abbreviations of half these degrees! Reality struck! This pandemic has done the impossible, it has brought us all together. We all have developed a different kind of skill set with our various courses, degrees, trainings, fellowships over the span of years. We all have the common goal of treating and serving mankind and here we are, all doing so together. A disease new to us, our understanding about it evolving with every waking hour needs a team of doctors. This team is supported by its backbone of nursing staff, technicians, ward boys and ambulance drivers. No team is streamlined functionally unless it has a leader. Our leader, Dr Rajesh Dere along with his group of administrators has been the guide this team needs.
Medical personnel are ordinary people handed with an extraordinary task. They are not only putting themselves in danger every day, they are doing this incredible work all alone without seeing their own family for months now. We all have elderly parents, grandparents and young children at home, who we cannot put in any danger due to our constant exposure to patients. As a result, this whole community of doctors have been staying away from their families for months together now. Some of us have even lost near and dear ones to the disease and yet choose to serve.
The task of donning the personal protective equipment (PPE) and spending 6 hours in the covid wards assessing and treating patients is a challenge in itself. The claustrophobia, the constant fogging of protective eye wear, the sweat, the nausea, the constant feeling of suffocation are made worse by the inability to drink water or use the restroom during the duty hours. Now imagine, all this and the need to be in a constant state of alertness to treat patients. And yet, 6 hours pass by and once doffed out of the suit, there is a sense of satisfaction and a tired smile seen on their faces. It’s a herculean task of balancing the physical discomfort and mental alertness.