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'We are bathing in Covid': a look at mental health of doctors

The Probe brings to you the voice of a team of emergency doctors who are in the thick of Covid duties at Mumbai’s Fortis Hospital

By The Probe
New Update

Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak, Mumbai has emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic in India. It is also amongst the world’s worst affected cities with cases of fresh infections rising at an alarming rate. The healthcare professionals of the city have been working tirelessly day in and day out to provide relief to the Covid-19 patients. The Probe got in touch with a team of emergency doctors in Mumbai’s Fortis hospital to understand the impact of the pandemic on their mental health.

Dr Sandeep Gore’s team of doctors in PPE kits (Left) and off PPE kits (Right) Dr Sandeep Gore’s team of doctors in PPE kits (Left) and off PPE kits (Right)

“We are literally bathing in COVID”

Dr Sandeep Gore, who has been leading a team of 12 doctors and 22 nurses in Fortis Hospital in Mumbai is faced with the challenge of treating dozens of patients everyday. “In the emergency department we see around 40 patients everyday, amongst those at least 25 are Covid patients. We are literally bathing in Covid because of higher number of infection rates in the city and the rise in number of hospital admissions,” said Dr Gore.

Long working hours in PPE and the fear of infecting family members

While the paramedics are clocking in long hours of work to save patients, most of the problems they face stem from the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they wear to keep the virus away. Jasmine, a nurse who is a member of Dr Gore’s team said that wearing PPE amid high temperatures and for long hours makes it extremely difficult for the healthcare workers to breathe. “Wearing PPE for more than 8 to 12 hours without going to the washroom, without eating food, without drinking water becomes very difficult for us. Sometimes we cannot even breathe, it suffocates us,” she said.

For Dr Vinit Srivastav, who is a consultant in the Emergency Department, it is a constant feeling of mental stress and uncertainty that bogs him. He fears that he may infect his family members sooner or later. “We fear that our parents or other people might get infected. That fear is always there. My biggest fear is passing the infection to my aged parents,” said Dr Srivastav.

Dr Sushil Shinde posted a selfie after getting discharged from the ICU Dr Sushil Shinde posted a selfie after getting discharged from the ICU

Tested positive while on duty, recovered and back to work

“I was tested positive for Covid. I was admitted to the ICU. All this while I was treating patients but after testing positive for the first time I was on the other side of the bed and that feeling was terrible. You feel helpless and you are dependent on others. That experience changed my life,” said Dr Sushil Shinde who is a Gynaecologist. As soon as Dr Shinde recovered from Covid, he immediately reported back to work. According to him, the experience of testing positive and the uncertainty that followed affected his mental health but it was the call of duty towards his patients that made him resume work.

“Recognise mental health as a substantive issue”

Dr Derek Yach, former Cabinet Director, World Health Organisation said that healthcare professionals are under extreme pressure to save lives during the pandemic. “We have to first recognise that this is a substantive issue that needs great attention. We have to allow space for the healthcare professionals to really talk about this and verbalise their feelings. They should have access to counselling,” said Dr Yach. Dr Pooja Patwardhan, Medical Director with the Centre for Health Research and Education in UK too emphasised on the need for counselling paramedics. “There shouldn’t be any stigma around asking for help, often people in that responsible position or profession feel guilty to seek help. There should be counseling support for healthcare professionals. They should have access to telephone counselling or online counselling in some form or the other on a regular basis,” she said.

“I am not an untouchable”

Even though health workers are battling against the virus, they are often victims of violence, neglect and discrimination. Many of them say they are being shunned by the same society they intend to serve. “My barber generally gives a haircut to most people by just wearing a mask but as soon as I come, he wears a PPE kit. It’s like discrimination. I am a potent source of infection for the society, so it is okay for them to panic in front of me but you know I am not an untouchable. I am just a part of the society that we are living in and I am helping the society,” said Dr Ashish Saran.

“Once a doctor, always a doctor”

The COVID-19 crisis has led to a rise in anxiety levels amongst doctors and paramedics. However, this has not deterred them from serving people. “Once a doctor, always a doctor. You can’t escape from it; you have to face it. If I don’t do anything, others are going to suffer,” said Dr Shinde. Stressing upon their intent to fight till the virus is eradicated, Dr Saran said, “We have held up for this long for several months. We will hold up longer. We will hold our fortress till the virus is eliminated.”

(This Social Impact Project has been supported by The Probe Oracle Member Chitra Subramaniam, CSD Consulting)