April is the cruelest month of the year, said Eliot. Nowhere has it proven to be more true than India of today where the second Covid wave has struck with a vehemence and intensity neither foreseen nor prepared for. Jammu and Kashmir has been no exception to this tragic turn of events, and its healthcare is equally swamped.
While both regions are grappling with unprecedented deaths, Jammu seems to have suffered the worst for it. The death rate there appears to be higher than the rest of the region as it suffered the ignominious distinction of becoming the first district in the UT to register over 1,000 deaths linked to the pandemic since its outbreak last year. The pressure on healthcare workers is immense, therefore, as all eyes are trained on them while they deal with a deluge of patients and insufficient infrastructure.
The Kashmir Monitor caught up with Dr. Khawar Nissar, Senior Resident, Department of Internal Medicine, Government Medical College Jammu to get a glimpse into the pressures and routines of a doctor at the forefront of disease combat in the region. Following is a first person account as narrated by him, that draws up a picture of the ordeal frontline workers encounter on a daily basis.
I am no stranger to death or serious illness as my profession demands I encounter the realities of sickness and death on a daily basis. Having been born and raised in Kashmir, tragedy too is not unfamiliar. Religion also teaches every living being shall taste the cup of death. Yet, nothing – neither my training, nor my faith, nor experience has prepared me for the deluge of death and destruction that plays out every day in my workplace.
Every day, without fail, patients of my age or younger than me come to the hospital with full blown lung pneumonia gasping for breath. The saturation levels are as low as 30-40 at the time of admission, which basically implies that their lungs are completely shot. To see a person with all their dreams and aspirations before them, and a life of promise collapse before your eyes is not just saddening, but also quite traumatic. You can’t help but see your face in every patient, and dread the apprehension of you suffering the same fate. I try to push these thoughts away, as all my focus is on saving the patient, but it lingers in some faint corner of the mind.
No sooner do I close my eyes for a moment or two, then these fears come rushing back and I break out in cold sweat. Even if I don’t dream of these fears, I dream continually of patients being rushed in with low saturation, and I am frantically trying to stabilize them without avail. Even my sleep is no longer my own!
Sweat reminds me of the PPE kits I have to wear over my scrubs in blistering heat with temperatures in excess of 40 degrees. To attend to patients with so many layers of clothing is nothing short of torture. It makes me sweat so profusely, and the PPE feels so heavy as the clothes become soaking wet with sweat. To take it out is not an option, so I must soldier on even if at times I feel I will faint from the heat. But, some days when I see a patient stabilizing or recovering, I feel it is just a reward for sweating so profusely.
But such moments are rare and far in between. I will never forget this one young patient of my age who was attended by his mother. Her concern and tender love for her son was reflected clear as day in her eyes. It reminded me of my mother, whose concerns and apprehensions are always mirrored in her quivering voice, no matter how hard she pretends to put a brave front. Every day, I wish to pour my heart out to my mother, but every day I refrain for fear that she will imagine the worst and be very worried. Sometimes, I think I will speak about my trauma to a friend but which friend will understand what it means to be on call in a 24 hour shift for a week, and spend a week in quarantine isolated from the world? There is no language invented yet that will voice my grief. It will have to wait, yet. Intizaar aur sahee, intizaar aur sahee….
As told to Hirra Azmat