For healthcare professionals in the newly carved Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (JK), working in stressful conditions, panic, and fear is an inherent part of their profession. The experience of treating conflict-affiliated injuries is nothing new and has been there for a decade. Now, however, there is an entirely new dimension being added to their workload. The medical professionals are now looking after patients of the novel coronavirus as well.
The medics have treated victims of bullets, pellet-guns, and tear-gas canister explosion amidst months-long sieges and lockdown. The outbreak of coronavirus, however, has thrown a renewed challenge to doctors in Kashmir despite their experiences.
The novel coronavirus has locked down the world as never before. The public healthcare system is overwhelmed in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle-East. In these unprecedented times, in a place like Kashmir, the healthcare professionals and support staff are on the frontline like never before.
We spoke to a few doctors from Kashmir Valley about their experiences, challenges, projection, and hope.
Dr. Syed Suriya Farooq, MD Pulmonary Medicine at (FCCP) CD Hospital described how she and the other staff have to “work like superhumans” in this trying time.
This hospital is the valley’s only tertiary care respiratory hospital, and thus they get referrals from the entire valley all year long. “Our patient number surges during winter months when we have to work like superhumans. Being a Pulmonologist I have been dealing with infectious diseases like H1 N1, TB, MRD, and even XDR previously. So I am provided PPE and my behavior with COVID-19 positive patients hardly differs from a non-COVID-19 positive patient,” she says. Her conversations make it clear she is not worried about herself, but the patients who’d be denied proper treatment due to a lack of equipment. However, she is apprehensive about her children against the anticipated steep rise in community transmission, as both she and her husband are doctors.
She still remembers the first case in CH Hospital Srinagar from Hyderpora. “That patient was referred to our hospital from SMHS Hospital with a travel history.We admitted him in isolation ward and sent his sample for COVID-19 testing. I strongly suspected him to be positive, which was then confirmed in afternoon.
We started his treatment as soon as we got his disease confirmation. But he was already in ARDS when he came to us. We tried our level best but lost that patient”, she concluded with regret.
Dr Naveed Nazir Shah, HOD prop. Head Govt. Medical College Srinagar (GMC), talks about the challenges COVID-19 has brought to the valley’s doctors. “Most of the patients who visit to the hospital are asymptomatic. As the fight is still going on, the doctors are fighting it on the frontline by risking their lives. Although the government had elaborate arrangements even before the first case was reported in the Valley, but there is always scope of improvement”, he explains. If any doctor gets infected, then all the staffs have to undergo quarantine for some period of time, which affects the patient care at a vitaljuncture.
Doctors of the valley have always been used to working with sparingly few resources and manpower, but the COVID-19 patients have brought about whole new challenges.
Though the doctors have been extremely brave at this point, it took a toll on them as well. Dr.Bikram Singh, Consultant at CD Hospital explains how this crisis felt like a “bolt from blue, unprecedented and catastrophic”. He explained how they’ve been trying to boost morale of the non-COVID-19 patients on telephone calls, as general OPDs remain out of reach. He tends to be brief, compassionate, and try to boost their morale. “We as doctor have over the years groomed and trained our minds that there is no point turning back to it and leave our patients helpless.Although the patients have been critical of doctors in the past, slowly they are realizing that God has made us from them”, he elaborates.
According to him, the most difficult experience was hostile patients who were admitted initially in large numbers and failed to understand that wecannot provides them five-star facilities in Government Hospital. They were very abusive and behaved like a hooligan. Now the scenario has changed.
Dr Mubashir Nazir, Registrar at CD Hospital explains how difficult it is to go home after treating coronavirus patients.
He explains, “Dealing with patients has not changed much except that we have to take necessary precautions and wear protective personal equipment. It’s difficult for me. I have to go home post duty, I’m always worried. Faith and motivation keep us going, and Allah’s promise that verily after hardship there will be ease. Yes everyone is afraid, there is a sense of despair all over but one should do his best and leave everything else on Allah. The most difficult thing is to maintain distance with the family, to go home post duty. It is very difficult and to make them understand what exactly the worldwide crisis is. You sometimes feel you are untouchable and people should maintain distance with you.”
The sense of apprehension for their families is common among healthcare workers, but so is the sense of duty for their patients. Dr M. YousufSood Nodal Officer at CD Hospital shares that “I think it is our oath as healers for needful patients despite limited resources. Like common people, we were also afraid as many doctors thought they would lose their life while treating Corona patients, and feeling of being lost by your beloved family. I have 7-month-old child whom I have not seen for 20 days due to crisis.”
Dr. Faheem Gul Sr. Medical Officer C.D Hospital told us how difficult the transition was during the pandemic. “In the initial days, when patients would come, we were afraid to handle them because had limited knowledge about the disease then. Our seniors who are already professors, despite the fact they are in upper age limit of life and more prone to get infected from Corona, made it a point to take everyday rounds of patients, keep everything in their hand, and guide us on all day to day affairs of the Corona management protocol”
The virus is not the only thing the healthcare professionals have to fight in the valley, but also a lack of proper kits, equipment, or even sympathy.Dr.Saiqa Zahoor Consultant Gynecologist at J&K Health Services, SDH Kreeri, says that they have made their own protection kits, but only Allah knows if they’re effective.
“Prior to this pandemic we had OPDs jam-packed, I used to see at least 200 patients per day.But nowadays it’s only 30 to 40 patients we are seeing mainly because of the lockdown and our refusal to see anyone who doesn’t have an emergency. I don’t know how to put it in words but as a doctor, I am very worried regarding the future of my brethren in terms that we might be suffering huge loss of life and livelihood. It’s very unnerving what the health workers are facing in the US and Europe. Allah forbids, if we have to share their experience,it will be very difficult. I have already lost my sleep and appetite thinking about the pandemic gripping my people. Faith in Almighty and His promise of mercy keeps me going. The love for my valley keeps me on toes. I will fight until my last breath. May Allah helps us defeat this invisible enemy”, she says.
Dr. Nida Masood is a house surgeon, who explained how the doctors have had to adapt to the evolving pandemic. “The situation has changed drastically. Previously we used to deal with patients that didn’t require as an immediate intervention as the COVID-19 patients do. Treating patients with COVID-19 requires alertness of mind.”
“As a healthcare worker, it is very necessary but dangerous to come in contact with a positive case of COVID-19 as we are aware of the current scenario in which health care workers are very prone to getting infected as they have to come in direct contact with the positive cases. Seeing the everyday struggle and success of all health care workers throughout the world is what keeps me going. As a server of society, I feel responsible for taking precautionary measures inside and outside of the hospital. The most difficult experience for any healthcare worker is to be there among positive cases of COVID-19 and after done serving, you need to go back to your loved ones risking them to get infected as well.”
The valley is no stranger to lockdowns or lives lost, but the present scenario has made the whole healthcare system work overtime and under enormous professional and personal pressure. With COVID-19 crossing 4 million cases worldwide, and 85,000 in India, their job does not seem to be getting easier anytime soon.
Mubashir Hassan is a freelance journalist based in Sri Nagar, Kashmir