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Maybe India’s leaders, policy makers, judges should spend some time visiting a Covid ICU

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Maybe India’s leaders, policy makers, judges should spend some time visiting a Covid ICU
Raghu Krishnan
During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, quite a few journalists, especially those working for the TV news-channels, would spend an hour or so visiting the Covid iCU of hospitals. The telecasts would show scribes reporting from the nearest Covid ICU, covered head to foot in PPE (personal protective equipment). The scribes would report on how cumbersome it would be for the doctors and nurses to spend the entire shift in PPE without any kind of toilet or tea break.

During the ongoing second wave which has not just hit the cities but spread to the rural hinterland and which is far fiercer in terms of the number of new cases and deaths, visits by scribes to the Covid ICU are not that frequent, what with infected people dying outside hospitals because of the shortage of beds with oxygen and ventilators..

On May 11, one got a televised glimpse of the second wave on the frontline when NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain and Mariyam Alawi spent an hour in the Covid ICU ward of Delhi’s Holy Family Hospital. The situation, according to the hospital’s Critical Care HOD, Dr Sumit Ray, was grim, with almost every patient in the Covid ICU on a ventilator. Most of them were in a serious condition, having been moved to the Covid ICU from either the emergency or the general ward. The lungs of a few patients were 90% scarred. There was hardly any time for the medical personnel inside the ICU grieve over a fatality. As soon as a body was moved out, another patient in a serious condition was wheeled in. “If we had more beds, we could have saved more lives,” Dr Ray regretted.

The doctors and nurses in that particular Covid ICU were constantly on the move from one bed to the other. Some patients had to be turned over to rest on their stomachs so as to make breathing easier. A 29-year-old had recently delivered a baby inside the ICU. There were temporary victories like when the young mother could be taken off the ventilator but she had to be monitored for another 48 hours before being shifted out of the ICU.

The stress was constant and sometimes compounded by personal factors. There was this Senior Resident, Dr Vishal Gupta, whose mother had succumbed in the same ICU and whose father was in a serious condition there. There was another consultant, Dr Ruchi Gupta, who had to inform one of her colleagues that her husband had passed away. As she put it, “We just have 3 to 4 minutes to control our emotions.” Many of those dying during the ongoing second wave were in their 40s.

Asked whether they were worried about getting the infection, Dr Ray admitted that the airborne virus made the ICU a high-risk zone. He, however, added that the doctors and nurses hardly had any time to think of such things. either on the day-shift or the night-one which sometimes went on for as long as 14 hours. Dr Ray was proud of his doctors and very proud of his nurses. “The nurses do not get to rest even for a second,” he said.

Maybe, like the enterprising journalists, India’s senior leaders (from all political parties) and policy makers could spend an hour ivisiting a Covid ICU to get an idea of how much of an effort it takes to save lives and how grim the situation is on the “frontline” of the war being fought against the pandemic, which, at this point of time, clearly has the upper hand. Of course, in the rural hinterland, even doctors are not to be found in many primary health centres, with teachers sometimes taking care of the new infected cases in the primary schools, with some patients lying under trees and being administered drips which are connected to the nearest branch above.

Maybe a visit to the Covid ICUs in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad would enable the top leaders of India’s political parties to realize that the real and constant threat is the coronavirus and that they should put aside their partisan differences to work together for the people they claim to serve.

Maybe senior judges could also spend an hour visiting a Covid ICU. That could help them realise the need to give timely judgments on issues like whether hundreds of protesting farmers should be allowed to agitate for weeks and weeks on the Delhi border, without any form of social distancing or even the wearing of masks in many cases. And that too when the three farm laws being protested against have been stayed and are being examined by a committee set up by the Supreme Court.

A section of politicians claims that the pandemic can be defeated through positivity. Another section claims that the government’s errors of commission and omission have to be highlighted. A one-hour visit to the nearest Covid ICU could clear their minds and convince both sections that the only way of taking the country out of the grip of the pandemic is for everyone to get real and work together.

And, finally, one would like to request the national electronic media to stop telecasting visuals of ministers and celebrities getting their second dose of their vaccine. It is a constant irritant to those like me who had the first dose and are wondering when, if at all, the second dose would be feasible. When I had the first dose at noon on March 11 at Bangalore’s Manipal Hospital, I was then told that the second dose should be on April 8 or subsequently. However, on March 23, the government notified everyone that there should be a gap of six to eight weeks between the first and second dose. By the time six weeks had elapsed since my first dose, Bangalore was in a lockdown. And then we had an extended lockdown. And now we have been told to wait for 12 to 16 weeks. The only thing constant is that each time I click on Co-Win, everything seems to be fully booked till August 25. Which will take me well beyond 12 to 16 weeks. If the vaccine shortage persists, I am prepared to surrender my second dose in favour of anyone who is younger and has a family to take care of.

However, that doesn’t stop me from wondering how wonderful it would be if the customer-friendly staff of the hospital where I have been registered as a patient for decades (and where I am better known by my registration-number of 793775) told me when to come for the second dose instead of me trying in vain to get through to them? My maid and cook keep telling me that their livelihood depends on me, that I was one of the few to keep paying their salaries during last year’s prolonged lockdown, and that they rely on me to keep giving them an advance for any emergency. All of which would not be necessary if there was a proper social welfare safety net for the unemployed like the dole.

By the way, have you noticed that the anchors of BBC and CNN are nowadays looking much more cheerful while talking about Covid restrictions being lifted, thanks to the successful vaccination drives in the UK and the US where trials have even begun for children in the 12 to 18 age-group. Meanwhile, their counterparts in India look younger but grimmer while quoting experts on the need to not vacillate but vaccinate.

However, at this point of time, anyone in authority in India saying “Let them get vaccinated” sounds very much like Queen Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake” to the masses complaining about a shortage of bread in pre-1789 France!

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Views expressed above are the author's own.


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