‘In the past year, I got tested five to six times. It was only after I tested negative did I go and hug my family members,’ says the 32-year-old doctor who works at the Apollo Hospital in Kolkata.
For Dr. Dipshika Ghosh, speaking to family members over video calls and getting to embrace them only after ensuring that she has tested negative for the COVID-19 test has become a routine over the past year.
Since the pandemic began, Dr. Ghosh, like several other healthcare workers, has grappled with long duty hours and maintaining a safe distance from family members to ensure their safety.
“Since the pandemic began, all I do is go to the hospital and come back. I have not done anything else apart from maybe going to the grocery store at times. I do not let any of my family member go anywhere as I am already exposed due to my work,” she said.
The 32-year-old doctor who works at the Apollo Hospital in Kolkata said, “In the past year, I got tested five to six times. It was only after I tested negative did I go and hug my family members. I mostly speak to them over video calls or phone calls. I have the privilege to isolate completely and live on a separate floor. So I distanced myself since the pandemic began.”
On days when she does not order in, her food is left halfway on the staircase from where she picks it up once the family members have left, Dr. Ghosh said.
“I do not sit with them or eat with them. Even if I have to at times, I always have my mask on and am really far from them. They usually keep my food in boxes which I clean later and keep it at the same spot the next day.”
With the second wave hitting the country and because of her duty in the COVID-ICU, family members are now doubly scared about her contracting the virus, she said.
48-60 work hours a week
“I work in the critical care unit so I only see the very sick patients. The entire ICU unit has been divided into two teams which alternate between COVID and non-COVID ICU duty, according to the roster. We work anywhere between 48-60 hours a week apart from the extra shifts if we are required to do. The COVID shifts are eight hours long and once we wear our PPE kits we do not drink water, eat or go to the washrooms. We do not come out at all,” explained Dr. Ghosh.
From initially being apprehensive about the disease when it hit, to looking at other countries in order to get an idea on the course of action to be followed, to gaining a semblance of control only to lose it to the second wave, it had been an exhausting journey, she said.
“While initially we were apprehensive, we looked at other countries to get an idea and slowly developed certain things. Towards the end of last year, when the cases dipped a little we thought maybe there is some semblance of control and thought maybe we will also be able to put out videos like New Zealand did. But once things started opening up, people simply forgot that the coronavirus ever existed. When people started visiting all kinds of places without properly masking up or masks hanging from their chins, we knew that COVID would creep up again,” said Dr. Ghosh.
Healthcare workers have always dealt with difficult situations including breaking the news of a patient’s death to the family members, but not at this scale, she rued.
“We do deal with a lot of these situations and have done it before the pandemic as well but not at this scale. To see people not making it, is very difficult. Mentally and physically many people are past the breaking point but we are somehow trudging along.”
With respect to what lies ahead as far as the COVID-19 pandemic was concerned, Dr. Ghosh said, “There needs to be a massive shift in how people look at public health. You are being asked to mask up because we do not know enough about the disease. The concept somehow has to be driven to the people that public health measure is of utmost importance.”
“The medical system is massively under-financed and nowhere close to providing the quality healthcare that is required. Several times there are certain things we want to do but either don’t have the infrastructure or resources. People in positions of power who can take decisions need to strengthen this pillar,” said Dr. Ghosh.