‘We could save 95-97% lives, but watching family, friends go was devastating’
Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director of Medanta, shares that the second wave shook the medical fraternity. “It all started last March, then there was a dip for two to three months, before it started raging again earlier this year. If you look at it, the frontline COVID warriors were under huge stress anyway, but the problem was that the second wave was four times the first wave, and it basically shook the whole system because there was shortage of beds, shortage of oxygen, and of medicines. And so we all struggled day and night and the virus was so virulent that lots and lots of people lost their lives. And this time, it struck the middle class and the young, and a lot of people did not make it. That was very depressing for all of us. We are used to saving lives and for us to have to suffer this kind of mortality in our patients was very demoralising and depressing. Still, we could save 95-97% of the lives but the young people going, people you knew going, family members of doctors and friends going… this was a very devastating period. And the only thing we hope is that it never comes back, although the virus is still around,” he says.
The doctor advises people to follow the practice of personal lockdown. “It means you are observing masking everywhere, especially when you go out. You can also try double masking. Offices have to be responsible for distancing, ventilation and no crowding. Life must be restored, but the main thing is that we do it deliberately and responsibly,” he shares.
‘Loss of mentors, teachers, co-workers was devastating. Healing will take time’
Dr Anupam Sibal, Group Medical Director and Senior Pediatrician, Apollo Hospitals Group, says, “One took so much for granted. Seeing at close quarters how fragile life can be, has given one an opportunity to value this gift of life more than ever before. India has lost 1500 doctors in this fight against COVID. The loss of mentors, teachers, and co-workers who have sacrificed their lives in this battle has been devastating. Healing will take time. An opportunity arose to manage time better as there was just so much to do – administrative work, clinical care, motivating staff, interacting with distraught family members, or constantly updating knowledge. Doctors and researchers came together across the globe and unravelled the genome of SARS-COV-2 in days. Diagnostic kits were developed rapidly, clinical and vaccine trials were initiated in record time. Our understanding has improved considerably in managing patients with COVID-19, we now have efficacious medication and vaccine administration has taken place on a war footing. What would have taken five years has been achieved in months,” he explains.
He adds, “Together we can, we shall, and we will overcome this pandemic.”
‘We had no idea whether we were going to be alive or dead by the end of the year’
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, Founder and Chairman, Narayana Health, shares, “When the COVID wave started, we had no idea whether we were going to be alive or dead at the end of the year. It was like going to the war front with no guarantee that you will come back. But we came to terms with it, thanks to the families. Still, the pressure remained until the vaccine came. The vaccine changed everything. But the beauty of this (period is that), it has made us relook at our lives, our future, the meaning of life, purpose of the profession, everything has been reset now. And all the doctors who have survived, they are now 100% better doctors, better human beings. COVID has taught a lot about life and the future. It has made us better people.” He also emphasises that it’s the nurses and young doctors who fought in the trenches on a day-to-day basis. “The entire COVID ward was taken care of by the nurses first, then the young doctors. Senior doctors like us were like the generals guiding them, rather than fighting with COVID on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
The doctor adds that going forward, during the unlocking process, we need to reset our expectations. “People are thinking that one day, COVID will disappear from the earth and life will be back to normal. That may not happen. We have to accept that COVID is going to stay so every individual should be responsible for their life and the life of their loved ones. But since life has to get back to normal, policies have to encourage and reward vaccination,” he shares.
‘The second wave took a huge toll on the mental health of healthcare workers’
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guleria shares that the second wave was difficult for the healthcare workers because of the surge in the number of cases. “It was challenging as one had made preparations but the sheer number of cases caused such a strain on the healthcare system. We had to really innovate in many ways. We saw the loss of many healthcare workers too, it really was quite disturbing,” he says.
He adds that the trauma faced by junior doctors and nurses during this time, and its impact on them, needs to be addressed. “We need to do more. At our hospital, we have asked healthcare professionals, especially junior doctors, to reach out to us. The second wave had a huge impact on the mental health of healthcare workers, who had to deal with a huge number of patients, emergencies and deaths in a short span of time. One talks a lot about the mental health of patients, but we also need to look at the mental health issues faced by doctors, after what they have been going through for more than a year now.”
Going forward, he explains that people need to continue following COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB). “There are two-three things that we need to do. One is that we need to aggressively continue to educate people and alter human behaviour, so that we are following proper measures like masking, physical distancing, washing hands, etc – all of which are still very important. One has a tendency to develop a lax attitude because of the duration of the pandemic. However, it’s CAB that will help us get out of the pandemic along with vaccination. The second most important thing that we need to do is to basically develop strategies vis a vis vaccination and the monitoring of any area where there is an increase in the number of cases. Reopening of schools, colleges and other activities like gyms should depend on the number of cases in the area. It’s like a reward and punishment system – if you follow COVID Appropriate Behaviour and cases are less, there will be freedom and if you don’t follow it and there are more cases, there will be more restrictions.”