It was March 24, a breezy Tuesday in Karachi when the lockdown in Sindh came into full swing. Everything came to a standstill. Having recently started a job as a lecturer at a medical school here, I was excited to explore the world of medical education prior to starting my clinical training. But with the announcement of social distancing, all that excitement and anticipation dissipated. I was left with the question of what to do now.
The answer came to me while I was scrolling through Twitter. I realized that I could help by writing and connecting the doctors on the frontlines with people staying at home.
As a medical doctor, I have friends in the profession who are dealing with this very real and scary problem in a terrifying way. I pulled up my MBBS batch WhatsApp group and fired out a message.
One such brave soul, Dr Komal Moorpani, a 29-year-old paediatric resident trainee at a hospital in Keamari, was eager to share with me a day in her life. Her shift is 8:30am to 3:30pm and she has to do a 30-hour call every fourth day. She sees roughly 15 patients a day.
She sent me a voice note about how she felt. It sounded raw. I am sharing what she said here:
“Sigh. It hasn’t been easy on us. We as doctors are expected to respond to crises like this calmly, stay strong, don’t fall sick! I mean, if we fall sick we are still supposed to perform our duty, you know. “Basically we ignore everything we tell our patients to do! Like we’re the ones at the frontline, right? But, there is, a palpable tension we all feel every time we enter this building.
“In the beginning, for the sake of consoling ourselves, we kept saying, ‘Oh this is like a severe flu epidemic. We’ll deal with it like we have dealt with EVERYTHING thrown at us so far.’ I mean, how bad could it be, right?
“But when I saw family and friends starting to work from home, people coming in droves to the hospital to get tested, the ER and wards becoming overwhelmed with patients, it finally hit me and the panic started to set in a bit.
“Over these past few days things are getting serious and worse, even though my training as a doctor flips a switch, saying I gotta be calm. But it’s just so, so difficult… I mean we’ve been denied our RIGHT to PPE! (Personal Protective Equipment) (Samaa Digital discovered that after initially being unable to supply PPE, this hospital did get some gear).
“Some of the doctors are protesting as well. It’s scary man. We’re putting our health and lives at risk. Having to test and treat suspected COVID patients without the right protective gear is scary.
“As paediatricians, we also had panicking parents coming to us, worried that every little cough or sniffle is coronavirus. No matter what I feel on the inside, on the outside, dressed in my physician’s garb, with NO PROTECTION, I am supposed to smile, be calm, soft spoken and comforting to the parents of the children I treat. Any one of these kids could have COVID. It takes a lot out of a person when you are scared but at the same time, you have to be cautious of the sensitivities of our patients and their parents. Every change of tone and expression is being judged. It can be surreal at times.
“We had three staffers who were COVID positive and the entire family was sitting around watching TV, but I was alone sitting in a corner and couldn’t stop crying once I found out.
“It’s been days, I have not hugged or kissed my parents. I can’t be affectionate towards my husband. I can’t take care of my cat out of fear of making her a carrier of the disease. I’ve stopped doing make-up, my hands are cracked from all the hand washing and sanitizing. (She uses glycerin because cream doesn’t work). I keep my clothes separately from the entire household. My sister-in-law had called me, and I couldn’t even pretend to be normal.
“My mind has this amazing ability to shut off when paranoia takes over. I’m either sleeping or working like a robot. I usually go and do dishes to stay calm. I’ve been taking warm water with lemon, honey and kalonji. I’ve had a home-cooked diet. Dying for chaat and panipuri though…
“I can keep going on. I love my job—but it is not easy.”
Dr Fahd Khan is a general physician, published researcher and takes a keen interest in medical education