“IT’S been over a month since we sat next to our father and chatted with him. If we want to talk to him we go by the window in his room where he has self-isolated himself,” says Mehlab Gichki, 15, daughter of Dr Kamalan Gichki, one of the many doctors in Quetta who are on the Covid-19 frontline.
Caught between loyalty to their family and their patients, medical workers in the provincial capital of Balochistan have either been self-isolating themselves in their houses or living in hospital wards and hostels, fearful of transmitting the highly contagious new coronavirus to their loved ones, even if they have not tested positive so far as is the case with Dr Kamalan.
For most people, Covid-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms. For older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness. The vast majority of people recover.
Out of over 700 confirmed cases in Balochistan so far, 31 doctors, three nurses, 21 hospital medical staffers and technicians have tested positive for Covid-19, indicating the high level of their susceptibility and consequently their families.
Fear has certainly been transmitted to the children of the medical fraternity on the Covid-19 frontline.
A daughter reveals her concerns about her doctor-father treating infected patients
A student of 10th class at Quetta’s St Joseph’s Convent High School, Mehlab tells Dawn that she and her siblings, who live on Brewery Road, are social distancing and avoiding handshakes even within the family, including their grandfather Dr Naimat Gichki whom they meet once a week or so.
‘Better than before’
Ideally, health workers in Quetta should at least be given moral support with a round of applause every evening as has been happening around the world but instead they are being sorely tested, adding to their fears. In recent days they have had no choice but to come out on the streets, demanding personal protective equipment (PPE), without which they are at considerable risk.
But as was widely reported, on April 6 they were manhandled and baton-charged by police personnel and were even arrested. While the arrested doctors have since been released and the government has made many promises, the healthcare workers are not counting on them to fulfill all their promises.
Still, representatives of doctors associations say the situation is better following their protests. “The government has begun providing coronavirus medical gear. It is unsatisfactory but the situation is better than before,” says Dr Raheem Babar, spokesperson of the Young Doctors Association in Quetta.
He also points out that health officials from the provincial health department on their hospital visits are often seen wearing N95 protective face masks while the medical staff which is at the Covid-19 forefront is often without a regular face mask. “During this hour as I speak to you, another doctor has died of the new coronavirus,” says Dr Babar.
All medical staff treating infected or potentially infected patients wear N95 masks, which fit extremely closely and filter airborne particles and are considered essential for protecting healthcare professionals.
Besides Quetta, reports of Covid-19 cases in Mastung district are also emerging. Here, too, medical workers are desperately clamouring for protective gear and face masks.
Meanwhile, Mehlab has turned to various activities to cope with negative thoughts as specialists warn of the danger posed by Covid-19 on mental well being.
“I mostly keep busy with household chores, cooking, drawing and reading. I just finished reading The Teenage Brain by Dr Frances E. Jensen. This keeps me distracted from thoughts which are mostly about my father and his work at the hospital,” she tells Dawn of her life under lockdown and self-isolation as schools all over the country have closed due to the pandemic.
Anxious for her father, Mehlab nevertheless is also stoic and brave. “As a daughter I am afraid for my father. But this does not mean I want him to stop treating the patients, who need him now more than ever before. And I am glad he is at the forefront, caring for Covid-19 patients,” she says.
Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2020