I am a doctor, working as an anesthesiologist and a frontline worker in one of the leading tertiary care hospitals in Lahore. Continuing to fulfill my oath and moral obligation towards health care and society, I too was part of the Covid ICU for two months. I say ‘was’ because I started writing this piece while still being quarantined after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Working in the Covid ICU is a struggle in itself. Wearing the personal protective equipment (PPE) is a task in itself, involving the three-layered clothing in this hot and humid weather, with three masks all tightened up on one’s face, besides eye care goggles that fog up within minutes of entry into the ICU. One can’t breathe, see, eat or touch one’s face.
Out of the ICU, the fear of infection and being an asymptomatic carrier with families to go back to is also daunting. There is immense anxiety, hysteria and panic, more so among the doctors who see the worst possible outcome of Covid-19 complications.
As a doctor, I was living in isolation even before I was diagnosed with the Covid-19. Restricting my interaction with the family, I would have my cup of coffee outdoors instead of the comfortable lounge. Unfortunately, after two months of the Covid ICU duty, one fine day, the first symptoms of the virus started appearing in the form of intense fatigue and fever that did not allow me to get out of bed in the morning. A dozen thoughts rushed through my mind; thoughts about the coronavirus, my parents and dozens of people I had met on duty the day before.
After observing my symptoms in home isolation for a day, I decided to get tested for Covid-19 whose result came as positive. My heart sank. No matter how strong you may be as a doctor, the word “DETECTED” does take a while to sink in.
I was fortunate to have mild symptoms; although as troubling as they’d feel, I assured myself that it’s as bad as you see every day in the Covid ICU. However, fatigue and body aches were intense enough to not let me get out of bed, fever spiked during the initial days, diarrhea left me dehydrated and cough made it hard to breathe. Yet it was all better than what I had imagined. At least I wasn’t hooked up to a machine, which would make my ears pain and my breath heavy. Keeping the physical ailments aside, staying in one room was an emotionally dispiriting task and 14 days felt like never-ending.
Anxiety about the relatives gave me shivers. The thought if they end up contracting Covid it’s a high price to pay for having a health care worker in the family. How would I ever be able to deal with the guilt of giving them this deadly disease? No matter how hard I tried to stay positive, these horrible thoughts continued appearing throughout my quarantine period.
I started looking at things from my patients’ perspective. While on the Covid duty, as I would don the PPE and visit patients, I was least worried about their emotions. I focused on their physical ailments, asking if they had cough, fever, sore throat or breathlessness but never thought about what it felt like being confined in a room with the only human interaction they had with somebody hiding in the PPE with just a pair of eyes looking at them. The process of horrible thoughts about the worst case scenario also set in. I thought if these really were the last two weeks of my life. Have I done enough for the people and patients that I would be remembered as someone who made a difference to their lives? Have I expressed my love for my family enough? This all would bring tears to my eyes, thinking I could have done things differently.
Two weeks did pass by, hour by hour, minute by minute, breath by breath. But they taught me values of a lifetime. Covid-19 has given me a different perspective of life — professionally, socially and personally. It has made me value each day like a brand new day and make a difference in my life as well as others’, to be humble and more compassionate. Coming out of isolation has made me appreciate my freedom more while being positive and courageous. The overwhelming ride of Covid-19 will never be forgotten though with time, it will vanish into thin air but not without leaving marks of utmost remembrance.
(The author is an anaesthesiology resident (Year 4) working with Kaul Associates, Lahore.)
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020