Being a Doctor during COVID-19 in Pakistan
People these days are talking about the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) all the time, but it’s often about the worldwide disastrous effects of this virus. I, being a doctor, find it difficult to think like that in a bigger picture. In this crisis, I would like to tell my own story and what we have been going through after this pandemic hit Pakistan.
Working in a neurosurgery ward of a hospital, which is a quite busy place, we deal with the trauma and do elective surgeries. While normal people these days, if they see a person confused and gasping for air would try to leave the room at the first sign of this situation, but not doctors. When we receive any such person with other severe emergencies, we have to apply the ‘heroic measures’, including instantaneous resuscitation and breathing tubes. Now we don’t know if the patient we are treating is a COVID-19 patient or not, but we have to manage him anyhow. I, along with my colleagues are used to managing long calls, such as emergencies, and life and death situations but this pandemic is hitting us all differently and we are feeling kind of helpless. There are multiple theories and management patterns out there and we don’t know which one to strictly adhere to.
Talking about the first defense against this, as we all know are PPE (personal protective equipment) kits including N-95 masks, goggles, and gloves. We, here, are lacking in these basic facilities. The government has zero policy about this and is not providing sufficient defensive gears to the doctors. Most of us are trying to buy these things with ourselves which is getting heavy on our pockets. This is an alarming situation for a Pakistani doctor and we want to ask a question, “Which country or state do you think would send their armies to fight the enemy without armor?” So, this is foolish and reckless to expose a doctor like that. They are making hospitals the biggest carriers of this pandemic adding an irreversible injury to the insult.
We feel like this pandemic is like a journey back to the stone age times having no antibiotics, no vaccines, and people dying out of simple flu. Yes, we are back there and theses feelings are depressing that you cannot offer patients anything. But the story doesn’t just end here. The real dilemma, the real threat, and the real sense of loss prevail when one of your colleagues contracted the disease. It just recently happened to us too. One of our female colleagues doing calls and ERs and used to wash-up with me turned out to be SARS-CoV-2 positive. She was immediately quarantined and all of us were tested for the virus and were sent to isolation. Now the unbearable part of this is that now you have to live on the separate floor of your house inaccessible by your loved ones. As in my case, and being the son of a diabetic mother and father, I had to be extra careful about this situation. Having very social nature otherwise, while in my days in isolation I felt entrapped inside a cage with no call mates. And let me tell you it was frustrating.
As soon as my result (which by the grace of God Almighty was negative), I was ordered to attend the very next call in my ward without proper interventions. Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening over here.
With each passing second, the number of cases is increasing in Pakistan and with it, the tension in the surface is building up. My country has moved from minimal loss of life and strict lockdown to the attitude of ‘whatever happens, happens’. Pakistan has ranked 19th country among top COVID-affected countries with more than 2500 new patients adding each day. With this kind of spread, soon it will be up to us to make painful choices because of the lack of intensive care beds and ventilators. It’s already happening in big cities of Pakistan. One of my colleague serving in Lahore shared a story with us that he received a patient in E/R with saturation at 70% on full oxygen and having all symptoms of COVID-19, as they were on full capacity they have to refer the patient to a nearby private hospital, as all govt. sector hospitals are already running out of basic facilities. Unfortunately, this hospital also refused to admit him because of the filling of the COVID-19 ward. Her daughter, disheartened, called my colleague and even offered any amount of money begging for admission. It has come to that and in the end, this colleague of mine further added, “It’s just the beginning”.
As a doctor, we feel like an ant standing next to an elephant. With limited ventilators and much of the staff already off duty due to sickness, self-isolation, or fear, it is getting hopeless. We are so out of our comfort zones and trying to our bits to have control over the situation which has already gone out of hands.
As a doctor, my message to the government is to support the health system in every possible way; financially, morally, and value the efforts of doctors in this regard. Only clapping and saluting on someday won’t do it. And the message to society is that please stay at your homes because we are staying at hospitals for you.