Frontline workers National

Doctors felled by the virus they fight for their patients

Call of duty: Doctors and nurses interacting with a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Sanand, near Ahmedabad.  

It is on the shoulders of these frontline workers that the bulk of the burden of fighting this pandemic falls. Doctors put themselves in harm’s way to help their patients.

The Indian Medical Association released its latest list on Thursday, stating that 329 doctors succumbed to the COVID-19 infection. This is probably a conservative figure, but an occasion to record the lives and work of these people, sometimes until the very last breath they drew.

Also read | K.K. Aggarwal, former IMA president, dies of COVID-19 at 62

Gone too soon

Anas Mujahid, 26, died on May 9 within hours of being admitted to the very hospital he was serving in. The young doctor, a junior resident at Delhi’s Guru Tegh Bahadur (GBT) Hospital, a designated COVID-19 hospital, lost his battle to the disease. The doctor was reporting to duty till Saturday (a day before he passed away).

“A rapid antigen test showed that he was positive. He collapsed while still in the fever clinic and died by 2.30 a.m.,” said Dr. Mohammad Anas, the deceased doctor’s junior at the college and hospital. He added they were told it was a rare case of rapid progression of COVID-19.

Hospital records show he suffered from “intracranial haemorrhage” (bleeding within the skull, including the brain). “Shock is an inadequate word to describe how and what we are feeling,” said Dr. Mohammad Anas. “He was a hard-working, humble person who kept to himself. He was known to be very polite and helpful. He is missed.”

Also read | 269 doctors have died across India during the second wave: IMA

Officials from the hospital administration said Dr. Mujahid, who completed his internship after MBBS in January, was working at the hospital as a junior resident and is survived by his parents, two brothers, and a younger sister. “The thought that we lost a young solider does hit even the bravest among us. There is a sadness that we can’t ignore. But we serve because it is our only motivation, it is our purpose in life that we opted for,” said Dr. Mohammad.

“What happened to my akka (elder sister) should not happen to any other woman,” said P. Prabu, brother of P. Shanmugapriya, who was eight months pregnant when she succumbed to COVID-19.

A medical officer of the Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Anuppanadi in Madurai, 32-year-old Dr. Shanmugapriya continued to work in the midst of the raging pandemic. “She sought maternity leave when she was seven months pregnant but it was not sanctioned, citing the increase in the number of patients with COVID-19. She texted me that there was a regular flow of patients with COVID-19 symptoms to the PHC,” he said.

Also read | Bihar, U.P., Delhi top list of deaths among doctors in second wave, says IMA

Two years ago, she was posted at the Anuppanadi PHC. “She loved her job. But being the only doctor at the PHC, she had a heavy workload. During her pregnancy, she had to go on street visits too,” he said.

Dr. Shanmugapriya had contacted her brother on May 1 saying that she had developed symptoms of COVID-19 and would be getting admitted for treatment. “She sounded very weak. She told me to text and not call as it was difficult to speak. She was treated in a private hospital for four days, and was told to shift to the Government Rajaji Hospital as the foetal heartbeat was poor,” he said.

Her foetus could not be saved and she succumbed to COVID-19 on May 8. Her death was a shock to her colleagues at the PHC. “She was quick to make friends, and that is how she treated those working at the PHC too,” he noted.

Source of inspiration

The doctor advised his fraternity to wear goggles in view of the greater probability of the virus entering through the eyes, suggested to them to remain clean shaven as facial hair could become “transmitters”, and even tonsured his hair. That he succumbed to COVID-19 after all these precautions is what disturbs his family and colleagues.

B.V. Raja Rao, a renowned neuropsychiatrist of Tirupati, fell victim to the second wave. It was a common sight for the residents of Tirupati to watch him wield a microphone and deliver messages from his four-wheeler, dwelling on mental fitness, suicidal tendency and depression.

Also read | Government data on doctor deaths incorrect: IMA

“He was a source of inspiration for us,” recalls P. Krishna Prasanthi, Vice-President (Andhra Pradesh chapter) of the Association of Physicians of India (API).

After being diagnosed with COVID-19, he remained bedridden in a private hospital for almost a month. The signs of brain haemorrhage slowed down his recovery rate and finally took a toll.

All of Telangana was shaken to hear of the death of a 31-year-old paediatrician who had COVID-19 on May 12, a week after giving birth to a baby girl.

Dr. Farah Niloufer was in the frontline of COVID-19 management at the Government Area Hospital, Gajwel, despite being in the third trimester of pregnancy, till she tested positive in the first week of May.

Her husband Syed Abdul Majid, too, consults at the ESI Hospital in Nacharam. He is consumed by his grief.

The Area Hospital’s Superintendent Dr. T. Mahesh said that Dr. Farah was involved in duties related to COVID-19 vaccination and worked in the Out-Patient section.

Her close friend Dr. Nazia Tabassum said that though they had urged Dr. Farah to take leave from work because of the pregnancy, the paediatrician wanted to fulfil her duty and that she would anyway have to stay away from work for some months after her delivery.

59-year-old Chief Medical Officer Dr. G. N. Ganesh Kumar, who was in home isolation in Mysuru after contracting COVID-19 and was shifted to a hospital in Mysuru after he developed complications, did not respond to treatment.

Dr. Chidambar, Mysuru District Vector Borne Disease Control Officer, said, “The deaths of doctors are fewer this year when compared to the last wave since doctors and other healthcare workers are vaccinated.”

Mysuru IMA president Dr. Anand Ravi said there had been no reports of private practitioners succumbing to COVID-19 in the district but the number of doctors becoming infected was higher this time.

Affable, very caring

It was in September last that COVID-19 claimed its first victim among healthcare workers in Kerala.

M.S. Abdeen, a 73-year-old retired general practitioner, who was running a clinic at Attakulangara in the capital, was the first doctor in the State to have fallen victim to COVID-19. He had been seeing patients in his extremely busy clinic till the day he developed symptoms.

“He was one of those popular doctors, quiet, affable and very caring about his patients. He ran a full and active practice and most of his clients were people from the near by slums, Karimadam colony and Chala. For all of them, he was their first point of medical care . He took good care of them, often not taking any fee from them,” said Mohammed Yusuf, a doctor himself and a friend.

Dr. Yusuf said that Dr. Abdeen had kept away from the clinic, confining himself to his residence for a while in those initial days of COVID-19. But then, every day, he would get hundreds of calls from his patients, all begging him to come back to the clinic. “He thus resumed his practice saying that during COVID-19 time, people with other illnesses will find it difficult to get care in big hospitals,” said Dr. Yusuf.

Ajith Bhasker, a functionary of IMA’s Kerala north zone, said that healthcare workers now seem to be more at risk from the high level of disease transmission in the community rather than their high-risk work environment.

“Most of those who are getting infected now are getting it from their family members at home. If healthcare workers continue to fall sick, no amount of capacity building will be enough to save people’s lives,” he said.

(Reported by Bindu Shajan Perappadan in New Delhi, Serena Josephine M. in Madurai, A.D. Rangarajan in Tirupati, K. Shiva Shanker in Hyderabad, Shankar Bennur in Mysuru, C. Maya and Abhinaya H. in Thiruvananthapuram)


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 6:50:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/doctors-felled-by-the-virus-they-fight-for-their-patients/article34609440.ece

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