Iqbal Qureshi, a liver specialist, now knows why smiling at patients, talking them up, always works. “If a doctor talks positively to a patient, half her pain goes away, they say. I realise what it means now,” he said.
During the treatment of Dr. Qureshi, the first doctor to contract COVID-19 in Madhya Pradesh and be cured of it, doctors told him: “You will be fine in no time, no need to worry. You are doing great.” And it worked. “Such words really make a difference,” he quipped.
On Sunday, Dr. Qureshi combined his caregiving instinct, as a doctor, with the acquired ability to combat the virus, as a patient. He became the first in the State to donate his blood plasma, in Indore, the hardest-hit city. Specialists hope the antibodies in his blood, when injected in the veins of critical patients, can boost their ability to combat the virus. Until Monday, three patients were transfused with his plasma.
Almost a week before Indore reported its first case on March 22, Dr. Qureshi developed fever. “I don’t remember meeting anyone with an infection, and my immunity is strong. I still don’t know how I got infected,” he said. Isolating himself to his room lest family members catch the infection, he was served food from outside. When he got his CT-scan report later, it gave him the jitters. He had pneumonia-like patches in his chest.
Still, he wanted to do his mite for COVID-19 patients. “But I was not sure how,” he said. On April 25, a COVID-19 hospital asked him if he was interested in donating the plasma. He replied, “Why not!”
“I will donate my plasma yet again if required. We need it for every blood group,” added Dr. Qureshi, who skipped the second day of the month-long Ramzan fasting ritual for the donation. “That’s all right. I am doing it for a noble cause,” he said.
For donating the plasma again, he may have to wait for at least three months, said Ravi Dosi of the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Sciences, Indore, where the plasma was extracted and transfused. “A donor must be symptom-free, not carry immunological illness or blood-borne disorders. The government has not recommended the use of antibody kits recently. So, at present we cannot test for antibody count, yet go ahead with the procedure as even medical logic supports it,” he said.
Before donating, a person should have completed at least 14 days in quarantine after being discharged. His/her vitals like blood pressure, pulse rate and oxygen saturation levels are monitored before, throughout and after the two-three hour extraction process. In the case of an elderly person, their electrocardiogram is conducted first. “For someone who has completed a 14-day period, the RT-PCR test to check for the disease again is not recommended ahead the next round of donation,” he added.
Doctor as patient
It was Dr. Qureshi’s first experience at a hospital, as a patient. His long-time patients, whom he would check on frequently, now checked on him. “Some of them even cried on the phone, for me. Can you believe that? I was touched,” he recalled. The one-way concern back at the office, he felt, was an illusion. The relationship is much deeper. “Even patients care for doctors,” he said.
The first week, until the reports of family members and friends, his primary contacts, came in, was the hardest. “I was hallucinating,” he said. He heard voices at night. “I could not sleep for more than six hours at a stretch.”
Through the window next to his bed, the sight of children skittishly running around and a man glued to a newspaper in the balcony of his house, made him pine for the life before coronavirus. Even watching movies on the mobile phone, for distraction, did not help. “I had the fear of the unknown, the disease, and [the anxiety] that I had infected my family too,” he said.
Days later, a “bomb dropped,” he recalled. Having recovered now, his younger brother, who suffers from Down’s Syndrome and remained asymptomatic throughout the treatment, is still clueless why he spent 12 days away from home, in an empty room.
“He can utter a word or two. But the moment he saw me lying on a bed, surrounded by strange-looking creatures donning PPE (personal protective equipment) kits, he went motionless. Standing rigid, he stared at me for a few minutes,” said Dr. Qureshi. Both the brothers drew strength from each other at the ward. Having recovered on April 6, Dr. Qureshi stayed back for his brother’s sake, until his results came negative four days later.
In May, Dr. Qureshi will return to duty at the ward for possible COVID-19 patients at a private hospital in Indore. “I am not scared for myself, I have antibodies now. But I am worried about carrying the virus back home,” he said.
To doctors, he gives the message: “Each one of you should come forward now to help fight the disease and spread awareness. But if at all you have symptoms, do not try to be a superhero. Isolate yourself first, and get tested.”