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Doctors at the vanguard

For doctors, the risk of contracting an infectious disease always swings above them like Damocles’ sword. | Representational image

For doctors, the risk of contracting an infectious disease always swings above them like Damocles’ sword. | Representational image   | Photo Credit: AP

Health personnel face patients with infections every day, though many hospitals do not have adequate supply of masks and sanitisers

The world is in the grip of the novel coronavirus. The bug does not discriminate and keeps everyone on tenterhooks. Everyone is scared of acquiring the infection, though it has a low fatality rate in healthy individuals.

This fear has resulted in people scrambling to buy masks and sanitisers in huge numbers and even hoarding them. Consequently, many hospitals do not have adequate supply of these essential items while the mask business has doubled in its turnover in the past month.

The hoarders have conveniently forgotten the fact that if the infected patient does not have access to the mask, he would keep spreading the infection. While many countries have enforced a lockdown and people are forced to stay indoors, the health personnel continue to work. When a friend asked me, “Isn’t it scary to work in a potential risky, infected zone?”, I told him, “It is another day in office for us.”

For doctors, the risk of contracting an infectious disease always swings above us like Damocles’ sword. Right from fatal diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis to non-fatal bothersome diseases such as scabies and influenza, we coexist with them daily.

A few years ago, a 40-year-old man was brought to the emergency room after breaking his leg in a road accident. His wife, who was riding with him, had escaped unscathed. The leg was badly mangled with a bleeding wound, and we had to resuscitate him from shock with fluids and blood. Multiple doctors and nurses worked in unison inserting tubes and setting up intravenous lines. In such a melee, often we get pricked with the needle or a sharp object, or sometimes our bare skin comes into contact with the patient’s blood or other body fluids. Since the focus is on saving a life or a limb at that moment, one tends to gloss over such “minor” things.

Later, in his test results, he tested positive for HIV. While we were in a conundrum to find ways to break the news to the patient and his wife, we were shocked to know that both were aware of it. They had kept the vital information hidden while the gullible health personnel were swimming in a sea of infected fluids to save the man. We were in for a further horror when one of the doctors noticed a laceration in her palm. What if the infected blood had seeped in through the laceration? She went through days of mental trauma, serial blood tests and chemo-prophylaxis.

Health personnel face such infected patients day in and day out. Some are known to be infected, while some are unknown. We never refuse treatment or wave them off. We follow universal precautions of washing our hands before and after treating a patient, and use protective guards to stay safe in an infected environment. Despite these precautions, the risk of contracting an infection from a patient always exists. Several healthcare workers at the forefront of containing the COVID-19 pandemic have lost their lives. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan physician hailed as a hero for desperately trying to alert the authorities to the novel coronavirus, died within weeks of being exposed.

The onus of preventing the spread of such infections lies with the infected person too. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the citizens need to show social self-discipline rather than be just reliant on masks and sanitisers alone. If you had been through a high-risk zone or in contact with an infected person, it has to be divulged to the health authorities. Keep yourself isolated for two weeks till the quarantine period is over. The news of possible human contacts of infected persons skipping the radar at airports and other checkpoints sends shivers to us. They are spreading the infection unwarily.

Fake and dangerous information being peddled on social media is another roadblock in our fight against COVID. We are fighting a pandemic wherein the health personnel are at the vanguard but the cooperation and responsibility of all citizens are essential.

rishiortho@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 1:38:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/doctors-at-the-vanguard/article31258567.ece

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