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Life in a COVID ward

Recently, I saw a video of a man making passionate threats against the hospital staff who treated his mother. I share his frustration and empathise with him, though I do not condone the threat of violence. Normally in a medical ward, one expects to find rows of beds with patients and relatives or friends, and cheerful nurses and attendants going about their tasks. They respond to calls from the patients gently with kind words and reassurance.

But a COVID-19 ward or ICU is a strange scene. As strange PPE-clad figures rush by, one cannot make out who the nurse, attender or doctor is. They all look alike. Everyone looks scared and desperate, both the patients and the doctors. They feel the threat in the air. They are bewildered and shocked by their experience. One by one, all their expectations get shattered. No wonder, they have horror stories to tell when they come out alive.

The beds are far apart, so that one cannot talk comfortably with the next patient, with the mask on. There are no relatives or friends at hand, so one is alone, unable to share any worries or problems. There are no reassurances, no way to alleviate your anxiety, the loneliness is absolutely devastating. When one wants to go to the toilet and feels giddy, there will be no one to offer fall back on.

My physician friend, when he came to see me in his PPE kit and mask, looked strange and menacing. So, when nurses and doctors in PPE question you, it is baffling and frightening. The kind, friendly physician is no more, the reassuring nurse is not to be found, the PPE kit dehumanises… One cannot gauge the person who is talking to you and that makes everything scary. Many times, it’s impossible to understand what they are saying and they cannot understand what you are saying. This inability to communicate is often the culprit behind the recriminations of the patients and their relatives.

Everyone who has not had COVID-19 is scared of the disease, knowing that there is no sure treatment. The healthcare staff have to stand helplessly and watch people die in front of them; even some young people die within a couple of hours or days. This is unlike any other disease seen so far. Even after a year and a half, we still do not know why it selects certain people to die.

When dealing with such a disease, there is this constant threat that one could get infected and die any day, and that one could also transmit the disease to loved ones at home. Knowing that every patient is a potential threat to them and their loved ones, is a daily stress, intensifying over time and leading to behavioural issues and unusual outburst even from placid individuals. To top it all, these days, after a death, doctor bashing is common. Now you have an inkling of the daily stress levels.

When the PPE-clad nurse does come near, one wants them to stop by and talk, but they are short-staffed and have no time for a chat. Many times, they are brusque and harsh with their words, as they attempt to finish work, slowly and cautiously, without risk to themselves. Being short-staffed, they find it almost impossible to finish their allotted work of giving medicines, writing reports, collecting results, going for rounds with doctors and attending calls from patients. Nurses are punished for incomplete reports; so they concentrate on doing paperwork well and thus patient care suffers. This is not intentional but the result of inadequate staff. Who is to blame? The nurse or doctor working there? Is she to be manhandled, because someone in the administration failed to post adequate people there and so patient care suffered?

Yes, it goes without saying that COVID-19 treatment is difficult both for the patient and the hospital staff. Counselling the patient on what to expect and the staff on patient apprehensions is vital. This will prevent provoking of intense emotions and retaliation by the relatives. One of the issues with retelling an incident later is that after each retelling some exaggeration happens, compounding the problem.

I just painted you a picture of the COVID wards, and why we need to change the system. Instead of threatening the staff working under pressure-cooker situations, one needs to find the root cause. We should work together to correct these irregularities, instead of resorting to blind violence. Stop violence against healthcare workers. Correct the system!

thomavar@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 9:39:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/life-in-a-covid-ward/article35651110.ece

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