Challenges faced by doctors desperately fighting COVID-19

Two days ago, a young doctor friend, a brilliant medical specialist, forwarded me a number of myth busters issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO):

  • People of all ages CAN be infected by the coronavirus. Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.
  • Cold weather and snow CANNOT kill the coronavirus.
  • The coronavirus CAN be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates.
  • The coronavirus CANNOT be transmitted through mosquito bites.
  • There is NO evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can transmit the coronavirus.
  • Taking a hot bath DOES NOT prevent the coronavirus.
  • Hand dryers are NOT effective in killing the coronavirus.
  • Ultraviolet light SHOULD NOT be used for sterilization and can cause skin irritation.
  • Thermal scanners CAN detect if people have a fever but CANNOT detect whether or not someone has the coronavirus.
  • Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body WILL NOT kill viruses that have already entered your body.
  • Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza, Type b (Hib) vaccine, DO NOT provide protection against the coronavirus.
  • There is NO evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the coronavirus.
  • Garlic is healthy but there is NO evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the coronavirus.
  • Antibiotics DO NOT work against viruses, antibiotics only work against bacteria.
  • To date, there is NO specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the coronavirus.
  • Check the facts on the WHO website: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

I thanked my young friend and wished him well.

My doctor friend said: “The disease that has united us all – no Indian, no Australian, no American, no Muslim, no Hindu, no Shia, no Sunni, no SC / ST, no Brahmin – we are all just weak, vulnerable, insecure mortals. Please take care, Bhai saab.”

A day later, I forwarded my young friend an audio clip that I had just received on social media from a reliable friend. The speaker in the audio clip, supposedly a doctor from Srinagar, Kashmir, speaks about the recent death of a 65 year old Kashmiri due to Covid-19. The audio clip was attached with a photograph of the deceased and a message: “This is the travel history of the one who reportedly died today in Srinagar in chest disease hospital.”

As the audio clip was related to Covid-19, I thought my young doctor friend may be interested in it. I wrote, “Apologies, I was not sure if you have received it already. I thought it was an important message. God bless. Take care. Best wishes and love from here.

He replied: “Adaab, Bhai saab, I did.”

After pausing for a few moments, he added: “Bhai saab, people in Kashmir are very irresponsible. In fact, I wanted to bring somethings to your notice on the basis of anonymity if you have some time.”

Before I could reply, he continued:

“First of all, it is very unfortunate that people in Kashmir are not realising the gravity of the situation and that they are concealing the facts of their travel history. But what is more serious is that people in the health sector, voluntarily as well as involuntarily, because of their ignorance or otherwise, don’t seem to be following the WHO guidelines.

“I have been a witness to many cases in the past few weeks now where patients have reported to the hospital with mild fever or cough but they have not undergone any kind of testing for COVID-19. Instead, they have been sent back with simple medication. Such patients are potential threats; they should have been asked to undergo some basic testing at least and advised to go for home quarantine. But that is not happening and probably the reason is the lack of resources. For reference, I am forwarding you a government letter demanding explanation from the doctors about this negligence.

“The gentleman from Srinagar who recently expired had visited the hospital and given them his precise history a couple of weeks back but he was sent back and rest is history.

“I have received calls from at least over 70 patients who have reported similar kind of behaviour of government hospitals. They are scared for their lives because they have been sent back just with some basic medication. These government hospitals are not even bothered to test them for COVID-19. The latest example being Mrs Veena Saproo, a 67-year-old lady, a diabetic hypertensive, who  had  tried to seek medical help about seven days ago, when she was suffering from a mild fever, but all she got from the doctor in the Medical College was paracetamol and cough syrup; no testing or quarantine was advised.

“Bhai saab, I do not have the courage to pen these things down and bring them to the light as I could be jeopardising myself as well as my family. But if it is possible for you, since you live in Australia, kindly make people aware about what is actually happening, at least in J & K. I have also tried to enquire from my friends in other states of India. All of them have said that, within their limits, they are trying their level best.

“Sorry, Bhai saab, I know I have already bothered you and taken a lot of your time but the kind of compassion and concern you have for this nation compelled me to tell you all this.”

I was deeply moved and saddened, imagining the desperation of these young medical professionals who are relentlessly fighting at the forefront of this global war against a largely unknown enemy and the humongous challenges they must be currently facing.

I asked him: “Do you want me to write about it, albeit maintaining the anonymity of the source of my article?”

He replied: “Yes, if it is possible, please do it because I feel people should know what is happening so that they take all necessary precautions on their own. It is the least I can do for my people and my country. Thank you so much, Bhai saab. May Almighty bless you and your family!”

Later in the night, I called my young doctor solider, as I wanted to learn more about the seriousness of the issue. He looked very tired and frustrated. He sounded quite emotional and desperate. Going by our conversation, it was quite obvious he deeply cared for the safety and life of people in J & k and the country as a whole. My heart went to him and the likes of him who are fighting right on the front of this current global war against Covid-19.

I was shocked and horrified to know that some ignorant people in Kashmir are misleading the masses into believing Covid-19 virus is a global conspiracy to stop people from coming out and participate in community events, such as Friday namaz, Kashmiri wazvan and other community events.

I also came to know that a Covid-19 test costs about 5 to 6 thousand rupees, which most poor may not be able to afford. So, how do we know the actual number of infected people in a country where about 70 percent people may not be able to afford the test?

Furthermore, it takes 18 hours for the test results to come out. The question is: “What do these patients do during those 18 hours of waiting time?” If they are sent home to wait, won’t they be infecting scores more during that period – at the hospital, during travel to and from home, shop keepers, unsuspecting visitors at home and their own family members? Shouldn’t all cases be asked to self-quarantine or deliberately quarantined once they are tested?

And why are only those people tested who have travel history? What about those people who are feeling sick and showing symptoms, despite not having any travel history? Why are not all people, who voluntarily visit hospitals due to sickness, tested and immediately quarantined if deemed appropriate by the medical professionals?

But if the hospital resources are limited, what do medical professionals do? How do they fight this invisible enemy?

In conclusion, it is best to stay home and follow all medical advice. People must understand the limitations of the medical infrastructure – lack of resources, long waiting period for test results etc. Doctors can do only so much, they are also humans. They are working their level best – as brave soldiers on the front – and that too within the limitations of the current knowledge of Covid-19 virus.

We must help our doctors to help ourselves. They need all our support and cooperation. The best support that we can offer them is by keeping ourselves safe from Covid-19. We must follow all current medical instructions and the government orders.

Lastly, it is shameful to learn that many health professionals In India are being stigmatized. Reportedly, many doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers have come under attack and, in some cases, evicted from their homes by other residents (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/india-coronavirus-heroes-attack-200327070916157.html). Same has been the case with airline professionals. What a time we are witnessing! It remind me of the famous Kashmiri poetess, Lal Ded’s verse (in English and not in the same verbatim), which can be roughly translated as: I saw a wise man craving desperately for food (metaphor for ‘knowledge’, ‘teacher’) and I also saw a fool beating a cook (metaphor for a ‘teacher’).

… Bill Koul (27 March 2020)

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