'If not us, then who?': Meet Kerala’s medicos, frontline warriors fighting COVID-19

Some of the staff haven't met their families in days, others have faced social ostracism for working closely with COVID-19 patients.
'If not us, then who?': Meet Kerala’s medicos, frontline warriors fighting COVID-19
'If not us, then who?': Meet Kerala’s medicos, frontline warriors fighting COVID-19
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The two-and-a-half hour journey from Kottayam town along the Kottayam-Kumily Road, takes one to the lush green hilltop town of Peerumedu in Idukki district. It is here that Pappa Henry, a 41-year-old nurse at the Kottayam Medical College (KMC) lives along with her two children and family. Twice every week, she takes the scenic ride along this road in a Kerala Road State Transport Corporation (Kerala RTC) bus from KMC to meet her family in Peerumedu. But for the past 15 days, she hasn’t met her two children who are studying in classes 5 and 9. Pappa, who works at the COVID-19 isolation wing of KMC, hasn’t left the hospital premises, devoting herself to work which now extends throughout the day.

Pappa is one of the thousands of medical staff in the state, who are the frontline warriors fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. From nurses and doctors to paramedical staff, these warriors in Kerala are now working round the clock across medical colleges, General Hospitals and Primary Health Centres, blurring the demarcations of the personal and professional.

While some like Pappa pushed through the days without meeting their families, some have restricted and regulated interaction with their loved ones. A few have even faced social ostracism from the public for working closely with COVID-19 patients and suspected cases.

Recently, three male nurses of the Kottayam Medical College were asked to vacate their rented houses by their landlord, who claimed that they might get infected with the coronavirus. They were then given accommodation by the hospital.

Despite all this, their strenuous efforts to save a state’s populace from the pandemic hasn’t made them weary.

“Be it the floods, Nipah or COVID-19 now, it doesn’t matter to us. This is our work and we will do it with utmost dedication. We are not at all scared and there is no sense of anxiety in us. Ever since we took our medical vows, we have promised to do our best under any circumstances. That is what we are doing now,” says Pappa Henry.

24 persons who tested positive for coronavirus, including two foreigners, are presently under treatment across various medical colleges in the state. According to the latest update, 31,173 people are under observation in the state with 30,936 people under home quarantine and 237 isolated in hospitals.

'Uncompromised caution'

The medical staff, who directly interact with suspected and positive COVID-19 cases in Kerala, have now become the prized possession of the state. In hospitals, ‘uncompromised caution’ has become the vital phrase to ensure the safety of the medical staff.

Fifteen medical staff of Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram, including doctors, were recently quarantined as one of their colleagues was found positive for coronavirus. The doctor tested COVID-19 positive after returning from Spain.

“The situation is challenging and dangerous, there is no denial of that fact. But if not us, who is there, that is the question. So we are here united to fight the pandemic, keeping aside all our personal problems. But however confident the medical staff are, there is no question of compromising the safety. We meticulously follow the standard operating procedure,” says Dr Sajith Kumar, Head of Department of Infectious Diseases of Kottayam Medical College.

According to Dr Sajith, from the moment a suspected COVID-19 person enters the hospital, everything, from where that person should sit, walk through, which staff should accompany him/her, is all fixed in advance.

“We only enter the isolation ward wearing the special safety gear (Personal Protective Equipment - PPE). After coming out of the section, every staff member will take a bath, change clothes and then only come out of there. Nurses who are assigned duty in the COVID-19 section do not mingle with other departments, but for doctors this does not work. They have to meet other regular patients coming to the hospital. Now, we often have to postpone surgeries and other treatments of non-emergency cases. It is emotionally stressful for the doctors to tell patients that their disease and problems are not the priority now. But we are forced to say this because of the situation,” says Dr Sajith.

Dr Sajth adds that ever since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state, life has not been the same for the medical practitioners.

“There is no demarcation between personal and professional life. It has been days since I kept track of my duty hours. It is totally at odd timings that I reach home, and after spending a couple of hours return back to the hospital. This is because for the patients, even 2 am is not an odd time, so we will also act as if that is not an odd time for us either. There have even been cases when people turn up in the wee hours to just clear their doubts. But we take care of all of them because we are professionals,” he says.

Just like the COVID-19 patients, those in home quarantine and in isolation wards, whose lives have totally been flipped over by the coronavirus pandemic, the routines and lifestyles of the medical staff who treat them have also gone for a toss. But these brave professionals are not ready to let that take over their sense of duty. As a popular Malayalam movie dialogue goes, the fight is fought for it to be won.



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