The global pandemic exposed just how vulnerable and fragile the healthcare system is. In India, there is one government doctor for every 10,189 people (the World Health Organization recommends a ratio of 1:1,000). This means a deficit of 600,000 doctors.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to hospitals being filled up at a rapid pace, healthcare workers became the ‘Covid warriors’ fighting in the frontlines with an invisible virus.

Even as India’s active cases form about 1/4th of the total number, the sheer number of cases so far (35 lakh at the time of writing this article) is still overwhelming the system.

On social media, people are appreciating our healthcare workers – the ones actually responsible for tackling the virus. Doctors are sharing their long hours and stories of not being able to save enough people, or losing their colleagues on these platforms.

One post, which recently went viral, was of a young doctor from Uttar Pradesh, Syed Faizan Ahmad.

The photo, posted on Twitter, showed an extremely wrinkled hand. The photo immediately went viral, with multiple people responding to it and thanking the doctor for doing his duty.

Faizan, however, explains that the gloves are often the least of his problems.

“You have to make a decision between saving a patient, or following recommended protocol of PPEs,” Faizan tells News18 in an interview.

According to the protocol, gloves should be changed at five-hour intervals. For this process, a doctor has to step away from the ward, into the dropping station, sanitize his hands, dispose of the gloves, wear the new gloves, and re-sanitize them. The entire process takes about 5 to 7 minutes.

“But when you’re the only doctor alone on duty, you don’t get those 7 minutes of luxury,” he explains.

Currently working at Silchar Medical College in Assam, a government hospital, Faizan doesn’t have the luxury of air-conditioning. Added to that, Faizan often has to double up as multiple roles: doctor, nurse, ward-boy, helper.

“The disease is such, you can’t let attendants constantly near the patients without reason,” he explains. “And when someone starts crashing, you only have one other person to help you move them. Sometimes, you have only yourself. You’re doing all the roles in one.”

The official duty hours recommended at about 8 – but the doctors have to reach an hour early to understand and know what patient is in what condition. They have to stay longer for after their shifts to make sure everything is okay, and if a patient starts collapsing, it’s always better to have two hands on deck instead of one.

“You can’t walk away from those situations, saying ‘Hey, my shift is over’,” says Faizan. “That’s not why you became a doctor.”

The PPEs are often the last thing on Faizan’s mind: Even though he’s sweating in it profusely and is uncomfortable constantly, his first priority is making sure his patient is okay. His air-tight hands can wait for a while before being free again.

The full PPE set also comes with glitches. “Wearing a head-cap in the initial days, you’d feel sweat dripping down from your head onto your face. Your glasses would fog up. You can’t readjust your mask, your face-shield is slipping off,” he says.

Through the months, he’s gotten used to it, and has found ‘jugaad’ as he calls it: “I tape the head-cap down, now.”

Faizan himself has fought and survived coronavirus. He had worked at the peak of the pandemic in Delhi’s Jamia Hamdard, tested positive in the following months when he moved to Assam. He tested negative in July, and some days later, was back on Covid-19 duty.

Faizan is a surgeon by specialty, but as he explains, in a pandemic, “Everyone is a Covid-19 doctor.”

Sometimes, Faizan feels he has to double up as a psychologist as well. “When I had the disease, I understood what the anxiety and uncertainty felt like. I promised myself when I got better, I’d talk to every single patient. I’d tell them, “It’s okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m here.”

However, he says that with his shifts compromising of conducting physical check-ups and consulting patients on their health, he has barely gotten the time to stop, talk, and make them feel safe.

PPEs are just a minor grievance, explains Faizan. Wrinkled hands, tired torso, exhausting, mental trauma, are just collateral damage. It’s still a long battle ahead to win against the disease, which still doesn’t have a cure.

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