COVID-19 stress: How frontline workers keep calm and carry on

COVID-19 stress: How frontline workers keep calm and carry on

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Doctors and nurses suffer intense stress and anxiety caused by their critical frontline roles in the battle against COVID-19. They have taken to doing yoga, listening to music and reading literature, and holy books in order to cope with this. For instance, senior doctor V K Verma, who works at Delhi government-run Babu Jagjivan Ram Hospital, begins his day by performing pranayamas and a few other asanas before heading to work.

Holy books help people like Dolly Massey to stay “calm amid this storm”. Massey who hails from Dehradun has been working as a senior nurse at the Max Smart Hospital for the last four years. “I keep a pocket Bible in my bag all the time and even an e-Bible on my mobile phone,” she says. “I read Psalms and texts from the holy book during breaks, and before and after finishing work. It keeps me anchored, mentally, and physically.”

Massey says she has never felt afraid through the course of this pandemic; right at the beginning, during the lockdown or even when the death toll started climbing. “But, now, I’m a little bit afraid that I might get infected too,” she says.

“I’m a very God-fearing person and so, believe this pandemic is also a sign from Him for us humans to introspect and repent for the mistakes that we have committed, whether it’s damaging of our nature or not being sensitive to fellow human beings,” she says.

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Dolly Massey’s fear is not unwarranted. Nearly 500 health care workers from government hospitals to private facilities have tested positive for the disease in Delhi, and the number continues to go up since these are the people who voluntarily put themselves in direct contact with affected patients.

Healthcare workers are at a very high risk of contracting the infection as they are on the frontline of this COVID-19 war, says Kumud Bharti, a senior doctor at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital. “While doctors are taking precautions with personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, gloves, and other measures, and we know our duty to serve humanity in such situations, doctors, after all, are also humans,” Bharti said.

The LNJP Hospital, run by the Delhi government, is a dedicated COVID-19 facility and hundreds of coronavirus patients are admitted there. A senior technical supervisor who had worked in the operation theatre at the hospital recently died of COVID-19.

“We keep hearing about doctors getting infected by COVID-19, so that fear is there somehow inside us too, who are serving. But, we have to do our job, taking the utmost precautions that we can,” Bharti said.

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Vikas Maurya, director, pulmonology and sleep disorders department at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, said when the virus had just hit the country in the initial days, “there was a bit of fear in going near patients”. “But, then, serving humanity is our job and we actually now allow COVID patients to hold our hands if it gives him or her comfort,” he told PTI. “I even pat on their shoulder sometimes, motivating them to think positive and fight the disease.”

He went on to say that the presence of high-quality PPE kits eases their minds and patients’ willpower and desire to live “makes us doctors stronger”. “We slip into our PPE suits for six hours straight, initially medics were wearing it for even longer period. The entire innerwear gets drenched in sweat when we remove it.

“So, you can imagine the temperature inside. Plus, some doctors fear that there could be a breach in PPE so that affects their mental well-being,” Maurya added. Additionally, Maurya said that he listens to music, watches some shows on TV, or reads books at home to unwind himself after duty hours.

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Senior doctor V K Verma at Babu Jagjiwan Ram Hospital was concerned that more healthcare workers would be affected by COVID-19. About 75 staff, including 12 doctors, had tested positive for coronavirus at this hospital recently. He further explained that what doctors see throughout the day, plays on their minds. “Every day, I think, I might be carrying the infection to my family,” he said, expressing his worries which many healthcare workers around the world share.

Verma added that even though many healthcare workers were being put up in hotels at first, now many had no other option but to go to home after end of duty.
“I don’t allow my family members to eat with me and, after returning from the hospital and taking a bath, I spend most of the time in the drawing room,” he said.
“Some have houses which have very few rooms, where will they isolate themselves?” Verma asked. “And, they are afraid more about their family members than themselves,” he concluded.

(With inputs from agencies)

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