Author: Dr Sushma Bhatnagar, Professor and Head
Department of Onco-Anaesthesia and Palliative Medicine
Dr. B.R.A Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital & National Cancer Institute, Jhajjar
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi- 110029, India
Chairperson of COVID services, NCI, All India Institute of Medical Sciences
President, Indian Association of Palliative Care
We sincerely hope and pray that we are inching closer towards the end of the India’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that each of us have been impacted and left shattered physically and/or emotionally. Several of us are also grieving and attempting to accept and cope with the losses experienced.
“Death is inevitable, and nobody can deny it”. As a doctor practicing palliative medicine for years, I was confident that I had understood and accepted the inevitability of death. I always strived to assure a dignified death for my patients who are terminally ill; and provide support and guidance to their families as they navigated a very difficult time in their lives. I wanted to prepare the terminally ill patients and their families to accept the inevitable and therefore actively advocated for end of life care measures. I never felt helpless in any of these situations. Instead, I was driven to ensure that my team and I provided our patients with quality care and comfort till the end, while also preparing them for the inevitable.
Nonetheless, when I personally witnessed innumerable deaths due to COVID-19 in the past three months, where the young and healthy deteriorated and succumbed to death right in front of me within a span of a few hours, I felt broken and helpless! I was unable to accept their death! I wanted to fight and defeat it. Yet, we couldn’t win! They were not dying due to any severe illness, but due to some unpredictable complications caused by corona virus!
I was then faced with the very familiar question, ‘Why’? Why does this happen to mankind? I am unable to unravel the mystery and discover a solution. It was not only the weak or the elderly who perished in front of me, but, most of them were unfortunately youngsters. How can one recover or cope with something like this?
While we are relieved with the gradual reduction in the number of daily cases being reported across the country, we must continue to exercise caution as the percentage of emergencies continue to warrant our attention. Matters of concern range from the observation that over fifty percent of the COVID-19 infected patients reach hospitals in critical conditions, to the reporting of severe post COVID symptoms among those who have recovered, to an alarming increase in the rise of the potentially fatal black fungus infection.
Rehabilitation of COVID recovered patients, the management of COVID health issues (both physical and psychological) is another area of concern that is lurking at the back of every health care professionals’ mind. It is distressing to know that several of those recovered have had their lungs damaged severely and will need to be on long term oxygen support.
Witnessing and experiencing so many deaths and emergencies within such a narrow time frame has resulted in the incidence of serious emotional issues among the health care professionals themselves. Are we equipped with a system to address their mental health issues? Are we even concerned about their well being?
Health care professionals do not have the luxury of time to rest or grieve. They have to continue in their mission as long as the pandemic reigns in our country.
Doctors of my generation have not been witness to a health care emergency of this severity and magnitude in our professional journey. We are all trying our best as we march forward by investing our heart and soul to continue providing care for those who need it; even risking our own safety.
I am extremely proud to share that our palliative care fraternity spread across the country, has been braving all odds, as they continue to work relentlessly towards continuing to provide care to the chronically and terminally ill, and bed-ridden patients, in the best way they can under the current circumstances.
I cannot emphasize enough that it is our national duty to adhere to the Covid protocols as it is the most effective way to protect ourselves, our families and our society from this deadly pandemic. We must be conscious and adopt the necessary precautions to fight the third wave, which has been predicted by experts.