The second wave, or more aptly the second tsunami, of covid, was at its peak. As expected, the residents from all clinical and paraclinical departments were deputed in different covid wards and I was no exception. However, unlike the previous postings, this time I was posted in a ward which was exclusively reserved for health care workers.
Ward 19, or the psychiatric ward of KEM is a set of 6 rooms nestled above the ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) station situated at the far end of the Old Building. It was converted into a covid ward due to the pandemic situation. The rooms opened in a central hall that had a workstation for the doctor and nurses on duty. On my first day of duty, I got notified that a staff nurse was being sent for admission as she had recently turned positive for covid. On further inquiry, I came to know that she worked in the X-ray department. In fact, she was the same nurse with whom I had worked with during my last posting, before being posted in covid. She was known to have diabetes for last 10 years but had no other comorbidities and had mild symptoms.
After I completed my rounds and filled the treatment sheets, I went to her cot for the 4-hourly glucose monitoring. While pricking the needle I asked her in broken Marathi, “mala olakhale ka?” Obviously, with my protective gear and face shield, no one could. So, I hinted to her that we worked in the same department after which she recognized my voice. She asked how her reports were and a few other questions that a newly diagnosed covid patient would normally ask. I tended to all her doubts and then returned to the workstation in the main hall.
There was only an hour remaining before my duty would get over. I was hoping for it to get over soon so that I could doff my sweaty PPE and have some cool water. It was nearly midnight so most of the patients were sleeping. Even the pack of cats that strayed around the ward had cuddled up in a corner. However, it being her first night in the ward, the x-ray staff was not able to sleep. So, she strolled out of her room in the hallway and came to the work station.
“Don’t you notice anything odd about this ward?”, she asked,” especially this nursing station where you are sitting”
I looked around where I sat. Like most of them, there was a large table at the centre which had many shelves below it where various kinds of medical equipment including stethoscopes, pulse oximeters, bandages, and other similar instruments were kept in plastic trays. There was a huge cupboard on the side which had all the injectable medications and tablets. However, unlike other workstations, this was like an enclosure and had steel rods instead of walls at all four sides. These rods extended from the floor to the ceiling, giving it a cage-like appearance. Also, there was only a single entry door on the left side.
“This entire premise was a facility for the psychiatric patients when I first joined the hospital. During my initial days, I was posted here as ‘bacchu sister’. Schizophrenics and other mentally ill patients were admitted in these rooms”, she said as she pointed towards the rooms with outstretched arms.
“But the ones which became wild or almost criminally insane, those were the ones which were kept locked in here,” she told as she walked towards the workstation and then swiftly latched it from the outside. It was then that I noticed that the thing where I sat was indeed a cage and that it could be locked and opened only from the inside.
“I remember one particular patient named Wilfred*. He developed a delusion that he had drowned his son in the sea while being a careless fisherman while in reality, he had died in a boat accident. When locked in here he used to grab onto these bars, shake them, glared at us with his bloodshot eyes and used shouted to be released.” She said herself holding onto the bars and enacting the old patient.