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Department of Radiology
Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital, Mumbai , India
COVID Face to face
The Wilfred Redemption
Samvid Kotia 3rd year Resident
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.
“But not to worry”, she said opening the door-latch and having sensed my uneasiness, “We didn’t keep patients in this enclosure for long. With the modern injectable medications, most of them became docile and were shifted back to their respective rooms. Even Wilfred was shifted back, and ever since our group of girls remembers this ward by his name”
Her narration was interrupted by the phone ringing. It was time for the next shift and so they needed the keys to the PPE cupboard. I went to provide the keys and the Staff also retired to sleep.
Over the next couple of days, I noticed that the Staff sister always kept herself busy by reading Vedic literature or sharing anecdotes like the one she shared with me. There was another nurse admitted, who was Christian by religion and knew some stories from the Bible. Both of them shared their stories and even narrated them over the phone to their grandchildren. It became kind of a routine and I often heard them discussing the philosophies that they read when I went on the rounds.
Something similar was followed by an anaesthesia resident who got admitted 2 days later. Although he was my batchmate, he was around 10 years elder than me and was known to have hypertension and diabetes. His wife constantly worried about his health. In order to relieve their anxiety, he used to hear the Recorded version of the Guru Granth Sahib and narrated the gist to his spouse. The family of cats that had made the ward their home often disturbed him while he was on phone. Although he was initially annoyed by them, he then decided to take sketching as a hobby and used to make quite impressive pencil sketches of those cats.
There is a famous line from one of my favourite movies “The Shawshank Redemption” which says “Get busy living, or get busy dying”. The movie is about Andy Dufresne, a successful banker, who is falsely arrested for murder and is sentenced to life imprisonment at the Shawshank prison. However, he becomes the most unconventional prisoner and finds unique ways of dealing with his new, torturous life. He eventually finds methods to live out life with relative ease as one can in a prison, leaving a message for all that while the body may be locked away in a cell, the spirit can never be truly imprisoned.
I felt that the health care workers admitted in Ward-19 were in a similar situation. With no fault of theirs, they had become prey to the deadly virus while themselves being frontline warriors. Although their battle was not only a physical or immunopathological one but also a mental and psychological one. Apart from being confined in a ward, they had to keep a positive mental status. They had seen people their age and even younger have progressively worsening and even fatal forms of covid. Now that they were at the other end, they had to have undergone the same nervousness and anxiety any other patient would have gone through along with the added apprehension which would come as a result of the unsuccessful cases that they had witnessed while on duty. Doing this was easier said than done, but each one of them had sort of found their own means of redemption- be it reading sacred texts or philosophical books or finding a new hobby, listening to music, or just storytelling. The endorphins generated from their hobbies reached farther and deeper than any antiviral could. Each of these activities filled them with hope and positivity. Hope - that they would be soon cured of the disease and would be back with their family and friends. And it was this hope that even the deadliest virus could not take away from them, which finally became their means of redemption from the ward.
(Names modified to protect identity)