Kathakali has been a journalist for a decade and a half, working previously with The Telegraph and Times of India. An MA in political science and a Chevening Fellow, she writes on various themes--the business of sports, pop culture, startups, innovation--and co-produces the video series, From the Field. She is also part of the desk, editing, rewriting and putting the print edition to bed. Kathakali is a sports nut and collects autographs as a hobby. She enjoys travelling and music, and you'll often find her humming completely out of tune.
Vijay Raturi works rotational shifts of six hours, which could be in the morning, day or night; he is currently put up at the isolation ward that AIIMS in Rishikesh.
March 2 was the last time that Vijay Raturi, a hospital attendant at AIIMS, Rishikesh, went home. Ever since, the 28-year-old’s life has been confined to his six-hour shift at the hospital’s Covid-19 ward—and the isolation apartment AIIMS has put him up at, 3 km away.
Here, he whiles time away playing games on his mobile phone and checking up on current affairs. “My mother is 65 and I can’t risk her health by returning home from the hospital. I’d rather not meet her as long as I work with Covid-19 patients,” says Raturi. On the daily calls he does with his mother (who lives with his brother, a driver) he admits that once in a while, she does get a bit edgy about his absence. “Then I explain that if I leave the hospital now, there will be a staff crunch at such a critical time. It is my duty to stay put and help patients.”
Not just his mother; there is no one Raturi wants to meet right now and risk a spread. At the front line of the medical crisis, he could be exposed to a high viral load—fixing patients’ beds, assisting them with medicines, accompanying them for procedures like X-rays and blood checks, steering their wheelchairs or carrying them on the stretcher, etc. With cases streaming in every day, his duty hours—rotational six-hour shifts that could be in the morning, day or night—have extended to seven days a week.
Through this frenzied pace, he’s become accustomed to the new normal—the shift from the more casual OPD to the highly infectious isolation ward. “We would feel a little overwhelmed initially. Now, it feels like a regular day. We have become used to dealing with Covid-19 patients,” he says.
Despite Covid-19 ballooning into a global crisis, fear isn’t something Raturi has ever confronted—and nor have his colleagues, he says. “Before we started work, we were trained well in how to keep ourselves and the patients safe. We were also asked if we had any doubts, but we were all ready to go,” he says.
He senses the fear quotient is sliding in patients as well. “They don’t talk to us much. But you could feel that from earlier, when Covid-19 was an unknown entity, to now, when they can see so many recoveries, it’s not quite as scary. But that doesn’t mean we should let our guards down. Caution, and not fear, is the key in fighting Covid-19.”
For Raturi, caution begins with himself, in the form of a 15-minute routine of fortifying himself with PPE, shoe covers, surgical gloves and an N95 mask before entering the ward. For every fortnight of work, he is sent into a fortnight of home quarantine, and allowed to resume work only after clearing a Covid-19 test. Which is why it irks him to see citizens brazenly flouting restrictions even amidst this heightened spread in the country.
“The end of lockdown shouldn’t mean the end of protection,” he says. On the road, he has counselled people on the need to mask themselves up. “They tell me their home is close by or they’ve stepped out only for a short while. Neither is a valid excuse to not wear a mask. The spread of the disease has been started by humans and only humans can end it.”
This is part of a daily series on how Covid-19 has upended the lives of essential workers across the country. Read more here