Dr Aparna Hegde’s day starts at 4 am. The urogynaecologist immerses herself into research—she’s done pioneering studies in the field of 2D and 3D imaging of the pelvic floor—for an uninterrupted three hours. She then squeezes in a spot of exercise, downs a breakfast of dosa or upma and gets ready for work.
By 8 am, she’s in Cama Hospital, a government run maternity and childcare institute in south Mumbai, where she serves as honorary associate professor. Here, she usually sees patients with pelvic floor problems for free. “I studied at Stanford and did my fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic [in Ohio]. I always found it absurd that the higher you go, the more inaccessible you become to poor patients. I didn’t want that to be the case, so I serve at Cama Hospital, every day,” she says.
The coming of the new coronavirus, however, has meant that her regular work has stalled. “It’s not of the emergency kind,” she says. So instead, till about 1 pm, she takes rounds of the hospital’s Covid-19 ward—which she helped set up—examining prenatal and post-delivery patients. Work can get heavy, she says, especially in a PPE suit, but there are moments of relief too. Like when the ward erupted in peals of laughter as two mothers decided to name their newborns Lockdown (boy) and Sanitiser (girl) to mark the times.
As part of setting up the 100-bed Covid-19 ward at Cama Hospital, Hegde trained the resident doctors, nurses and staff on donning, doffing and disinfecting personal protective equipment. “That itself is a science,” she says. She’s been regularly conducting sessions for them on safety and other critical measures through this period.
After wrapping up her work at Cama Hospital, Hegde would normally head to Global Hospital, Surya Hospital or Women’s Hospital where she carries out her private practice. Nowadays, she heads home even though that means exposing her 71-year-old diabetic mother to the virus. There are space constraints at Cama Hospital presently, she says, so she has no choice.
The rest of her day passes by in a multitude of activities. Among them, Hegde speaks with potential donors for the supply of N95 masks and PPE suits. While the government provided Cama Hospital with protective gear, more was needed, so Hegde took it upon herself to make arrangements. “My fundraising skills honed at Armman have come to good use,” she chuckles, referring to the NGO she founded in 2008. Armman helps expectant and new mothers with information on preventive care via pre-recorded voice calls. Women can choose the day and time that they’d like to receive their weekly calls. Present in 16 states across India, Armman has touched the lives of 18 million women and children so far. It recently became the only Asian organisation to win the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship this year.
“Usually, my medical practice and entrepreneurial work is completely divorced. But through this pandemic, they’ve actually converged,” she says
In fact, Hegde went so far as to leverage Armman’s extensive mobile technology platform and expertise to help the government send critical information to frontline health workers. “The government needed to provide safety-related guidelines to health workers so they approached us. In three days, we were able to get this off the ground,” she says. The service has reached 800,000 health workers so far, including medical officers and ASHA helpers, through timely voice calls and SMSes.
Moreover, since the pandemic has prevented pregnant women from visiting the doctor for routine check-ups, Hegde set up a virtual clinic on Armman. Women can call a toll-free number and get advice from the 50+ obstetricians and gynaecologists who volunteer on the platform. The tougher cases are referred to Hegde, who virtually consults with 6-8 patients daily.
Hegde wraps up her day’s work by 11 pm, leaving little time for anything else. But through the lockdown, she’s made time for 7-year-old Aarav—her former fellow and current work partner’s son—with whom she plays 30 minutes of online scrabble every day. “It’s been so nice connecting with him,” she says, her voice tinkling with a smile.
So why does she do what she does? “I don’t want to attribute any heroism to it,” she says. “I’m just doing what I’m trained to do.”
This is part of a daily series on how Covid-19 has upended the lives of essential workers across the country. Read more here