Left: Photo taken while in PPE, from a phone that needs to be inside a plastic cover; Dr Asher has been married for three years, but hasn't seen her husband in five months because of Covid-19 duty. “There’s no time to feel fear or think about anything beyond my patients,” says 34-year-old Dr Archana Asher, a physician at the government-run GMERS (Gujarat Medical Education and Research Society) Hospital in Vadodara. On and off Covid-19 duty since March, Asher’s typical day starts as early as 6 am. That is if she has slept at all. “I get calls around the clock, sometimes throughout the night, especially if a critical patient is wheeled in,” she says. The phone calls also include the logistics that Asher handles for the 150 patients in the Covid-19 ward. This includes arranging blood from the blood bank or coordinating with the dialysis centre and nephrologist for patients. Then there’s telementoring sessions with disease and intensive care specialists from other public hospitals in Gujarat, to exchange notes and treatment plans. “It really helps us understand what’s working and what isn’t,” she says. As her first task in the morning, Asher reviews a list she started making when the outbreak first began, and one she updates several times a day. This list details the medicines each patient has been prescribed, the treatment plan for each of them and their daily progress. “It helps me prepare for the day ahead and the next steps,” Asher says. After fixing herself a quick breakfast, she heads out for her rounds in the Covid-19 ward, which start at 9 am. However, she gets there early as it takes 30 minutes to wear the personal protective gear (PPE). Once donned, doctors cannot use the loo and rounds inside the ward last four to five hours. What makes matters worse is, “It gets really sweaty in the PPE, so we have to drink water constantly,” Asher says. Once with the patients though, Asher forgets about everything else. A large part of the rounds includes counselling them. “It’s a new disease and most of them are going to be in isolation for 10-14 days, so they want to talk. It’s our job to keep them in high spirits. It’s harder for the patients in the ICU,” she says. The last three months have been a blur for the young doctor. Asher, married for the past three years, lives alone currently as her husband, also a doctor, is pursuing a urological surgery course in Kerala. It has now been five months since the two met. “I was planning to go to Kerala in March, but then our hospital got its first Covid-19 patient,” she said. "All leaves were cancelled. He cannot come home due to the lockdown restrictions and my Covid-19 duty. We hardly get to talk for a few minutes a day, but he's my support system and knows that my patients come first.” Asher was recently felicitated by Gujarat MLA Manisha Vakil for her duty during the coronavirus. Her parents and in-laws both live in Vadodara, and have urged her to move back home, but she has refused since they are senior citizens and have comorbidities. “They are stressed about me and there are times when I’m too tired to cook—so my mom makes me lunch and leaves it outside her door.” Asher picks it up from the gate and drives off. It has been three months since she has met her parents too. “I wake up every day and go to the hospital. It’s like I’ve had no time to realise that there’s a lockdown,” she says. But the rewards come when patients recover. “Senior citizens who are my grandfather’s age have walked out of the hospital. Some of them even touched my feet to thank me, and in the end, it all seems worth it,” she smiles. This is part of a daily series on how Covid-19 has upended the lives of essential workers across the country.
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