Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The second wave, as seen by a 22-year-old intern doctor on long hours of Covid-19 duty

Ambulances lining up with patients, 12-hour shifts, limited resources and deteriorating mental health are some of the many challenges Dr Alisha Akhani has been dealing with fresh out of her MBBS course

Naandika Tripathi
Published: May 17, 2021 10:47:29 AM IST
Updated: May 17, 2021 03:35:05 PM IST

The second wave, as seen by a 22-year-old intern doctor on long hours of Covid-19 dutyFor Dr. Alisha Akhani, a 22-year-old intern, handling the second wave of the pandemic has been a completely new experience

A twenty-year-old woman who was five months pregnant was rushed to Shree Krishna Hospital in Gujarat’s Anand district in the last week of April. She tested positive for Covid-19 and, according to the doctors, was a high-risk patient. With her oxygen levels constantly dipping, doctors immediately sedated her and put her on the ventilator. The mother-to-be was lying on the bed with tubes in her mouth and IV lines running from her wrists. Since her condition was still deteriorating, the doctors had to deliver the baby through C-section. The baby didn’t survive but the doctors kept battling to save the mother.

This was a completely new experience for 22-year-old Dr Alisha Akhani, an intern at the hospital. Fresh out of college after finishing her MBBS course in March 2021, she has already joined the fight of the second wave of Covid-19. "We were still hopeful to save the mother. I sent her blood samples, and after finishing my 12-hour shift, I went back to my room in the morning. When I came back at night, I discovered that the girl who was just two years younger than me, hadn't made it. I had just seen her 12 hours go. I was devastated and numb. I didn't know who to tell this to. Everyone around me was busy with their work. There was a new patient on her cot already, some 40-year-old gentleman,” recalls Dr Akhani. “I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and resumed my duty. For I had to do my job for the sake of the other patients.”

Dr Akhani is one of the 35 interns out of a batch of 135 who was assigned Covid-19 duty. Four days before joining, the interns were given training on donning and doffing PPE kits, various oxygen delivery devices, the workings of the ICUs, how to take Covid-19 samples, and so on. “Frankly speaking, I was scared. The first time I wore a PPE kit and went inside the ICU, I was afraid of even going near the patients. I always knew that we'll be called for Covid-19 duty, it was only a matter of time. My family, especially my grandparents, were worried about my safety. I have extremely supportive parents, which has made my internship ten times easier,” says Dr Akhani who has been on Covid-19 duty since April 24 and every day she deals with 40 patients in the ICU.

The second wave, as seen by a 22-year-old intern doctor on long hours of Covid-19 dutyA temporary field hospital outside Shree Krishna Hospital in Gujarat's Anand district

The amount of mental stress these junior, resident and intern doctors have to go through as they treat Covid-19 patients is almost unimaginable. Dr Akhani tries to cope by engaging herself in activities she really likes. “Over the years, I have developed some really strong coping mechanisms. One of the things that medical school teaches you is how to stay calm in a high pressure situation. Everybody needs an outlet. For me, it's sports. Be it basketball, badminton, or just simply running. I try to take out at least an hour of my day to do that. Apart from that, my friends and I get together and have a rant session every day!” she says.

“Discussing our respective duties, the patients we saw, any funny incidents that happened, and some toxic elements we have to deal with. Knowing that we're all in the same boat helps us sleep a little better. Whenever I feel helpless, I resort to spreading correct Covid-19 related information on social media. Even if one person is benefited by my guidance, or one person is inspired to follow proper Covid-19 behaviour, I'd have succeeded as an intern doctor.”

A lot of days are tough and hard to deal with. The second wave has also left frontline warriors helpless with insufficient resources to fight the pandemic. “There's always 30 ambulances waiting outside to get a bed. We triage all the ambulances into red, yellow and green. Resident doctors, intern doctors and consultants are specifically assigned triage duties so patients who need urgent care can be admitted on a priority basis. Even after doing so, we've seen patients die in the ambulance itself. Nobody sees it coming. Due to the overwhelming cases, our administration has tried its best to distribute manpower. Even then, we're short-staffed. All the doctors are overworked, managing with limited resources,” explains Dr Akhani.

The problem of long lines of ambulances waiting outside the hospital every day is now under control with the opening of a temporary field hospital. “Now, the patients are out in open within our view, which makes it easier to manage them. Previously, because they would remain in the ambulances, a lot patients used to worsen even after we tended to them,” she adds.

Losing a patient takes a toll on Dr Akhani and she it fills her with remorse. “When I try to sleep, such incidents play in a loop. I think about the things we could've done differently. I wish we could've paid more attention to those patients, and wish we could've seen it coming,” she says. “We live through it all, just to do it all over again the next day.”

In the last 24 hours, India has reported over 3.11 lakh new cases, taking the overall tally to 2.46 crore. As many as 4,077 deaths were reported across the country, taking the death toll of the pandemic to 2.7 lakh people. Active cases stand at 26.18 lakh.

“Now is the worst time to get infected,” says Dr Akhani. “Be responsible for your own safety. Vaccinate as soon as possible. Follow science. We can win this.”​