By Dr. Devapriya Dev, member of the Bramhall & Woodford Rotary Club in Greater Manchester, United Kingdom
I work full-time as a Consultant Pulmonary Physician in Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, England. I have also been a Rotarian for nearly 15 years.
Since 20 March, I have been responsible for looking after a newly designated COVID-19 ward in my hospital. Along with a colleague, I was placed in charge of 30 patients. At first, I was hesitant but I started to enjoy working alongside junior doctors and nurses who also suddenly found themselves on the frontlines of the pandemic.
The first week was a challenge as adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) wasn’t available and I had three COVID-19 patients. We had the bare necessities which included a plastic apron, ordinary surgical masks and gloves. Later, we had proper FFP3 mask fittings, but due to short supply we were asked to use surgical masks which were far from ideal in protecting against the virus.
During the second week, 20 beds were filled with COVID-19 patients. I had 10 patients, ranging from 28 to 90 years old, under my care. Almost 85% of patients showed symptoms of varying degrees of pneumonia. The elderly patients had several other medical conditions and less immunity to withstand the effects of pneumonia. They took longer to recover and sadly, one person passed away. Another patient had to be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as his pneumonia worsened and he went into respiratory failure and eventually died. He was also immunocompromised.
It was a stormy week to say the least. More so because we had to reassure worried families in the middle of all these restrictions and physical distancing. We were also under pressure as two of our six Respiratory Consultants were at home self-isolating because their children or spouses were showing symptoms of COVID-19.
During the third week, the number of patients with COVID-19 had increased to 26 and now spilled over to another ward. In total, we had almost 50 cases so far. Anticipating the peak of the virus, provisions were being made for bed space, PPE, ventilators and also space in the morgue. We cancelled all our regular clinic appointments and started telephone consultations daily.
Things were getting worse. A sad case of a 35-year-old young, healthy man who was admitted with sudden onset of shortness of breath, fever and cough. He had signs of pneumonia in both his lungs, and his oxygen capacity was reducing despite a high flow of oxygen from a ventilator. Within a day, his condition worsened needing more oxygen, and he was transferred to the ICU where he sadly passed away despite all our efforts and treatment. The biggest tragedy for patients who die in the ICU is that their loved ones often don’t have a chance to see them during their final hours.
Now, nearly 10 weeks later, things are getting calmer. The number of COVID-19 patients is slowly decreasing, as is the number of deaths. As more people are tested and traced, along with social distancing measures and ‘stay home’ orders, it seems were are on track to going “back to normal.”
I have remained in touch with Rotary friends during this time and did try to attend a few Zoom meetings in my scrubs. In one of them, I was invited as a speaker and talked about my experience during this pandemic. There were many pertinent COVID-19 related questions which were brought up from Rotary members and guests and it was an informative session for everyone. Also, my club has been fundraising for charities virtually by hosting auctions, wine & cheese evenings, and more. We are trying innovate ways to raise funds remotely as our regular fundraisers have been postponed or cancelled.
I have been touched by the appreciation and gratitude expressed by my friends, neighbours and acquaintances for my services on the frontline and for putting myself at risk when everyone else is isolating themselves. I was especially moved when I drove out of my driveway at 6:15 am to go to the hospital. As I was closing my gate, I heard clapping and applause from my neighbours who woke up at 6 am, in their nightgowns to show their appreciation. It brought tears to my eyes.
Although it is my duty and I have taken an oath to serve my patients and alleviate their illnesses, we as healthcare workers never predicted we would be risking our own lives like this. These little gestures make a difference and make me feel these risks are worth taking. This, along with my principle of Service to Mankind which I have learned from my humble upbringing and the Rotary motto of Service Above Self, I hope give me strength to keep going towards this uncertain future.