Quarantine Tales: A Doctor shares his Mental Trauma

So here I am, having a conversation with a postgraduate doctor who is risking his life everyday to save COVID patients in the ICU. While the world has been grappling with the pandemic for over a year, many experts have talked about taking care of the mental health of the people who have been stuck at home for what seems to be an eternity. But no one is interested to know what a doctor goes through everyday when he treats the highly infections patients with no choice, no regret and no end to this seemingly unending situation. Mental health of the doctors are important too.

Following is the random talk I had with one of them at AIIMS patna, which soon turned into a way of glimpsing into their frustration and helplessness…

Me: Hey Sajid* (name changed). You are posted in ICU duty now, right? How has it been?

Sajid: It is fine. Although I am not liking it anymore. It has been one year since this restless duty started. I feel exhausted.

Me: Tell me about it. You must be seeing so many patients going through hell in this second wave especially. How is the condition inside the hospital?

Sajid: Worse than last year. You toil day and night after hundreds of patients, give your best to make them better. You study all the time about drugs and new ever changing guidelines and apply what is best for them. Yet you see many of them worsen, gasping for breath until you have to put them on ventilator. The thing about COVID is, being intubated and on the ventilator is never good news. 80-90% chance the patient isn’t coming back.

Ventilated patients have a slim chance of survival in COVID

Me: Man, that’s just horrible.

Sajid: And then, if the patient dies, it’s the middle of the night and you don’t know how to inform the next of kin. You feel like crying yourself. Inside the PPE, it is hard to recognise how the person underneath is devastated. But you gather all your strength and dial the phone. The relatives on the other side start crying horrendously and all you can do is feel your own heart breaking. Yes, it’s a tremendous loss for whoever has lost their family member. But what people often forget, is that at the same time, doctors lose their patients too…. everyday, never ending, hundreds of deaths since the pandemic started. You feel a responsibility towards them when they come to the ICU, but when they pass away, we are the ones consoling the family whereas no one is there to console the doctor who lost the patient after days and hours of trying. Doctors aren’t the soulless medical machines everyone thinks of.

Doctors are humans too…

Me: I didn’t realise the situation is so bad there…

Sajid: It is. To my immense strong-will, I gather my courage again and move on to the next patient, while my tears are mixed with sweat, with nobody knowing any better about what just transpired on me. Day and night, I deal with nightmares, whenever I get some sleep. Sometimes I wake up terrified, not aware of the present…

Me: What kind of nightmares?

Sajid: That this place has been ravaged by war, by terrorists. Only the reality is, we are indeed fighting an invisible army of the virus. I am fatigued and exhausted. How long will this war continue? Scores of doctors are dying, and sometimes I fear for my life. I fear for my family. But I cannot show that to non medicos. If we fall apart, what chance is there for the public? Everything will be chaos, not to say it already seems like it. And the times I am not asleep, I am inundated with phone calls about beds, and consultations from people I don’t even know. I feel like switching off my phone sometimes, but then I feel it would be unethical on my part. My habit is serving the people, and usually I did that without much second thought, but the pandemic has been so rough on me and other doctors, that now I feel like fleeing the battlefield.

Health team trying to resuscitate a patient
Proning, a way to increase oxygen saturation

Me: I really don’t know what to say…how long have you been feeling like this? I think you need to share your feelings to a professional. You need to cope in a healthy manner.

Sajid: Yes you are right. I do feel like talking my heart out to someone. After such endless hours of duty, I cannot keep all the regret and frustration inside me anymore. On top of that, there is always that fear of getting thrashed by the relatives, if they feel that their patient died because of doctor’s negligence, which is rarely the case. The public opinion is against us. Everyone vents out their frustration on us doctors. Where can we vent out then? Really, my head will explode. This pandemic is a mess, exposing the bad sides of everything we hold dear. I cannot keep losing patients like this.

(There is a hint of tears in his eyes, his throat choking up)

Me: There is a helpline in our hospital available now for doctors. I don’t know if you are aware. But you can send your information there, or call them directly, and book an appointment. A consultant from the Psychiatry department will approach you then and you can talk about all these miserable thoughts you are having. Don’t be disheartened, we are all in this together, and we will help each other out. Every war has an end. So…where do I share the link?

3 comments

  1. This is so sad…when all this is over…hope all countries and leaders collectively think about allowed the mental trauma frontline workers would have faced and take some steps to help them all out. Salute to all covid warriors!

    Liked by 1 person

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