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We shall overcome some day - The COVID-19 pandemic from the eyes of a physician

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We shall overcome some day - The COVID-19 pandemic from the eyes of a physician

I remember when I first heard news of a new virus emerging, I didn’t pay much attention. I thought that it would be a contained matter. I didn’t expect the virus to hit my country — Bangladesh. We, like many around the world, were living with a false sense of safety, and some of our physicians who were also involved in policymaking began to say that the country need not panic. Despite all this, I started reading about the novel coronavirus disease on the internet.

I work as a doctor and this initial step proved to be useful later. Although we were not prepared as healthcare workers even around February 2020, my reading informed me that keeping distance and maintaining social distance were necessary to curb the transmission of this highly dangerous virus.

In March, Bangladesh reported its first COVID-19 case –the patient had travelled from abroad. Our country was least prepared. We had only one PCR lab ready in the capital city of Dhaka.  In the area where I live, Chittagong, we had absolutely no preparation for contact tracing and PCR testing and no facility to treat patients of COVID-19. Soon, the number of patients started increasing.

We followed the news that there was a huge increase of patients in Italy. During that time some people of Bangladesh from Italy and China came back home to Bangladesh.  They were asked to quarantine but they denied or escaped as they claimed there was no designated quarantine facility.

In Chittagong, groups of physicians started to work together to increase knowledge and awareness of the Coronavirus among practicing physicians. I underwent training on donning and doffing of PPE, which was organized by the Chittagong Medical College Teachers Association at the end of March. In the meantime, COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic by the WHO.

In April, the health authority of Bangladesh finally noticed that there was no chance of escaping the pandemic and the government declared general leave for the whole country, placing the country under indefinite lockdown. Teaching centers were asked to remain closed, but hospitals remained open with their outpatient services working at limited capacity.

Previously, the hospital that I work at was dealing with only non-COVID-19 patients. But the government declared that all private hospitals were required to accommodate and treat COVID-19 patients. So we started to prepare separate COVID-19 units. 

As I was working as a faculty and consultant of medicine at the Medical College Hospital, I had to go to the hospital to manage admitted patients. I did so in fear; for months I had heard and observed the deadly virus take lives in China, Italy, USA, Brazil, etc. Not just that but the virus was new for me and it was known to be highly contagious. But my fear had to take a backseat as the number of COVID-19 patients started increasing in Chittagong. I stopped my usual private practice in the evenings and began telemedicine for patients who needed my consultation or help.

There were regular meetings of the hospital staff so that we could prepare ourselves for the COVID-19 patients. Additionally, I also started to attend different webinars to upgrade my knowledge.

The number of patients at our hospital increased day by day and soon our general ward began to admitCOVID-19 patients. Some of our resident doctors and healthcare workers (HCWs) also got infected. Patient management was near to breaking point as residents started demanding necessary PPEs and thatCOVID-19 patients be admitted and accommodated separately, away from non-COVID-19 patients.

Eventually one of our doctors contracted COVID-19 and became seriously ill. He needed special care butCOVID-19 treatment facilities and separate wards were not yet available at our hospital. He was kept in a separate room and we tried our best to nurse him back to health. But his condition deteriorated and he had to be sent to a government hospital where COVID-19 treatment facilities were available. But despite our attempts, a few days later, he succumbed to the virus. His passing caused us, the doctors and the HCWs, deep pain and anxiety.

In late May, we finally had our COVID-19 ward ready. I was appointed as a consultant along with some others to go on rounds in this ward.

Finally the day came in the first week of June 2020. Our COVID-19 ward is ready and in the very first day all seats are filled with patients. The hospital appointed a set of consultants, three sets of doctors, and HCWs to work for 10 days a month in the COVID-19 ward: I was one of them.

I would arrive at the hospital early in the morning, put on my PPE and start working in the ward. It was suffocating with the N95 mask but I completed my rounds in the COVID-19 ward everyday. By the end of June there were hardly enough beds in all of Chittagong for the number ofCOVID-19-infected patients. By early July, the estimated number of COVID-19 cases in the country was more than 150,000 and in Chittagong, more than 10,000.Thankfully by then other private hospitals had also started admitting COVID-19 patients. But I feel like we had a head-start.

Now we treatCOVID-19-infected patients more confidently, learning every time with every patient. The mortality rate for COVID-19 in our hospital is low and patients who come in are satisfied with our care and treatment.

As COVID-19 is a new experience for the whole world, including Bangladesh, there is a lot to learn. A lot of research and experimentation is underway in order to help find suitable treatments or vaccines for the virus. Sometimes I come across information about a drug that may or may not work. New information keeps coming to us, and as physicians we have to attend to that information and adapt if it is not useful for our practice. To fulfil our duties and provide good and essential healthcare, we as doctors need to keep ourselves updated and by attending different webinars.

The whole world seems to have turned upside down and everyone’s lives have been disrupted by the lockdown, fear, and anxiety brought in by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. But when I see how countries like China, Italy, or Vietnam were able to bring the situation under control and ride the tide successfully, this gives me hope. I am certain that as a country “we shall overcome some day!”

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Published on: Aug 31, 2020

Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Chattogram Maa O Shishu Hospital Medical College, Chittagong, Bangladesh
See more from Rajat Biswas


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