Photo Essay: Challenges in Kashmir’s Covid-19 Combat

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In an ongoing viral war, Kashmir’s frontline suffered a dent on Tuesday when one of its doctors was tested positive for Covid-19. The case has once again highlighted the tightrope walk for Kashmir’s healthcare specialists in the fight against the fatal entity.

Abid Bhat | Wasim Nabi  

SINCE March 25, when a regular hospital in downtown Srinagar became a dedicated Covid-19 centre in style of a war-theatre, many doctors haven’t had their ‘normal’ family reunions. Most of them just visit home to change clothes and return to tackle what they call as a “war-like situation” in hospital wards.

For many medics, it has already become a regular battle between nerves and upholding the Hippocratic Oath.

“There’re clear guidelines that doctors can’t go closer to patients,” says a junior doctor posted in city’s Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM). “But patients don’t understand that. They tell us, ‘Are we some untouchables that you aren’t touching us?’ Sadly, they believe that checking regular BP or fever is all what it takes to handle this health emergency!”

But then, says their team leader, Dr. Bilquis Shah, you can’t complain much.

“Some of our patients even demand baby food like Cerelac and toothbrush for their Covid-19 positive children,” Dr. Bilquis, nodal officer at JLNM, says. “In this crisis situation, where we’re fighting this pandemic, such demands, amid lockdown, only make our task complicated.”

In Kashmir’s SMHS hospital, a group of doctors are out in lawn to bask under the afternoon sun. Covered with extra-protective gear from head to toe, these medics stay tightlipped, even as they keep raising concerns with each other.

A tight-grip on information was applied through a certain government order, warning medics of consequences for criticizing the official Covid-19 response in media.

But at JLNM, Dr. Bilquis is speaking for her tribe in times when everyone is freaking out because of the novel coronavirus.

“Fear psychosis in public is such that I keep telling my staff that in these extraordinary times we should resort to more and more compassion and sympathy while dealing with them,” she says.

It’s because of this compassion that a healthcare staffer broke down over the plight of patients while speaking over a phone recently.

“Wish we could share our stories one day the way we’re seeing them unfolding daily,” the junior doctor posted in the hospital continues. “It’s a trauma which none of us had encountered earlier in our lives and careers.”

Inside the ward, the breakdown moments have now become a regular feature. Mention of minors admitted in the hospital for Covid-19 often makes medics tearful.

“More than kids, we’ve to assure their parents who remain on edge for their wards’ safety,” Dr. Bilquis says. “Some of these parents are negative but have to accompany their positive kids to console and comfort them.”

Today, the job dynamics for doctors experienced in tackling the conflict-emergency situations have completely changed in Kashmir. It has now become more about testing.

“And every time when we test any person, we keep praying for negative result,” the junior doctor at JLNM says. “It’s one thing to read about these regular Covid-19 positive cases in news updates, but it’s entirely a different experience to break the news to a patient, who shudders in fear and anxiety.”

And then, there’re challenges, like dealing with the patients in denial.

Recently when a Kulgam couple was tested positive for Covid-19, they created a huge ruckus in JLNM hospital, saying, ‘they’re fine’. Dr. Bilquis and her staff had to put up a lot of efforts to bring the situation under control.

“Since the couple was asymptomatic, they lost it when informed about their infected status,” the lady doctor says. “They were in shock, as their three children, including a 26-month old kid, were alone at home. They kept arguing that they’re healthy and fine and that doctors are deliberately declaring them Covid-19 patients. You can’t blame them, as all these positive patients are asymptomatic, making them believe that they’ve nothing to worry.”

Dr. Bilquis and her staff have to grapple with such angry patients regularly in the hospital. “It’s very difficult to convince them that you’ve to be in the hospital for the treatment,” she says.

At the same time, she says, the doctors are supposed to do their job.

And while doing the same, a doctor at GMC Baramulla was tested positive for Covid-19 on April 21.

Earlier, a Jammu-based medic was declared positive, making many believe that even protective gears aren’t the safety symbols. But, does this latest crack in Covid-19 combat worry them?

“We perfectly understand it, that we’re not doing an easy job,” Dr Bilquis says. “But at the same time, we can’t wash our hands, when we’re supposed to lead from the front.”

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