Of course, being in the lockdown restricts socialising, so like many others who took to social media to stay connected, T.A. Balaji, a resident of Chennai with an active social media profile, took to Twitter to share what was occupying his mind.
On 17 March, he tweeted that his daughter’s workload had increased to three shifts at the government Royapettah Hospital and that she barely had time to come home for lunch.
The message ended on a casual ‘life is like that, at times’ note, but his concern for his daughter was palpable.
Bala’s daughter, Madhumita Balaji, 23, is on the home stretch of her MBBS degree from the Government Kilpuak Medical College (GKMC). She was supposed to have finished her one-year internship at the Royapettah Hospital in Chennai, but then the covid-19 pandemic made its way to India.
“Half of the interns were moved to the KMC hospital to tend to isolation wards that were set up, so it became very hectic for us. And then our internship got extended by a month,” she said.
Madhumitha wants to pursue post-graduation and is preparing to crack NEET (National eligibility cum entrance test) next year.
“My coaching was supposed to start from the 20th April. So, I had decided that the couple of weeks that I get off, I would just put my feet up, relax and watch plenty of movies with friends and family,” she said.
Movies are the biggest stress buster for her and she would frequent the movie theatres often, but things changed drastically when along with an extension of her internship, she got moved to KMC hospital. She has been placed in the isolation ward meant to treat covid-19 patients.
She got night-shifts for the week that started 1 April and ever since life has not been the same. “My shift lasts 12 hours and by itself there isn’t much work yet, because there aren’t too many admissions and when we do get cases we do the routine check of the vitals, get the throat swab done and get the patient admitted to the ward, but at the back of the mind there is always this worry and fear,” she added.
The swab test is conducted by the King Institute of Preventive Medicine and Research in Chennai.
It’s not fear alone that wears her down —safety precautions can be tiresome too. “Wearing the PPE kit is nothing short of a drill. It takes about 15-20 minutes to put it on because one has to follow the sequence. Usually, one is supposed to change the PPE kit once in six hours but we wear it for 12 hours given the shortage. And those 12 hours are horrible because you are all sweaty,” she added. Once back home, the drill starts again.
“When I used to get back from work, I would straight go for a shower, wash my clothes and basically stay locked up inside. I didn’t meet my family and in fact they would just put the food outside the door. The time spent in the washroom definitely increased by a lot.”
Madhumita is now done with her weekly shift and is on home quarantine for a week. “A week is too little, but we also have a shortage of staff so I will have to go back to work after a week. All the interns from my batch are at the covid-19 ward, but I will be doing the day shift,” she said.
While she no longer goes for duty, her life back home hasn’t changed much. For one, the fear hasn’t left her bedside. “My biggest worry is not whether I will fall sick, but what if I end up being a carrier. I worry for my family a lot and I can’t stress the importance of social distancing and contact tracing enough. Given the recent spikes I think it would be wise to extend the lockdown. It takes about 7-14 days to exhibit symptoms and that’s why this virus is like an invisible enemy that can sneak up on you.”
Her routine back home too hasn’t changed much. “I am still locked up in my room, but now that I have all the time to myself I have started preparing for my post-graduation and when I am not doing that I am binge watching. I just finished binge watching Money Heist, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine is my favourite,” she said.
Like everyone else, for Madhumita too the phone and internet are her best friends in these times but sometimes they end up bringing her some bad news. Recent cases of doctors and healthcare workers being discriminated against, have left her disheartened. “I feel angry at the ignorance of people, but in Chennai you have a very good doctor-patient relationship, most of the covid-19 patients in KMC are not Tamilians and yes they are sad because it happened to them, but we have not encountered any problems. In fact, even my neighbours are extremely concerned for my well-being,” she added.
Her one-week of quarantine gets over by the week-end and then it’s back to tending to the covid-19 patients, but there is a note of optimism. “The very serious cases actually have tested negative for covid-19. Most covid-19 patients are healthy and are recovering well,” she said.