My Experience in COVID-19 ICU

Your Life can change drastically within a year…. Being a newly registered Doctor that’s exactly what happened in the year of 2020. With SARS-CoV-19 virus hitting India , and 1.3 billion people jostling for space, it was only a matter of time till India had the leading Number of Covid patients. There are now 6.5 million positive patients in India second only to the United States. As a healthcare worker our daily hospital routine changed. Wearing our N95 Mask , face shield, haircap,  with a bottle of sanitizer at hand in our pockets, car, hostel room , washing our scrubs daily( sometimes twice a day) and hitting the shower Post-work was the new norm.

It was a regular busy day at Christian Medical College (CMC) hospital when around lunchtime I got a call from our medical Superintendent office . I was told that I had duty in our COVID Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for the rest of the month.

The first thought that came to me was , “Ok I’ve got to have a light lunch and not too much water ” . I needed to plan my meals and water intake smartly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat / drink anything or use the bathroom in my Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the next 8 hours once inside the ICU.

Wearing the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the first time was a tricky task . Thankfully there was a helpful staff member that helped me in navigating the donning and doffing process( wearing on and taking off our PPE). The next step was wrapping up my phone with a plastic cover ( we used the plastic that the PPE kit was packed in #reduce/reuse/recycle) and taping it securely around the phone with transpore (aka Surgical tape) . We would then tape the edge of our PPE body suit below our chin securely with our N95 mask to prevent any air leak .

We were told that other than our scrubs we were wearing , we were not supposed to bring any other items like a pen , paper , book or wallet into the Covid wards and ICU.

Going into the Covid ICU on the first day was eye opening and shocking . I had never witnessed anything like this before …seeing so many patients sick together, it was frightening . As a frontline workers we realized first hand the gravity of this Pandemic and the effect it was having on Patients and their families .

From Caring for the patients in the ICU , taking their daily samples , helping in making their front charts and monitoring their Oxygen saturation , it was heartbreaking to see our patients struggle to breath for days.

It made me realize that life is too short , and tomorrow is never promised. It made me realize how we take so many things for granted in life. Breathing air which is so vital for our existence is taken for granted , we are so busy with our own problems and busy schedules that we dont take the time to pause reflect and enjoy each and every present moment fully.

It definitely made me realize that our breathe is Prana, helping us sustain life . On a spiritual level our breathe is what ties our body and soul together, without which no life can exist.

Seeing our patients struggle to breathe , so much so that even for them to eat food without their Oxygen mask/NIV/CPAP on, you would see the Oxygen saturation drop less than 90%….Seeing our patients pass away due to their critical state in the ICU…without being able to see their loved one’s is a very difficult situation to face.

There were days when you felt both physically and emotionally exhausted. This is something no number of years in training or reading medical books can prepare you for . Dealing with our own emotions and \mental health became a priority especially during these tough times. Meditation and yoga helped me destress from the emotional and physical effect of working in the ICU .

As a medical student it was definitely a learning oppurtunity -from learning how to triage Covid patients , Reading Chest X-Ray films , taking patient samples (Arterial blood gas Samples, Venous samples, Arterial Central line and venous central line samples) , to learning about new COVID treatment regimen and types of Oxygen support/Ventilators.

When you are on COVID duty you have to isolate yourself and stay quarantined . Apart from staying away from home it was tough not getting to meet people around you in our hostel but it was necessary to protect others and prevent any risk of transmission of the virus. 

The hours of sweating inside the PPE , Continuously moving about the ICU taking morning samples from our patients from 3am onwards ( blood samples were sent to labs by 6am and reports collected by 7am) combined with the stench of our PPE and the continuous rhythmic high-pitched beeping sounds of the multiple ventilator supports made me want to escape out by the last hour of Night duty.

The moment of stepping out of the PPE and ICU taking in a fresh breathe of air without the N95 mask felt heavenly. The Scars and sweat on my face from the tight mask  was followed by multiple soap and shampoo washes . To be honest it did leave my skin feeling dry so moisturizing generously during these days was Key.

Overall my experience in COVID ICU taught me is how truly fragile life can be , and how being Healthy physically and mentally is the most important thing in Life . Health is Wealth, Life is short and unpredictable . So live it to the fullest and use all your time on earth wisely. Learn new things everyday , Work hard , Celebrate your achievements and most importantly do something helpful for someone everyday however small it may seem , show people that you care and they are loved ??.

  • DR.SNEHA K JAYASWAL ( Intern at Christian Medical College , India)

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