A team of medical personnel, including Subhashish Sarmah, in their PPEs at Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital in Guwahati, Assam 

Guwahati: Amid the nationwide lockdown, the tireless efforts of the frontline workers in the health care sector need no special mention. It’s because of the relentless services of the doctors, nurses, medical assistants, medical staff and other healthcare officials that we have been able to effectively contain the spread of deadly novel coronavirus aka COVID-19.

Team EastMojo was able to get in touch with one such corona fighter — Subhashish Sarmah, a recent graduate of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) and a pre-registered clinical assistant (PRCA) who has been offering his services at Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital (MMCH) in Guwahati, where a total of 14 COVID-19 positive patients were admitted.

The routines are strict and the PPEs are a bit stuffy; we often get rashes behind our ears due to long hours of wearing N-95 masks, says Subhashish Sarmah

Edited excerpts of the interview:

EastMojo: What is the present situation on COVID-19 in Assam in terms of new infection and the patients you have been taking care of?

Subhashis Sarmah: At present, the situation of COVID-19 is under control, at least in Assam, as we are not witnessing any new cases of infection so far. Moreover out of the total 34 cases in Assam, 19 have been discharged.

EM: Why do you think Assam comparatively went through a tamer version of the outbreak?

SS: I believe it was due to the swift action of the government of Assam that brought in strict and effective lockdown right after the outbreak in other states of India. This reduced the influx of people coming from outside the states and also made people stay indoors further reducing the chances of infections.

EM: Were you or rather are you not scared to handle COVID-19 patients?

SS: Oh, I was afraid. I just completed my medical degree in February 2020 and then we were directly greeted with this pandemic. However, I steeled myself, it is my job after all. Moreover, two months prior we were given in-depth training of handling worst-case scenarios during a pandemic and also how to use PPEs.

The PPE needs to be put on under strict supervision so that there’s minimum exposure to any infection

EM: What are your working hours?

SS: We have shifts every day, so if I do a morning shift today, which is from 8 am to 2 pm, the next day I get to do an evening shift, which starts from 2 pm to 9 pm. The day after, I will take the night shift, which is from 9 pm to 8 am, after that we are asked to take a break for a day. This continues for seven days and then we take a self-quarantine for 14 days. The routines are strict and the PPEs are a bit stuffy as we often get rashes behind our ears due to long hours of wearing the N-95 masks but prevention is better than cure. Moreover, we do not have the luxury to get infected ourselves.

EM: Is there a possibility of getting re-infected with COVID-19 again after I am cured of the viral infection?

SS: That will depend on the immunity of patients. If he or she has low immunity then there is a chance of re-infection. Hence, a patient is required to go through a strict 14 days’ quarantine session after he or she is released from the hospital due to a successful treatment.

EM: There have been cases of asymptomatic people falling prey to the infection. How will I know that I have the COVID-19 infection as well?

SS: All the cases here in MMCH were asymptomatic as well. Hence, if you have a recent travel history it is advisable to get a test done, if you are in contact with a person with travel history then get a test done as well. Also if you have symptoms of cold, sore throat, cough, etc. it’s better not to follow self-quarantine alone. If you do make sure it’s a proper 14-day quarantine. Your dishes, your bathroom, your bed, etc. everything should be isolated and sanitized to the utmost care. Hence it is always advisable to get a test for COVID-19 done as soon as possible.

There are different designated rooms for wearing and removing the contaminated PPEs

EM: Tell us about your entire routine during the working hours

SS: Well, firstly, we are required to wear the normal OT cloth, then after a strict routine of hand sanitization, we are directed towards a clean and thoroughly sanitized ‘donning room’ where we put on our PPEs under supervision so that we would have the lowest of the low exposure. Then our shift starts and we work throughout the shift hours keeping tabs on the vitals of the isolated patients. This includes blood pressure, pulse rate, normal breathing, etc. Once our shift is done, we go back to a ‘doffing room’ where we carefully remove the contaminated PPEs and then we have a thorough bath and we wash the OT cloth as well.

EM: Your thoughts on May 3 being the day when we will hopefully resume our normal duties after the end of lockdown.

SS: Well, even though the lockdown will be over and we are moving towards a zero patient scenario in Assam, the pandemic as a whole is not over. Hence I would request everyone to still follow the normal safety measures as well. Masks and face shields (if necessary) should be used at all times. This includes constant hand sensitization routines as well. Try not to go to places where there is a gathering of too many people or rather do not gather even after the lockdown.

EM: Any other lesson or experience to share?

SS: Yes, please do not spread any communal hatred now, the virus sees no religion, no caste or creed either. Even if most of our patients are from a particular community in Assam, all of them are cooperative; hence, do not fall prey to rumours. We need to come together as a community of rational-minded people and get over this pandemic.

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