In this present period of uncertainty, everyone is appreciating the hard work and services of our healthcare workers in tackling COVID-19 pandemic. The time when coronavirus lockdown has made the whole nation stuck at home, there are some brave hearts who are working day in and day out risking their lives to prevent us from this deadly disease.
The author spoke to a few of such corona fighters in Assam who shared their experience of fighting COVID-19 from the front.
Probin Hazarika, lab technician, Lakhimpur
“Ami bhoe nakhau baideo, ami bhoe khale manuh e bhoe khai jabo, (We are not afraid ma’am, because if we get afraid, then people will be afraid,” said Probin Hazarika, who works as a lab technician in Dholpur PHC of Lakhimpur.
Being a lone lab technician at Dholpur PHC for the last one and a half month, he is juggling between his regular and COVID duties without taking a single day off. “Be it Assam bandh or nationwide lockdown, it is difficult for a healthcare worker to get off from duty. Despite having fewer COVID positive cases in our area, my work is no less hectic, I am doing regular work along with COVID duty,” he said.
“The healthcare workers are always ready to face the challenges in this pandemic situation, if we get afraid then it will be difficult for the people/ patients to deal with the situation,” he added.
In terms of field duty, Hazarika has been assigned at nearby sub-centres, where he collects samples of people having symptoms of fever or influenza.
Rina Roy, ANM worker, Matia, Goalpara
Rina Roy, an ANM worker of Matia block in Goalpara, finds her job quite challenging and responsible. The woman, who is in her 60s, is among thousands of ANM workers who are toiling day and night to tackle the dreadful disease from the front.
“Every day, we do door-to-door visits, screen people and accordingly submit reports to the doctors concerned, if we find anything suspicious. Even though it is hectic, it is also a responsible job. Working as an ANM worker during COVID-19 is giving me the feeling that I am actually contributing towards society in this time of need,” she said.
Till date, Rina has single-handedly covered more than 200 houses and has screened thousands of people in her area.
“Before COVID-19, we hardly used to get recognised, there were a few people who knew our roles. But this situation has changed people’s perception of us, now we are getting our recognition in society,” she mentioned.
She wholeheartedly thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for recognising and appreciating the role of ANM workers. It is because of him people from all sections are now recognising our work and we are getting due respect from society, she added.
While addressing the nation through ‘Mann Ki Baat’, PM Modi had lauded the immense contribution of ANM workers while fighting the battle against COVID-19.
Nayan Hazarika, Pharmacist-cum-member of RRT, Lakhimpur
In a similar manner, pharmacist cum member of rapid response team (RRT) at Dholpur PHC, Lakhimpur, Nayan Hazarika, said he felt happy and proud to be part of the team which is created to deal with the situation from the front.
While addressing the nation through ‘Mann Ki Baat’, PM Modi had lauded the immense contribution of ANM workers while fighting the battle againstR.ous tea garden areas for almost four years, in 2014, I joined as an employee of National Health Mission,” he saidR.
“From common people to Asha workers if anyone comes up with a patient having fever or other symptoms, they inform us. Immediately we rush to the spot to screen, identify the suspected patients and accordingly report the higher authority,” he added.
Nayan believes RRT is one of the best things that has happened to him. “Working in such an important team in this situation has given me the feeling I am doing my bit for the welfare of the nation,” he said.
Currently, Nayan is also working under the newly formed Assam Community Surveillance Programme (ACSP) at Dholpur.
Niranjan Goala, endoscopy attendant, Silchar Medical College & Hospital, Cachar
“I was available all the time for the patients,” said Niranjan Goala, an endoscopy attendant who served as ward boy in the isolation and suspected wards of Silchar Medical College and Hospital in Assam’s Cachar district.
From April 6 to April 12, Niranjan served in the isolation and suspected wards of the hospital. “When we were working in the ward there were three COVID-19 positive patients. I used to serve food, medicine and other necessary items to the patients. Basically, I tried to do my on-call duty in the best possible way. In return, the patients were also well behaved and co-operative too,” he said.
On April 10, Niranjan was doing his regular night duty (from 12 am to 8 am) when he came to know one of the patients had been declared dead (that marked the first COVID-19 death of Assam. The state has till now recorded four COVID-19 deaths). Even though the experience was quite scary, that didn’t stop Niranjan from doing his duty.
After seven days of duty, he was sent for 18 days in quarantine to Hotel Siddharth, Silchar. He also underwent 10 days’ home quarantine after that. The medical college authority honoured Niranjan for his undaunted services in the time of crisis.
Rupankar Nandi, intern at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, Guwahati
Rupankar Nandi, a fresh medical graduate and intern at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, considers himself fortunate enough to serve the people in this pandemic situation.
“Recently, I was fortunate enough or you can say I had the opportunity to be among the handful of doctors to deliver my service for the COVID-19 patients at MMCH,” said Rupankar, adding, “Being a fresh medical graduate, it was also a challenge for me to face this pandemic from the forefront.”
On April 15, Rupankar started his duty where they had morning, evening, and night shifts and post night off alternately which ranged from 6 hours to 11 hours in duration. “In every shift, four of us used to enter including a nurse, ward boy and cleaner,” he said.
“However the main challenge was to wear the PPE and sustain it for so long,” he mentioned, adding, “We couldn’t even drink water, go to the toilet or even itch our face. The toughest shifts were the night duties which were for 11 hours.”
Following the shifts, they were given rooms in the hospital itself where they had to stay. “We were not permitted to go out from the building during that period. Food was provided to us and days passed by without any other human contact,” he said.
In the wards, Rupankar’s work was to check each patient separately and treat them symptomatically as per the protocol. There were 14 positive patients when he was posted in the isolation ward, and six of them got discharged by the time he finished his duties.
Most of the patients were asymptomatic and they were absolutely well behaved, he recalled. “I remember once I was attending a patient who said, ‘sir, it must be too difficult to be inside this suit, isn’t it?’ I said, yes, it is. He said, ‘I am really sorry for us. You all are away from your homes and still you all are helping us every day, I am praying to Allah all the time to get us cured soon and you people can return to your homes too’. Saying thank you, and I passed him a smile. It was really a touching moment for me.”
Following seven days duty on April 21, Rupankar was taken to Taj Vivanta for 14 days’ mandatory quarantine where at the end of 14 days and after two repeated swab tests, when the results came negative, he was allowed to return home.
Dr Rajneel Bhattacharjee, PG student of Silchar Medical College & Hospital, Cachar
Dr Rajneel Bhattacharjee, a post graduate student of Department of Ophthalmology at Silchar Medical College and Hospital, considers it as a lifetime experience.
Sharing about the work schedule, he said, “During the duty period, we were divided into teams. Each team used to work collaboratively towards maintaining oxygen saturation, blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose, etc, besides providing treatment according to COVID-19 treatment protocol, swab testing of the suspected patients were conducted.”
Dr Rajneel is one of the few doctors who were on duty when the first COVID-19 patient of Assam was admitted at SMCH. “On March 31, we were on regular duty when the news of the first COVID-19 case in Assam broke. Immediately, the doctors and nurses who came in touch with the patient were sent to quarantine as a suspected source of transmission,” he said.
After doing one week of duty, Rajneel went for 14 days’ institutional quarantine at Hotel Ellora, Silchar. He was amazed by the elaborate arrangements made by the Assam government both at tackling COVID-19 to a greater extent and in providing best facilities to healthcare workers during quarantine.
Jayashree Pathak, liaisoning officer at Control Room, Nagaon
Jayashree Pathak, a dental surgeon who is now a liaisoning officer at Nagaon control room, said, “In early March, we received a circular to suspend all our regular duties for an unknown novel coronavirus or COVID-19. Receiving the circular, we went for one week of training and after that, another circular came to resume our first COVID-19 duties as field officers along with our team of pharmacists and ANM workers to perform screening of people travelling into the district from other parts of the country and abroad.”
Further, she shared, “Being exposed to an untamed population increased our chances of self-contamination with minimal protection and the population to screen were thousands at railway stations, bus stands, commuters points, public places.”
At times, it stretched till midnight. Besides, certain days the teams need to accompany the district administration to aid in screening and suggest people for home quarantine, issuing orders, stamping home quarantine stamps, maintaining records and circulating it to concerned villages.
Every day, Jayashree and her team drove towards the battlefield to fight against the invisible enemy with a hope to return home safely without being contaminated by the virus. The hope and positivity is the driving force to motivate one another to perform the duty. It’s a way to keep working.
“Together, we have to defeat this virus and for that cooperation of the civilians are very much required. People are yet to understand the intensity of the situation,” she added.
Velina Chetia, medical officer at Goalpara
Another dental surgeon, Dr Velina Chetia, who is now serving as medical officer at Goalpara, said, “Every week, our work changes, first our duty to screen and provide 14 days quarantine to people coming from outside.”
From April 24 to May 3, they screened people coming from other districts along with the local police. Post that they were given the responsibility to screen and examine the medical condition of every person at the entry and exit point of every block.
“It is unfortunate to see that till now people are not aware much about the critical situation. In many village areas, markets are still open and people are sitting in the groups,” she said.
Wrapping up the conversation she urged people to follow necessary norms and take coronavirus seriously. “The situation is worsening with every passing day because the awareness among people regarding the virus is still very less, especially in rural areas. Staying indoors and following necessary social distancing are the mantras to keep us in these trying hours,” she said.
Most of these selfless warriors had to cut off from their own families and near and dear one and dedicated themselves to the service of the nation. Despite this fact there have been a number of cases regarding discriminations and assaults against doctors and healthcare workers.
Witnessing the situation, the Union government has recently taken the decision to amend the 123-year-old Epidemic Diseases Act for saving the dignity of our frontline workers. However, nothing will fall into place without the proper public support. It is everyone’s responsibility to help and make these warriors feel secure. Together, we can fight and defeat coronavirus.