New Delhi: The national capital has been hit by an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths during the second wave of the pandemic. Among the hardest hit is the frontline medicine community, with at least 60 doctors succumbing to the coronavirus in the current wave.
On Tuesday, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said in a statement that at least 269 doctors have died of Covid in India in the second Covid wave. Of these, 28 were from Delhi.
“These numbers are being updated daily since we receive information from all parts of Delhi,” Dr Radha Jain, the IMA’s East Delhi secretary, said, adding that the list of doctors who have died is being compiled.
Jain, who has been sending out condolence messages and has even broken news to the victims’ families on some occasions, said: “I am in touch with the senior authorities and the updated list will be out in a day or two but 60-70 doctors have died of coronavirus already in the current wave”.
Deaths after vaccination, doctors insist to take the jabs
ThePrint spoke to the families of eight doctors in Delhi who fell to the virus. Seven of them had been fully vaccinated while one, Dr Anil Wahal had received one jab. He tested positive two days before the scheduled second dose appointment, and died soon after.
On Tuesday, the central government responded to concerns over increasing number of deaths among healthcare workers who received both the doses.
At the daily Covid press briefing, joint secretary in the health ministry, Luv Agarwal said: “If we take the vaccine, the percentage of infection is much lesser. Also, as far as the country is concerned, the percentage of people getting re-infected is also way lesser if they’ve been vaccinated.”
However, NITI Aayog Member (Health) V.K. Paul said, “It is a dynamic situation and we are closely looking at it. Alongside the field for testing as developed in the ICMR portal, we are also asking if one was vaccinated, so while the percentage might be small, it is being monitored and we will address specifics in this regard at another briefing.”
Paul added that it was important to continue to take safety measures even after being vaccinated.
The comments came a day after former IMA chief and a Padma Shri recipient Dr K.K. Aggarwal died of the virus. He had received both doses of the Covid vaccine.
— Dr K K Aggarwal (@DrKKAggarwal) May 17, 2021
Many of his colleagues took to Twitter to pay their tributes. However, several doctors also made a point to highlight that vaccination is crucial in the battle to end the pandemic.
Really sad day for Indian medicine. Salute your immense contribution in cardiology, public awareness and education. A true frontline warrior in every sense.
KK — your warm demeanor, indefatigable spirit and infectious smile will be sorely missed. RIP my friend 🙏🙏 pic.twitter.com/QR33xLvvXN
— Dr. Arvinder Singh Soin (@ArvinderSoin) May 18, 2021
“I do not want my death to be mourned, I would like you to celebrate it,” Krishan had once famously said, adding that death has its place in the overall landscape of one’s life.
Only he could balance life’s moments with such a spiritual equanimity.
RIP, KK. @DrKKAggarwal
— SP Kalantri (@spkalantri) May 18, 2021
Sharing one of the most beautiful notes about Dr. K. K. Agarwal- Most revered alumnus of our Alma mater.
— Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker (@aparnabhasker) May 18, 2021
This is indeed very sad & while I mourn the loss I would like to share IMP data -Out of 3600 Dr Nurses & #healthcareworkers #vaccinated with 2 doses @HospitalsApollo Delhi ONLY 2.6% got infected with mild #COVID19 & NO death! I appeal 🙏#Vaccination & #Safety protocols save lives https://t.co/VTQB9PFa2D
— Dr. Sangita Reddy (@drsangitareddy) May 18, 2021
Mental trauma for families and friends
Several of the families ThePrint spoke to haven’t been able to come to terms with the deaths of doctors in their families.
Dr Deepender Kumar lost his partner, Dr Anubha Garg, last week. He said he is still numb. “I don’t think I have much to say yet. I’m not in the right state of mind. Can we talk after two-three days,” he told this reporter when contacted.
Garg, 41, was a gynaecologist in east Delhi. A resident of Ghaziabad, she has left behind two young daughters, a 10-year-old and a six-year old, a family friend of Garg briefly told ThePrint. The deceased doctor had been fully vaccinated.
She had gone to her hometown Moradabad, from where she was to be shifted to Ghaziabad last week. However, her oxygen levels dipped and she died on the way on 12 May.
Jain said she broke down when she learnt the news of Garg, who wasn’t just a colleague but a dear friend to her.
“I find it very hard to inform the loved ones of such people that their own is no more. I don’t know how to explain but I think I’m losing a sense of objectivity we as doctors are taught to have,” said Jain. “This virus has left us doctors heartbroken too. Our minds are blocked but we are trying to not give up.”
Prachi Wahal is struggling with heaps of paperwork after her spouse, Dr Anil Wahal succumbed to the virus last week.
“I am scared… I have never done this before. You’re not done mourning the loss of your husband and here you are trying to make your way through paperwork,” she told ThePrint over the phone. She paused for a few seconds before adding that people call to share grief but only her two sons and she know “how hollow this feels”.
Dr Wahal, 64, was an anaesthetist at the Hindu Rao Hospital. In home isolation in the initial days of the infection, his oxygen levels dipped owing to which he had to be admitted.
“My son used to run to arrange oxygen cylinders on some nights and then we had to be here, his friends would go around the city,” his widow said. Dr Wahal had received one dose of the vaccine. He was scheduled to receive the second on 27 April but tested positive on 23 April.
In the house of Dr Vivek Arora, who died on 12 May, his widow is anxious as her elder son, a doctor, continues to go on Covid duty. The 24-year-old, Aryaman Arora, who recently completed his MBBS, said he was equally afraid and doesn’t like to see his mother worried.
“But I don’t have an option. It’s my job,” he told ThePrint. However, he wished that the authorities made some arrangements for isolation facilities for doctors on Covid duty so that their families didn’t have to be put at risk.
His father, who had received both the doses of the vaccine, was an anaesthetist.
Impact on hospitals
Earlier this month, 80 healthcare workers tested positive at the Saroj Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi.
The burden on the medical teams at the hospital, which had been facing oxygen crunch for 18 consecutive days according to the administration, was only increased by the death of renowned surgeon Dr A.K. Rawat.
Rawat had served in the hospital for close to three decades and was like family to the medical staff, said medical superintendent Dr Dhiraj Malik. “Who would have thought, he will be the first among us to go,” said Malik.
The surgeon had been fully vaccinated before he contracted the virus.
On 16 May, 26-year-old Dr Anas Mujahid, a junior resident doctor at Delhi’s GTB Hospital, died, just a few hours after he tested positive for Covid, due to intracranial bleeding, according to the doctors who treated him.
He was on duty until a day prior to his death in the Ob-Gyn ward. He died few hours later. He is survived by his parents and four siblings.