Mumbai: Dr Sanchari Pal, a resident doctor in her second year of medical school, has been working overtime, filling in for sick colleagues at King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, one of the largest municipal hospitals in Mumbai.
Her department, obstetrics and gynaecology, has 21 resident doctors, but 15 of them are down with Covid.
Speaking to ThePrint, Dr Pal says she has not had a proper break, a proper meal, or even adequate sleep and has continuously been on her toes, clocking 36-40 hours at a stretch post emergency operations.
“It’s a huge, huge resource crunch that we are working with. We don’t have any workforce at this time. We have reached a level of exhaustion where it has started affecting our efficiency,” she says.
“However hard we try to do our best, patient care somewhere down the line is getting affected because at the end of the day, an exhausted human being and doctor is prone to making more mistakes,” she adds.
This sentiment is echoed at the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College and General Hospital, also known as Sion Hospital.
Dr Renuka Bradoo, professor and head of the ear, nose and throat (ENT) department, explains that when patients come to them with symptoms that are common for both Covid-19 and flu, it is difficult to identify whether they have been infected with the coronavirus, or have a common viral infection.
Moreover, due to transmissibility being higher in the third wave, doctors are getting infected quicker as well, she adds.
“I have 23 resident doctors working with me and three other faculty. Of those 23, only nine are working. One of my faculty members is also down. Since we run our operation theatre and outpatient services every day, we have to postpone elective (non-essential) surgeries because less than half the doctors are on duty,” says Dr Bradoo.
She adds that the education and training of medical students and interns is also getting affected due to the resource crunch.
Doctors testing positive as cases rise again
The first and second Covid waves were devastating for Mumbai. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) data, on 10 April 2021 — in the midst of the second wave — the city’s total Covid case tally stood at 5,10,255, and of a total 25,162 Covid hospital beds, 19,781 were occupied.
Between March and December 2020, over 11,000 people reportedly lost their lives, whereas the death toll was around 5,000 in the second wave (between March and June 2021), according to civic body data.
Till December 2021, the city’s highest daily tally of around 11,000 cases was recorded on 4 April 2021, during the second wave. However, this figure was breached in January 2022 as cases started rising again.
On 28 December 2021, the city had recorded a total of 7,73,298 Covid cases, with 1,377 new cases that day.
However, a fortnight later, on 12 January, the city had a whopping 16,420 new cases, and an overall tally of 9,56,287. The overall growth rate of Covid cases has also gone up to 1.85 per cent from 0.09 per cent.
According to the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), since 1 January, nearly 500 resident doctors have tested positive across major government and municipal hospitals of the city.
Many government hospitals are currently focusing only on emergency services, while the rest of the operations have been postponed by a week or so.
Dr Tanvi Vaidya, a dermatologist in Thane, a city adjoining Mumbai, is recovering from Covid. She got infected last week along with her toddler and husband, Dr Abhishek Oka, a physician who works in the Covid ward of BARC Hospital, a government facility in Chembur.
Her husband saw nearly 80 per cent of his colleagues testing positive for the infection around the time he got infected, she tells ThePrint.
Her own standalone clinic has been shut for the past 10 days, since 90 per cent of her staff also caught the infection.
Dr Deepak Baid, physician at NuLife Hospital in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar area, adds: “Recovery takes at least five days so the staff who are filling in for their colleagues will have to work continuously for 5-7 days. And this has definitely affected them.”
However, Dr Sachin Patidar, resident doctor at KEM Hospital and head of its MARD wing, is hopeful that the tide will turn soon.
“So many doctors have been testing positive since 31 December. But now, slowly, recovery is being seen. Initially, every day at least 10 doctors used to test positive. But now that number is around 4-5,” he tells ThePrint.
Effect on mental health
KEM’s Dr Bradoo says medical professionals are tired of doing the same work for two consecutive years. “There is tremendous fatigue. And not only are they falling ill, but have also been dealing with this for two years,” she says.
Psychiatrist Dr Sagar Mundada, who has previously worked with KEM and JJ hospitals, agrees. “Doctors have now started taking consultations to check on their mental health as that too has been impacted,” he says, adding that at least 20 doctors are in consultations with him.
“Many young doctors from government and private set-ups are coming to me for treatment as they are overwhelmed. The major issue they are facing is that they are burned out,” says Dr Mundada.
“They tell us that they don’t find any joy in their work. They feel constantly exhausted even in the morning, there is no energy from within, and they get body aches,” he adds.
A number of doctors have also told him that they feel anxious all the time due to the fear of exposure to Covid, says Dr Mundada.
“Lack of sleep because of overtime can result in them having higher chances of getting clinically depressed. Their immunity is also going for a toss. These are big problems for healthcare workers,” he adds.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)