The Mental Crisis of the Frontline Workers

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“With 30 years of experience, I’m not someone who gets depressed easily. But I am feeling low”

Dr Reshma Tewari, the head of critical care at Artemis hospital in Gurgaon.

The world saw the darkest day of the pandemic in 3,689 deaths during the last 24hrs, just after India’s daily Covid cases crossed the bleak four lakh mark for the first time. On Sunday morning, the number of Covid cases reached 1.95 crore, with 3.92 lakh reported cases added.

Covid has claimed the lives of over 3,000 people in India for the fourth day in a row.

India reported 66 lakh new cases in April, much more than the 10.25 lakh reported cases in March, 3.5 lakh cases in February, and 4.79 lakh cases reported in January.

Covid claimed the lives of over 45,000 people in April alone, compared to 5,417 deaths in March, 2,777 deaths in February, and 5,536 deaths in January.

A lot has been happening. 12 patients, including a specialist, died at Batra Hospital on Saturday after the facility ran out of medical oxygen for the second time in a week due to an acute shortage. Given the lack of basic health-care services, frustrations have arisen. Every move is marred with bad science, bad politics, and bad governance. This has taken a huge toll on the mental health of the frontliners.

A 35-year-old doctor at the private Max Hospital Saket reportedly hanged himself at his home in the Malviya Nagar neighborhood of South Delhi on Friday. The deceased doctor has been named as Vivek Rai, according to the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP). He had been on duty in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), nursing Covid patients. “He had been on Covid duty for one month and was dealing with ICU patients every day, delivering CPR and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) for about seven or eight patients every day, of which only a few survived,” wrote Dr. Wankhedkar, the former chief of the Indian Medical Association.

“He took such a painful decision to end his own life rather than live with the pain and feelings of the people who died on his watch,” Dr Wankhedkar said. Dr Rai was discovered by his wife, who is two months pregnant. She also rescued a suicide note. “This brings to light the enormous mental burden that comes with handling the Covid crisis,” he added

“His family and friends received a note. Rai wrote that he was coming to the end of his life and wished everybody peace  and happiness. He made no accusations against anyone,” a senior police officer said.

Dr. Vivek Jivani, an intensive care doctor in a private clinic in Rajkot, one of several pandemic’s second wave’s worst-affected cities of India,  prays for ten minutes every morning to help him cope with his feelings of helplessness and anxiety. “Deaths are occurring because of situations beyond my control, but any time a patient dies on my watch, I tell myself to work harder for the next human,” said Dr Jivani, 30, while attending to missed calls during his so-called lunch break.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, a neuro and spine surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi, stated that the doctors are faced with the difficult task of determining which critically ill patient needs more oxygen. “Which cases should be prioritized? These aren’t circumstances we’ve ever seen before in our careers,” he said.

Dr. Vivek Shenoy, another senior intensivist at Bangalore’s Rajshekhar Hospital, said, “We have lost all sense of proportion and order, needing to turn down patients we know are seriously ill and won’t last without admission to a hospital.”

“With 30 years of experience, I’m not someone who gets depressed easily. But I am feeling low”, said Dr Reshma Tewari, the head of critical care at Artemis hospital in Gurgaon. Each day, she and the other doctors conduct an oxygen check to ensure that there is sufficient supply for the day.

After being thrown into a Covid-19 ward as soon as he passed his postgraduate exams, a 26-year-old doctor in Chennai, said he had been prepared for the medical and equipment problems, but not the political one.

To protect their families, most doctors could not discuss their anxieties or worries with them. Protection precautions had left them, in several respects, as alone as the patients they were attending.

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