Published on July 7, 2021

Part of Mindemic series

AHMEDABAD: In April-May, the official death figures of Covid-19 climbed over 100 for the first time during the pandemic. Mortality was colossal at private and government-run hospitals alike. While healthcare staff had witnessed a spike after Diwali, they were not prepared for the tsunami of cases.

While citizens lined up for treatment at various hospitals, healthcare workers had few avenues to approach – the majority had not taken leave for more than a year, had stayed away from family for months, and were under constant stress from the reactions of relatives who had to be told that their loved ones were no more.

“At the peak of the pandemic, there was also the moral dilemma of who to admit and who to omit, who would get a ventilator for a few more days, and who didn’t have great chances of survival. These decisions and their results have stayed with many doctors,” said a city-based psychiatrist, who carried out counselling sessions for healthcare workers.

Several branches such as ophthalmology or dermatology do not routinely deal with deaths. When residents of these branches faced the Covid wards, many took a long time to adjust to the issues associated with the pandemic, including the sudden deterioration of patients and deaths in their arms.

Dr Deepti Bhatt, a psychiatrist with the Government Hospital for Mental Health and coordinator for Gujarat Digital Academy for Mental Health (GDAMH), said they carried out several counselling and training workshops for healthcare workers during the pandemic.

“Several nurses had emotional breakdowns due to the trauma caused by Covid issues and deaths. At its peak, a doctor deployed at a Covid care centre witnessed four deaths in the matter of hours. Such experiences take a long time to heal,” she said.

A senior city-based doctor said that of the staff he worked with, 15% to 20% may be deeply affected by the pandemic. “It’s not just about government or private, junior or senior. Many started self-medication or turned to addictions. I would always tell them not to get emotionally attached to patients and do their best in any condition. If we could save all, we might as well be gods. But there’s a limit to what we could and could not do,” said a doctor working at the Covid ward of a private hospital.

Doctors turned to relaxation exercises, psychological counselling and even watching light-hearted movies or web series at the end of the day to de-stress. Seniors also tried to create small groups at some hospitals to ensure that doctors had someone to talk to after a stressful day at work.

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