COVID Hero: Healing the Broken World

This personal account is shared by Dr Hansel Misquitta (MBBS and one of core team members of the NSCI Covid Facility in Mumbai) – She is M/O Press with the Government of India, M/O UNESCO – also serves as the Chair of Bioethics, and the CEO of Little Literati (an NGO based in Mumbai). She has faced the terrors of the virus, and is working hard everyday for the rest of us to see a better tomorrow.

‘I want to tell you sometimes, it feels like we’ve killed the world…’ started my daily lockdown morning ritual, listening to songs of my favourite band outlandish. It was the 4th of April, and as usual, I was getting ready to do my chores, scroll through Instagram, and I very well remember listening to the song, ‘feels like saving the world’ by the very same band feeling extremely helpless every day and feeling at unrest for not being able to help around with the pandemic. I just graduated a month back, and my medical license was in the process while this pandemic struck our country with numbers of infected people being in few hundreds. Unfortunately, this was followed by a stringent lockdown due to which my license procurement process came to a standstill. I was a doctor waiting to come out and render my service but had no official license for it. Deviating a bit from the current plot, I am an aspiring surgeon. Since the day I entered med school, I knew that I wanted to end up holding a scalpel and found myself dreaming of performing surgeries in the OR. I have always envisioned dedicating a few months in my career in areas where you’ll see more tanks than cars, where people start their days with gunshots, in places where Humanity is at war with humans and Humanity is the one losing the battle. Given the fact that I’ve always wanted to work in areas where terror is the checkpoint of kids on their way to school and the air the innocent and vulnerable breathe is ladened with ash and gunpowder, it is evident that I would definitely not want to sit this one out. The war with coronavirus and its impact is something that was novel like the virus itself. So as I was scrolling through my Instagram DM’s, listening to music and planning my day, I received a message from Dr. Muffazal Lakdawala. I was extremely thrilled to see his name pop up in my notifications because it’s not every day that surgeons you idolise send you messages.  The message read, ‘Hi Hansel, this is Dr. Muffi here. I hope you and your family are safe. I am setting up a 200-bed facility at Poddar Hospital for COVID positive patients and am looking for volunteers, please let me know if you are interested.’ I jumped at the opportunity and agreed to volunteer irrespective of the fact that I am an asthmatic. Dr. Muffi asked me if I could come to the facility the very same day and without any second thought, I was there at the facility within the next four hours of his message. That is how my fight with Corona began. It started off with 2 soldiers, Dr. Rais Ansari and myself led by our general Dr. Muffi, a world-renowned bariatric surgeon, who took up this fight bravely with a vision of saving lives. This fight taught me not just how to fight a war, but everything you set up pre-war as well. We worked for 20 hours non-stop, skipping meals and still showing up with the same zeal and grit the next day. And thus, my journey as a COVID Warrior began.

I still remember the day we got our first patients at Poddar. A 72-year-old lady and a 30-year-old male, my very first ever encounter with COVID patients. By then, I had already been imbued by the media as to how dangerous and contagious COVID was. That,  along with the constant scenes of the movie “Contagion” playing in my mind on repeat which I had just binge-watched just before the pandemic kicked in, this was the real deal. Just like the soldiers stand ready with guns at the border, our BMC workers stood in front of the gate with disinfectant spray guns. It was also the first time I actually felt the stigma associated with COVID. Though we all had worn PPE’s of the most superior quality, we still chose to stay at a distance of 6 feet from them. That being said, the patients’ eyes said a completely different story which I could not just see but even feel through the foggy glasses of my Hazmat suit. We had once studied about the war in our school books of how it was fought with enemies belonging to a different nation, however here the land we all belonged to was one, and that was Humanity, yes, Humanity was under attack from within. Leaving all their families behind and being ingrained with the latent thought that they may not return back home, they laid their trust in our hands. I’ve never seen such helplessness in the eyes of both the suffering patient and treating doctor after all COVID is something we still know little about. This was when I decided that I will be addressing each and every patient like my own.

Patients kept coming in; pregnant ladies, cancer patients, the young and old, various ethnicities and religions alike, we accommodated them all. COVID infected anyone and everyone without a background check, it did something that the global media and democracies failed to do, and that is, impact everyone equally irrespective of religion, colour, caste or gender. As days progressed, we built up to the capacity of 150 patients and found ourselves outnumbered, not just physically but logistically as well. We had 15 nurses, 3 doctors, 2 physiotherapists, 1 supporting staff, 2 X-ray technicians in our early days, In a small ramshackle building with bare minimum facilities to manage 150 patients. We faced and dealt with everything right from our encounter with the first patient with a dropped oxygen saturation, collecting blood with 20% visibility hampered by the condensation within our PPE glasses. We fought dehydration for 10 hours in the PPE and contemplated the use of adult diapers to resist the urge of urination during those 10 hours. From lack of Oxygen cylinders to fixing regulators onto those same cylinders by ourselves, all while being at constant risk of exposure, we did it all. Knowing that our system would eventually collapse at this rate and we soon wouldn’t be able to provide quality healthcare to the patients as their numbers kept growing, Dr. Muffi took a call to shift base to a more massive, better-equipped centre with the help of the BMC, the NSCI Dome Worli.

After 15 days of working at Poddar Hospital with bare minimum facilities, we then started working on setting up a 600-bed isolation facility at the NSCI Dome Worli. Inexperienced with my management skills, Dr. Muffi gave me the responsibility of setting up the NSCI dome along with the BMC while Dr. Rais and Dr. Pankaj Narvekar managed Poddar single-handedly. Chief as we lovingly address him, helped and guided me at each and every step and was there to back me up when I faltered. He definitely taught me to not only define my role as a doctor but broaden my skill sets which were the need of the hour. According to Dr. Muffi’s aim of providing quality healthcare without a single healthcare professional getting infected, along with minimising the risk of exposure, we began setting up a ‘contactless facility’ here at NSCI. On the 21st of April, we transferred all our Poddar Patients to NSCI, to expand our horizon and accommodate a more significant number of patients as well as being better equipped to fight this pandemic. A new war zone meant new challenges, and with that came new responsibilities. The number of patients grew, but the number of doctors still remained the same.

The next day, we were joined by Dr. Neeta Warty, a world-renowned and senior celebrity Gynaecologist. Though a boss woman, I’d not hesitate to call her my second mother. Not only was she our support system at NSCI, but she was also a support to the patients inside the dome. In due course of time, we collaborated with TATA Memorial Hospital, a leading cancer centre in Mumbai and admitted cancer patients who were tested COVID Positive. Along with that, we were joined by two of the most brilliant minds, Dr. (Prof) Pankaj Chaturvedi and Dr. Arjun Singh from TATA memorial hospital. Dr. Pankaj being the stalwart he is, often brought us home-cooked food and also fed us with his very own hands-on our tiring  Emergency call days. Dr. Arjun was a kind and supportive companion to us all. I feel I must have done something right in my life to even be in the mere presence of such great yet humble souls. I have been blessed to work with a fantastic core team my beloved Dr. Rais Ansari sir, my better half, Dr. Mikail Merchant who is also my most robust support system who is sitting here next to me as I get emotional and nostalgic penning down these thoughts and even my dearest friend, Dr. Abhishek Nighot. Also our extraordinarily skilled and multifaceted physiotherapists Dr. Pankaj Narvekar, Dr. Varsha Chaturvedi who with her exceptional management skills is in the process of setting up an ICU at NSCI, Dr. Prateek Sontakke, Dr. Dhruvi Shah and our OTist Dr. Sushant Pagare, Dr. Aasma Thakur and our pharmacist Utkarsh Sakhalkar. Later on the journey, we were also joined by our dean Dr. Rajiv Joshi sir and our proficient and diligent Digestive Health Institute team. Not to forget the crucial support from the BMC officials and the most dynamic and efficient Minister of tourism & environment Sri. Aditya Thackeray who gave their relentless support to us in this COVID war. The aforementioned are in the most real sense, the heart and soul of the entire task force. The battle is probably half won without them. We as frontline warriors, take our families at war with us too, and we would probably be unable to save lives without their sacrifices and support. I was raised by a headstrong Iron Lady who inculcated in me, compassion and also to be fearless and also instilled core values of professionalism and humanitarianism in me.

They say every doctor meets two people that touch his life, one being a fellow or senior doctor that acts as a mentor; the second being a patient that gives birth to the doctor and healer within him. While I had mentioned many fellow co-workers and mentors of mine, the three patients who inspired me the most were a 70-year-old female, an 85-year-old male and a 15-year-old girl fighting two wars, COVID and Cancer,  an infirmity only the strongest can deal with. In a novel disease like COVID, one cannot only just focus on physical recovery, but as a healthcare professional, one must also deal with its psychological repercussions during treatment. The patients are not only worried about the outcome of their lives but always fear the stigma they might have to face during or post COVID. I’ve seen my patients battling the worst, that is the fear of the Unknown. I’ve seen patients getting separated from their families who are not even able to attend the funeral of their loved ones. I can never put in words the trauma they were maybe undergoing, and that’s possibly the reason I’ve had the deepest and meaningful conversations along with receiving the tightest hugs from my patients. These are the moments I’ll cherish my entire life. As doctors, we’ve definitely shattered a lot of stereotypes by breaking the very definition of job roles, skill sets and defined hours of work to come together and deliver the best possible healthcare to our patients both physically and mentally. This pandemic has taught us to be limitless in the truest sense, and has changed a lot of perceptions, opened a lot of eyes and exposed a lot of lacunas of what we consider the truth. It has now made us believe that Humanity is the greatest of all religions, and unity combined with love is our only hope. I don’t know how long this pandemic would last, but in this war of unprecedented proportions, each and every one of us is a warrior. I hope COVID19 heals the broken world.

-Dr. Hansel Misquitta

[ Instagram: @drhanselmisquitta | Twitter: @drhansmisquitta | LinkedIn: Dr. Hansel Misquitta ]

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