Shallow breaths within a hazmat suit
It’s the second week of the lockdown. The rules seem to have relaxed, the number of vehicles on the road are gradually increasing, people have gotten used to this change and things almost start to feel normal again. Back at our hospital or any hospital for that matter, everything is rapidly changing. New covid wards are being built, entrances are being separated for patients, screening is done at almost every point of entry and healthcare providers are being trained to tackle the imminent crisis. Second week of Lockdown carries an entirely different meaning for Doctors, it means the incubation period of the SARS- CoV2 virus is over and the number of people with symptoms are going to increase dramatically.
Every morning, we have a mustering session where they tell us that we are at the forefront in the war against this virus. Day by day, the statistics keep increasing and so does our anxiety. Even one positive case in the vicinity could change a lot of things for us . Although as interns, we may not deal with the patients directly, we are made to undergo rigorous training for we may have to step in at any point of time. A week long training schedule is in place. One after the other, expert doctors from various departments like Community medicine and Microbiology educate, instruct and train us for the D- day.
One such session was about the procedure of Donning and Doffing the Hazmat suit that is the most essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when you treat Covid patients. Before addressing the topic, I firstly want to commend each and every healthcare provider who has worn the suit or is going to wear it for duty in the forthcoming days. I say this with a lot of humility because I came out of that suit feeling like a completely different person and not in a good way. There are15 steps for putting on the suit and 15 for taking it off that needs to be done meticulously as every step is crucial for the safety of the person. We are made to wear three layers of protection – starting with the usual scrubs and slippers followed by the shoe cover, head cap, face mask, surgical gown, goggles and the first pair of gloves. Ofcourse we have to religiously sanitize our hands after putting on every item. We finally step into the third and outermost layer of protection- the Hazmat suit.
I spent close to 30 minutes inside the suit before I was asked to remove it. The Doffing procedure is more significant because the entire suit will be contaminated and we must remove it by rolling every layer outwards to avoid contact with the external surface. The sanitizer is replaced by a hypochlorite solution into which the gloved hands must be dipped after every step. A third pair of gloves is put on before removing the goggles, gown and other covers. All the discarded equipment is put into a bin and is incinerated soon after. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I removed the respirator mask and inhaled the deepest breath of fresh air. When asked to comment on the experience, I only had one thing to say, that I was thankful I only had to wear it for Treating DoctorsQ to stay inside the suit for 4 hours without water or restroom breaks or else they will be exposed to the virus.
Given a choice, no ordinary person would volunteer to do this, but we healthcare providers do so on a daily basis for no extra privileges or incentives. We do it because we took an Oath and this is our duty. Reading news about continuing violence against doctors really brings down our morale because this isn’t an easy job. The general public must understand that the current situation is entirely new for us too. We have never faced a crisis like this in 100 years and yet everyone is working round the clock to treat and prevent the casualties. My meek request to everyone now is to be tolerant and humane towards the doctors donning these plastic suits for you, lest you want to meet the same fate. Until then stay safe and stay compassionate.