Chandigarh: Calm at COVID-19 isolation ward despite climate of fear

Just outside the entrance of the ward, a team of young interns operate the screening room and manage the COVID-19 helpline provided to the citizens of Chandigarh.

“I have lost the count of hours I have spent in the ward for persons presumptive for coronavirus and those tested positive, in the past two weeks,” says Jaswinder Bakshi, the nursing sister-in-charge of the COVID-19 isolation ward at Government Multi Specialty Hospital (GMSH) in Chandigarh.

Incharge of managing the logistics for screening patients and preparing the ward, since a patient suffering from coronavirus is being treated, and many more are being screened on daily basis, Bakshi comes to work at 7.30 am and leaves only around 2 am.

“We are a dedicated team consisting of nurses, doctors, sanitation staff and attendants. Preparing for an epidemic is not new to us, but with the uncertainty around coronavirus, we have to be on our toes,” says Bakshi, whose perpetual smile and calm composure starkly contrasts the high stress situation in which she and her colleagues have been operating in since March 10, when the isolation ward at GMSH-16 was set up for COVID-19 patients. There have been a total of seven patients in the city, and a 42-year-old COVID-19 patient from Mohali has also been admitted at the hospital. The hospital has been screening about 50 patients a day, and has a person presumptive for coronavirus has also been admitted in its ward.

Apart from Bakshi, the isolation ward and attached screening room for people with flu like symptoms is supervised by Dr Satbir Singh, who is incharge of casualty and Dr Honey Sawhney, who is incharge of the Internal Medicine department at the hospital. “We are completely prepared and have taken all steps to adequately treat a case. We are also going to begin a special screening OPD service in the Ayushman Bharat building and have shifted Ayushman Bharat operations to another building for the meantime,” explains Dr Satbir Singh, while washing his hands thoroughly in a sink next to the entrance of the ward area.

Inside the isolation ward, a tray of sterilised equipment including a thermometer and a glucose monitor have been placed next to the entrance. “We sterilise this equipment continuously, along with the whole room, the beds and the aluminum trays,” says Dr Sawhney. Inside the room, seven beds lie spaced out in different corners to utilise the space in the most efficient manner while maintaining adequate distance between each bed.

When the ward is occupied by a suspected case, healthcare workers wear a Personal Protective Equipment Kit including masks, scrubs, goggles and gloves; which they dispose off in bins outside the exit of the ward, next to the toilets for the staff. “This way medical workers enter through one entrance and exit through another, after which they dispose off their kit, which is cleaned in an automatic cleansing machine and then sent to the regular bio-waste disposal unit,” explains Dr Singh, adding that this particular one-way path for healthcare officials attending to patients in the isolation ward was created to minimise any chance of exposure to the virus. The ward is sanitised completely at least twice a day to ensure minimum exposure to the disease.

Just outside the entrance of the ward, a team of young interns operate the screening room and manage the COVID-19 helpline provided to the citizens of Chandigarh. “Since I joined in March, we have had at least an average of 100 concerned phone calls a day, but most of them are just people with mild cold symptoms and no travel history from affected areas,” says Dr Nikhil, a young intern, before turning to address a phone call from the helpline.

Just as the interns register the name of a potential suspect in a register, who had called from a hotel with mild flu like symptoms and had a travel history to China, another concerned patient walks in to the screening room complaining of a throat ache. As the man stoops down to sit on a stool, nursing sister Bakshi sternly asks the man to pull up a face mask. The interns listen attentively to the patient, while being periodically interrupted by the ringing helpline, before asking the man to visit the regular ENT OPD since did not have severe symptoms.

On being asked about whether they fear for their own health while working at the ward, the two young interns Dr Nikhil and Dr Rajan glance at each other furtively as if baffled by the question, before Dr Rajan answers: “We are doing our duty, this is what we have been trained for.”

Dr Nikhil chimes, “However, we are more concerned for our families, who are quite anxious for our safety, and will be susceptible to the disease through contact with us.”

Subsequently, with smile breaking on her face, nursing sister Jaswinder Bakshi says, “In these times of uncertainty, we cannot be afraid or anxious. This is just what the profession entails and we have to stand together as a team and make sure we take all the right steps. One wrong step and it can cause so much damage, there is no scope for mistakes.”

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