Packed beds, chaotic wards, mass casualties, tensions running high, and no end in sight! It was an everyday story circa May 2021 when Nepal was documenting an unprecedented number of Covid-19 cases. With a modest health care system stretched beyond capacity, the medical practitioners felt the brunt of the tsunami daily. I had never felt so helpless when I witnessed people gasping for air and fighting for their lives as oxygen supplies dwindled precariously all over the country. I think most of my fellow healthcare workers would agree when I say that such sights were too taxing on our hearts and minds to even behold.
While working as a telehealth doctor for Health Foundation Nepal and Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce & Industries, I had a chance to speak to a few patients every day. Mild cases where home-based treatment sufficed were easily counseled over the telephone, but it used to be an agonizing prospect whenever we couldn’t manage beds for the seriously ill patients needing hospital care. Many such patients needing urgent care would regularly visit the outpatient clinic as well. While it was always satisfying to hear back from patients and families who had recovered comfortably, it was the bad news that haunted me all the time. As healthcare professionals, no matter how much we’ve conditioned ourselves to be ready to tackle every spectrum of outcomes, the bad ones still sting a lot. With every mortality, I would question myself “Could we have avoided this somehow?”
There is no sector in the world that has not felt the ripples of this pandemic. While many still downplay the threat of COVID, only those who have lost their dear ones actually understand how serious this issue is. Back in May, a 65 year-old male was brought to our clinic by his hopeful son. Based on the clinical assessment and chest-x ray report, he was provisionally transferred to a tertiary care hospital with suspected covid pneumonia. His PCR result for COVID came back positive like we had initially feared. After battling for over 2 weeks in an ICU, he ultimately had his last breath. To have witnessed his loving father succumbing to COVID in a matter of weeks, not to mention other family members who were also laid on the hospital beds fighting their own battles, all this while suffering financially was far too much to handle for the young son. He had multiple breakdowns, anxiety attacks and was mentally down for an extended period following that. Eventually he was diagnosed with clinical depression and medication was prescribed. A week back, he followed up in the clinic and although we felt extreme sorrow for his situation, it was at least a relief to see him improving and trying to get back to a normal life. This case is just an example of how this pandemic has shattered millions of lives in many ways. Three months after the second covid wave had peaked in Nepal, we are still trying to get back to normality. While passing through the streets, it looks like people have forgotten the horrifying situation we had a few months back. With new variants emerging and the majority of the population unvaccinated, we are at the edge of the next big outbreak in the country. Before we have a feeling of déjà vu or god forbid, an even worse situation, it’s high time that every Nepali gets vaccinated and continues following the preventive measures. And to all medicos out there, we need to be on our toes, ready for anything and everything.