A day in the life of a junior resident: ‘Longs hours not an issue, it’s the deaths we see each day that haunt’

According to Dr. Shrey Goel, a second-year student of anaesthesia and intensive care at GMCH-32, the most difficult part of being a doctor is that you end up playing God when assigning ventilators.

He rises with the sun to prepare for a day filled with a mix of hope, fear, grief, desperation and death. Dr Shrey Goel, a second-year student of anaesthesia and intensive care at GMCH-32, has been on Covid duty in some form or the other ever since the pandemic broke last year.

His day starts early as he scrambles to get ready, have his breakfast and reach the Sector 48 government hospital before 8 am to take over from the residents on night duty. While his duty hours range from six in the day shifts to 12 during night shifts, he says hours don’t matter. “Timings are not the issue, it’s the deaths we witness each day that hurt”.

The close encounter with death also makes him fearful about his family at Zirakpur. “There have been days and weeks when I have chosen not to go home. Sometimes at the onset of symptoms, I have isolated at GMCH hostel for the fear of passing the virus to my folks,” says Shrey. It’s been more than a year since he has felt the calming touch of his family as he tip-toes around the house, keeping a safe distance from his dear ones and masking up at almost all the times. “They understand it is necessary.”

Despite precautions, his worst fears came true when his father tested positive last year. “We kept him in home isolation and I took care of him. He was very proud of me,” smiles this junior resident. But with the virus getting more virulent in the second wave, that fear has returned.

“It is the number of deaths we are witnessing each day that wears me down,” says the 27-year-old. “I have never seen so many people die in such a short span. Even last year, when the virus was at its peak, some beds lay vacant. We nursed so many people back to good health. But now, as beds run out, we are seeing so many people losing the battle. The other day, four patients died during six hours of my shift. Not just the old, even healthy youngsters with no comorbidities are dying,” he wrings his hands.

He still can’t shake off the image of a 42-year-old whom he tended to a few days ago. ‘‘There was one ventilator and five patients waiting for it at the emergency. I brought up a 42-year-old man with no comorbidities. He was very scared, we fed him ourselves, soothed him, took care of him. Two days later, I learnt that he had passed away. It was like someone had punched me in the gut. He was so young and healthy.”

Shrey says the most difficult part of being a doctor is that you end up playing God when assigning ventilators. “We decide on factors like whose condition is deteriorating at a faster pace, who has more chances of survival. But it’s not easy. When you close your eyes, the faces of people who are waiting for critical care haunt you.”

A good day for him is a day without any fatality. “But that is becoming rarer by the day,” he rues.

The long hours in a PPE kit take a physical toll as well. “Spending at least six hours at a go in a PPE gives most doctors pruritus, an irritation of the skin. The job becomes even more difficult on night duties with 12-hour shifts. Even though we are given two PPE kits for night shifts, going without rest for such a long duration is exhausting. Moreover, the Sector 48 ICU does not have any resting room for doctors, we take a break on sofas, chairs and even the ground.”

And you always have to be on your toes, checking the fluctuating vitals of patients, altering their medications and pressing the SOS when needed.

As many as 17 ICU beds in Sector 48 are tended to by two junior residents and one senior resident in each shift. The junior residents often end up attending their online classes and webinars in their PPE kits.

But all the exhaustion, the heartache, the long hours melt away when a patient returns home on his feet. ‘‘It’s these moments that keep us going, there is nothing like healing people,” Shrey sums up.

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