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'It is such a cruel disease'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: July 28, 2020 08:01 IST
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'Interns, fresh MBBS graduates, nursing students, young doctors and nurses have brought pride to their degrees and their oath by courageously donning the PPE and caring for patients.'
'They are the foot soldiers of this war.'

Dr Rais Ansari

IMAGE: Dr Rais Ansari, in a light green shirt, along with his colleagues at the COVID-19 facility at the the National Sport Club of India dome.
Kneeling in front of Dr Ansari is Dr Muffazal Lakdawala who heads medical operations at the dome, the gentleman in the white shirt. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Rais Ansari
 

"The virus is mutating from worst to 'worstest'. If our behaviour does not go from best to 'bestest', we will perish."

"The war has now gone to the individual. Each one has the social responsibility of keeping herself and fellow citizens safe," Dr Rais Ansari, one of the volunteers to sign up for Covid duties in March, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

"If we want to win this war, we all have to chip in -- shoulder to shoulder -- but is that really happening?"

"You can still find people spitting on the road!"

"We don't have basic etiquette and manners about coughing, sneezing."

"We don't need a calamity, we ourselves are a calamity for ourselves."

"Today it is Corona, tomorrow will be some other virus."

Dr Ansari, the first doctor in his family, is proud of being the initial team of "the seven musketeers" to come on board under the leadership of Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, who set up a jumbo COVID-19 facility at the NSCI dome in Worli, south central Mumbai.

A laparoscopic surgeon, he has assisted Dr Lakdawala --- known "Dr Muffi" -- for several years, and gives him full credit for leading from the front and creating a dedicated team.

The band of young interns, fresh graduates of medicine, nurses, nursing students and doctors showed up at the facility every day, undeterred, courageously facing up to an unknown disease that can kill.

"In the army, you can give an AK-47 to a soldier, but it would be nothing in his hand if he doesn't have courage. Courage can't be sold in the marketplace," says Dr Ansari who studied for six years at the Bhonsla Military School in Nashik.

"I tell our young team that they have brought pride to their degrees and their oath by courageously donning the PPE to take care of patients."

"They have done better than many gold medalists and others who have done hundreds of surgeries. They are the foot soldiers of this war," says Dr Ansari who tells new volunteers that they would have to give a minimum of 30 days for Covid duties.

If they are unable to commit to this, they are sent back.

"Interns from the Nair and Sion hospitals (both BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation hospitals), nursing students from the Seva Mandal Education Society have put in their hearts and souls. It is not easy to work in a PPE," he explains.

Once the PPE is worn, doctors and nurses cannot eat or drink and cannot use the rest room. The PPE generates a lot of heat and results in skin rashes, boils and extreme discomfort.

The doctors, nurses and healthcare workers assigned to the Covid facility at the NSCI dome have been provide hotel accommodation.

Dr Ansari has not returned to his home in Kurla West, north Mumbai, since April 9. His wife and children live in Canada and he talks to them late in the night from the room at the hotel where the doctors, nurses and other volunteers are currently based. After speaking to them, he returns to take another round of the facility.

When Dr Muffi created a WhatsApp group to draw volunteers, Dr Ansari was one of the first to say, 'Count me in'.

Remembering those early days in March, he says Dr Muffi -- who conceptualised the COVID-19 facility along with Maharashtra Minister and Worli MLA Aditya Thackeray -- surveyed the city at night to identify an ideal location to set up such a facility that could cater to large numbers of infected patients.

The first temporary isolation centre was set up in a parking lot. Dr Ansari remembers painting a wall of the parking space himself to rid it of the paan stains.

It was difficult to find workers during that time due to the lockdown and the fear of the virus, but he makes a special mention of all those suppliers who brought in aluminium sheets, paint etc when work began on setting up the Covid centre at the NSCI dome.

BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation workers prepare the isolation centre for COVID-19 patients at the NSCI dome in Worli, south central Mumbai, April 9, 2020. Photograph: Kunal Patil/PTI Photo

IMAGE: BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation workers prepare the isolation centre for COVID-19 patients at the NSCI dome in Worli, south central Mumbai, April 9, 2020. Photograph: Kunal Patil/PTI Photo

"The entire layout -- the rows and columns, the electrical points -- were all done under Dr Muffi's supervision," says Dr Ansari.

"The treatment protocol using artificial intelligence was formulated by him after discussions with the IIT alumni association. We took x-rays rather than the more expensive CT scans to decide whether a patient needed oxygen support or required shifting to an ICU," Dr Ansari adds.

"He consulted with doctors in Wuhan and in other parts of the world late at night. The patients were given multivitamins, good diet, minimal steroids and immense faith that they would recover."

The team was given support by Dr Neeta Warty, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi and Dr Singh from Tata Memorial Hospital and a team of young doctors, physiotherapists, nurses and healthcare workers.

The group worked from early morning to late at night.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A COVID-19 WARRIOR

Had it not have been the efforts of Dr Muffi, Aditya Thackeray, who got us a lot of CSR funding, and Sharad Ughade (assistant municipal commissioner), there could have been many more deaths," says Dr Ansari.

"They are the saviours of the city."

Dr Ansari says over 2,000 plus families have been cured at the NSCI dome. "Patients are treated free of cost and only pay for any personal requirement they may have. The ICU is also free."

Patients spend nearly 20 days at the facility.

The facility has currently around 300 patients.

"The numbers are less, but there are more serious cases now," says Dr Ansari.

"We can only overcome this by putting our best foot forward as citizens. We must follow the rules like wearing masks, physical distance and have civic sense."

"That is the only way."

A few days ago, he had the difficult task of consoling a young man who lost both his parents within a week to COVID-19.

"It is such a cruel disease. I could not even hug him to console him."

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ARCHANA MASIH / Rediff.com
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