Cancer Research, Statistics, and Treatment

: 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 787--789

A pathologist on COVID duty: Stepping out of my comfort zone

Pragya Singh1, Gunjesh Kumar Singh2,  
1 Department of Pathology, VMMC and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, India
2 Tata Memorial Centre, HBNI, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Pragya Singh
Department of Pathology, VMMC and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi - 110 029

How to cite this article:
Singh P, Singh GK. A pathologist on COVID duty: Stepping out of my comfort zone.Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:787-789

How to cite this URL:
Singh P, Singh GK. A pathologist on COVID duty: Stepping out of my comfort zone. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 28 ];3:787-789
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I did my senior residency in the Department of Pathology at the Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, India, after completing postgraduation there. The journey has been breathtakingly demanding yet alluring as I carved out a niche for myself. Pathology as a subject has always enthralled me since my MBBS days, as it provides the opportunity to explore a disease at the microscopic level.

The recent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has hit everyone hard and has caused some serious social and economic setbacks globally apart from pushing so many people to death. I would like to share my thrilling and exquisite experience of being a pathologist doing clinical duty in the COVID ward.

India being one of the most populous countries in the world has been in dire circumstances during this pandemic. All hospitals, medical centers, and the entire medical fraternity have joined hands in this tough battle and put up a brave front against this deadly virus. Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi, one of the most prestigious central government hospitals with a heavy daily load of patients from across the country, has been fighting this pandemic courageously. There are dedicated buildings with separate intensive care units (ICUs) for COVID-19-positive and suspected patients, where they are proactively managed and treated. Anticipating a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, residents from all the departments were posted in these special wards in batches to lend a hand to those already working in the respiratory units. I knew that someday, I too would have to be a part of this. The day finally arrived when I got the opportunity to contribute to the whole effort. However, like everyone's parents would, my parents too got a little scared and anxious for my safety on hearing this news. Nevertheless, they understood my commitment and duty to the hospital and the patients. Being married for four years to a wonderful husband, I received all the support and encouragement from him and my parents-in-law.

I was posted in the COVID ward for 14 days with a total of 5 duties along with 3 of my colleagues from the department. We were provided with a proper hotel accommodation so as not to put our family members at risk. I arrived at the hotel a day before my first duty. A little anxious and with an unsettled mind, I could not sleep the whole night. The life of a pathologist revolves around laboratories, microscopes, and samples, with very little patient involvement and clinical exposure. Hence, for us pathologists, this posting did not just mean duty in a ward with COVID-19-positive patients but was also a venture into the long-forgotten clinical world that brought forth the fond memories of our MBBS and internship days.

I woke up bright and early the next morning and reached the ward well in time as I wanted to familiarize myself with the work. The previous doctor on duty gave me the handover and briefed me on the things to be done. He sensed the fear and anxiety in me and was very considerate and comforting. He helped in every possible way to ease things for me. The consultant from the cardiology department who was posted with me to supervise things also arrived in half an hour. I was assisted by a junior resident in the sampling process and ward rounds. To our collective amazement, all three of us were first-timers and were equally excited. After a conversation with them and the other staff, I felt liberated and relaxed. We started with a quick revision of the patients' files and their status before gearing up for the rounds. We then headed toward the personal protective equipment (PPE) gear donning area where we put on the much-talked-about PPE kits for the first time in our lives. We were helped by the nursing staff. This moment was really precious as the entire getup seemed reminiscent of a soldier donning armor, and we were ready to jump into the fray. Being in the PPE really starves one of adequate oxygen, and after some time, one's vision also blurs. We went inside the ward and started our rounds. As the wards allotted to us mainly had stable patients, it was no different from a normal ward with patients conversing with each other, while the others performed their routine duties. The patients did not have severe disease and had only mild-to-no symptoms. We had to introduce ourselves to them as doctors, as every person who entered the ward was in a PPE. While most of the patients had accepted the reality about their disease, there were a few who were still struggling with an unseen fear and often lost their cool. Our consultant was very compassionate and empathetic toward them and kept motivating them. We quickly finished the rounds and COVID sampling for two patients. Drenched in sweat, but feeling accomplished, we exited the ward. There was a dedicated PPE doffing area at the exit. We had to be extremely cautious during the doffing process, as even the slightest mishandling could be perilous.

Later, I engaged myself in other ward- and patient-related work such as writing the daily notes and taking care of the new admissions and pending discharges. I finished all my work by lunchtime. As it was a 24-h duty, I knew it was going to be a little tiring. However, the wonderful company from the other colleagues and staff kept us all going. While on duty, we had to be extra cautious all the time and ensure that we maintained social distancing, used face covers, and sanitized our hands regularly. In the casual time, I would look around and revere the hospital staff including the nurses, ward boys, orderlies, and the guards who worked tirelessly in the patients' interest and yet were all smiles. Surely, we were all sailing in the same boat and needed each other's support to overcome this harsh time. Engrossed in my thoughts, I once forgot for a while that I was on duty and had to take the evening rounds. Fortunately, none of the patients during my duty got severely sick or needed extended attention, and everything went well. However, not knowing how cold the doctors' duty room would be because of the centralized air conditioning, I had difficulty sleeping as I had no blanket to put on. I barely slept for an hour, waiting for my duty to get over. I woke up uneasy the next morning with a heavy chest and a little cough. I had anticipated this. As it was time for my duty shift to end, I inquired with the nurse about the patients and prepared myself to give a handover to the new doctor. I left the ward after giving the detailed patient reports and handing the charge to the next doctor on duty. Tired and heavy eyed, I reached my hotel just wanting a peaceful sleep wrapped in a warm blanket. However, before I could do that, I had to make sure I was unsoiled and thoroughly sanitized. We would get 2 off-duty days after a 24-h duty. My cough got really bad after some time, and it started to bother me as there was a fair chance that I had contracted COVID-19. The next morning, I experienced other symptoms such as nausea and fatigue. The cough got even worse. I immediately got a COVID-19 test and an electrocardiogram (ECG) done on the advice of my consultant. Thankfully, the report was negative, and the ECG was also normal; I heaved a sigh of relief but learned to be more cautious henceforth. The other four duties were also managed well and were uneventful. I got symptomatically better, and the hotel stay was very comfortable.

On the last day of my duty, I had mixed feelings: the joy of going back home, along with the sadness of leaving behind some happy memories. I thanked my consultant, colleagues, and all the staff who were with me in this clinical venture for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I relived my MBBS days and made some lasting relationships. There were times we felt depressed, hopeless, and extremely anxious because of the fear of getting infected as more and more reports of residents succumbing to the disease were airing. Nevertheless, we motivated each other and remained steadfast and high-spirited in these difficult moments. All of us were quarantined for 10 days and got tested for COVID-19 before we were free to go back to our families and resume our normal duties. We all tested negative and checked out from the hotel.

From witnessing the COVID-19 pandemic with deserted roads, compromised social life, and adapting to a new way of life to being a doctor, pathologist, and a frontline warrior in the fight against COVID-19 and meeting giants in the clinical field, I would say this entire experience has made me stronger and more accepting of the challenges in life. I visualize myself as an unafraid yet a humble person who is more grateful to the people around. Looking into our microscopes again was a great feeling, but we appreciate that, as pathologists, we could join in and help in this crisis amidst the dwindling numbers of health-care workers in general and specialists in particular.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.