Throwing A Lifeline

Dr. Rummana Siraj
Internal Medical Officer
Mugda Medical College & Hopsital
Dr. Aditi Chowdhury
Medical Officer
Sheikh Russel Gastroliver
Institute & Hopsital
Dr. Aditi Chowdhury and Dr. Rummana Siraj share their life-changing experience of fighting back COVID-19 as frontline workers.

Bangladesh officially declared to have its first three COVID-19 patients on March 8, 2020. Eventually, in subsequent months, the cases started to rise. As a part of its preparation, the country had to start lock-down on 26 March. The highly energetic and resilient nation watched in utmost despair that their daily lives come to a standstill. The air that we breathed was not only suspected to have borne the virus but also was heavy with rumours and panic. While many of us had the chance to spend days and hours with near and dear ones behind the doors thanks to that unexpected super-extended vacation, some people had to leave their beloved ones behind to emerge as frontline workers to render services, without which our survival would have been on high stake.

Dr. Rummana Siraj along with a colleague during her COVID-19 duty in the hospital

Doctors and nurses were among those front-liners who left no stone unturned to throw the lifelines towards those who needed it most. Be it the rumour or the virus, they didn’t bow down before any of these invisible enemies. Remaining true to the oath they took at the beginning of their journey to serve humanity, doctors, nurses, and general healthcare service providers have emerged as icons in our society during the pandemic.

While there is no doubt about the fact that our healthcare system is still in a rickety condition in many places and a massive facelift would be needed to take it to the next level, the courageous roles played by doctors and nurses who worked in hospitals and clinics forgetting fear or shunning hesitation all other the country must be lauded with the highest gratitude. But the journey up to this level wasn’t an easy one.

Dr. Aditi Chowdhury and Dr. Rummana Siraj are both classmates from Dhaka Medical College. But right now they are working in different hospitals as Medical officers. The former is working at Sheikh Russel Gastroliver Institute and Hospital, and the latter was at Mugda Medical College and Hospital. Both these hospitals were designated for COVID-19 treatment. Like many other fellow doctors, they also didn’t hesitate to respond to the call of duty as soon as it came.

However, as we all know that even the international experts had almost no clue about the nature of the spread of the virus or the fatalities, doctors from our country were also not equipped with enough information, which is very much essential to combat a pandemic.

“It was all new for us; starting from wearing a PPE during the hospital duty to isolation in a hospital,” says Dr. Aditi, who left two children at home with her husband and parents and grandparent in her 80s. She started her COVID duty in May 2020.

“My mother and my grandmother-all of them had comorbidities. This is why in the beginning I thought it was an appropriate move to stay away from all of them,” she adds. Rummana on the other hand was already among a bunch of doctors who were working as a special respiratory unit set up in the wake of COVID-19 internationally.

Eventually, when the situation got worse, and a couple of patients moved to that specialised unit were proved to be COVID-19 positive, Rummana realised she had already been exposed. However, after testing her sample, she came negative; which was an initial relief. However, she decided to be more cautious not to spread it among her family members which consist of her husband and her six-year-old daughter.

“I am grateful to my husband arranged N95 masks and PPE for me at a time when these lifesaving items were scarce in the medical community, let alone the common people. While they cooperated with me fully so that I can do my job regularly; they didn’t want me to put my health safety at risk,” Dr. Rummana recalls.

The summer of 2020 was one of the warmest in recent times. With the scorching sun on top of the head, wearing a PPE and giving 8-hour long duty was a daunting task for all those who endured it.

“The summertime came with lots of sweating inside the PPE as if we were being boiled inside it,” Dr. Aditi goes on to say. “On top of that, the fear of infecting yourself by touching anything was mind-boggling. I used to sanitise everything like I have OCD. Even the patients’ files were being handed from one doctor or another maintaining a distance. This later instigated a guilty feeling in me because it felt as if I wasn’t being cordial enough to the patient. My apparent “lack of empathy” towards the patients used to make me feel sad at times,” Dr. Aditi reminisces.

Dr. Rummana too had a similar experience. In her case, there was one day during Ramadan while after finishing the round she almost passed out due to dehydration.

“I was sweating profusely and the professor I was giving the round noticed it and asked me to take a break. As I went outside, I felt super suffocated inside the PPE and I almost fell on the floor, while a nurse came forward to help me. I looked around and noticed I was adjacent to the red zone, where all the COVID patients were hospitalised at that moment and a deep sense of fear almost choked me. I was fighting for air, to breathe freely, while trying to doff the PPE. My professor came forward and helped me and I passed out finally,” Dr. Rummana shared her terrible story during COVID duty.

Both of these doctors, like their colleagues, have missed their families terribly during the isolation.

“I used to cry almost every day missing my children: there was a fear engulfing me. What if I never make it to them like normal times?” Dr. Aditi sounds ominous. Unfortunately, she was infected with the disease, and eventually, her entire family suffered. “This put me in immense grief when I saw my husband, my parents, and grandmother had to go through the agonies of coronavirus disease, ” she elaborates.

Dr. Rummana is thankful that none of her immediate family members were affected; though till today she exercises extra caution when it comes to meeting her mother who has comorbidities. “Unfortunately, my long absence due to post-duty quarantine affected my daughter. She has been experiencing panic attacks and that worries me the most.”

As the interviews came to an end, both the medical professionals extended thanks to their senior professors for their guidance and the government for providing as much logistic support as possible. “It is a great lesson for all of us and will stay in our collective memory forever,” Dr. Aditi concludes. According to Dr. Rummana, “the job wasn’t easy and I am proud to be from a professional clan which didn’t hesitate to sacrifice their lives for serving those in distress. This is why those who bash the doctors now and then, must not forget that with limited resources, we have to accomplish insurmountable feats. Let’s not forget that with your acknowledgment and support, we can do much better.”