The pandemic looks to be losing its steam in parts of India, including Mumbai and Maharashtra. The pressure in our ICUs has eased, giving me some time to reflect over the last nine months. Am astonished at how quickly time has passed, even though when we were in the midst of the corona storm, each day seemed never-ending. Most of us in the ICU couldn’t afford a single break since 23rd March except for the few winks we caught in the night. Once we (India), were in the eye of the pandemic, our hospital (Fortis Mulund) decided to face it with our chin up and give it our best.
Reality check came when the Municipal officials visited us in mid-March to inspect our facility for Covid readiness, also explaining how the government machinery is gearing up to tackle it. We were all clear - private healthcare needed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Government to provide optimal care to our citizens.
The true marathon began when we needed to take decisions regarding safety protocols for staff and non-Covid patients, while delivering Covid care. Toughest challenge was to get the entire staff on the same page. Understandably, there were mixed emotions - apprehension, fear, uncertainty. Caregivers needed reassurance regarding their own safety and that responsibility was ours. Staff awareness programs on this deadly infection were initiated to dispel fears and myths. Once this hurdle was behind us, there was no looking back. Team members from administration, medical, nursing and para-medical seemed to share a similar level of zeal and commitment towards Covid patients’ care. Half the battle was won here.
The next crucial step was extensive brainstorming, creation of another hospital within the hospital, setting safety protocols and mapping patient flow. The virus was new and already creating havoc in the West; it was important to set-up a core team to standardise treatment protocols. Colleagues from Administration, Medical Services, ICU and Infectious Diseases became part of the hospital’s core team. The team formulated treatment guidelines by reviewing available literature amid discussions with peers overseas, who had treated these patients.
Our commitment and hard work didn’t go unnoticed, I got included in the State Government’s COVID-19 task force. To be a part of this elite group of ten doctors, across Maharashtra, who would now create protocols, educate doctors and advise government on treatment issues, was an overwhelming experience. Very soon, Fortis Mulund, especially our ICU started getting recognised as the best for clinical outcomes, far better than most centres across the country. We expanded our bed strength to the maximum so as to accommodate as many Covid patients as possible.
We were able to hold a record of zero staff infections in the first seven weeks when most private hospitals had more than one shut-down, due to many staff getting infected. However, the 2nd week of May began badly, I developed fever and the worst of my fears came true - I tested Covid positive. I was hospitalised with a brief ICU stay on oxygen support. My team took good care and I improved gradually. Finally, on the 13th day I was discharged. After a self-quarantine period at home, I joined back work. Now, contemplating over my illness, I believe it made me and my team stronger, ensuring we establish more effective safety protocols for staff and patients.
It was important to ensure that inspite of what was happening within my ICU, we needed to reach out to the world outside. We were able to utilise the power of digital technology optimally to train doctors, healthcare workers and enhance awareness amongst the general community regarding COVID-19 patients via informational videos, social media platforms, webinars and knowledge-sharing press releases.
Having treated 5000+ inpatients and 1000+ ICU patients, a benchmark mortality of <3% and 10.25% in the ICU, our hospital became the hospital of choice during this challenging time. We got the privilege to treat the “who’s who” of the State not to mention thousands of outpatient consults across India.
We launched the city’s first-of-its-kind post-Covid OPD. Providing focused care based on three key pillars - clinical assessment, psychological intervention & and rehabilitative care, our model has been adopted at other civic and private hospitals in the city.
Most gratifying in this entire situation, has been the fact that we could help treat 200+ healthcare workers - doctors, nurses and paramedics, who contracted Covid while taking care of patients.
Our journey continues, people say pandemic fatigue sets in, but I feel we must keep going until we see the back of this dreaded disease. To say the least, this pandemic action has been once in a lifetime experience for me and the entire team.