Mission Delhi – COVID Doctor Arushi Saili, Janakpuri
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She is a doctor, assigned to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Safdarjung Hospital’s dedicated Covid-19 facility, in Delhi. In other words, she attends to the seriously ill coronavirus-infected patients. This month, she has seen sufferings and deaths. Her duty hours are long—from 9 am to 9 pm on one day, and from 9 pm to 9 am on the next one, followed by a day off before restarting with the same schedule. She gets a 14-day quarantine after every 14 days of duty. In fact, right now, she is talking from her home in Janakpuri.
“The first thing I do after I complete my 12-hour straight shift, is have a good long sleep,” says Dr Arushi Saili.
But what does a doctor like her, working at the very heart of the ongoing pandemic, see in her dreams?
Chatting on WhatsApp video, Dr Saili goes silent for a moment. “I see the daily routines of my work… myself, in my protective wear in which it is so difficult to breathe… but everything’s hazy, dull, unmemorable… as most dreams are.”
A resident doctor specializing in anesthesia and critical care, the hospital’s ICU has been Dr Saili’s daily life for about a year. “The patients I have to deal with in the normal course of events come to me in an already critical state.” Simply put, Ms Saini, 26, has seen death many times over, due to the very nature of her profession. “One can never get used to see a person die, but one has faced such a situation so frequently that one is able to accept it as part of the job.” To her, the toughest part of a death is to break the news to the loved ones.
She vividly remembers the first time she had to declare the death of a patient to their relative. It was last year, during her first month in an ICU as a resident doctor. A 16-year-old girl had succumbed to her injuries. Dr Saili had to walk up to the girl’s mother.
Just last week she shared a post on her Facebook, lucidly describing the stages of grief she has witnessed during her career as a doctor in the ICU—both before and during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s an excerpt:
“Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance…. No matter who the person was, what their age was, what their economic status was, where they came from, what they did, their grief always looked the same. Devastating and heartbreaking….. [But since the COVID pandemic has started,] I came across a strange thing while dealing with the families. They weren’t going through the usual five stages of grief. There was a bigger, more palpable emotion that I could feel coming from them. Fear. They were all scared. More than the person who was gone, they were concerned about those who were left behind. Themselves, the remaining family members.”
People who aren’t doctors, or aren’t themselves infected with the virus, or whose loved ones aren’t infected, can still distance themselves briefly from the daily bulletins of the pandemic. By focusing on the humdrum of domestic and day job responsibilities, for example.
But there seems to be no escape from COVID-related anxieties for Dr Saili. In fact, she lives with her parents, brother and sister-in-law, all of whom are doctors. Her brother, Arjun, and sister-in law, Parul, are both stationed at the COVID facility in Lady Hardinge Medical College.
“When we manage to be together we inevitably talk about the pandemic, the elephant in the room… What we did to what patient, if we were adequately protected, etc.” She pauses and says, “You cannot avoid being scared of your own safety as you approach a patient… you don’t want inadvertent exposure to infect you.”
The doctor nevertheless insists that despite her role at the very heart of the pandemic, she doesn’t let herself be overwhelmed by the extraordinary situation. “At the end of it, I’m just another 26-year-old girl doing a job.”
Oh yes, that’s true—these days she is hooked onto Netflix mystery-drama series Dark.
Ps: Following the chat, Dr Saili posed for a portrait with her entire family of doctors through the mobile screen that connects her to this reporter. Sitting between her father and mother, she emphasised that “my parents, Arti and Arvind, who have spent their entire lives caring for their patients, and still continue to do so braving the dangers of this pandemic, have been my inspiration and my driving force to being a good doctor.”
[This is the 332nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]