Handling health crisis and disasters is nothing new for Dr Smitha Segu, Taskforce head and nodal officer for Covid-19 at the government-run Victoria hospital for Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI), given that her first brush with such a situation was the 2994 tsunami. “My husband and I set up a medical relief camp at some of the worst hit areas in Tamil Nadu for a week. Then, five years ago when Nepal was devastated by an earthquake, I took a team from Bangalore Medical College and stayed there for a week,” says Dr Smitha. The coronavirus pandemic, though, she admits, is a totally different ballgame, as she and her team are dealing with a potentially-fatal virus. Although duty comes first for her, Dr Smitha admits that the current crisis has made her miss her daughter, who is studying in the USA, all the more.
“My 21-year-old daughter Ashna is a final-year undergrad student in Illinois. I was all set to join her there for her graduation on May 16, but all plans got cancelled because of the pandemic and I was required to be here. As a mother, it hurt that I wouldn’t be there to witness this important milestone, but as a medical professional, I realise that dealing with the pandemic is the need of the hour,” says Dr Smitha, who will also have to celebrate her daughter’s birthday this week over a Zoom call. ‘Managing patients and members of the task force is a lot of work’
Handling a Covid-19 care centre has not been easy considering the patient load the hospital sees daily. “It has been really hectic, converting a regular hospital into a COVID care centre. On average, 70-80 patients are admitted here and taking care of the entire hospital logistics is far from easy,” she says, adding that a day in her life includes, managing doctors, nurses and hospital staff in four shifts daily, organising their food, stay, PPE kits. “Once patients recover, they continue to be quarantined in the hospital for two weeks. My team has to oversee their discharge reports and update the health department with patient details,” she says, adding “Most importantly, I also have to ensure the physical and mental well-being of each member of my team.”
Dr Smitha with her daughter, Ashna
I am only human and do get scared
The sheer scale of the pandemic has, no doubt, shaken even the otherwise calm and composed Dr Smitha. “I am only human and sometimes, especially now, even I get scared, and fear for the health of my near-and-dear ones and myself. I know I have to deal with my emotions and cannot let my daughter and husband know that I am scared,” she says, adding, “Ashna knows me too well, though, and keeps telling me to take care of myself and be careful. She’s alone there, so, I don’t discuss my inhibitions and fears with her. But there are times when the mother in me comes to the forefront and I wonder, what will happen if I catch the virus? What if I am not there for my daughter — that’s a mother’s ultimate fear, right?” she signs off.
Rohini Katoch, DCP South, who has a seven-year-old son, Advik
As a police officer, extended hours and dangers on the job are part and parcel of being on the force. But that has never been the case for such a long period as now, says Rohini Katoch, DCP, Soouth. “At a time like this it does get difficult to manage home and work. There are days when I do not get to see my son and my office becomes home,” says Rohini, adding, “But then, there are things that need my attention and I cannot ignore them. Thankfully, my parents and husband help out and take care of my son.”
‘I don’t hold my son until I have cleaned up
As an officer who deals with the public every day, Rohini is acutely aware of the safety protocols she has to follow to protect herself and her family. “Given that police officers are at the forefront of ferrying patients and their contacts to hospitals, ensuring lockdown and containment in red zones, it is important that I follow precautions. In fact, when I return home, my son comes running to hug me, but I don’t let him, until I have showered and changed into fresh clothes. He doesn’t understand why, but I tell him to wait. Only then do I even hold him. Sometimes, I sleep in a different room to avoid contact with him or other members of the household. It is tough, but I have to do it,” says Rohini.
‘I feel I am missing a part of my son’s childhood’
The nature of her job also means that Rohini doesn’t get to see her son for days together. “Sometimes I feel I’m missing out on his growing years. Suddenly, he seems all grown up to me and I feel I have missed a part of his childhood,” she rues.
Yet despite all the hardship, Rohini aims to spend quality time with her loved ones. “Once I am home, I try to spend as much time as I can with my family, especially my son,” she says.
Isha Pant, DCP Command Centre, mother to a three-year-old girl, Anvika
For DCP Command Centre, Isha Pant, the pandemic meant realizing that being a police officer and a mother at the same time is far from easy. “Like many of those online videos, where you see doctors and nurses unable to even hold their children, I too have had to stop my daughter from doing so. She is very young and doesn’t understand, which makes it even more difficult, but the current situation is such that I have to be cautious. Every day she comes running to hold me and I have to stop her,” says Isha, adding, “Our job is such that we are always busy and do not have fixed working hours. We can’t decide on our working hours. Obviously, we would also like to spend more time with our families, but now is not the time for that. However, when I get some free time, I try to spend it all with Anvika and make the most of it.”
Being on field also means having to miss out on important functions, events and activities. “The biggest challenge I feel is time – we do not get enough time to spend with our kids or family. Corona has, of course, made things unpredictable. We cannot plan anything these days, because we never know what may come up work-wise. In fact, Anvika’s birthday is on May 11 and I will be working on that day since the lockdown is still in force,” says Isha adding, “Every day when I leave for work, she says ‘Mummy don’t go.’ So, when I have to leave, I ensure she’s not around and sneak out. It becomes very difficult for me, as a mother, to leave my home like that, but it needs to be done.”