COVID-19 impact: What happens after frontline workers don their PPEs

Updated: May 22, 2020, 12:34 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

First-person accounts of the hardships doctors, health workers and others at the forefront of the pandemic fight face through their work day

Doctors and medical staff getting ready in PPE suits before going to put quarantine stamps in Dharavi. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Doctors and medical staff getting ready in PPE suits before going to put quarantine stamps in Dharavi. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Frontline health workers deployed at COVID-19 hospitals have more worries than just looking after patients. For many, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) intended to protect them from the disease is proving to be a source of discomfort and other illnesses. As wearing and taking off the suits takes at least 20 minutes or more time, many of them have even had to withhold relieving themselves.

THE PPE consists of a suit, two pairs of gloves, shoe covers, two masks and a face shield, which doctors, nurses and health care workers have to wear all the time while dealing with patients. It usually takes up to half an hour to wear or remove PPE.

mid-day spoke to health workers deployed at COVID-19 hospitals, some of whom have resorted to using diapers. "Once we wear the PPE suit, it is a really lengthy process — it takes nearly half an hour — to take it off to go to the washroom. So I have decided to use diapers. But my colleague is a diabetic, and he has to regularly go to the washroom. He is forced to take off the PPE suit very carefully, use the washroom and again wear a fresh suit. Now, he has developed rashes around the groin," said a nurse, deployed at a civic hospital in Mumbai. Many doctors and nurses have resorted to drinking less water in this sweltering heat, to avoid/ delay relieving themselves while wearing the PPE.

Sweat and discomfort

Nurses and cleaning staff have been suffering the most, as they have to be on their toes for at least 10 hours every day, to care for COVID-19 patients at hospitals where the centralised air-conditioning has been shut, in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.

Dr Mohan Tipre, a private practitioner at Dharavi, disinfects his clinic before the arrival of patients, while wearing PPE. PIC/Suresh Karkera
Dr Mohan Tipre, a private practitioner at Dharavi, disinfects his clinic before the arrival of patients, while wearing PPE. Pic /Suresh Karkera

"We have been sweating while working in a non-AC atmosphere with multiple layers of gloves, PPE suits over clothing, headgear, etc. This makes us very uneasy but we cannot refuse the work as it is our responsibility," said another nurse.

A few nurses and doctors said they have developed rashes on their bodies. They said this is because the body itches when you start sweating and they cannot scratch themselves.

A civic doctor said, "If all the COVID-19 hospitals are equipped with sufficient number of shower jets, under which health workers can disinfect their PPE suits before and after using the washroom, it can really help all of us." The doctor said that if the suits are disinfected, there won't be a danger to the wearer even if she/he is a little careless while wearing or removing them.

Women health workers have complained that the use of sanitary pads for longer duration due to the PPE has caused them genital rashes. "I am not getting the time to take care of myself as the hospital needs me. By the time I reach home, I am so tired that I cannot look after myself," said a doctor at Kasturba Hospital.

PPE in the heat

Many of the health workers' work hours are extended when they have to visit the houses of people found COVID-19 positive, convince them and take them to a quarantine facility. "Our working hours go up to 14 hours a day. After the work we remove our PPE suits very carefully and it takes nearly 20-25 minutes to do so, and then go home. Going out in a PPE suit to trace corona positive contacts in the scorching heat is really a difficult task," said a civic doctor.

Civic doctors and health workers in PPE suits conducting a door-to-door thermal reading at Gavde Chawl on Andheri Kurla Road. PIC/sayyed sameer abediCivic doctors and health workers in PPE suits conducting a door-to-door thermal reading at Gavde Chawl on Andheri Kurla Road. PIC/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

A cardiologist working at a renowned chain of hospitals in Vashi said, "Doctors in India are not used wearing PPE suits. We have to wear PPE suits, face masks, head gear and multiple layers of hand gloves. The multiple layers of hand gloves limit our dexterity. I am a cardiologist and if I have to perform a surgery I cannot hold the surgical equipment with the dexterity that I am used to. But we have seen several health crisis in past and this time shall pass too and doctors will become used to it."

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