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Mumbai's Doctors Who Locked Horns With The Virus

While all of India stood in applause for the doctors fighting the virus as front-line COVID Warriors, in reality barely a fraction of doctors actually rose to the occasion. And, despite the majority of doctors seeking voluntary 'quarantine' to dodge duty, even refused to sign up and chose to dodge mandatory COVID postings amidst government threats, a few stood tall. These were the ones, albeit a handful, who deserved the claps, writes Gajanan Khergamker

"My local BMC doctor has been god-sent," says 62-year-old Sundar Nagari resident and retired peon Mahadev Gaikwad whose family physician shut shop and stayed put at home since the lockdown began. Mahadev has a blood pressure issue and needs to be examined regularly.

"If it were not for Dr Arulekar, I wouldn’t be able to get my blood pressure checked and take the prerequisite care associated with my situation," says the slum-dweller. Dr Sharad Arulekar, who lives at New Bombay and handles the Colaba Market municipal dispensary in South Mumbai, travelled the distance by BEST bus first and now by train, working throughout the lockdown starting 25 March 2020 till date, without a single day’s leave. His never-say-die attitude exemplifies the spirit of selfless doctors – fighting COVID-19 fearlessly like only they could.

In the first week of April, soon after the lockdown was imposed, the police while forcibly shutting down a shop at Mira Road hit a 23-year-old worker with a lathi. Hurt on the eye, the boy developed intense trauma and began to lose vision. Struggling with depleting vision issues, he managed to reach Ophthalmic Surgeon Dr Shaila Patel who found "he could hardly identify and count fingers even at a close distance."

WATCHFUL MEDIC: Ophthalmic Surgeon Dr Shaila Patel was inundated with work during the lockdown
"After ruling out retinal detachment in time, well within the window of treatment, the boy was diagnosed with vitreous haemorrhage with anterior chamber reaction and treated with medicines. His vision improved in the next couple of weeks too," recalls Dr Patel, who has a clinic at Mira Road.

"The patient, a retired driver, had come with his son complaining of defective vision, pain and redness in the right eye. Had he not been treated on time, the infection could have spread in the eye and he could have lost the eye," she says.

"He had come two weeks before the lockdown and was advised surgery that he could not undertake due to financial issues. When his condition worsened, I arranged for a cornea urgently and performed the transplant at Manav Kalyan Seva Kendra, Dahisar," adds the surgeon.

"On one lockdown night at about 9 pm, a woman in her late 40s rushed into the clinic with a profusely-bleeding lip and bruises. She had met with a road accident and, in the absence of any other medical facility available; she came to mine," recalls Dental Surgeon Dr Pranay Pardeshi, who worked throughout the lockdown at his dental clinic in Colaba.

WORKING IN UNISON: Dr Pranay Pardeshi with sister Dr Pranita Pardeshi at their dental clinic
"I sutured the laceration on her lip, performed the dressing of the multiple bruises, administered a tetanus injection and gave her antibiotics." The lady, in great pain, would have suffered further if the stitches weren't done on time.

In the lockdown, with most options limited, the smallest of issues could swiftly snowball into a serious predicament. "Like for the Railway Colony couple in their late fifties who couldn’t eat properly because their dental bridges had come off during the lockdown and approached me," says dentist sister Dr Pranita Pardeshi. "Because of their inability to eat properly, they had developed severe acidity and were suffering. Once attended to, they were immediately relieved," she said.

Among the thousands of doctors working throughout the lockdown was Andheri’s BSES Hospital’s Critical Care Medicine In-charge Dr Javedan Motlekar.

BUSY THAN EVER: Dr Javedan Motlekar had 'no fixed time' to reach home after work throughout the lockdown
Reaching the hospital from her Kandivali residence daily at 9 am, Dr Motlekar had “no fixed time” to reach home. "On a few occasions, in the beginning, we worked for 48 hours at a stretch to ensure COVID patients were sent to a COVID hospital. We had to arrange for beds there, not easily available. Why, even getting an ambulance then was a difficult task."

"Every day was a new challenge. With the cases increasing swiftly, we just had to convert our hospital into a COVID facility from 23 May," she says, recalling the ordeal.

The fear synonymous with COVID-19 spread with three doctors each from the ICU and the ward at BSES Hospital testing positive. "They are all doing well now and recovering too," says a pleased Dr Motlekar. "Earlier, we would have to turn away emergency COVID patients but now we take them if we have beds available," adds the doctor, ready like her lot to take on COVID-19 by the horns.

PATIENT: Patients lining up, during the lockdown, to visit the BMC dispensary at Colaba open throughout the lockdown
(Note: Some subjects may have removed their masks only to be identified in photographs to be used with this news report. COVID-19 appropriate behaviour has been maintained at all times)

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