Overexposure to radiation is a severe health crisis. Humaira Nabi meets a female X-ray technician, who said she suffered immensely during the Covid19 overload

A female paramedic technician busy in an X-ray of a patent.

When Kashmir witnessed a ravaging second wave of Covid19 in early 2021,  an exponential patient influx overwhelmed the healthcare sector. Chest X-rays were recognised as a frontline imaging tool for patients with respiratory complications and included in the initial assessment of patients with Covid19 symptoms. It added to the workload for X-ray technicians and exposed them to radiations for longer durations.

It was in the midst of this crisis that Saima (name changed), 36, an X-ray technician at a Government Hospital in central Kashmir, was in her first trimester. It was her second pregnancy but her foetus met the same fate as the previous one. Saima suffered a miscarriage in her eighth week of pregnancy. Married in 2018, Saima and her husband have been waiting for a kid.

A year later, sitting in a clinic with dull walls and a pungent disinfectant odour, Saima, who is one month pregnant now, is waiting for her husband who is busy fetching medicine, from the pharmacy counter. She has been advised to rest and must avoid performing X-rays, at least for the first trimester.

Saima’s gynaecologist has not been able to diagnose the reason for her back-to-back miscarriages. However, Saima, who has a master’s in Radiography and Imaging Technology, says she can’t rule out the danger posed by radiations of various ranges on the foetus, especially in its initial trimester.

“I know the danger posed by x-rays for a pregnant woman,” Saima said. “While I fell for some false sense of security from the harmful rays earlier, I have now realised how deadly it can prove to be for our bodies, especially internal organs.”

Saima is determined to ensure that her baby stays out of radiation harm.

Caution Is Vital

Medical researchers suggest that pregnant female technicians must avoid proximity to radiation sources as the foetus is susceptible to it in the first trimester (organogenesis phase) when cell division and stem cell development occur.

“A female radiology technician, who wants to start a family, must be officially considered to be working in fewer radiation areas,” a female radiologist at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS), Soura, said on the condition of anonymity. “If exposed to high radiation rates there are greater chances of abortion. While at times other technicians or radiologists excuse the pregnant women from performing the practice, however, if she has been tasked to work in Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA) lab, which is a high radiation lab, she would have to perform her duty.”

The radiologist said that she came across a radiology technician who was in her first trimester. “Out of fear that radiation might impact her unborn, she applied for a leave. However, she was refused to go on leave,” she asserted.

Even the female technicians avoid taking necessary precautions.

“Even though everybody knows the harm these radiations impose on our bodies, people still act unaware,” she said. “Dosimeter- an instrument used to measure ionizing radiation exposure is a basic tool in radiology. Though it doesn’t protect you, it helps keep a check over the harmful range of radiation. However, you rarely see people wearing it.”

Studies suggest that a radiation dose of 1 Gy has the potential of killing half of the embryos while about 5 Gy can undo it entirely up to 16 weeks of gestation. Later, the continued exposure can lead to rising in abortion rates, stillbirths, growth retardation; malformations reduced intelligence quotient (IQ) and mental retardation.“Radiation has an impact on both somatic and germ cells,” Aquib Mehraj, who teaches radiology at Arsh Institute of Health Science and Technology, Srinagar, said. “There are many well-documented cases of radiation-induced cancer or gene mutation in humans but the relatively milder impact of radiation of various ranges is less talked about.” He said the radiation ulceration, and its impact on reproductive health is less talked about. “I personally have lost more than 50% of my hair,” he added.

“Radiology is one of the most important branches of medical diagnosis,” a  SKIMS radiologist said. “The harmful impact of radiation can not be denied but there are various regulatory guidelines which can improve safety. ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable), which can lower the danger for workers and is regarded as the gold standard.”

There are three basic protective measures in radiation safety: time, distance, and shielding. “Minimizing the time and distance between radiation beam while being shielded is what it actually means,” he said.


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