With most of the state-run healthcare preoccupied with the Covid-19 and the virus scare preventing people from visiting doctors, a small section of the patients and the doctors do have virtual consultations to manage part of the emergencies reports Saima Bhat

Left to right are the post and the pre COVID-19 pictures of the SMHS hospital in Srinagar showing the flow of the routine patients. KL Images: Bilal Bhadur

On April 10, when their daughter delivered her baby, it was a relief to Khans’ in Rangreth. Concerned over the current situation and the completion of last trimester of their daughter, the family had a tough time to pass in the hospital.

Apprehensive of the virus scare, the overburdened healthcare system and the surging positive cases, Khans were relieved to see everything going smoothly. Back home, there was jubilation to welcome the new member to the family.

A few days later, panic took over pleasure. One evening, the family sensed the newborn was unwell. “He was neither suckling nor responding. He was just staring at us without even blinking his eyes,” said Parvez Khan, the grandfather.

The family of six, including Khan, his wife, three daughters and one son-in-law, who puts up with them, were caught in a dilemma how to manage the situation. With all movements frozen around and almost all the private clinics shut, the family was not willing to take a risk. However, the condition of the baby was not improving.

Khan’s youngest daughter, Sheen, a medical student, came up with a solution. She had heard from her friends about doctors offering their services online. Desperate, she called her friends to get the contact of a paediatrician.

“I called Dr Imran and briefed him. I tried to explain the condition, but he was unconvinced,” Sheen said. “He asked for a video call,” Once live with the doctor, he advised them to admit the baby in GB Panth hospital without any delay.

At GB Panth Hospital, after mandatory tests, it was diagnosed that the baby had congenital heart disease and had just survived a heart attack in one of his valves. “He was admitted in the intensive care unit (ICU) and immediately put on a ventilator. For the next twenty days the baby was under emergency observation and oxygen support,” said Shazia, the mother of the newborn.

In the hospital corridors, once they settled, the two sisters and their father were seen discussing if they had not the timely online consultation, things would have been worse. Lost in the tears, they called Dr Imran again and thanked him for his services. “If God forbid we had no option of online consultation, anything could have happened,” said Shazia. “Initially we thought it is normal with a newborn baby.”

 The baby is recovering and doing well. The family is celebrating, the baby, now named Hussain’s, “re-birth”.

 As the virus became virulent and the lockdown was imposed, the closure of private clinics led to a serious crisis. Otherwise, an easy-to-go option, the closed clinics put the large section of patients into a quandary. The state-run health infrastructure was already dominated by counter pandemic measures. It was in this situation that the virtual clinics emerged as an alternative. “It was a help indeed,” said Abdul Majid who had some minor issue to discuss with his doctor.

Ambulances stationed outside SMHS hospital Srinagar. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

In January 2020, Farooq Ahmad, 60, was in Delhi to treat his enlarged prostate. As doctors suggested surgery, Farooq accompanied by his wife decided to do it there. Once the procedure was done and follow-up completed, he returned home and was doing good. With no complaints, he resumed the routine.

In May, however, abruptly he started developing pain in his lower abdomen. He called his doctor in Delhi for the consultation, but he was not available. In a state of pain and helplessness, he was taking pain killers. “I had no other way to relieve my pain,” he said.

A few days later, his neighbour told him about a doctor advising patients on WhatsApp. Initially, he was reluctant, but as the pain grew, he sent his prescriptions to the concerned doctor and in the next few minutes received the list of medicine. “It was like a new life to get those medicines,” Ahmad said, adding after around five days he was feeling almost fine.

A campaign was run on the social media providing options for consultations. Joined by people from different backgrounds, the list increased manifolds to offer solutions in distress. “Seeing a patient online is not a complete remedy, but it helped to a great extent in reassuring the patients,” said Dr Afshan, part of the initiative.

Gynaecologist, Dr Afshan said that expecting mothers are more prone in such situations. “So we gave them online consultations to stop avoidable travel,” she said,

Writhing in pain, Shoaib Ahmad had swelling in his gum. It was painful. Initially, he tried over the counter drugs, but could not get better.  A call to a friend and he found the solace. His friend suggested him to send a message on Facebook to a dentist, Dr Junaid. As he did, Dr Junaid responded quickly with medicine and a mouth wash. The medicines helped him in his pain and clean the infection by the time doctor gave him a slot to treat physically.

Dr Bhat is a surgeon in the district hospital Anantnag. Besides being present in the hospital, he is busy giving consultations over the phone. Every day, he said he gets at least twenty calls on an average from his patients. “I prefer to move an extra mile and give them online consultations, this way the patients not required in the hospital are avoided,” he said.

Bhat said the patients who had their surgeries scheduled in last week of March or after that are being managed until the scare is over.

“It is not possible to go for routine surgeries. It is very risky and we can’t put the lives of patients and ours too at risk,” he said. “See what happened at Super Speciality Hospital in Shireen Bagh. We have more risks as the district is the red zone. If we get a patient from the red zone then it involves more risk. Surgeries involve more risks.”

A large section of people visit clinics for minor ailments, said Dr Sajad Ahmad. He said for this section, online treatment had a huge effect. “If you are on the treatment for the last many years and need further consultations, your prescription speaks everything,” he said. This way, the patients feel better, he believes.

Dr Abid, a health officer said online is not a permanent solution, but it was a great reliever. “We have major hospitals as Covid Centres, the majority of top doctors are busy in managing the pandemic and in this scenario, and an alternative of online was really appreciable.”

This, he said besides managing the ailments, helped people to be at peace with themselves.


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