Risking his own life to save a COVID patient, this Kashmiri Doctor took off his protection gear

When a Kashmiri critical care doctor was faced with a choice between helping a patient, and risking infection to his own self, it did not take him a minute to choose. Emergency situations require quick decision making, but the doctor does not recommend doing what he did in a moment of crises. The incident brings to light the spirit of healthcare workers, but also exposes the risks and pressures they perform under.

In a high risk environment during the COVID times, frontline workers in the healthcare sector have been fighting a war-like situation. While numbers in India are constantly rising, the capital New Delhi is one of the epicentres.

It is here at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where Zahid Abdul Majeed from Kashmir has been working shifts providing care to COVID patients.

Most doctors work for 12-13 hours at a stretch, and it is no different for Dr Zahid. However, after the pandemic hit the world, he says, doctors are on their toes, ready to help anytime.

In an incident that won him applause, Dr Zahid put his life at risk during the treatment of a COVID-19 patient.

He however says, that this is not a good example. He did what he had to, but the situation shouldn’t demand doctors to do it.

Keeping in mind the studies conducted in China as to how hospitals contribute to 40 percent of the disease transmission, AIIMS has shut other departments, prioritising Emergency and COVID-19 related services.

Talking to Free Press Kashmir, Dr Zahid says that the AIIMS Hospital has dedicated its Trauma Centre to COVID-19 patients. When a patient tests positive for the virus, he is sent to the Trauma centre.

On May 8, at around 2 in the morning, while he was on duty, a 40 year old male patient had tested positive for the virus and Dr Zahid was assigned to shift him to the Trauma Centre in an Ambulance.

He was wearing his protective gear and was all set to do his job. However, while shifting the patient, the stretchers on which patients are carried have to be changed at least twice. The patient was intubated, he had a tube in his windpipe supplying oxygen to his body.

“Possibly due to the frequent movement, the tube in his airway was mispositioned. I did not have much time to decide. The patient was unable to breathe. I tried other ways but my PPE was fogged. I could not see anything through it,” he says.

In the small dim-lit ambulance, apart from his N-95 face-mask, his face-shield and goggles were making his job difficult.

“In around 30 seconds, my instincts responded and I ended up removing my safety gear so I could visualize better to fit the tube back in with a Larynxcope. I continued working with just my N95 mask on. I may or may not have the virus but he would have definitely died in a minute if I have not traded my security with his,” says Dr Zahid adding that he did it based on his instincts which have a lot to do with the legacy his teachers in Kashmir and Delhi have set for him, and him being a practicing Muslim.

While the netizens including well-known figures like Arvind Kejriwal, Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the medical community praised him for his empathy towards the patients, Dr Zahid puts out a disclaimer saying, “it should not be considered as usual practice. One should never work without a proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). It was a decision I took to respond to the crisis. That was my instinct working.”

“After this incident, no one should force doctors to work without PPE,” he adds

The patient continues to be on a ventilator and Dr Zahid has been staying under quarantine after the breach.

Apart from the netizens, and policy makers, the medical society at AIIMS also gave him a standing ovation in AIIMS auditorium.

Asked about the kind of issues the doctors are facing today, he says, “doctors need to be provided with proper safety gear, they have to be treated as humans who can err, they should be supported with dignity, no one should be allowed to harass or dictate them at their workplace. The patient-doctor trust deficit has to be addressed and of course, proper infrastructure, equipment and administrative support should be facilitated to them so they remain motivated to do what they love to do.”

Zahid has been away from his family in Wanihama, Dialgam village in Anantnag district of Kashmir, for around 10 months.

He completed his medical degree from Government Medical College, Srinagar, his Masters from Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and now is working at AIIMS.

Talking about the situation in Kashmir, he says, “more than the pandemic, the infodemic is the problem. Despite not being knowledgable about the subject some people/media organisations talk about it, spreading more fear and panic than information.”

“People don’t fear death as much as they fear an ugly death. While the times are indeed unfortunate, 80 per cent of the COVID-19 patient don’t need anything, 15 per cent may need oxygen supply or hospitalisation and remaining are the ones who actually die because they are critically ill already,” he says.

Like many other doctors, Dr Zahid has not been able to see his family since way before the pandemic. However, talking to his family for the little time he can, keeps him going.

“I was scared that my family might come to know that I came in contact with a COVID-19 patient. I did not tell them about it but eventually, my father came to know about it. He told me, ‘you rendered your professional duties. And as per Islam, even if you die you will attain martyrdom. Don’t worry’,” says Dr Zahid.


Marouf Gazi is a Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) 2019 fellow and a senior staffer at Free Press Kashmir. 


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