Sudeb Das, 26, medical sample transport, ESI Hospital, Kolkata.
SUITED UP: Sudeb Das in his PPE kit with a box of swab samples. Photo by Subir Halder
In mid-March, 26-year-old Sudeb Das, an employee at ESI hospital, Kolkata, was selected to work in a special Covid team. He would be carrying swab samples of Covid-positive and suspect patients from ESI hospital to testing laboratories at hospitals across the city. He says that transporting vials is not as scary as having to wear a full personal protective equipment (PPE) kit for 8-10 hours a day. “Wearing it is like being in a gas chamber,” says Sudeb. “It is stifling and you feel breathless, you can feel the sweat soaking your vest, but you cannot take the kit off. My throat is parched but I have to measure my water intake, or I will have to [go to the bathroom]. We are made to wear diapers, but having to work in a wet, smelly diaper is even worse.” He also says that he sometimes gets a persistent headache and nausea. “Our supervisor gives us healthy food to eat, but you lose your appetite when you think of donning the PPE once the meal is over.”
It’s been close to a month since Sudeb last went home. The separation from his family is a sharp cut. He recently missed his nephew Suvam’s seventh birthday, Sudeb had promised him a bicycle, and called to explain: “I was about to explain that the bicycle was on its way, but he told me he wants me to come home, not the bicycle.”
Sudeb says the hospital has provided for all his needs. “Our food comes from the canteen,” he says. The problem is not about being overstressed or over-worked. The problem is the PPE. Being in it till 9 pm every day is a major issue, we skip food and water and even have to ignore nature’s call.”
Initially, Sudeb thought he’d be able to go home every day. But with COVID-19 being highly infectious, he cannot take chances. “There’s also a stigma,” he says, adding that being diagnosed with COVID-19 could have serious consequences in his locality. His family could be driven out of their home, his elder sister could lose her job and her two little ones could lose their father-figure once again, having already lost their natural father to alcohol.