Ipsita Pati | TNN | Updated: Mar 25, 2020, 07:40 IST

Dr Sushila Kataria

GURUGRAM: Restricting the number of medical staff to a bare minimum, taking basic care of their diet and hygiene and giving them something that went beyond medicine — psychological support. This was the strategy employed by the two-member team of doctors at Medanta, led by Dr Sushila Kataria, when they began treating 14 Italian tourists for a viral infection they had never handled before.

Eleven of that group of Italians, among the first patients in India to test positive for Covid-19 — the infection caused by the novel coronavirus — were released Monday night after spending three weeks at the hospital since their admission on March 4. They made a full recovery.

In the early stages of India’s battle to contain the coronavirus outbreak and treat patients, it was a milestone. And for a group that was so far away from home, psychological support was important.

“When they were admitted, we were aware that they were in the high-risk group. Most of them were in the 70-75 age group, except one who was 44 years old. All 14 were kept in isolation units and we first got their detailed medical history to prepare a baseline medication,” Dr Kataria (43), an intensive care expert, shared with TOI.

As there are no standard World Health Organisation (WHO) procedures for the line of treatment at present, the team, which included Dr Yatin Mehta, categorised the patients into three types — mild, moderate and severe — depending on their medical condition. Two of the patients required oxygen as their lung capacity was weak, said Dr Kataria.

“Medicines like Tocilizumab were prescribed to the patients, along with vitamin C. But no medicine can work as a substitute for basic ca-re. We worked constantly to increase their immunity with the help of good food, including fruits like apple, oranges and kiwis, coupled with a protein-rich diet, warm tea and three litres of water. They were also provided psychological support,” she added.

The team monitored the patients by taking four swabs from each of them daily, said Dr Kataria. The idea behind keeping the team small was to avoid contact with the Italian patients as much as possible. “Getting more doctors involved could have meant exposure or risking infection, hence we decided that the team would be small,” Dr Kataria said.

The senior doctor told TOI that during the course of the treatment of the Italian group, she, too, made certain changes to her daily routine and lifestyle in order to keep her family members safe.

“We have a lift and staircase to reach our house, but I only use the latter now. The door knobs and latches are cleaned twice daily with soap water. My movements are restricted too at home.

My husband has moved to a farmhouse. My daughter (13) and son (16) stay in their own rooms and I stay in mine. At the dining table, I sit on the same chair every day. I do not share my washroom with anyone at home. I am taking all precaution at all times,” Dr Kataria said, adding she is also taking a bath four times in a day.

During the treatment, language was a challenge as the Italians were not fluent in English and the doctor had no knowledge of their language.

“Every day, I struggled because of the language barrier. However, two women had some knowledge of English and they could help me communicate. I would also stress on single words to communicate. Body language, smile and facial expressions also helped me understand their problem,” said Dr Kataria.
By now, she has picked by some Italian words, and the Italians have learnt a few of English ones.

The Italians, though aware they had the virus, were confused initially, said the doctor. “One kept asking me how it happened. Another felt sorry that she brought the deadly virus into the country. They used to ask me if they’d be able to go home if they survive. These questions used to haunt me,” she said.
Dr Kataria revealed her worries about an elderly patient. “I used to feel low as I thought one woman, around 80 years old, won’t be able to make it. She is on ventilator now and her vitals are stable. If I can help an 80-year-old survive this deadly virus, it is an achievement for me,” she said.

But the doctor did not want to overstate her achievement, saying said was serving her country, and doctors around the world were doing the same. Her belief: just as she is treating foreigners, somewhere, Indians will benefit similarly. “My countrymen too are being treated by other doctors in another part of the globe,” she said.