KASARGOD: At 3 am on April 3 -- in the middle of the nationwide lockdown against COVID -- Shafeeq Hassan A (30) kickstarted his Enfield Bullet for a 288km ride from his village Alanallur in Mannarkkad taluk of Palakkad district. It was a trip for a cause.
"But I did not want to get whacked by the police en route," said Hassan, a microbiologist, explaining the reason for the early start.
His destination was the Central University of Kerala at Periya in Kasaragod district -- a hotspot of COVID in Kerala.
To be sure, on April 3, the COVID graph of Kasaragod was on the rise with 131 active cases. But on the same day, a Virology Lab was being started in the university to ramp up COVID testing in Kasaragod.
Severely short of staff with experience in handling clinical samples, the district medical officer Dr A V Ramdas enlisted the service of Hassan as a volunteer in the lab.
Hassan is a PhD in microbiology from Bharatiyar University in Coimbatore and with experience in working in the microbiology lab of Arvind Eye Hospital.
He had a job offer of assistant professor in the Saudi Electronic University and about to fly out when the COVID pandemic hit the world.
"So, I thought I should put my skills to use than sit idle at home," Hassan said.
At the same time, Kasaragod collector D Sajith Babu put out a video message on social media calling for health workers to volunteer in the district.
"We were staring at a high number of COVID patients and we were short of doctors, nurses and dialysis technicians," he said.
The video went viral. And Hassan sitting 288 km away immediately uploaded his resume on the Collector's website.
Including Hassan, the university lab had 10 persons. "It was hectic but interesting too. On Vishu day, I got out of the lab at 4 am," he said. After working for 20 days, he has now gone into quarantine.
One of the persons who saw the video was Udyakumar, an autorickshaw driver in Kasaragod town. He showed the video to his wife Saritha and asked: "Why don't you apply".
For seven years, Saritha Udyakumar was a nurse in the operation theatre at Al Zafer Hospital in Najran, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen. "I returned in February for good to be with my two children," she said.
The couple's 11-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son were missing their mother.
But the district could not miss out on her experience infection control, and she was deployed in the COVID Care Centre (CCC) at the medical college building at Ukkinadka.
"I worked with the teams from Thiruvananthapuram medical college and Kottayam medical college... COVID was a different experience," she said. After 15 days, she is now in quarantine in a hotel in the town.
"I did not factor in the 15 days quarantine period. I miss my children," said Saritha, who is originally from "Arundhati Roy's Aymanam" in Kottayam district.
The collector said 323 persons -- from doctors and nurses to health inspectors and dialysis technicians -- signed up volunteer in Kasaragod.
Kerala Social Security Mission district coordinator Jisho James said 51 doctors, 117 nurses, 48 health inspectors, 19 dialysis technicians, 27 lab technicians, 11 pharmacists, and 50 drivers and ancillary nurses registered as volunteers. "The number of volunteers made us comfortable," he said. The list was handed over to the DMO.
With 19 dialysis technicians, Kasaragod was able to cater to all its dialysis patients in the district itself, said Sajith Babu. "We had the machines but not enough technicians before," he said. Most of the technicians came from Kozhikode.
Joseph K J (46), a seasoned nurse from Cherupuzha, volunteered for 15 days in the District Hospital in Kanhangad, and is now deputed at the border Community Health Centre at Mangalpady. "It is a round-the-clock duty because patients may come even in the night to go to Mangaluru," he said.
When asked about his stay, he said: "It is fine. Isn't it a hard time! Two benches put together will become a bed, and the mosquito net takes care of my sleep." Till the next patient comes.