TIRUCHY: Her six-year-old daughter waves to her as she leaves for work each morning. Disha (name changed) a microbiology postgraduate, is one of the six students collecting and testing samples under their seniors. Disha has moved to the third floor of her house ever since she started collecting samples from COVID-19 patients.
She doesn’t want to take any chance, having a little daughter and an aged mother- in-law at home. Her day starts at 9 am and she, along with another doctor, sets off to Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital to collect samples. Although she collects 40 samples a day, she admits that she panicked when she took samples the first time. Whenever a nasal or throat swab is taken, it can lead to a gag reflex, a vomiting sensation, or coughing or sneezing in patients.
Doctors say it is also painful for the patients. “Our HOD Dhanapaul motivated us. We were all a little scared in the beginning. We are used to taking swab tests for certain diseases like H1N1. Now, we tell the patients first that if they feel like sneezing, turn to one side and do it,” adds Disha. “We have enough personal protective equipment and we put it on and enter the isolation ward. Collecting a sample takes at least five minutes. It’s tricky with children,” says Disha.
She can’t get close to even her own daughter...
Doctors have to be extra careful while collecting samples of children. Having a child herself, Disha says she prays that the children she is testing shouldn’t have the virus. The sample collection, which begins at 9 am, goes on till 1 pm. They take the samples in a special transport medium (kit) and to the laboratory at KAPV Vishwanathan Government Medical College, which is 2 km away. First, the virus RNA has to be extracted, which takes about 5-6 hours, says Disha.
She manages to squeeze out time for lunch at the college. “After the RNA is extracted, we do a screening test to see if it matches the corona family group. We put the extracted part into a biorad machine for gene sequencing which takes 1.5 to 2 hours, to check for the novelcorona confirmatory gene. By the time this entire process is completed, it’s around 9 pm,” says Disha.
When the sample sizes are higher, they go for sample collection twice. After depositing the first set of samples at 1 pm, the doctors head out again for collection. At such times, testing can go on till 1 am. This enthusiastic bunch of doctors, led from the front by Dhanapaul, stay till the results are processed each day at the lab. Dhanapaul says they would be doing round-the-clock testing going ahead, to keep up with the increasing number of samples. “It’s a herculean task and my team and I will do everything required to process the samples,” he adds.
After testing for the day ends, Disha returns to her house, careful not to make contact with her family. She first takes a shower, washing her hair too, and the clothes she wore. After that, she settles down in her room while food is kept outside the door. She doesn’t get too close to her daughter too. “She is very understanding and mature beyond her age. She knows that I’m doing an important job and that she must stay away from me,” says Disha.
From workspot to home
Extracting samples from children is risky, says Dr Disha*. Sample collection begins at 9 am and goes
on till 1 pm. The samples are taken to college and tested, which ends around 9 pm. Disha says her little
daughter understands her well and maintains a safe distance