‘Fear Not’, say the COVID survivors from Zone 14 - Part 1
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Ever since our state reported its first COVID-19 case in the 1st week of March, we have been combating an unknown virus that can be transferred even through our daily routine. Fast-forward 5 months, we still have no options, but to adapt to the ‘New Normal’. The novelty of the virus gave rise to uncertainties, eventually fueling people’s anxiety. In addition to finding a cure to the virus, the psychological impact generated by the Pandemic had also to be addressed.
The Pandemic has affected the mental health of the people in many ways. COVID-19 has caused fear and panic in infected people and among their family members. Depression due to isolation and the stigmatization faced during the recovery period has become a source of concern.
A tele counseling team, with members who are COVID-19 survivors, was formed in Zone-14 (Perungudi) of Chennai Corporation, under the Zonal Health Officer Dr.Venkataramanan. These counselors help people overcome their fear of infection and provide emotional support to COVID patients during this crisis.
The members from different age groups and coming from different walks of life harbor a single goal: to instill confidence and eradicate the fear that has been plaguing the minds of the people for the past 5 months.
Speaking about the volunteering team, Dr.Venkataramanan, says, “I was working at the Directorate of Public Health (DPH) before being deputed as ZHO for COVID surveillance. I was also working at the multilingual COVID control room and have had the experience of counseling people. This experience came in handy in handling COVID patients. Communicating with coronavirus patients is very important as the patients are scared and feel isolated. In such a situation, encouragement from a person who has recovered will help a lot. Whenever I connect a patient to a tele-volunteer, I would tell them that they should do the same when they recover. Our tele- volunteer group not only features COVID survivors but also their family members and people who took the test. The members listen to the caller's worries and doubts and offer them solutions from their experience, helping them to calm down. When a senior citizen is in need of counseling support, I immediately connect them to a senior citizen couple, and the same applies to breastfeeding mothers, family members of the COVID patient, people experiencing symptoms like breathlessness and others.”
The main aim of this counseling team is to promote proper sensitizing about the disease to avoid isolation and stigmatization of COVID affected people.
30-year old Harini has been offering tele -support to COVID infected mothers and quell their fear about feeding their babies when undergoing treatment. She also guides mothers on how to take care of their kids during this pandemic.
Harini reached out to a private hospital in her locality after suffering from a severe cough and breathing issue in the 1st week of April. With her x-ray and other reports coming out as normal, she was prescribed medicines for cold and cough. Despite taking her medicines, Haraini's cough worsened. She took the COVID test on April 18 and was admitted to Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and underwent treatment for 15 days, after testing positive.
“All I remember was bawling like a baby for the first 3 days when I got admitted to the hospital. I was consumed by fear to the point where I failed to notice that my cough has stopped. I was also very depressed due to staying away from my kids. Throughout the recovery process, Dr.Venkat contacted me regularly and connected me to counselors whenever I was low spirited. He has been a constant source of support from the day I had taken the COVID test, till I returned back to my normal routine, so when he asked me to volunteer as a tele counselor, I immediately agreed. I mostly get calls from COVID infected mothers who are breastfeeding their babies and moms who are worried about their kids contracting the virus. I would share with them how I had been feeding my baby until the day I was hospitalized. I would also give suggestions about immunity-boosting foods and healthy activities for kids and recommend them to consult with the kid’s pediatrician for regular vaccines and shots. More than anything, I advise them to stop panicking and stay confident as it would also have a positive impact on family members,” shares Harini.
Narendran, a pharmacist from Omandurar Hospital contracted the infection from a fellow doctor and was hospitalized for 14 days. He took the COVID test as it was mandatory for hospital staff to take the tests regularly and was immediately admitted to the hospital after testing positive on April 27.
Since his hospitalization, Narendran reached out to fellow patients in his ward who were very scared about their treatment. His assurance and encouragement played a significant role in their recovery. After his discharge, Narendran continued to motivate people on Venkataramanan’s request.
“Venkat sir and I believed that people would rely on the advice of someone who has been through a similar experience. During my stay at the hospital as a COVID patient and later when I continued to work at the corona ward, I have come across patients with various symptoms. It helped me to comprehend the nature of the virus and the treatment given. I found that people started presuming that they have symptoms like throat pain, body pain, and fever without actually having them and those who had complained of cough, congestion, and fever did not show any symptoms after taking the test in spite of the result. Senior citizens and people with comorbidities were scared and became paranoid even with a small body ache,” says Narendran.
“Even the patients admitted in the ward would complain of intense throat pain and breathlessness. They would become normal once I assure them that the test results taken before hospitalization looks normal and they might be experiencing irritation in the throat due to the disinfectants that were sprayed in their wards. I understood that people’s fears about COVID-19 can be dispelled only if they are properly educated about the virus and its symptoms. So whenever someone calls me, I patiently explain the symptoms and advise to stop panicking in case of a fever or cough. I also instruct them to take rest, eat well-balanced meals and stay active by taking a small walk in their room, practicing yoga or any exercise,” he adds.
Narendran also requested people to make use of such facilities whenever they feel low, have doubts, and feel scared about the virus.