In hindsight, her response was entirely understandable. “You must not go there; tell your employers to put you on duty elsewhere,” cried Abdul Rehman’s wife when she heard that her husband has been deployed to ferry suspected coronavirus patients from the airport to the hospital. Rehman, 33, soothed her nerves and assured her there was no reason to worry. It’s not that the ambulance technician was upbeat about the task himself. He had his own apprehensions but the call of duty was paramount.
Before the outbreak of coronavirus, Rehman would spend his days carrying mostly accident victims to hospitals. Giving first aid to victims, checking vitals such as pulse and blood pressure, and drawing up patient-care reports is what the emergency medical technician’s usual day involved. The ambulance service—known as 108 in common parlance, after the emergency number—he is part of is coordinated from a centralised call centre in the district.
For over a fortnight now, Rehman is stationed outside the airport, waiting for suspected patients who have to be taken to the hospital. Doctors have trained him in the protocol to be observed with suspected patients of coronavirus. The medical team at the airport informs him as soon as they identify a suspected passenger.
While the passenger is brought to the ambulance, Rehman wears protective gear and covers the ambulance bed with a sheet. No contact and a one-metre distance to be maintained at all times—the instructions are abundantly clear. On the way, he asks patients their medical history and notes down symptoms. After dropping the suspected patient to the hospital’s isolation ward, the ambulance is sent for fumigation. After fumigation, it is shut for four-five hours. Rehman, meanwhile, discards the kit and bathes at the ambulance yard, which has rooms and toilet facilities for drivers and technicians.
The first time he took a bath after ferrying a suspected patient he rubbed himself profusely, he laughs. “I was very hesitant the first time I took a suspected patient to the hospital. I feared getting infected,” says Rehman, a father of two. The doctors, however, assured him that if he wore the safety kit properly, there was nothing to fear. That, and more trips, helped put his fears to rest.
“One feels good too. If not anything else, I am doing this for my country,” he says with quiet resolve.
By Salik Ahmad in Jaipur