Declaring victory over COVID-19, while tempting for leaders in countries where weary and wary populations are anxious to put their masks away and get back to normal, can be a bit of minefield strewn with explosives.
This past winter, while the United States and other countries were looking to roll out vaccines and get a leg up on the scourge that had been surging again through the 2020-21 winter, victory was declared in India.
What followed were mass migrations from cities to rural areas and several super-spreader events – cricket matches in stadiums, religious festivals, and political rallies during the election month of April – and a surge that saw almost 315,000 cases in a single day (including 4,000 deaths).
India, which had managed the pandemic relatively well – at least according to statistics that may have been skewed by lack of testing and a younger population – had again become a COVID-19 hot spot.
An enormous amount of stress was placed upon a health system that does not enjoy many of the accepted luxuries of the Western world.
As the ferocious second wave enveloped India, volunteers were needed on the front lines, and many answered the call.
Among them is Dr. M. Thanigai Vendan, a senior consultant/anesthesiologist and critical care specialist. A first-generation physician in his family, Thanigai now heads the Department of Anesthesia at Chennai Meenakshi Multi-Speciality Hospital and was following his passion for social service in the war on COVID-19.
Building a home care clinic
“The start of the second COVID wave was horrible. All the hospital beds were full. There was a huge oxygen crisis due to the sudden spurt in the number of COVID cases, as many people were requiring high-flow oxygen,” said Dr. Thanigai. “This situation continued at maximum for two weeks.”
He added that the situation has now been brought somewhat under control and is well-managed due to the combination of the opening of many COVID care centers and the increasing the production of oxygen by the government.
For his part, Dr. Thanigai started his own home care clinic during the first lockdown in March 2020, registering himself with Just-Dial App to receive inquiries for home visits. After a slow start, it soon filled needs for home ICUs.
He has his own lab team for blood collection and mobile X-rays, as well as nurses and technicians to deliver antibiotics, I.V. fluids, catheterizations, and more. Meanwhile, a couple from the United States sponsored the addition of 10 oxygen concentrators.
The Nissan Sunny vehicle Thanigai uses to get from patient to patient as quickly as possible in and out of the “megacity” of Chennai in South India, where the second wave hit hard, is equipped with oxygen concentrators, an AMBU Bag, and BAIN circuit, as well as all the necessary I.V. equipment, antibiotics, and masks/face shields.
“Though I was busy, tired, and emotionally carried, I was very aggressive in achieving my target of saving the patient,” he said, adding his typical workday was 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. followed by a second shift of 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Although it was a dire scenario, with life-or-death consequences, Dr. Thanigai was lifted by the belief that he was fulfilling his dream of home ICU care.
His efforts did not go unnoticed or unappreciated, as many of his patients – as many as 80 at once – sent notes of gratitude for saving their lives.
One example came from the daughter of parents who were treated by his mobile clinic:
It was sheer pleasure that we got to know Dr. Thanigai, who helped my parents overcome novel Corona with appropriate medications. He is one of the best doctors we have ever come across. We felt absolute comfort and confidence on the diagnosis and truly amazed over the outright measures as was given by him to defeat the disease. We really admire his body of work, his dedication and sacrifice amidst all chaos. We are forever grateful to the lifesaver.
Thank you doctor,
Hope for the future
At present, the numbers are starting to level off and even trend downward in India, where the large nation will be more prepared for future spreads and variants.
The initial period from the second week of April 2021 to the third week of May was hectic. Dr. Thanigai says he used to get 200 phone calls from patients and their attenders. He estimates that he traveled 4,000 kilometers in the five-week period, seeing 75 families and between 132 and 150 patients (many, including children, were in the same family).
“The Nissan Sunny vehicle Thanigai uses to get from patient to patient as quickly as possible in and out of the ‘megacity’ of Chennai in South India, where the second wave hit hard, is equipped with oxygen concentrators, an AMBU Bag, and BAIN circuit, as well as all the necessary I.V. equipment, antibiotics, and masks/face shields.”
“I can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Things are getting better here in Chennai now.”
Dr. Thanigai's is just one out of many stories of the unsung heroes who are working to help turn the tide in India. As mortality and hospital waitlists remain high, physicians like Dr. Thanigai are offering their patients hope in a desperate situation. Although India is in the midst of a catastrophic emergency, the actions of Dr. Thanigai serve as beacons of light shining on the path to recovery.
Gordon Glantz is a contributing writer with a BS in Journalism from Temple University. He worked for 25 years in the newspaper business, as a sports reporter, crime reporter, and managing editor/columnist. He now covers the science and medical fields.