While the whole world is struggling against Coronavirus, no words can do justice to how our brave doctors are overcoming various challenges to fight this pandemic.
Talking about their challenges, recently some female doctors opened up how they are overcoming the challenge of wearing PPE during their periods. Some of these challenges ranged from wearing double Sanitary Pad with diapers to unable to change pads for almost 6-8 hours.
What is PPE?
PPE is a collection of protective equipment that health workers have to wear to prevent infection. PPE generally includes – a gown or coverall for the body along with a headcover, goggles, face mask and face shield, gloves, and rubber boots. Though the protective gear is an absolute necessity, it comes with certain restrictions.
Once a health worker dons a PPE, they cannot remove it till they are working. This means they have to wear it for prolonged hours, without going to the toilet. And to avoid that, they cannot drink fluids or eat. Eating and drinking would anyway require one to remove their mask which is also prohibited.
PPE Challenges For Female Health workers on Periods
While PPE challenges are true for all the health workers, here is how it adds more discomfort to female health workers on periods. Dr. Jaslovleen Kaur, who is a neurologist, Paras Hospital, Panchkula, has to wear PPE for almost 8 hours. While sharing her struggle of wearing PPE during periods, she told indianexpress.com,
“When you are menstruating, you are wearing a sanitary pad along with a diaper, and you cannot even change it for eight hours. So we take extra precautions. I have never used XL sanitary pads or tampons in my life but now I have to wear them. With a tampon particularly, it is a little more comfortable to wear a diaper.”
Dr. Sandeep Chadha, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Noida, further added:
“Those (women) who bleed heavily also resort to using two pads or more while they are in their PPE”
But wearing sanitary pads for prolonged hours is not only uncomfortable but also increases health risks
Sharing how wearing a sanitary pad or tampon for such a long duration increases the risk of various health complications, Dr. Richa Sareen, consultant, Pulmonology, and Critical Care Medicine, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj, highlighted.
“The environment inside the PPE is very hot and humid. And since you do not get to change your pad for six to eight hours, the humidity and heat can lead to infection in the genital tract,”
She further added:
“There have been instances where some of my colleagues started menstruating in the PPE. So it is a choice between wasting a PPE or continue wearing it. But of course, you cannot keep wearing the soiled PPE and have to remove it,”
During periods, many experts stress on taking sufficient nutrients and water to retain physical strength as they lose blood and alleviate painful menstrual symptoms. But these doctors need to perform their duties without food and water for hours. This only leaves them dehydrated and causes giddiness and low blood pressure, the doctor further explained. The issue of dehydration becomes more grave as there is a high level of sweating that happens inside PPE.
Dr. Sareen, a COVID-19 survivor herself, recalled the first time she wore a PPE after resuming duties at the hospital post-recovery.
“I started sweating very badly when I donned the PPE for the first time. By the end of one’s shift, the clothes you wear are soaking wet with sweat. This also causes dehydration with no water intake,”
Physical Discomfort Leading To Mental Stress
Sharing her struggle, Arati Madhavi, nursing manager, Suasth Hospital, Navi Mumbai further added:
“One tends to get irritable if there is heavy bleeding or pain. We have to wear PPE for six hours. And we cannot eat or drink when in the PPE which only makes us feel more fatigued. When we ourselves are suffering, how do we give our 100 per cent to the patient?”
Working Through The Pain
A senior female resident from AIIMS Delhi (who chose to be anonymous) shared how she had to complete her 6-hour-long shift even after she experienced shooting pain on the first day of her period:
“There was no way to remove the mask and goggles and rest. I could not take any medicine or even drink water. And just then I had also received a COVID-19 patient in the ICU. So I continued working in that situation and it took us almost three hours to stabilise the patient. Thankfully, that is when my shift also ended,”
Despite The Challenges, They Are Not Giving Up
Despite these challenges, Dr. Kaur shared how female doctors do not prefer taking leave. She mentioned:
“We cannot ever say ‘no’ to escape the situation when we are on our periods. I have never taken leave because of it because women are already looked down upon as the “weaker sex”; taking leave for periods would all the more make it look like we are not competent enough. But yes, I would perhaps take leave only if I am not at all in a condition to perform my duties,”
While agreeing to Dr. Kaur, Dr. Chadha further adds:
“A doctor’s world is not so simple; you cannot take a leave because of your personal problems, especially in India, where the number of doctors is anyway restricted,”
At IFORHER, we are in awe of these brave souls, who are working hard under extreme conditions to ensure they can save lives. If they are not REAL HEROES, then who are!