We caught up exclusively with renowned cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Shriram Nene, who apart from his excellent body of work (18 years of experience as a surgeon in mitral valve repair, open and endovascular aortic surgery, thoracic oncology and robotic and minimally invasive approaches for heart and lung surgery), is also popularly known as the husband of the gorgeous actor par excellence, Madhuri Dixit.
Talking about the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare fraternity, Dr Shriram Nene shared, “When the pandemic first hit in March, everything closed down. Most elective cases and visits went down dramatically. There were many high risk patients who could not be operated. There was an increasing spend on PPE kits, which became difficult for many healthcare providers. OPDs got shut, many diseases were neglected and it became extremely challenging. Only patients who needed urgent and emergent care reported to the hospitals, others kept on delaying visits. People suffering from heart diseases were among the worst impacted as they did not report to the doctor.”
Going on, Dr Nene adds, “The surgeons I am talking to tell me that the number of visits are dramatically down, almost by 30 per cent in the US. People are only going for emergency and urgency basis. Doctors are working longer hours. Telemedicine took off but we learned that while it is a great medium for follow ups and triage (to figure out if they need to personally visit) there are situations which are hard to assess without examining. And we doctors have to rightly diagnose and treat, which can be a challenge. Routine check ups have gone down tremendously as people are putting off assignments and the lives of doctors have become more complicated with the PPE protocol.”
Second part of the picture was frontline healthcare workers. Lives got turned upside down. Doctors, nurses, interns, physicians, residents, had a significant risk to themselves and family. There was no one magic bullet to treat COVID so we tried various techniques, recognised symptoms and treated them. They have put their lives on the line for all on us.”
Life expectancy in India is 10 years less than in other countries, warns Dr Nene, adding that there is a dire need to scale the capacity of medical apparatus in the country. The only way to combat higher mortality is by improving world class evidence based medicines. It is important to start a conversation with patients to help them take ownership.
“With regard to heart diseases during the pandemic, it is important for people to know their risk factors – your genetics, previous medical history, lifestyle, high BMI, smoking habits. In short, awareness about the signs and symptoms of heart disabilities is critical. Sadly, there can be atypical or no symptoms for heart disease. By 2023, most people will pass from non communicable disease. So the solution is to move attention from acute care to patients, by empowering their second sense. People should be empowered to recognise the signs and symptoms. Success rates of handling heart attacks in the US are high because the time taken to attend a patient is very low, however, in India, it is a longer process and we often lose lives because of that.”
He insists that if you have symptoms, you need to go in and get evaluated. “There may be some level of COVID risk when you visit a doctor but make sure you take all precautions and get evaluated in a timely manner. This will help you majorly in saving your life or that of a loved one. Don’t forget to focus on health. If you are having signs, go on your own, than getting taken on a wheelchair.”
Talking about ways to keep yourself safe during the pandemic, the rule is to wear a mask and maintain a distance of 6 feet from people outside of your bio bubble. He recommends going out for a walk, or a jog instead of risking it inside a gym. “The key is to stay put. Now is the time to be patient and not reckless. There is a safe party and an unsafe party. If not for you, for those around you – like the elderly or the more vulnerable ones.
Do not let assumptions like ‘I am young, I won’t get sick’ get to you. You may not get sick, but you can be a carrier and if you are the host, you can put so many others at risk. So celebrate New Year with your family group, those you are confident are not sick, and who are not increasing your risk of exposure. We are at the tail end of this pandemic. If we dig hard and say I can do it for a few more months and stay safe, we will wade through this phase too.”
On this note, we hope you all will stay safe and have a healthy New Year!