While We Complain About Cramps, Female Doctors Are Wearing Double Sanitary Pads And Diapers Under PPE For Eight Hours. COVID Warriors Indeed!
As a part of my ritual privilege check, I often express gratitude for the safety that my desk job has accorded me in the times of this coronavirus pandemic. I am sitting here, in the comfort of my home, rolling on my couch as I write to earn a living, while there are healthcare professionals and frontline workers who are, at this very moment, risking their lives while handling and treating COVID-19 patients. They’ve been called COVID warriors and quite rightly so, for they are soldiers who’ve donned the most uncomfortable armour, and are fighting a battle they don’t know they’ll win or lose. The PPE kits, absolute mandates for doctors and nurses who treat COVID patients, have helped protect many of them from contracting the disease in the course of their jobs. But they’re extremely uncomfortable, and in some ways, latent health hazards in their own ways. Especially for female doctors who wear them for prolonged hours.
What is PPE and why is it so difficult to wear for longer hours?
PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, and that should pretty much tell you that it provides protection to the person who wears it. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, a PPE kit will usually consist of standard precautions: gloves, mask, gown or coverall. In the case of a blood or airborne infection the kit expands to include more face protection equipment like goggles and face shields, head cover and rubber boots.Representational Image / Wikimedia Commons
Think of the PPE kit that a doctor dons as literal battle armour. When they walk into a COVID-19 infected ward, they’re walking on to the battlefield. And as long as their shift is on, they battle is on. That means, taking off the armour could expose their vulnerabilities to the enemy, which in this case, is the virus infection. And so, once they wear the PPE, doctors and healthcare professionals only take it off once they are don with their rounds or shifts.
Another reason why PPEs cannot be removed is that they are single-use. Once they are removed, they must be discarded. At a time like this, PPE kits are in high demand and in shortage. Therefore, their judicious use is also expected and demanded.
As a result of all these factors, doctors end up wearing PPE for long hours, sometimes 10-12 hours even. They cannot eat or drink too much water, because they’d have to take it off to use the facilities. This is why many of them have resorted to wearing adult diapers under their kits. What’s more, it can get real stuffy and claustrophobic, being covered head-to-toe like this, especially in perennially warmer countries like India. You’d probably have seen several pictures of tired doctors just crashing or resting with their PPEs on, because they could be called in any time.
— Dr Syed Faizan Ahmad (@drsfaizanahmad) August 24, 2020
What makes wearing PPE more difficult for female doctors?
As if wearing PPE on an average day isn’t hard enough, it gets worse for female doctors who’re on their periods. Along with diapers, they sometimes even have to wear not one but two sanitary pads or a larger sized one underneath the kit because going to change in the middle of their shifts is not an option.
Speaking to Indian Express, a neurologist from Panchkula, Dr. Jaslovleen Kaur, said, “We usually wear a diaper for passing urine. 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.”
Also Read: Female-Led Countries Dealt With COVID-19 Better, Says A Study. They Reacted More Quickly And Defensively
The health hazard for female doctors wearing PPE
As mentioned above, wearing a PPE can get uncomfortable, hot and stuffy, especially during the summer and in places with warmer climates. Inside the PPE, the clothes can get soaked in sweat. This humid atmosphere can cause bacterial infections in women who are menstruating and using sanitary pads or tampons in addition to diapers.
But what happens if you’re not wearing a sanitary napkin and you begin menstruating? Dr Richa Sareen told IE, “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.”
Now remember, most of these women are also limiting their food and fluid intake so as to avoid using the restroom. At a time when their bodies are losing copious amounts of blood, this can cause issues. Add to that the physical digestive issues, discomfort, cramps and shooting pains that periods are usually accompanied by and you once again understand what level of ‘warrior spirit’ must these women possess to keep fighting through it all.
And that’s just the physical strain of it, folks. Periods also bring mood swings, irritability, drowsiness and a whole bunch things that affect behaviour and psyche. We can debate all we’d like on period leaves, but in a situation like the current COVID pandemic, no doctors are opting for leaves because they want to help and there is a shortage. In addition, there are also female doctors undergoing menopausal hot flashes or hormonal imbalances that make them sweat more. And these female doctors trudge through it all. Because who wants to be called the ‘weaker sex’ right now, when a show of strength is all we need? Besides, it probably isn’t even about gender here; it is more of a severe need to want to help people and give their all to the oath they swore to save lives.
Really, kudos to these women for doing what they do! And tech geniuses and innovators, you people listening? Can we figure out a better way to protect those who save us?