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The troubles faced by heart patients during COVID-19

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Dr TS Kler, Chairman – Cardiology, PSRI Hospital, shares his views on the problems faced by heart patients as they could not get treatment in time due to the ongoing crisis

We are passing through a difficult, unique and a challenging time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed our life remarkably, has affected practically every person, every individual, every professional, every industry; affected governments across the globe and its functioning in ways more than we could have ever imagined. Until a vaccine comes up, COVID is here to stay and the sooner we accept it and change the way we live, we will be able to live longer.

What we have seen is that since initially, hospitals and OPDs were closed, patients had little or no access to the hospitals and they continued to take treatment according to their will and whatever was prescribed to them in their earlier visits to their doctors was being followed.

We also soon realised that in our country, telemedicine is not developed to the extent that it can fill the vacuum created by the pandemic in our healthcare system. The healthcare workers, including doctors, were scared; they didn’t know what to do. So, even when patients called them with problems, they didn’t know what to do with them.

In the past two-and-a-half month, many patients have suffered because they couldn’t get the treatment in time and come even for regular checkups due to sheer paranoia, which has left many patients needing regular heart checks more stressed and severely unwell.

For example, a patient’s pacemaker got depleted. He started having fainting episodes and got so scared that he didn’t come for the checkup and was eventually admitted in emergency, and we had to change his pacemaker.

Another patient was going through severe discomfort in his chest for three days. He continued to call me but was unwilling to come to the hospital for the check up, as his children who live in America asked him not to visit, we had to convince him that something tragic could happen to him due to this sheer negligence rather than due to COVID, and after a lot of reassurance, we finally managed to get him to come to the hospital. Perhaps, heart patients are not realising that those who do not continue with regular checkups and keeping their blood pressure in control can lead themselves to a heart attack or heart failure.

Likewise, one lady patient had high blood pressure. In spite of it, she decided not to visit the hospital as she was really scared because of the corona virus. However, when the situation got out of control, she had to visit hospital in the middle of the night for the treatment.

Therefore, heart patients must not neglect their treatment and regular checkups. There is much less chance of getting COVID if you visit the hospital as compared to dying because of a heart disease. Even though here is a possibility of getting infected, but heart diseases are more dangerous.

Thus, firstly, all heart patients must take their appointment beforehand so that they don’t have to wait in the hospital for the appointment. Secondly, if any time one steps out, please wear a mask. Third, if anyone has any respiratory symptoms like cough, fever, sore throat or have any abdominal symptom like diarrhoea, they must visit a doctor as these are the symptoms of COVID. At PSRI, any patient who may need any admission for any treatment, we admit them into a special unit – called COVID-suspect unit, where they are kept isolated unless the test comes negative and procedures and treatments begin thereafter.

All heart patients must visit their cardiologists, for regular checkup, for things like getting the pacemaker checked, which is absolutely safe, at least in PSRI — which is absolutely safe. We have set protocols to manage these kinds of patients and keep their follow ups in proper manner.

There is hope that the situation will get better but we have to learn a lifelong lesson and change the way we used to meet and embrace people, and shaking hands with them — all these things should become the past now.

Due to COVID, basic and essential hygiene such as washing hands properly has now become our habit and we need to learn to avoid touching our face, nose or shoulders again and again as it’s a bad habit. The concept of washing our hands now not just before eating food, but after visiting places and touching things like doors, door handles, items and many other things, is good and was much-needed in our country.

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