Satish* was reduced to tears when the doctors at the RDT COVID-19 Hospital informed him that his wife, Lalitha*, was in a serious condition in the ICU as the oxygen saturation in her blood was extremely low.
Lalitha was tested COVID positive in the last week of July after her whole family was infected. While Satish and the family showed mild symptoms and recovered quickly, Lalitha’s health started deteriorating rapidly.
After being shifted from Level 2 ward (for moderate to severe symptoms) to the ICU, the oxygen levels in her blood still kept dipping, so she was intubated and put on ventilator. But what added to this complication was her being seven months pregnant.
“The pregnancy affected her diaphragm and lung’s capacity to expand fully and take long breaths. This was increasing the threat to her life. We came to the conclusion that it was best to terminate this pregnancy,” explains Dr. Jyothi, the head of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in RDT Hospital in Bathalapalli.
Satish sank in despair when he was informed about this. The many plans he made with Lalitha about this new addition to the family seemed to have come to an abrupt stop. Nonetheless, the priority for him and his family was Lalitha. “Seeing her in a critical state was difficult. I just wanted her to be back home safe and healthy. There was no second thoughts about the termination,” says Satish.
With Lalitha being unconscious and on ventilator, her husband and the family gave their approval to terminate the pregnancy medically. The obstetrics team gave her medications two times but they weren’t effective. Time was running out and a caesarean section (C-section) was the only option left now.
“At 30 weeks the baby is not mature enough to be out of the womb. A C-section is risky as it increases the chances of mortality in the patient. Moreover, bleeding during the surgery and COVID together may increase the blood clot formation and that is dangerous because it would affect the lungs and the brain,” explains Dr. Jyothi. “However because the medicines didn’t work, we had to make the tough call.”
With no viable option left and Lalita’s life in danger, it was decided to go ahead with the C-section. “The challenge after all this was to shift Lalitha all the way to the operation theatre as she was on ventilator which has difficult mechanical settings that cannot be provided until there. A mishap would have occurred. That is why it was decided to do the C-section in the ICU itself,” says Dr. Harish, head of the ICU department at the hospital.
Throughout this Lalitha was unconscious, so with uncertainty looming but a resolve to remove her from danger, the team of doctors from the departments of ICU, gynaecology and paediatrics came together in a room beside the ICU ward for the C-section
”Given the extraordinary situation, the mother’s life was the top priority. Since it was a pre-term baby, the paediatrician’s role became important,” explains Dr. Jyothi.
While the gynaec and ICU team ensured that the mother was in a stable condition, the paediatrics department were on their toes to ensure the same for the baby. “When the baby was delivered, it was not active and not breathing well as the mother was on ventilator and heavy medication,” says Dr. Manohar Gandi, the chief paediatrician on the case. “We had to immediately resuscitate and intubate the baby and he was on the ventilator for a day. Luckily he did not have any complications related to premature birth.”
It wasn’t good news yet as Lalitha didn’t show signs of recovery. In fact a life was still at risk. “She developed pneumothorax (collapsed lungs), bad bloodstream infection and a bacterial respiratory infection. For the next 10 to 12 days she was still on ventilator and two times she was almost about to collapse and die and we had to pull her back from that stage,” says Dr. Harish with a sigh. “Gradually over a period of two weeks she started gaining stability and gained consciousness and once her vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature) settled, we shifted her to level 2 and then after careful support there, she was shifted to Level 1 and finally discharged on September 11th.
“I didn’t see my baby for quite sometime after delivering him due to my condition. Throughout this time, I was more worried about my baby than myself. This period has been one of turmoil for my family and me but I am grateful for the support we received from the team at the RDT Hospital who were determined and gave us courage. I couldn’t be happier knowing that I am regaining my health and my baby is healthy and doing fine,” expresses Lalitha in a delightful tone.
Sometimes saving a life takes the work of many hands. The efforts and determination of the medical team at Level 1 and 2, ICU ward, gynaecology and paediatrics department for close to a month resulted in not just pulling Lalitha out of a near-death condition but also in receiving a blessing in the form of her new-born baby – the baby that refused to accept an unfavourable decision of two medical terminations. Lalitha and her baby braved against all odds for their lives which stands as testimony to their grit and resilience.
The pandemic is clouding our lives with uncertainty and pushing many towards harrowing experiences but as long as we don’t give up on each other and have compassion, there is always hope.
*The names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.
Pictures and Text: Felita Viegas