Inside an operation theatre in Chennai, a surgeon at work gets breathless. The multiple layers of protective clothing causes profuse sweating. Her spectacles and goggles fog up, affecting her vision. She knows the surgery has to go on and she cannot risk patient safety, and in the struggle between getting to see better and being able to breathe, she quickly removes the goggles.

“Wearing protective gear during surgery is difficult. I experience a lot of difficulty breathing. Sometimes, I feel like lowering the mask to be able to breathe better. But I remove the goggles so that I can see clearly, and complete the procedure,” the surgeon said.

In the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may have become the new normal for healthcare providers. However, wearing the protective kit has become essential for doctors while performing surgeries. Though government hospitals are yet to start performing elective procedures, doctors have been performing emergency surgeries, and caesarean sections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is very tough,” a surgeon in a government hospital — summed up his experience of wearing PPEs during surgeries. “There is too much sweating and dehydration. It makes me tired. Earlier, I have performed surgeries continuously from 2 p.m. to 8 a.m.. While my arms and fingers hurt, the sweating that causes dehydration and loss of electrolytes makes the mind numb. Just one surgery wearing PPE is tough,” he explained.

Proper donning of PPE takes 10 minutes. For a long time, surgeons have got used to wearing the operation theatre (OT) apron over the OT dress. “One or more layers over and above that is actually hindering, albeit in a minor way, the movements. Surgeons are birds of practice and hence, though it looks like a small hindrance, the routine is affected,” he observed.

A number of doctors are finding it difficult to breathe during surgeries. “Not all patients are screened for COVID-19 now. So, invariably, we have to wear the PPE during surgeries. I become hypoxic half way through. I sweat profusely and feel my clothes getting soaked quickly. The goggles fog up and my vision is compromised. We need to improvise on the safety gear. We are trying out some respirators to enable us to breathe better,” another surgeon said.

A senior surgeon in a private hospital said wearing a PPE was manageable for up to 45 minutes to one hour of a surgery. “It becomes difficult beyond that, and worsens if the surgery prolongs for four to six hours. We will have to adjust and get used to wearing a PPE. But this will take months, or even a year, for many of us,” he said.

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