Geopolitics

No Answers: A Kashmir Doctor's View From Inside COVID Disaster

People think doctors have lost empathy. But we feel each death, and every young life lost comes as a bolt out of the blue.

Health workers carrying a dead body in India
Health workers carrying a dead body in India
Hirra Azmat

-Essay-

SRINAGAR — Blood-stained faces and broken bodies are not new sights for doctors here in Kashmir; It's the curse of living in a region riddled with conflict. No matter how emotionally challenging these cases are, doctors are usually able to provide answers about the patient's chances of survival.

But when it comes to COVID-19, what assurance can these doctors give when families ask if their loved one will make it through the night? In the absence of explanations, these doctors are haunted by loss.

How do these medical professionals go about their day when their world is engulfed by death and devastation?

Below is the account of one doctor currently at the front lines of a tertiary care hospital in Kashmir.



I am overwhelmed by the silence. The only sound I hear is the rumbling of oxygen cylinders in the forlorn hospital corridor. I rush to get them. In the same moment, bouts of heavy breathing and muffled cries get louder. I cover my ears, and end up waking up in cold sweat.

This is the every day story of my nightmare-riddled sleep after a 32-hour shift.

It all started in April. I was posted in the casualty ward back then. My duty was to admit the patient or to send them home, depending on their status. From April 5 onwards, however, the unfolding events began to cast their dark shadows. The hospital witnessed a surge in the number of patients with respiratory symptoms. Surprisingly, many of them were young – which was not the case last year.

That said, we sent them home because there were no indications of any severe infections. Much to our surprise, many of these young patients took a turn for the worse at home. As a result, they had to be brought to the hospital and put on high-flow oxygen.

Come April 10, all hell broke lose. The dreaded bilateral pneumonia and full-blown lung involvement in young patients kept increasing. Consequently, their deaths became a new normal and medical oxygen became the axis around which the world revolved.

An Indian lady gets tested for COVID-19 — Photo: Debarchan Chatterjee

Even though a lot of people think doctors have lost empathy, the truth is we feel each death and are suffering very deeply. Every young life lost comes as a bolt out of the blue. We have simply mastered the art of putting on a veneer of calmness in the face of death. Yet sometimes, the mask falls.

For example, I will forever remember the death of a 19-year-old patient from central Kashmir. Her eager face and sparkling eyes spoke of countless dreams. Even as she was brought on a stretcher in a serious condition, her youthful vitality wrestled with the strong current of death for as long as it could but, ultimately, surrendered to it.

Her increasing breathlessness began with normal flu symptoms which her parents believed would go away. However, she worsened with each moment and was brought to the hospital. She was put in triage for one day but showed no sign of recovery.

This virus has rendered us clueless.

She was then put on a ventilator. After four days, she developed a cytokine storm, which is when inflammation occurs in the entire body and organs start failing. Her parents often asked me, "What will happen to her?" I ran out of answers.

In a last ditch effort, I tried to administer Tocilizumab, an anti-inflammatory drug, but there was an all-India shortage to contend with. We had no vials available so I, along with some other doctors, tried to call various medicine suppliers but to no avail. Then again, what guarantee was there that the drug would save her life? I could not assure the patient's family it would be a success even if we procured it.

The whole time, they stared at me with vacant eyes that begged for answers as their daughter lay dying.

Doctors are supposed to have answers for their patients and their families. However, this virus has rendered us clueless.

I often ask myself: What are we here for? We are not helping them in any way. All we do is observe, and look towards the skies. The skies offer no consolation so I turn towards my own self for answers, and the only one I get is: "In a few days, my beloved, only a few days..."

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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