Wonder women

Bengaluru reported its first covid-19 case on March 8, 2020. For a year now, these ladies have been fighting an unprecedented battle. Pragna L Krupa reports

These doctors helped deliver 473 babies of covid-positive mothers. And they didn’t take a single day’s leave of absence for a whole year. How’s that for a doctor’s dedication?

An all-women team of doctors at the Vani Vilas hospital in Bengaluru, worked day and night, to make sure that covid did not cast its ugly shadow on the miracle of birth in 2020. And while the world worked from home, these women worked a whole year without taking a single day’s leave of absence and birthed 473 babies with covid-positive mothers. They kept in touch with their families through video calls and left their own children in the care of other family members.

They stayed away from their families due to the fear of transmitting covid and met them once a month after getting themselves tested

– Dr Geetha Shivamurthy, Medical Superintendent, Vani Vilas

Medical Superintendent, Dr. Geetha Shivamurthy said her team of 16 specialists, 20 paediatricians including two men and 10 nurses worked a whole year without taking a single day off. “They stayed away from their families due to the fear of transmitting covid and met them once in a month after getting themselves tested for covid. Not even a single doctor or staff who was working at the trauma care centre with covid-positive pregnant women, was infected. They also made sure none of the infants contracted the virus too.”


The hospital received its first covid pregnancy case on May 8. “It was very unexpected and we had to quickly attend to it. Since that was the first case, there was a lot of stress. We followed all the protocols and the baby born was healthy and covid-free,” said Dr. Chaithra Ramachandra, assistant professor at BMCRI who attended to the case along with two other doctors.

While Dr Ramachandra was birthing babies, she had a breastfeeding baby at home who she did not see for three weeks. But despite spending over six months away from her family, she says her heart broke when the new mothers could not see their children after birth. “We had to separate them and show them photos of their new babies. Though protocols permit mothers and new born babies to be together and even be breastfed, the mothers were worried about passing on the infection and we were a little unsure too because these were the first cases,” says Dr Shivamurthy. Besides attending to covid positive pregnant women, the doctors also had to arrange for their primary contacts to be quarantined. Dr. Savitha C, HOD of OBG (Obstetrics & Gynecologist), said the demands of managing covid pregnancies impacted the doctors in ways they didn’t think they would experience.



“The team would remain in their PPEs for six hours and after every case they would shower and get back to work. Since they didn’t have time to dry their hair, they cut their hair short. This was during the lockdown and no salons were open. So they sat in front of a mirror and gave themselves a haircut.”

Long hours in PPEs, fogging glasses and repeating covid protocols like spoilt records was draining, says Dr Anitha GS. “We had to raise our voices not because we were angry but to be heard over our masks,” she says.



Dr. Sahana Devadas, professor at Paediatric Department said that of all the infants whose mothers were covid positive, only one child caught the infection due to the mother’s negligence. “But both of them recovered and were discharged after two weeks. There were no fatalities,” she said.

Between May and August, Vani Vilas was the only government hospital accepting covid and non-covid pregnant women. The team carried out 1635 non-covid normal deliveries, 984 C-sections along with 63 covid-positive normal deliveries and 153 C-sections.


ASHA workers stepped out when no one did. But every worker who knocked on your door to enquire about your health has a story. Like Dakshayani.

Few people braved the pandemic and stepped out of their houses. The only ones who did it were the frontline workers. Among them, the ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers had one of the toughest roles – to go to homes of residents and ask if anyone was showing symptoms of covid, the number of people with co-morbidities, getting people to come and get tested. All of which drew scorn and rejection from people whom they were only trying to help on behalf of the health authorities.



But every one of these women had a story. Like Dakshayani (57) from Seshadripuram, who visited over 600 houses and faced her share of abuses and rejection from people. “Some people shut the doors on our faces and told us not to enter their buildings. When there was community transmission, the stigma increased. There was fear among the public and they did not want to interact with us. We kept hearing stories about colleagues being attacked but we did not stop. We continued to visit homes, talk to people, raise awareness about the virus and discussed safety protocols.”

Dakshyani says she has gone to buildings which had covid positive cases, without any fear. “I would tell people to come and get tested in the testing camps we had set up but few would respond. I live alone because I lost all the members of my family. I don’t want anyone to be in the position I am in today. That’s why I’m very patient while advising people.”


I live alone because I lost all the members of my family. I don’t want anyone to be in the position I am in today. That’s why I’m very patient while advising people

– Dakshayani, 57, ASHA worker

Dakshyani says she lost her husband to liver disease in 2007, after which she joined as an ASHA worker the following year. A year later, her mother-in-law, unable to bear the shock of losing her son, slipped into depression and died. Soon, her father-in-law passed away too. There were more tragedies to come. “My elder son who was suffering from cancer died in 2016. Having lost all my family to health issues, I find deep fulfilment in being an ASHA worker. I was living with my younger son who came home one day after a fight with a girl he loved, and consumed poison. I saw him take it and rushed to save him. But I lost him too,” she says.

After visiting homes and helping to raise awareness on health, Dakshayani returns to an empty home. ‘I have no one waiting for me at home. But I hope I can prevent others from being in the situation that I am in.”


Dr Lalitha Venkatesh and her husband kept their clinic open till as late as 1 am at the height of the pandemic to help people who had cough and cold but didn’t know whom to turn to

Dr Lalitha Venkatesh doesn’t just have patients waiting in their clinic (which she runs with her husband, Dr Venkatesh). The couple have admirers. And just as well because, for the last 40 years, this doctor couple has been treating patients for free or allowing them to pay however much they can afford.

During the pandemic, their clinic stayed open till 1.00 am catering to patients from mostly poor backgrounds.

Dr Lalitha Venkatesh

Dr Lalitha Venkatesh

“I started treating patients when I was 23 and had not completed medical school. There was a lot of demand for the doctors at that time and people were requesting me to start my practice. I ended up opening a clinic in my professor’s name – as Vishwas clinic in Seshadripuram, Platform road. I did not charge a fixed fee and some people would give me Rs 2 at that time. Dr. Venkatesh was my senior who used to guide me. One day I invited him as the chief guest to my clinic and I had no clue that my parents had arranged my wedding with him. Since we both believe in service to humanity, we would work late into the night.

No matter how late, we would always have dinner together. Previoulsy, I used to treat patients in my clinic and would visit Dr. Venkatesh’s clinic on alternate days. Due to covid, I have started seeing patients at Srinivasa clinic on all the days,” says the 65-year-old doc.

She also worked with the Health department to provide long-distance consultation during the pandemic. Dr. Lalitha who is a fertility specialist says she prescribes both alternative and allopathic medicines.

Her husband, Dr Venkatesh SR (70), and the force behind Srinivasa Clinic in Vyalikaval, completed his MBBS from BMC and was posted in a private institution in Tamil Nadu, during the early years of his practice. After a year, he returned to the city to start his clinic in Seshadripuram. Coming from a poor family, Venkatesh says he knew how difficult it was to have access to good medical care if you could not pay money. So he did not have a fixed fee for his patients. They could pay what they could afford, or not. “Since the time I started my clinic, I have been working 14 hour days. Sometimes I forget to have lunch and have it around 5.30-6 pm and start seeing patients almost immediately. I would keep my clinic open 24*7 but now I close on Sundays because my support staff need a day off,” he says.

Dr. Venkatesh in his clinic

Dr. Venkatesh in his clinic

Dr Venkatesh has a very different style of treating his patients. “I do not close the door when I treat a patient, nor when I’m giving an injection. There is nothing to hide.”

Between April and August, Dr Venkatesh says he saw increased footfalls. “A lot of these people were from poor families. Most people were afraid to go to hospitals and doctors during covid but they came to me.”

Dr Venkatesh was earlier working with Central Power Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science. Currently he is with Bharat Electronics Limited and Indian Telephone Industries Limited as an authorised medical practitioner. Speaking about the fear of covid he says, “I feel that I have already crossed my expiry date and I’m currently living my bonus time. If we start to rest, rust will set in. Pandemic or not, my service shall not stop.”

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Sagar Biswas

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