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‘The pandemic was a wake-up call for people to start taking their health seriously,’ says this doctor and Apeejay alumna

There has been a rising incidence of heart attacks at a young age, says Dr Khushmi Shah

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As a senior resident doctor on Covid duty during the first and second wave, Apeejay Nerul alumna Khushmi Shah’s experience was full of learnings. Khushmi currently works in the department of medicine at Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai. She completed MBBS from the Armed Forces Medical College Pune followed by post-graduation from BJ Medical College Pune and is now preparing to pursue a super-specialisation in cardiology. In an interview, Khushmi Shah talks further about working in the Covid ward, the post-pandemic approach to health and lifestyle, and more. Edited excerpts:

How did Apeejay School, Nerul, shape you? Please share your memories.

I studied in the school from kindergarten to class 12, which made it an integral part of my growing up years. Apeejay Nerul played a significant role. The exposure that I got and the confidence I built by participating in various activities has really helped me a lot in my life. I owe my interest in science, especially biology, to my teachers–I got valuable opportunities through competitive exams like National Talent Search Examination that helped me cultivate and pursue my interest in science.

You participated in various extra-curricular activities. Tell us more.

I was part of the Prefectorial board fourth standard onwards. I was the Junior Prefect followed by Senior Prefect and Captain and finally the Head Girl. I also participated in debate events and was involved with the editorial team of the school magazine. I also trained in Bharatanatyam and performed at annual functions and dance competitions. All of this happened because of the encouragement of the teachers. It has shaped me into the person I am now.

Did all of this come in the way of your preparation for the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT)?

Most of AIPMT (now called NEET) was based on the CBSE curriculum. With the teaching at Apeejay being on point, I did not struggle much and never felt the need for any extra coaching either. In between my preparation, extra-curricular activities were like a breather and not a distraction. These school events eventually became memories that kept me going.

Students appearing for competitive exams like NEET or JEE are quite commonly asked to focus 100 per cent on academics and stay away from other activities. What tips can you give to students and their parents?

I did MBBS, MD and now I am preparing for my super-specialisation. I would like to tell the aspirants that exams are never-ending; NEET is just the beginning of the journey. You cannot bring your life to a halt for every single exam. Even if you achieve all the success in life, you will not want to regret not having enjoyed a good school or college life.  What you need to learn is to maintain a balance and decide when to study and when to pursue your hobby or interest. Learning how to prioritise will help you throughout your life.

You worked in the Covid ward. What was it like?

I spent almost one-and-a-half years of my residency in Covid duty. As residents, we were first responders. From being helpless to actually having learned how to handle the crisis, we saw it all. We learned how to find new innovative solutions for unprecedented problems. We learned ‘jugaad’ along the way when there was a shortage of medical supplies. Despite the extreme challenges, I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience where we got to deal with the crisis at the ground level.

Personally, how challenging was the entire experience, right from dealing with patients to addressing the concerns of your family?

We were emotionally exhausted in the first wave. We did not know much about the infection while there was a flock of patients coming in to seek immediate help. The inflow of patients was massive. We had patients between the ages 20 and 60, who passed away within 10-15 minutes of reaching the hospital. It was very tragic. The situation was scary but since we were dealing with Covid every day, our personal safety was not something we thought of much. Of course, our families were worried so we avoided giving them all the details about the hospital or they would have been anxious. But the second wave, we had learned a little about how to cope and prioritise our patients. It was all about learning to do your best to save them.

What are some of the commonly seen health issues that have emerged in India?

Post-Covid, people have been dealing with a lot of psychological problems caused by uncertainty, financial problems, loss of family members, etc. In general, the emerging health issues include diabetes and obesity because of the change in our lifestyle and eating habits. There has been a rising incidence of heart attack at a young age and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Post-Covid, do you see a change in people’s approach to maintaining health?

I think it has more to do with social media exposure. A lot of the young population is now alert and making necessary changes in their lifestyle to stay healthy. Overall, I think awareness has increased and people have started taking their health seriously. The pandemic was a wake-up call and I hope that things only improve from here.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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