As a 13-year-old in Sirsi village near Jaipur, Sri Narain Basna saw his sister die due to post-pregnancy complications because of tetanus. “She lost her life for the lack of an injection that cost one rupee. No one had guided her about it,” Basna, now the deputy medical superintendent at LNJP Hospital, Delhi’s largest Covid hospital, recalls in anguish. Years later, when he was a medical college student, Basna developed a steely resolve to reach out to those in need. During the first phase of the pandemic, he was on Covid duty for eight months, from March-October last year. Towards the end of his term, he was infected and hospitalised for six days. The problems he faced then gave him first-hand experience of the practical difficulties and mental trauma that most Covid patients have to deal with, making him realise that ‘medical guidelines’ do not address the individual practical difficulties patients face.

Basna became aware that more than the discomfort of the infection, most people were traumatised by the fear that they would not get hospital beds. This caused problems as “it suppressed their immunity and all efforts were put towards locating a hospital bed or an oxygen cylinder rather than [anything else]”, he explains.

Once he was back on duty, Basna started counseling the patients he came in contact with. He began listening to people, taking outstation calls, advising people on their symptoms, prescribing medication and, most importantly, addressing their fears. As patients started recovering, Basna realised that what most of them needed was general guidance and positive moral support, “a feeling that they had someone to go to”. Arun Bhattacharya, 62, a yoga teacher in Delhi, speaks to Basna on a daily basis as his entire family is Covid positive. He calls the doctor a “rescuer” and adds, “He advises on not just medicines but also other things, and in such detail that it feels like you know it from inside.”

As referrals grew, Basna found himself talking to more and more patients. On an average, he now speaks to 50-60 patients a day, dedicating 4-6 hours of his own time in the mornings, evenings and even late at night. Since October last year, he has treated over 800 patients over the phone for free. His patients include judges, IAS officers, artists and villagers who have no access to medical facilities. Amit Dahiya Badshah, 72, a poet living alone in Delhi who was treated by Basna after he was unable to get a hospital bed despite his oxygen level falling to 67 , calls him an “anchor in the storm of Covid.”

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