We hear reports of another ambulance out of reach or another deceased patient. We also hear the daily count of cases, recoveries and other "tolls". Yet, there are snippets now and then of people doing the right things, helping each other out and creating a positive impact on another's life.
In Bengaluru East, a few volunteers have come together to help reach out to COVID-19 patients in the zone who are under home isolation. They call them, they assure them and check in on them, they are your 'Buddy volunteers'.
How Bengaluru East's Buddy volunteers are making a difference
Over 80 volunteers every day, take on the task of reaching out home isolated patients on Bengaluru's East Zone. They call up the patients, explaining to them the protocol and keeping a check on them in case they need something through the period that they are under home isolation.
The project of 'Buddy Volunteers' began on 20th July when home isolation was announced in the state. The concept of home isolation came about to combat the possible shortage of beds with rising COVID-19 cases in the state. Currently, volunteers keep in touch via telephonic contact to assure the patient that they can reach out to them in times of need. The volunteers are primarily meant to instil confidence in the patients and make the recovery process a bit smoother.
Home isolation can be tough on one's wellbeing, and some days can be especially hard, therefore for patients, this would be a huge help. The project was born when Vijay Grover had provided care to 6 home isolated patients and began with his friends. Therefore, he spoke with the BBMP's COVID war room and piloted it as a project.
The project began 13 days back and is now reaching more patients under home quarantine and are helping them cope with COVID-19. Over 830 patients have been part of the initiative. In another few days, the project will be reaching 1,000 patients, the creator of the project Grover pre-empts.
Vijay Grover, the mind behind Buddy Volunteers tells IBTimes, "We started getting the list on a daily basis on the 20th of last month for the past 12 days in the first one week we kept it as a pilot, we wanted to see how it was going. When the response was positive, we added some more volunteers."
At first, the project began with friends who were willing to volunteer, but then a registration process was set up and a Google form was shared on which volunteers could sign up. A good response was seen from volunteers since this project didn't require people to step out. Grover says, "Another thing we say is, it's not a task, it's humanitarian help."
One part of it is counselling, the second is helping cope with an emergency and coordinate with the BBMP war room in getting them help. The volunteers have been able to ensure that Home Isolation patients are attended to without delays and the medical protocols that need to be maintained are done by the officials. "Home isolation can be a very challenging thing with a thousand queries. Volunteers call helps reassure the patient," says Grover.
The BBMP officials of the East Zone have been actively supporting the concept of Buddy Volunteering. Joint Commissioner of East Zone Mrs Pallavi said. "The rising number of cases and the sudden spike made us think out of the box and try this concept. The fact that most patients are being spoken to on a daily basis builds confidence in them."
Patients build a bond with Buddy Volunteers
The patients who have been associated with the project have all the good things to say about it. Some have built a bond with the volunteers as well, "We have three patients who are getting healed and are saying that, 'you helped us heal, now I want to come back and start helping others," said Grover.
The team of volunteers comprises several young tech professionals, medical students, medical professionals, clinical psychologists, and people who have recovered from Coronavirus who give hope to those still fighting the disease.
A medical student at a University in China, Priyanka Jagadish, recently completed her second year. She told IBTimes about her experience after a week as a volunteer, "I speak to them and most of them are worried and are mentally traumatised because of the situation and the way neighbours treat them." She further adds, "I feel more than me talking to them and helping them arrange with the beds and ambulances overnight, I feel talking to them is the biggest thing you can do in this pandemic. Just talk to them."
She spoke about an experience where she had to help a breast-feeding mother overnight, "It was really difficult for me to take over that case. She was panicked about her little one." She was helping the patient sort the issue from 9 p.m. till 7 in the morning, "It was not a one-man show, I have to appreciate Dr. Bhaskar and officers Arjun sir, Vikram Shetty sir, and Vijay Grover sir," she said.
Priyanka believes it's patients over 50 who are easy to talk to, "They are calm, and they want to talk to me, more than me talking to them, they just want me to listen, they don't want me to talk at all," she says laughing. She points out that patients between 30 to 40 are irked when volunteers call, "And I too understand, because they received over 20 to 30 calls from BBMP, they are not aware of the fact that I, Priyanka, am calling them to help them, to serve them, I am not checking on them, ordering them."
The volunteers must constantly coordinate with the medical and logistics officials of the East Zone Control Room for any clarification/information that a patient has. "We work very closely as a team and practically work 24 by 7, and respond to emergency flags raised by volunteers. We have succeeded in saving several lives due to timely intervention," says Dr Bhaskar Nodal Officer, East Zone.
Nidhisha K another young volunteer has spoken to 240 patients so far. She is currently enrolled as a BE student at BMSIT and is an NCC cadet. She tells us, "the fear of Coronavirus is the biggest problem people are facing. So what we do is call home isolated patients, and we give them moral support, be a companion." She further says, "When we introduce ourselves as BBMP war room volunteers, they do not get the idea at first that we are calling them to comfort them," she added, "Once you know, we start talking to them, there's a way we speak to them, the tone, making them comfortable, then they become comfortable."
"Every step that we take to fight the pandemic is important, but fighting 'fear' is a big step the volunteers are able to instill the confidence and guide the patients is a big step," says Manoj Meena Nodal Officer East Zone about Buddy Volunteers.
Speaking about the challenges, Grover says, "sometimes patients don't listen, they say, 'who are you to tell me', 'why should I listen to you, you're also an ordinary citizen.'" He added that in cases where people refuse to follow guidelines, they are reported to authorities.
"The stress is on constant monitoring and timely action. We as a team are able to resolve several issues with regular follow-ups," says Vikram Shetty, the backbone of the volunteer group.
The East Zone so far has had over 2,000 patients in home isolation and is slowly seeing the demand for beds to come down. Soon we could see every home isolation patient have a volunteer to help them. Initiatives like the Buddy Volunteers are rare to come by but are just as necessary in tough times. Hopefully, it's not too much wishful thinking to find more such in the rest of Bengaluru.