Having survived COVID-19, former medical director at the San Fernando General Hospital Dr Anand Chatoorgoon has been treating COVID-19 patients at home, administering drugs, intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy and even convincing relatives to get vaccinated.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Media on Friday, Chatoorgoon said this third wave of infections further underscores the importance of vaccination as many anti-vaxxers seemed unaware that the implications of getting COVID without a vaccine were far dire than the treatable side effects of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Chatoorgoon called on the Health Ministry to change its strategies and do comparative first-hand accounts of the devastating effects of COVID on someone who was not vaccinated but survived, versus someone who experienced side effects from a vaccine.
“Some people are afraid to get vaccinated because of side effects but I tell people when you are unvaccinated and you get COVID, the virus in its severe form does not just kill you, it tortures you, it makes you suffer! It punishes you before it kills you. And I tell the patients honestly that there are side effects to the vaccine but these side effects in the vast majority of instances are not nearly as terrible as the severe form of the virus, “ he said.
Since the virus presented, Chatoorgoon said he has been inundated with calls from people requesting help. His numbers ( 657-4197 and 773-7838) have been public ever since he was medical director.
He said some patients have been self-prescribing ivermectin, a drug which he does not recommend, as it has not been approved by the World Health Organisation.
“I have treated over 500 COVID patients successfully at home and I am sure many other doctors have done so as well. Home visits are very safe. Patients can be successfully treated if they contact their doctors early and if the doctors prescribe the right medication in the right dosage,” he said.
He noted that the chances of success are diminished if patients contact the doctor late.
Chatoorgoon said he does not treat people who are experiencing severe symptoms but advises them to go to the hospital. Out of his 500 plus home patients, Chatoorgoon revealed that only three of them died.
“These patients already had very low oxygen levels in the blood when I saw them and therefore despite all my efforts to save them, they died of a heart attack after experiencing severe chest pain,” he explained.
Chatoorgoon says he does not charge for medical advice on the phone.
He also said people were afraid of being hospitalised and dying alone in a hospital without the comfort of family around them.
Drugs in the parallel health care system are short and Chatoorgoon said people have often expressed fears of dying there alone.
He said having experienced COVID first-hand after being vaccinated, he understood the pain of his patients.
“I am glad I got COVID because it makes me more sympathetic. I would sit with them, hold their hands and comfort them,” he said.
Since 2020 Chatoorgoon said he has visited homes all over the country.
“If I think such a visit is warranted after listening to the patients’ stories on the phone, I make available to these patients the necessary treatment which includes medication, and intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy,” he revealed.
He added, “ I advise all of the patients that if the maximum treatment I can give at home is not enough, then they will have to call the ambulance to source advanced treatment in the hospitals where there is ventilatory apparatus to assist their breathing.”
Chatoorgoon is a qualified anaesthetist and intensivist and has worked in the ICU for over 40 years.
He also said deaths have continued to climb because of poor management of ICU beds.
“The Minister of Health and the RHAs need to address urgently the horrors and terrors, the trials and tribulations that too many patients have faced and continue to face at these public healthcare institutions where all too often the food is unpalatable, the nursing care leaves much to be desired and the doctors are not experienced enough to handle the critically ill,” he said.
He also called on his colleagues to collaborate with their seniors both in T&T as well as abroad as COVID was a new virus that they never studied in medical school. He also recommended that the Ministry streamline doctors doing home visits so that all doctors would know the best-prescribed cocktail of treatment for people suffering from the virus.
Last month, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said he was informed that some doctors were administering antibiotics, ivermectin and oxygen to COVID patients.
He said ivermectin is not approved by the WHO. The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website states that ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms, head lice and certain skin conditions.
Last month, T&T Medical Association president Dr Vishi Beharry called on doctors to use the scientific method in which they were trained. The Association had expressed concern that some doctors are using ivermectin and bush medicine to treat COVID-19 patients at home, as the scientific evidence does not show that it is beneficial.