Abu Dhabi: It is only natural for doctors and physicians to be recognised for their efforts. However, in 2020, the role that many other frontline workers have silently played in the fight against COVID-19 is no less noteworthy. Having worked in the frontline to ensure the health and safety of patients in the UAE, many of these health-care workers say that the year has exposed them to the value of teamwork and taught them vital lessons for their careers.
“I’ve been working as a physiotherapist since 2005, but this year has been a real lesson in patience for us and possibly everyone in the field of health care. Despite the challenges that have cropped up, we’ve persevered to help our patients and this is something that we will continue to remember,” said Amira Elshestawi, physiotherapist at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City.
“Faced with the unknown, we were all nervous at first. It felt like a war and we were worried about protecting our loved ones. It took long hours of serving patients in full PPE [personal protective equipment] and quite a bit of cross-training for tasks we don’t normally perform, but the teamwork eventually shone through,” added Seddiqa Al Mansoori, respiratory therapy supervisor at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
Certainly, the year’s experiences have been unprecedented. Allied health professionals, who provide diagnostic, therapeutic, technical and support services, often found themselves training others and playing an important role in COVID-19 treatment and recovery.
Assigned to the intensive care where she worked to ensure that COVID-19 patients were breathing well, Al Mansoori recollected how she and her team trained many other professionals, including plastic surgeons, on respiratory therapy. Elshestawi, on the other hand, worked on implementing one of the most effective COVID-19 management techniques for patients — proning — and also helped with the rehabilitation of recovered patients.
Protecting the family
Despite the long hours, both of them tried to maintain some physical distance from their children when they returned home from work every day. “My youngest is just 18 months old, so it certainly wasn’t easy. So, I often found myself using a face mask at home to protect my four children,” Elshestawi said. For her part, Al Mansoori often left her two children, aged one and four, in the care of her mother.
“And even though my mother was taking care of my children, I avoided seeing her for three to four months in order to protect her. This was the hardest part of the year for me and something I hope I do not have to repeat,” she said.
Sense of gratitude
Dr Meryl Jose Colaco, head of physiotherapy at Medeor Hospital Dubai, is waiting to finally visit his family back home in India. Like most other professionals in his profession, 2020 has meant many hours of work in full PPE, with limited food and water intake, so that he could continue serving sick patients. “To be honest, I was thankful to have a job where I could serve the community. And I knew that I had to stay positive and cheerful for my patients, who often found it the hardest to get moving on their feet after recovering from COVID-19,” Dr Colaco said.
'Helping one another'
Heading into a new year, the professionals said they will carry with them the sense of camaraderie they developed with their colleagues as they battled the pandemic. “We often stayed on till late, helping one another and stepping in whenever additional support was required. It is this sense of solidarity, coupled with the leadership and guidance we’ve seen in the UAE, that will help us in the days ahead,” Al Mansoori added.