Dubai: While frontline healthcare workers wage their daily battle against coronavirus, the forgotten heroes of the battle are their children. Seeing their parents after 12 hours or more and even after a couple of days, not being able to hug their mum or dad is the new normal in the COVID-19 era.
They have had to quickly adjust to the new order and are often being nurtured by nannies, aunts, grandparents or in many cases a work from home spouse, be it the mum or dad from another profession.
Every night when Dr Sana Kauser comes home, her sons Ziyad Aslam, nine, and Hammad Aslam, 12, are dying to hug her but know they can’t. So they make do with smiles and pretend hugs and wait for their mother to wash, sanitise and change to sit down for a family dinner before asking her about her day.
Kauser, 39, a UK national is a family medicine practitioner at the Dubai branch of King’s College Hospital Dubai (KCH) but is these days often doing duty at the emergency department which easily extends up to 12 hours, dealing with COVID-19 positive patients in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that she has to change for every patient. She gets three days off to rest, recuperate and be with family and she makes the most of it.
“When I reach home I am emotionally and physically exhausted but I always try to be as normal as possible with the children, I don’t hide anything; we discuss the situation and I try not to panic them. Children often take the emotional cue from their parents and we keep the discussion very normal at the family dinner table,” said Kauser. Ziyad the younger son who felt more emotionally impacted said: “I am so proud and happy that my mother is helping so many sick people, but I feel very scared that she might catch the infection and fall sick.”
Along with regular parenting, Kauser also tries to bond more with the children these days on weekends when she is home, helping them with their studies and cooking with them. “While my elder one is calmer, I try to assuage my younger son more. Ziyad and I cook and bake together, and all three of us play board games, watch movies and so on, to establish as normal a semblance as I can. I tell the children this virus is like any other, if we take precautions and follow the rules, we can avoid it and those who do fall sick, mostly recover with the right treatment. I try to keep the stress levels as low as possible at home.”
“I want this to get over so I can go to school and swim everyday” – Omar Younes, aged five
Dr Yousra Haikal, an Egyptian expatriate and General Physician with Prime Health care group is a single mother who juggles her two roles with as much grace as possible. My son Omar is in Foundation Stage 2 of a British curriculum school and for the entire day I have to leave him with my aunt and her family in the neighbouring building.
Every evening when she returns home, she first showers, changes, sanitises herself before picking up her child from her aunt’s place. “I have trained him not to hug me or any one. So when I meet him, I pretend hug him. I is very tough and he often asks me why he can’t stay at home, and I have to explain to him. When we return, I have to first take down online recordings of the classes with his teachers, do some Arabic with him, and then we read the Quran.”
Omar waits for Fridays when he can be at home with his mother. Haikal said: “This is a difficult time and I see my son getting emotionally stressed out so I make Friday very special. We bake and make jelly together in the kitchen, then I read out stories to him, video call my parents in Cairo. Omar loves talking to his grandparents. I also try and squeeze in some board games and building block sets and pack a lot of fun in the day. This is the least I can do.”
“I have to discard all my breast milk as I can't risk giving it to my child.” Anumol Joseph
A registered nurse at the Medeor Hospital, Dubai, Anumol Joseph is a new mother with a six month old child, Ephraim, who now spends most of his time with his grandmother. “I have socially distanced myself from my child and it is heart breaking,” she said. “Two months ago, I was breast feeding him. I used to express breast milk and leave it in bottles for my son. But now, I cannot do that, working in the COVID-19 ward, I just express and discard the milk as I cannot risk giving it to my child. Only after I have washed, sanitised and changed, then I breast feed him and hold him for a few minutes. It is so difficult for me to keep him away as he now recognises me. But for most of the time, Baby Ephraim stays with mom in a separate room.”
“Are we all going to die?” – Naisha Narad, aged 11
This is the question Naisha always asks her parents – Dr Ravi Narad, specialist radiologist and Dr Rachita Talwar, specialist dermatologist at NMC speciality Al Ain. Naisha reads a lot and is well aware of the threat of the virus and is scared for her parents. Dr Narad who is on the frontline, conducting X-rays and scans of COVID 19 patients has a higher risk of exposure while his wife, Dr Talwar in the dermatology clinic has to report on emergency duty sometimes. The couple also has a two-year-old daughter, Samaira, and find it very tough to practice social distancing at home.
“The little one doesn’t understand why I cannot hug her and with the older one, who reads a lot, we have to be very calm and provide balanced information without alarming her,” said Dr Narad.
“My five-year old daughter is depressed I don’t hug her anymore” – Dr Abu Baker Khan
A General Physician with Right Health group, Dr Khan has been involved in mass COVID-19 screenings in workers accommodations. “I start my day at 9am and do at least 100 nasal swabs each day. The Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) does minimise the chance of infection, but when I return home, I have to be very careful. I am very attached to my four-year-old daughter Bia Noori. Earlier she would run out and hug me tight. Now I have explained to my wife Henna and after showering, disinfecting and sanitising myself, I still isolate myself in another bedroom. I have noticed my daughter has become very quiet and looks confused as to why her father who used to play with her and take her out is no longer doing so. It breaks my heart, but I feel someone has to battle against this pandemic and I am doing what is best for my child. Just hope she will understand someday.”