Dubai: For the past three months, nurses have been battling COVID-19 from the frontline, putting in 12 to 20 hours of duty in suffocating layers of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), pushing aside their self-preservation instinct and worry for loved ones. As the world marks the Interantional Day for Nursing on May 12, six nurses shared their brave stories with Gulf News:
The challenge of working in PPE
Daragh Nolan is male nurse in charge of the COVID-19 ICU at King’s College Hospital in Dubai Hills.
With over 11 years of experience as a male nurse in Ireland, UK and Dubai in the last four years, Nolan, 34, the father of two kids, said he fell in love with nursing when he enrolled as a student to qualify as a nurse. Having never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic before, Kings said his entire team has stepped up to provide sterling service to patients. “This validates my decision to have taken up nursing,” said Nolan.
“The biggest challenge for me is to come into to work and change into the PPE which has several layers and includes gloves, hair net, aprons, gowns, face masks and face shields which makes me feel incredibly hot inside. Very often, talking to patients or even to other colleagues is also a challenge as the tightly fitting mask prevents verbal communications with colleagues who need to be instructed and debriefed after I finish my rounds. Speaking to the patients is also tough as they can barely see us beyond the face shield. Besides, visibility is poor as the shield fogs up. At the end of the 12-hour plus shifts, one feels mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted,” said Nolan who does this duty four days a week after which he gets a three-day respite.
Nolan’s wife, who is a school teacher in Dubai, often worries about her husband’s health as well as his family back in Ireland, but Nolan feels reassured he is protected. “What really keeps me going day after day is to see the way our people (nursing staff) at the hospital have stepped up to the crisis to handle multiple admissions and care for so many patients. It is really responsible team work,” said Nolan.
Two warriors from the land of nursing
Meet Sindhu Aniyaapan and Biji Varghese from the Indian state of Kerala, where every household almost boasts of a nurse. While Aniyappan 40, hailing from Alleppey district, handles the emergency services at RAK Hospital, Varghese from Pathanamthitta, is a nurse at Dubai Health Authority’s flagship Rashid Hospital. Both women have served the profession for 18 years.
Aniyappan said apart from the inconvenience of donning full PPE gear and screening, taking down histories and admitting patients, she also handles the management of the nursing staff, briefing the COVID-19 committee and keeps the morale of her team high. “I am happy that I am able to cope with the crisis and although exhausted at the end of the day, I come back every day with new hope and energy,” said the mother of two
Varghese seconded her thoughts: “Choosing nursing as a career means that we accepted to serve people, whether it is corona or any other illness. There is no discrimination whatsoever. Valuing a patient’s life is what I have learnt in my service. My duty and responsibility is to see that patients recover,” said Verghese, also a mother of two kids.
‘I want to make the world a safe place for my child’
Reem Yousef from Lebanon, young mother of a nine-month old baby and sole breadwinner of her family, works as the Emergency Nurse Manager at the Emirates Specialty Hospital in the Dubai Health Care City. Breast feeding her baby, Yousef has to find the time and place in between her duty hours to express breast milk for her baby.
“It is really hard and I literally am wearing my heart on my sleeve for my little one, Relle. Yes, there is fear of contracting COVID-19 as we work 12-15 hours a day for five days. I don’t have a nanny to take care of my baby, only my husband who is at home. We try our best to manage. When I go back home, I take utmost care to completely sterilise myself before I hold my baby in my arms. Whenever I feel my courage waning, I think of Relle, her beautiful face and I know I am doing this for her as I want the world to be a safe place for her. Every day when I get out of bed, that gives me renewed faith and hope and I also recall the oath I took in nursing school to do my job, no matter what the challenge,” she said.
The satisfaction of seeing a patient leave with a smile
Shyamala Kumar, head of nursing at NMC Royale DIP and Alice Hepzebah, a nurse from Aster Hospital Al Qusais, are brave COVID-19 warriors.
As a leader, Kumar not only attends to patients on her regular rounds in full PPE, but also has to manage the logistics of supplies of medical gear, besides keeping the staff morale high with regular counselling.
“Most of the nurses here are under 30, new mothers and they fear they might catch the infection, I advise them to follow all protocols and be safe. There is a lot of struggle and hard work, but at the end of the day, when we see a patient who came in fighting for his life, go out smiling, that is our biggest reward,” said Kumar.
Alice Hepzebah, 27, newly married, has been on rotating 10 hour shifts and has thrown herself into the task of caring for her COVID-19 patients. Every morning her husband drops her to the hospital where Hepzebah changes from civilian clothes into scrubs and layers of PPE, readying for the battle of the day. She is in charge of a COVID-19 ward, where she has to deal with everything from a patient’s food and sponge bath needs to turning them on their sides to avoid bed sores and providing medications. Although a bit exhausted and scared, Hepzebah has no regrets.
“I have been a nurse from the age of 21 and belong to a family where there are others too in the profession. Initially, the thought of dealing with COVID-19 patients scared me, but I feel proud and happy to be able to meet these challenges and help so many people.”
Providing home care for the elderly
Glenda Gerona, 37, from the Philippines works for the First Response Health Care Group providing health care at home for people who cannot make it to the hospitals.
“In the current COVID-19 scenario, it is not just the elderly or special needs people whom we attend to. We cater to anyone who calls us for assistance from a hotel, old age home or regular residence. Our shifts are spread over 12 hours and we provide 24/7 home health care assistance. These days, I attend up to 20 calls per day and after receiving the call, we drive and arrive at the spot within 30 minutes,” said Gerona who has been a nurse for 15 years.
While Gerona takes a full case history of the patient calling in to know if it is a COVID-19 or some other case, she said: “While we always take precautions and wear gloves and masks, in suspected COVID-19 cases, we have to be in full PPE gear.
If the patient has to be taken to the hospital, she calls for an ambulance from the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services (DCAS).
“I am very proud and happy that I chose this profession that provides me the opportunity to serve the community,” she added.
Dubai Health Authority’s nurses send a message to UAE residents
Together, we will win and overcome COVID-19. Therefore, stay home, stay safe. Hand hygiene keeps you safe.
I care for you, I care for your family, I care for the community. Stay home, stay safe.
Together, let us break the chain of COVID-19 infection. Maintain a safe distance.
I care for your health and safety. Please wear your mask and always wash your hands.
I am a nurse and it is my duty to protect our community. Cover your mouth when coughing.
To prevent the spread of Covid-19, avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose. Your safety matters.