The first batch of nurses at Dubai International Airport, ahead of their departure to India on Thursday Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: They received a hero’s welcome when they flew in from India to join the UAE’s war against the coronavirus on May 9. The first batch of COVID-19 warriors are now returning after a successful mission that offered them challenging moments and cheerful memories.

A total of 88 medics were flown in from Kochi in Kerala in a tie-up with Aster DM Healthcare group with the support from the Indian Consulate and the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

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Sixty of them are ICU nurses, who were roped in from Aster hospitals in three Indian states to serve at various COVID-19 intensive care facilities in Dubai. While 37 of them will be locally absorbed by the group, the rest began returning in batches starting Thursday.

Before catching their flights home, some of these nurses spoke exclusively to Gulf News and shared the inside stories of their assignments during their special deployment.

Counselling and recreation

Mary Steffi, a 24-year-old emergency department nurse at Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore, is the youngest in the group and was deputed at a field hospital.

Mary said medics working inside the facility did not feel pressured at any point.

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Mary Steffi said she never felt pressured while she worked as the situation was well under control Image Credit: Supplied

“The situation was under control there as most of the cases were moderate.”

However, with patients worried about their positive status, medics had to help counsel them too.

“Also, they were kept entertained with facilities for playing board games, table tennis and even a piano. There was a Filipino patient, who would play piano in the mornings. Everyone loved it,” she said.

Patients from the same countries also found ways to communicate with each other in their native languages even while following social distancing.

“It was nice to see them talk to each other and get relief.”

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The nurses, who were felicitated by Aster DM Healthcare before their return, said they had unforgettable moments in their line of duty in the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

However, she said she also had to console some of the patients who were worried about losing jobs and missing their families. “The pandemic has hit everyone in different ways.”

She said she also got a chance to work at the airport for conducting the rapid antibody tests for passengers and was witness to the concerns of people returning home for good.

Muhammed Rabin, 25, an emergency medicine staff nurse from Aster MIMS in Calicut, Kerala, who also worked at a field hospital, said, “The posting turned out to be a great experience. We got the experience of working with people of other nationalities. I didn’t expect to return home so early. We are sure our experience here will help us continue the fight back home.”

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Muhammed Rabin said the UAE posting turned out to be a great experience Image Credit: Supplied

Unforgettable moments

Ashly Jason, an emergency department nurse from Aster Med City in Kochi, Kerala, was deputed at a COVID unit in a hospital.

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Ashley Jason has many stories to share with her family back home Image Credit: Supplied

Happy that the unit where she worked has now been shut with the situation coming under control, Ashly said she can never forget her experience with one patient.

“He was going to take the first sip of water after being on ventilator for 14 days. He asked me if I can talk to him for some time. Usually, we don’t spend more time with patients. But I did with him as he badly wanted to talk.”

“He didn’t know he would make it. When he was awake, he couldn’t understand which day and what time it was. He was happy when I explained all that. When I gave him water, I saw him crying. He said water was the tastiest thing he has ever had. He also showed his family’s photos,” she said.

New mums, COVID-free babies

From wearing the full set of PPE for the first time to rescuing pregnant women, who delivered healthy babies while battling complications due to COVID-19, Varsha Kanitakar from Aster Aadhar Hospital in Kolhapur in Maharashtra said it was roller-coaster ride for her.

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Varsha Kanitakar Image Credit: Supplied

“When I came here, I was a bit scared initially,” said Varsha who was posted at a COVID ICU unit of a hospital.

She learnt new lessons in donning and doffing the PPE and special guidelines for hand hygiene as she encountered critical patients from day one.

“There were patients, who were on ventilator and were getting dialysis and some stable patients too.”

The patients whom Varsha cannot forget are two new mothers who were rushed to the ICU after their delivery. One of them gave birth to twin boys in her first delivery that was done through a C-section. “She was a critical case. Before getting intubated, she wanted to see her babies who were in another hospital,” she said.

Varsha will now be flying back to Maharashtra to resume her job there. However, she will still have to wait for the lockdown in India to be lifted before she sees her son and husband who are stuck in Karnataka.

Honour for the COVID warriors

Dr Azad Moopen, founder chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare, said the returning medics were honoured with a memento before flying back.

“We will be presenting them with a reward and certificates of appreciation when they reach back to recognise their contribution. Dubai did an extremely well job in testing, quarantining and treatment and we are happy to have contributed in all these measures. We are happy that we could help Dubai’s government and private facilities through the DHA. This model of partnership is the most important learning from the pandemic.”

Dr Azad Moopen

In May and June, a total of 422 doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals were flown into the UAE from India with partnership from various private healthcare groups.

Dr Moopen said Harvard Business School and IIM Ahmedabad are conducting case studies about how the group managed the COVID-19 pandemic along with other partners.

The nurses said they were proud to be a part of Dubai’s success in bending the curve. They said they considered it a great achievement that none of them even caught a common cold as they strictly followed the safety protocols.

They thanked DHA and Aster for the opportunity and support. Armed with the experience in Dubai, they said they would continue the fight against the deadly virus back home in India.