Abu Dhabi: Informing someone that their loved one is gravely ill is one of the most difficult job responsibilities for someone working in medicine. Yet, it is something that 22-year-old Esraa Al Agha had to do daily as a volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her voluntary work took the Jordanian medical student to health facilities across the country and her efforts have been recognised by the Frontline Heroes Office, even as she continues to support ongoing vaccination drives.
Al Agha described her tireless volunteer work, conducting COVID tests and acting as a patient liaison person around the UAE as emotionally draining, but also the most gratifying role she had ever undertaken.
“Imagine calling a father to tell him that his seven-year-old daughter was infected with COVID-19 and a special team were on the way to take her into quarantine. The girl had symptoms and her family had brought her in for testing. When she tested positive, it was my responsibility to make that phone call and inform her family. I struggled to control myself when the father burst into tears, knowing that his only daughter was in danger and that he wouldn’t be with her,” Al Agha said.
'Battling the virus'
“I did my best to stay calm and reassure him that she was in the best hands. For 14 days, the girl, who had asthma, battled with the virus. I kept in touch with her parents, giving them updates every day and setting up Zoom calls for them to talk. Once the girl recovered and tested negative, I was excited to call the father again to ask him to come and take his daughter home. The experience was the most unforgettable one for me as a volunteer during the pandemic,” she added.
Al Agha, who lives in Ajman, is enrolled with Dubai Medical College and lives with her two younger brothers and her mother, who is battling cancer. Prior to the pandemic, she went to college in the mornings and provided private math tuitions in the evenings to earn an extra income for her family. After the COVID-19 outbreak, she responded to a Takatof message seeking volunteers to support the medical work at Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah. She knew it would be a unique opportunity to contribute to the fight against the virus. Al Agha signed up for daily shifts, mainly as a liaison between patients’ families and the health-care teams. She counselled family members and relatives who were restricted from visiting their loved ones who were under treatment.
“It was emotionally difficult and I often faced distraught people who were desperate for information. The hours at the hospital were long and the number of cases huge. There were so many stories of pain, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. We were on our feet the whole day, often without a break. We were regularly exposed to coronavirus-infected people and the associated risks that it brought. Each time I took a PCR test, I would wait for a negative result and then return to work,” Al Agha remembered.
In April 2020, Al Agha also volunteered to help doctors working in quarantine hotels, spending about 40 days there. During this time, she was working around the clock in direct contact with infected patients.
“I was afraid to go home because the risks were too high. During the first months of the pandemic, I saw my mother only on Fridays, and that too only after I tested negative. I did the COVID-19 test so many times and I am blessed never to have contracted the virus. My mother is my true inspiration. When we spoke, she admitted she missed me, but always encouraged me to get back to work,” Al Agha said.
Her insatiable appetite for volunteering work took her to three other hospitals in Sharjah, Ajman and Dubai. She enrolled for extra training courses on swab collection and testing and was promoted to team leader at the Field Hospital in Expo Centre, Sharjah. She even motivated her brothers to volunteer at Al Qassimi Hospital.
Although the work was emotionally draining and difficult, Al Agha said she will never forget the moments when she passed on news to a family that their loved one had recovered from the disease.
Her motivation for her countless hours of hard work is simple: “I was born in the UAE and I have lived here ever since. All my efforts are my way of giving back to this country,” she said. To date, Al Agha remains a hero as she continues her frontline volunteer work with Takatof. She is currently playing an active role in the vaccination campaign, administering vaccines to residents.
As part of its efforts to support frontline workers, the Frontline Heroes Office is continuing to honour residents from across the UAE who have aided in the fight against COVID-19.