Abu Dhabi: Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian nurse Ramya Radhakrishnan’s toughest professional challenge was her daily commute from her family home in Ajman to her place of work in Dubai.
However, in April 2020, her life was took a dramatic turn and she needed to amass all the experience garnered in a medical career spanning 11 years to tide over the biggest challenge of her professional life.
Having worked in the preventative medicine department at the Ministry of Health and Prevention in Dubai for two years, there were few patient-care duties to perform. Then, when the pandemic arrived, Ramya was asked to work at a COVID-19 field hospital in Sharjah.
Providing 12 hours of COVID care daily
“I still don’t know how to put into words how I felt that day. I was the only one from my department asked to go there, and I felt all alone. I was assigned there because I used to work in India as an ICU [intensive care unit] nurse during the H1N1 outbreak, where I was sent to an isolation unit for five months,” Radhakrishnan said.
Despite her previous experience, nothing could have prepared the medical professional for working with critically ill COVID-19 patients for 12 hours every day.
Concern for family
“Even as a seasoned medical professional, this was something new. My main concern initially was the risk of infecting my family. I have two children, an eight-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl. But the hospital provided me with hotel accommodation so that I didn’t have to go back home to them. I did feel anxious going into the hospital, especially on the first day, as it was a completely unfamiliar environment,” Radhakrishnan said.
Physical and emotional tool
Working with new equipment and colleagues whom she had never met before — all while wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) for 12 hours — was tough.
“But the situation demanded that we cope with it and teamwork was paramount. We all supported each other to focus on the job at hand,” Radhakrishnan said.
Life is very delicate and we cannot predict what is going to happen next. We must appreciate what we have, every day, while we are here.
In addition to the physical discomfort, the job exacted a heavy emotional toll as well. With so many patients to care for, despite the valiant efforts by Radhakrishnan and her team, people still succumbed to COVID-19.
“This was the searing part of the experience, watching otherwise healthy young people — some in their 30s and 40s — going into full organ failure, and there was little we could do for them. We are all humans and even as nurses, it doesn’t get easier when a patient loses his or her life,” Radhakrishnan recounted.
“On the other hand, when patients recovered, it proved to be a tremendously uplifting moment. That was certainly one of the motivating factors that kept me going. Especially as families expressed their gratitude and told us how much they appreciated the medical care we had provided,” she said.
During the initial surge of COVID-19 cases, Radhakrishnan spent a month-and-a-half at a hotel accommodation in Sharjah and didn’t see her family at all during those days. Her desire to spend time with her children was tempered by concern for their safety and for the safety of everyone else in the family.
“I tried to stay distant from my kids, but it was virtually impossible for them not to hug me. So, I only spoke to my kids on video calls. My husband was also very supportive. He took leave from work to look after the children and after that we had to rely on family members and friends,” Radhakrishnan said.
Looking back, she said that the experience also cemented her appreciation of the UAE government, which truly showed care and support to everyone affected, irrespective of who they were or where they came from.
“I am from another country and I worked with patients of many different nationalities, all of whom received the best quality of care, free of charge. It is thanks to the government’s efforts that we made progress against the virus,” Radhakrishnan said.
The dedicated nurse said she also learned many things during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the most important lesson was to appreciate what she had. The pandemic has undeniably strengthened the bond between her and her family members.
- Dubai Run: Tens of thousands transform iconic Sheikh Zayed Road into one giant running track
- Emirati woman, 77, first to benefit from new heart valve repair surgery in Abu Dhabi
- UAE-based Life Healthcare Group to open walk-in clinics inside its pharmacies
- Most men in UAE unwilling to quit smoking despite increased risk of heart attack
“Life is very delicate and we cannot predict what is going to happen next. We must appreciate what we have, every day, while we are here,” she said.