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Covid-19 in UAE: How these nurses went beyond the call of duty to save lives

Khaleej Times logo Khaleej Times 11/05/2021 Saman Haziq
a group of people in a room: Covid-19 in UAE: How these nurses went beyond the call of duty to save lives © Provided by Khaleej Times Covid-19 in UAE: How these nurses went beyond the call of duty to save lives

They are the first line of defence, not only in the fight against the Covid-19, but in every medical emergency.

Nursing the nation to health, these frontline warriors are have been contributing selflessly in helping the UAE in its fight against the pandemic while responding to the call of duty with dedication and perseverance.

On the occasion of International Nurses Day, observed on May 12 every year, we bring to you some heartwarming stories of the country's nurses who are not only making huge personal sacrifices, but are carrying on with a smile despite handling unprecedented workload in the face of the pandemic.

A tale of sheer grit and bravery

Anju Balachandran, nurse at NMC Royal Hospital Sharjah

Anju Balachandran, 31, who heads a team of nurses in the COVID ward at NMC Royal Hospital Sharjah was in her last trimester when Covid started. The nurse who joined the hospital in 2017, delivered her firstborn last May, at the peak of the pandemic. Even though Anju had a little baby to look after, she continued attending to Covid patients. Her husband, she says, was very supportive and stood by her decision to not shy away from her responsibilities.

"During the initial days, all of us fearful of taking the infection home. I had a newborn baby, and as much as it was meant to be a precious experience, I was on my guard each time I returned home after hospital. I wondered if it was safe to cuddle or kiss my child and I would cry worrying if I would unknowingly transfer the infection to my boy. But even when I was given the option to not enter the Covid ward because of my little baby at home, I continued doing so to keep up the spirit of my team. How could I not be there when they were showing up day after day with a smile on their faces?"

Talking about the challenges, Anju said Covid-19 is mentally taxing. "The disease isolates you. We saw loneliness, desperation, the fear of staying away from family and no one to talk to. The biggest responsibility was to sound positive in the worst of situations, to keep smiling behind the PPE suit so that it resonated in our voices. We were assigned to give people hope and make them feel that at the end of it all everything would be alright."

Anju said looking at the gratitude on the faces of recovered patients makes it all worthwhile at the end of the day. "But between all this, we also carry the memories of the ones we lost and that will stay with us forever. The loneliness of patients on the brink of death haunts me even today. I urge all to value life and follow protective measures to save yourself and also others around you. Don't let your guard down."

'I lost my child, saving other children'

Sruthy, nurse at NMC Royal Hospital, DIP, Dubai

Nurse Sruthy was pregnant with her first child when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Suddenly she was surrounded by suspected and confirmed Covid-positive patients and had to be dressed in personal protective kit (PPE) for 12 hours a day, making it hard for her to breathe or talk easily.

Rushing to comfort her patients, who were growing by the minute last year, Sruthy said: "I walked daily into the unit to take care of atleast half a dozen patients assigned to me and followed the strict infection-control practices with all of them. The patients - both young and old - had their own unique profiles and variable requirements, ranging from oxygen to ventilators, to other life-support equipment. At times I would see patients get desperate to see their loved ones and I would arrange a video call with their anxious families, after coordinating with our team."

Constantly shifting from Covid wards to critical care to the drug store and her work station, Sruthy did not realise she had begun over-exerting herself at work. "I was getting exhausted, pushing myself to do overtime because of ever increasing patient rush. I was getting emotionally drained witnessing sick patients. Since I was pregnant for the first time, lack of rest and the lack of care for my nutrition was weighing on my mind and on my loved ones."

Sadly, her worst fears came true. "I contracted Covid-19 and within 24 hours I had bleeding, and, unfortunately, had a miscarriage. I was devastated, and so was my family. We lost our precious child. I, however, tried to gain confidence and comfort by thinking about how many lives we managed to save through our contribution. I tried to console myself on a sense of satisfaction in doing my best possible and see my patients heal and recover. This gave me the sense and purpose to continue and take it each day as it came."

'I wasn't able to my baby's best moments as she grew'

Helan Mini Jose, emergency staff nurse, Aster Cedar Hospital, Jebel Ali

Helan left her nine-month-old baby with her parents in India to come to the UAE and earn a living. Although she planned on setting up base in Dubai before bringing her baby to the UAE, the Covid-19 wave tore her away from her husband, who was transferred to Abu Dhabi. "Me and my husband had planned to set base in Dubai and then get my daughter here, but with Covid around, our family was torn apart and now we are not sure when we will unite. I am worried for my parents also, who are old and are still taking good care of my daughter who has now started standing and talking, but I am unable to see these best moments, as for me duty comes first. Being away from my daughter for almost a year is the most challenging part of my job," an emotional Helan said.

Although going through emotional turmoil, Helan brushes her feelings aside and says everyone is going through some struggle, and that it is a part of life. "I am going to focus on my work of serving people and be patient as there is always hope that good times will come. There is a reason we are doing all these sacrifices and I trust God will not let our efforts go to waste. We will emerge victorious," said a resilient Helan, who has recently resumed work after recovering from Covid-19 infection she had contracted last month."

Helan says she loves what she does and this is what helps her remain strong. "It is very easy to lose hope and get disillusioned in our job which involves working different and long shifts, seeing sick patients and staying away from our loved ones, but I focus on the brighter side where I get to save a lot of lives, serve those who are sick and get blessings from them. Being patient is the key to happiness," she concluded with a smile.

From nurse educator to supervisor, a journey filled with challenges

Minerwa Cotela (Filipina), Infection Control Nurse Supervisor, Canadian Specialist Hospital

Minerwa has played a major role in safeguarding the lives of several patients during the pandemic. She was moved from being a nurse educator to being a nurse in-charge at a Covid ward.

From nurse educator to becoming a nurse in-charge in a Covid unit of the hospital, Cotela got a chance to put to action all the training and education she had gained and given during her training sessions with nurses.

"From handling mild cases to being moved to looking after those on ventilators, what kept me going was this feeling that my work is helping save someone's loved one. This new change was a tough one as it was full of surprises, struggles and tests," she said.

Empathy and resilience were two important qualities that Cotela said helped her stay upbeat about her work. "I had always talked about and trained other nurses on how to handle crises scenarios. Being on Covid ward duty gave me a first-hand experience to put all that I had learnt and taught to test and I felt a great sense of fulfilment after performing my tasks each day," said 37 year old Cotela, who also contracted the Covid-19 while at work, but recovered quickly as her symptoms were not severe.

Giving out her message on International Nurses Day, she said: "Nursing profession is a noble one. It is not easy but one can master it by showing perseverance, empathy and being tough and resilient. I am happy to be part of the medical fraternity as what we are doing now will go down in the books of history and I can proudly that I served humanity in its darkest hour – the Covid-19 pandemic."

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