How health workers are battling emotional stress in their war against COVID-19

PTI
Thursday, 23 April 2020

"Initially, we thought we would tide over the crisis. But, now April is ending and there is no sign of decrease in coronavirus cases. My colleagues haven't met their families for last one month," he said. 
"The junior doctors, nurses and paramedicshave really taken up this war time as a challenge. We hopewe are able to flatten the curve," he said.

Mumbai: Healthcare workers at the forefront of the war against coronavirus are not only facing the daunting task of handling patients, but are also fighting to keep their own worries and emotional stress at bay. 

A doctor from a leading Mumbai hospital, who is currently home quarantined after he came in contact with a colleague who had coronavirus symptoms, said these times are challenging for everyone, including the medical fraternity. 

Even though his colleague tested negative for coronavirus, the doctor is not taking any chances as he has aged parents and a six-month-old son at home. 

"I haven't touched my baby since the last one month. Yesterday was my wife's birthday, but I could not participate in the celebration since I am confined to a separate room in the house," the doctor told PTI. 

He said some of them at the frontline of the COVID-19 war are feeling exhausted and running out of patience. 

"Initially, we thought we would tide over the crisis. But, now April is ending and there is no sign of decrease in coronavirus cases. My colleagues haven't met their families for last one month," he said. 
"The junior doctors, nurses and paramedicshave really taken up this war time as a challenge. We hopewe are able to flatten the curve," he said.
 
He said wearing the personal protection equipment (PPE) and masks for long hours is also no mean task and makes them feel suffocated. 

The PPE comprises a gown, shoes, cap, N-95 mask, goggles and double gloves which are air tight. 
"Still, there is no guarantee of protection against the virus," he said. 

Most hospitals here have separate coronavirus disease ward, ICU and a dedicated medical team whose members work for five days and then are quarantined for seven days, he added. 

A nurse, who is ward in-charge in a city hospital, was initially quite worried when she was told last month that the medical facility will admit COVID-19 patients, and she and her team will be working in the specially created ward.
 
"We were not mentally prepared and had heard about how serious the situation was in China. I was more worried for my young team than my 15-year-old son and husband. What if I was got infected while treating the patients?" she said, adding that they did not even know how to wear the PPE. 

"I could not control my emotions in front of my senior doctor. He said I may be excluded from the team as I was very sensitive. Later, he told me I can take up this challenge by considering my own and my team's safety first. He said the hospital trusts me I can handle the situation," she revealed. 

The nurse said she then took it upon herself to stay emotionally strong. But, the fear of whether she and her family would be safe continued to haunt her. 

"Fortunately, all patients who have come to us so far are stable and not like what we had heard about China and other countries," she said. 

But, her inner struggles continued when she could not celebrate her son's 15th birthday on March 24, as the first COVID-19 patient got admitted to their hospital that day. 

"I felt sad and at the same time wondered if I was making my family and team unsafe. I felt I was responsible for their safety. So, we sent our son to my parents' home and me and my husband maintained social distancing," she said.
 
But, the emotional turmoil continued and one day, after returning come, she cried.
 
Her son consoled her, saying she was part of efforts being made at the global level to fight the pandemic and should not be emotional.
 
"My son was proud of me. The next day, I joined the duty at my hospital and worked non-stop for the next few days. My son would call me at night to enquire about me. Some nurses did not report to work due to family pressure or fear of being isolated by society, but my family allowed me to work," she said.
 
The nurse said they also faced problems when the cleaning staff stayed away from work after the COVID unit was started. "We nurses had to clean the patients and also give them bed pan," she said.
 
While she was all geared up for her work, she was earlier this month asked to remain in institutional quarantine for 10 days after she came in contact with a ward boy who tested positive for coronavirus. 
"My test later came out negative. I felt God wanted me to continue my work. There is no fear of coronavirus now," the nurse said.
 
She also expressed concern over fake content on coronavirus circulating on social media. 

Revealing one such incident, she said the security guard of her ward tested positive for coronavirus sometime back and was admitted to another hospital.
 
A few days later, the security guard's son came to her and showed a purported video of his father's death and the civic body preparing for the funeral.
 
"I informed higher authorities of my hospital to check and found the security guard was stable and doing well. This left me wondering how people can think of preparing fake videos when the health workers and others are working round- the-clock to contain the pandemic," she said.  
 

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