At Sheikh Khalifa Medical City – one of Abu Dhabi’s main hubs for Covid-19 patients – women are leading the frontline, held together by an enduring friendship.
Dr Shamma Al Mazrouei, COO at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, is taking a well-earned break between meetings. “We hardly slept at all for the last few days,” she says. “I don’t know how we were able to work such long hours and keep smiling. But you know what made it possible? We are working together as a team. An amazing team.”
Like everyone else at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, one of the emirate’s main hubs for Covid-19 patients, Al Mazrouei has run the gamut of human emotions, from fear and anxiety to jubilation and relief – battling Covid-19 has been an adrenalin-fuelled rollercoaster for those on the frontline.
“Every weekday and almost every single weekend we are in the hospital trying to help the staff and seeing patients if needed,” says Al Mazrouei, who hasn’t seen her parents for the past five weeks. “Managing the manpower, the infrastructure, the protocols, and working out how we’re going to deal with everything has been a huge pressure. But I’m so happy right now. We’ve accomplished a lot of things so I’m proud to be part of this team.”
Her friend of 22 years is the center’s head of hematology and oncology, Dr Fatima Al Kaabi [sister of Minister of Culture HE Noura Al Kaabi]. Together, they have been working around the clock to not only transform the hospital and give patients the best possible care, but to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff. The latter has meant developing a program of psychosocial support for those staff suffering from burnout, stress, or anxiety, while a collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge has resulted in volunteers teaching the children of medical employees.
“We’ve helped each other a lot but it’s also been difficult,” says Al Mazrouei. “My first fight with Fatima was during this Covid-19 crisis. I was so stressed and I told her, ‘Let’s promise each other that, no matter what will happen now, we’re going to forget it after corona.’ I’m blessed and happy that I have Fatima with me here in the team.”
“We’ve known each other since our school days,” adds Al Kaabi with affection. “We separate work from friendship because she’s operation, I’m medical, and sometimes we clash in the middle. But what goes on in the meeting stays in the meeting. That’s what I always say. But the situation is tough.” She continues, “Sometimes you want to meditate, you want to take a moment, you want to disassociate. I have to do this at one point during the day to keep going. When I come to the hospital I have to change, shower, go here, go there, and then go home. I don’t want to take anything back to my family, so I feel guilty about that. They are in Abu Dhabi and I get to see them at night for a couple of hours, maybe over dinner while still maintaining social distancing, and they always ask what’s going on. I want to give them the best of the story. I don’t want to panic them.”
Every day, Al Kaabi keeps track of who’s coming in, who’s going out, who needs to be in a critical bed, and who needs to be watched over. “I see how many admissions we have, how many of my high dependency units were activated, how many of my ICU beds were occupied, and then I also see the manpower, the needs, the people who are covering and how they are stretched,” she says. “They’re not stretched to the maximum yet, but I think very soon we’ll be stretching ourselves just to cope with the dynamic of the situation.”
“After this experience we should all take a step backwards,” adds Al Kaabi, who is also the center’s acting deputy chief medical officer. “We were running so fast and not appreciating the little things. The most important thing is health. We should always invest in the health system. This is one of the things I will always tell people. Sit back and reflect on what we need to be doing in the future to change our way of living in the post-Covid-19 era.”
Al Mazrouei agrees. “We shouldn’t take anything for granted, especially health. But right now it is the public that’s the first line of defense. Because to contain Covid-19, we need people to stay at home. They are the ones who are going to change the picture completely, not us. We are trying to save lives – and to do it in a proper way, we need their help.”