Covid-19, or simply coronavirus, has spread like wildfire, leaving behind an alarming number of victims. The virus severely attacks the respiratory system and is transmitted through direct contact with infected people. At the time of writing, over 500,000 cases have swept the world, with 23,000 deaths. 368 cases have been reported in Lebanon, with six deaths, as of today, March 26.
Despite the fear that dominates, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In Italy, for example, people turned quarantine into concerts; with music ringing from balconies. Videos have gone viral on social media, featuring how citizens are spending their time at home. Celebrities shared their new realities in an effort to encourage fans to stay home as a way to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Along with awareness campaigns, advocating, and quarantine, an entire army of paramedics, health assistants, nurses, and doctors have risen to fight this deadly virus. Naturally, in the Middle East the same wave of fraternity has also risen.
Stress, exhaustion, underlying fear, and renewed hope… these words sum up the current situation of the medical staff mobilized in the battle against Covid-19. Considering the tremendous efforts exerted by medics around the world, one can say that in times of pandemics, “humanity” is at the front line. Chantal Farah, the director of the Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD), oversees the ER and OPS room and is responsible for conducting the necessary tests. She asserts that dealing with potentially infected people requires caution and empathy. Armed with a smile, she tries to alleviate patients’ multiple fears.
People are afraid of catching and carrying the contagion to others, and being locked in quarantine without having support from family. That is not all, since working with the infected patients, medics feel like a virus, themselves. “I feel as if I were a mobile virus, with people trying to avoid and fear dealing with me,” she asserts. Those people overlook the fact that Chantal, like so many others in the medical field, has children and a family of her own. She waits for her day to end to throw herself into their arms. For this warm hug, and for patient protection, she fully complies with the World Health Organization (WHO) instructions, and commits herself to the highest levels of caution.
Moreover, The Red Cross plays a key role in this regard moving potential carriers of the virus to testing centers, and confirmed patients to treatment units. On the way to the centers and units, seconds feel like hours with the shadow of death threatening despite reassuring words from paramedics. Sally Bacassini is a paramedic at the Lebanese Red Cross for more than 12 years now, and does not hesitate to provide full devotion to her humanitarian mission. Bacassini is one of the heroic “soldiers” enlisted to fight against the deadly Covid-19. She explains that the current phase is a critical one and is very tiring both physically and psychologically. Carrying patients and moving them while wearing a Hazmat suit is not evident and patients become fearful when they see them.
“You are not alone,” is what we keep saying to patients and their families. They really need someone to support and give them hope,” she says. “I have come across so many cases throughout all the years I served in voluntary work, but the current situation requires an elevated level of humanitarian assistance. It is hard to make a patient laugh or to alleviate the virus while you feel afraid. For some, she is a hero. For others, she is an adventurer. Yet, from her point of view, she is doing her duty out of her sense of humanitarian responsibility.
Inside the unit starts the arduous journey of the medical treatment. Dr Soha Fakhr El-Din, a general practitioner and a fellow at the Department of Infectious Diseases at Rafik Hariri Hospital in Lebanon is one of the doctors fighting Covid-19, taking no regard to all the fears and warnings. “I made a promise to sacrifice myself from the very first day I decided to study medicine,” she said. If Soha is not afraid of catching the contagion, nevertheless, she is keen to protect herself through gaining extensive knowledge about the virus and means of transmission, in addition to applying all the necessary precautions as recommended by the WHO. From her point of view, the most difficult aspect of working inside the treatment unit is having inadequate medical supplies.
“I feel really sad when patients feel guilty. They fear to carry the infection to others.” Soha doesn’t hide that Italy’s virus crisis deeply moved her but her determination is stronger than the disease. “We will make this disease a part of history, and we will win,” she says. “Strength is not an option. It is our duty as doctors towards patients who trust us and expect us to make every effort to save them. What patients don’t know is that they often inspire doctors and teach them how to be strong amid the storm.”
Soldiering alongside the doctors are nurses. They accompany the patients closely, feel their pain and suffering, and strictly follow the doctors’ instructions. It is the first time that Samira Saeed, a nurse and health educational supervisor at Rafik Hariri University Hospital recalls working under such circumstances. Although she has never dealt with pandemics, she decided to fully commit to her work until the crisis ends. One of the first steps Samira took to face this challenge is to totally refrain from reading the news circulating in the media and social media. She decided to maintain her calm she would limit her conversations to her trusted friends and son to discuss her feelings and fears. Until achieving victory over Covid-19, Samira implements nursing programs that focus on infection prevention measures and adheres to the protocols that were adopted after the outbreak. According to WHO guidelines, the staff at Rafik Hariri University Hospital monitor patients’ psychological state. Samira asserts that family and people’s support is vital in this crisis. “My mother cries each time I call her, which exhausts me, but she believes that we will overcome the virus, which cheers me up.” She reports that even in their illness, patients can be a source of strength to her as a nurse. As they cling onto life, it encourages her to support them more. For the safety of her family, she carefully implements preventative measures. She is disappointed when some people refuse the prevention measures she strictly imposes, when they insist on visiting patients, or refuse to approach her because they believe she is infected. “They will know in time that we are doing this for their own sake,” she says.
Under the enormous pressure that the medical staff is experiencing in the treatment unit, the need for moral support is what Randa Salman—a continuous training and development officer at Rafik Hariri University Hospital—is trying to provide. She stresses that the field of health care must be informed about the disease, how it spreads, the appropriate preventive measures to combat it, and how to reassure people away from exaggerations and misinformation. Randa is keen on ensuring high professionalism and applying necessary personal prevention measures in the treatment unit, such as hand washing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). “The most important thing we can do for patients is to provide psychological support and information about their health condition to alleviate their anxiety, encourage them to express their concerns, and answer all their questions,” she says. “We urge them to embrace a healthy lifestyle, particularly in this time including eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercising, so they can overcome their fears and fight negative thoughts during treatment.” Randa’s mission goes beyond treatment. She is their greatest support and biggest comfort during this time. She encourages and reassures them. “I miss my family and children. I currently isolate myself indirectly for their safety. What I hear from patients and the fear I see in their eyes increases my fear for my family.”
Covid-19 is a nightmare that is driving the entire world into a state of confusion, causing fear to spread among people. We can’t and won’t give up. Who among us doesn’t miss having their family reunited? Who among us stopped to notice that they are chasing after material things? Who among us can appreciate the blessings we already have, from health to food, and shelter? Suffice to think about having the luxury of being in quarantine while medical staff works closely with the virus. Hats off to all those working in the health field, for they are the true heroes.