Stepping up for national duty

Hasanah (second from right) with her husband Osman Lisut, eldest daughter Nur Balqis (left) and Nur Syahirah at an event prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

INSTEAD of just watching the news about the Covid-19 pandemic taking over the world, many doctors, medical assistants and nurses have come forward in a time of crisis when their skills and knowledge are needed the most.

As they step into the middle of a dangerous situation to help fellow Malaysians and humanity in general, their sacrifice involves more than just themselves. Especially those who have offered their services as volunteers.

Their families too are making a sacrifice as they watch their parent, spouse, child or sibling go to the front lines.

One can only imagine the worry and fear these family members go through on a daily basis, knowing that their loved ones are constantly exposed to the risk.

Many of us are filled with consternation whenever we see the number of Covid-19 cases go up even when we do not have any relative in the field; that anxiety must be manifold for those with family in the thick of the battle facing down the virus.

For the medical frontliners, it is a big weight off their shoulders knowing their families are extremely supportive of their service to the nation.

StarMetro speaks to several frontliners and their family members on their experiences.Out in front

With her clinic in Sri Damansara closed during the movement control order (MCO), general practitioner Dr Yasothini Arunachalam, 48, answered the Health Ministry’s call for help and sent her application to National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC).

Three days after that, she reported for duty at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Setia Alam on March 29, where subsequently she went through a two-week posting at the Lembah Pantai District Health Office.

“We were in charge of the top red zone in the country, including Masjid India.

“Our volunteers comprised medical officers, nurses, health inspectors and medical assistants.

“We came in at the right time because they were really understaffed, ” said Dr Yasothini, a mother of three.

She said her job involved screening the Sri Petaling tabligh cluster as well as residents at Menara City One condominium, Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion.

“We also screened people who returned from overseas and are staying at the hotel quarantine centres, ” she added.

Her day as a medical frontliner would start at 8.30am with a briefing and reviews of cases for that day, followed by the daily plan before they were assigned into groups according to hourly shifts.

Dr Yasothini said the health frontliners felt quite safe because they were fully clad in personal protective equipment (PPE) and everyone adhered to strict protocol.

After completing her designated volunteer period, she went into self-quarantine at her apartment unit while her husband and children are at their family home not too far away.

“There was always the fear among my family that I might get sick doing what I did, but they gave me their blessings before I decided to be a frontliner, ” she said.

She would drive to her home once

a week but remained in the car with her mask on while her family stands outside the house a safe distance

from the car as they chatted for 15 minutes.

Her husband Ramesh Rajendran, 51, an engineer in the oil and gas industry, works from home and helps run the household including doing the cooking during his wife’s absence.

“We are very proud of her. She has sacrificed a lot for us, so it is time we support her in her duties to help the nation, ” he said.

Retired nurse Nur Hasanah Abu Bakar, 54, has been a volunteer at Mercy Malaysia for four years and she does not hesitate to help as a frontliner at the Federal Territory Health Clinic and Selangor Health Department.

The mother of five was working at a private hospital before retiring two years ago and has always had the volunteerism streak in her.

“It did not surprise my family that I wanted to do this.

“My husband was initially resistant, but then he eventually accepted my decision.

“Our children are all grown up so they can take care of themselves while I am on duty, ” said Hasanah, who is now under self-quarantine at her home in Rawang.

She said it was quite an experience as a

frontliner where she helped to do mass testing in Menara City One, Masjid India and among the Sri Petaling tabligh cluster.

“The second week had us doing sampling at quarantine centres in Bandar Sunway for returning visitors.

“Everything went smoothly with other volunteers and there was no breach in protocol, ” she added.

Having to undergo quarantine with her family in the house presented challenges.

Hasanah said her family members would stay in their rooms when she came out of the room to eat.

Meanwhile her career had inspired her daughter Nur Syahirah Osman, 23, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse too.

“I am very proud of my mother, and grateful to have a role model like her.

“Nursing can sometimes be scary and challenging because you have to deal with a lot of people as well as comfort patients and their family members, but it is a noble job, ” said Syahirah.

Dr Prakash Kumar Jayapalan, 34, who runs his own clinic in Klang, received the email on volunteering as a frontliner and decided it was a good opportunity for him to experience working in a crisis situation.

“Part of my decision was to also contribute to helping Malaysia in this dire time, ” he said, adding that he was posted to Lembah Pantai.

It was a good learning experience and training using the PPE.

One of the challenges he faced was the language barrier when conducting Covid-19 tests among the foreign workers at Selangor Mansion.

“Sometimes we finished early and other times it would be late, depending on the daily duties, ” he added.

Dr Prakash said he worked with a good team that had excellent leaders.

“Everything went smoothly because we had good guidance from Dr Fadhilah, Dr Fatin and Dr Daniel.

“They made it easier to carry out our daily work, ” he said.

His wife is also a doctor and runs their clinic.

He has volunteered to extend his duties as a frontliner until May 9.

For Dr Lim Khan Ni, 34, who runs an aesthetics clinic in Bukit Jalil, making the decision to volunteer as a frontliner was difficult on her family feared for her safety.

But, she said, they accepted her decision and were supportive in the end.

She lives with her parents and three siblings.

“My clinic is closed during the MCO, so I needed to make myself useful and lessen the burden of the medical personnel out on the front lines.

“I was not scared to volunteer because this was my contribution as a doctor to our country in fighting this virus, ” she said, adding that she was posted to Lembah Pantai.

Now Dr Lim, the only doctor in her family, is under quarantine at home for two weeks where she isolates herself in her room.

Her siblings place her meals at the door outside her bedroom.

“I am feeling fine and keeping myself busy participating in webinars online, ” she said.

Support from behind

Winnie Ooi’s heart sank when her son told her that he had been roped in to the Covid-19 team at the government hospital he was attached to in Penang.

“I was really worried and scared. I even asked him why he was willing to do this.

“He said ‘mummy, as a doctor we must help the community and it is our duty to answer the call, ” said Ooi.

The 58-year-old, whose two children are both doctors, said that she could only pray for her son every day and felt a little better after knowing that the frontliners were fully equipped with full protective gear to keep them safe.

Her son has moved out of their family home and staying in a rented place as a precaution.

“I call him every day to check on him and remind him to take his vitamins daily to boost his immune system. I hope he remembers to take them amid his busy schedule, ” she said.

Another mother, Ellie Williams said that she called her son on a daily basis to check on him because she was worried for his wellbeing.

“When my son told me that he would be in the Covid-19 team in Shah Alam, so many thoughts ran through my mind and I feared for his safety as he would be coming in direct contact with infected patients, but I can only pray and put my trust in God, ” she said.

The 62-year-old said she was a little more relieved now that the cases were a lot less than before.

She is also thankful for all the protective gear the personnel are provided with to protect themselves while on duty.

She said her son lived with his wife, who was also a doctor but not in the front line.

“I am sure they are taking extra precautions at home. My son tells me that they are made to shower in the hospital before going home at the end of their shift, ” she said.

Mohamad Firdaus Fazil is married to a frontliner doctor based in Kedah and has to look after his two children, aged two and three years, alone when she is on duty.

“I am constantly worried about the risk as well.

“My parents did offer to look after my children during this time but I did not want to be away from my children. Moreover, making the trip is a risk itself, not to mention the risk to my parents.

“My wife and I are always worried about the potential risk that she brings home from the hospital but we just make sure to take extra precautions when she comes back from work, ” he said.

His wife immediately washes up and ensures she is thoroughly sanitised before hugging her children and husband.

“Ever since she started treating Covid-19 patients, I worried every day because we would not know if she was infected or not, ” he said.

Firdaus added that although it was a tiring time, he was positive they would get through this.

Phuah Chin Pey is currently living apart from her husband who is not directly involved in the front line but is exposed to the risk as he is working in a Penang hospital where Covid-19 patients are warded.

She was visiting her parents in Klang, Selangor when the movement control order was implemented so she had to stay put.

With a toddler and a baby in the house, she and her husband thought it best for her to remain where she was to protect their very young children.

“Besides avoiding the health risks, I can get help from my parents with my children, ” she said.

“However, it is not easy being apart as my daughter keeps asking for her father and why he is not here with us.

“She misses her daddy greatly and every time on video call she asks him to come back.

“It is a lot worse for my husband because he is all alone at home; he has to find his own meals and do house chores too, ” said Phuah.

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