Away from home to fight Covid-19

Our medical frontliners have been away from their loved ones due to the heavy workload in battling Covid-19. Some have not seen their family in months, and with the third wave, it may be even longer.

SKIPPED meals, 12-hour shifts, exhaustion and missed family events.

Those are just a few sacrifices our medical frontliners have made in fighting the war against Covid-19 here.

Some who are posted in Sabah – the state with the bulk of cases of late – are bracing to be away from home even longer than expected, as the third wave of coronavirus infections continues to push patients through hospital doors.

Several frontliners, speaking to Sunday Star on the condition of anonymity (their names have been changed in this article*), have not seen their family in months – even those who live in the same state as they worry about possibly infecting their loved ones.

While they are honoured to serve the country in these difficult times, they are human too, and miss being around their loved ones.

Frontliners like Dr Kumar*, 28, a medical doctor who is currently in Lahad Datu, Sabah, missed his sister’s registration of marriage in Selangor.

“My mother and sister were disappointed that I couldn’t make it.

“Looking at the current situation, it’s very likely I won’t be around to celebrate Deepavali with my family next month too.

“But I believe they would understand. It is our duty to serve Malaysia, ” he says.

While Dr Kumar last saw his family two months ago, he expects to remain in Sabah for a longer time due to the third wave, which has increased the workload.

“We work according to our teams that either cater to Covid-19 patients or non-Covid-19 patients.

“If we are put on the Covid-19 team, we work 12-hour shifts. If there are more than five admissions, we help out even after our shift, ” he says.

During work, Dr Kumar admits he hardly has time to eat lunch.

“Cases are increasing exponentially and it’s a struggle to cope with the spike.

“The hardest part of my job is working while wearing the PPE (personal protective equipment) for such long hours.

“It is tough to urinate or drink while wearing it, ” he says.

Also stationed in Lahad Datu, Dr Shaz*, 28, hasn’t seen her family in Kota Kinabalu for three months.

“I miss my family so much. I feel sad not being able to be around them for important occasions, such as my sister’s engagement two weeks ago.

“It’s just a small occasion for our siblings and closest family members. I was the only one not around, ” she sighs.

Her mother was also sick for a while at home but Dr Shaz couldn’t go back because her leaves had been frozen.

“But even if it’s not frozen, we wouldn’t want to go home because we don’t want to put any of our family members at risk of getting the virus, ” she says.

Dr Shaz says she would probably be able to meet her family in December at the earliest but there is no guarantee as the number of cases keep climbing.

“When the third wave first hit, it was very stressful as we had limited manpower.

“We were drained mentally, physically and even emotionally, ” she recalls, adding that things got better after additional manpower was sent from other states.

While stretched thin, Dr Shaz takes pride in her profession and just wants to see that people are healthy and happy.

“I am human, and to be honest, I am exhausted. But in order to do this job, I understand that I have to sacrifice a lot.

“This pandemic will end if everyone works together to break the chain of infection and comply with the rules and standard operating procedure.

“If we still don’t, then we have to accept the fact that we will not see our loved ones any sooner, ” she says.

Another frontliner, Dr Raymond*, 29, also hasn’t been with his family in Kuala Lumpur for two months and is worried about their health during the current conditional movement control order (MCO).

“On paper, we work 12-hour shifts when dealing with Covid-19. But in reality, we stay longer because of the patient load, ” he says.

It is tiring because all patients have to be reviewed thoroughly and they can’t afford to miss anything.

“I can only rest once my shift is over.

“Even then, we always get calls or messages about an incoming batch of admissions, and we go help our colleagues anyway, ” says Dr Raymond, offering an insight into the camaraderie among the frontliners.

But as a contract medical officer, he hopes he and other contract workers will be absorbed as permanent staff.

“When the first wave hit, I was one of the frontliners as well.

“Fast forward till now, there have been talks of extending our contracts or even being hired permanently, but nothing has been confirmed.

“The thought of quitting has been on my mind. Not because of exhaustion, but because I feel unappreciated.

“I love my job, and the hardest thing is knowing that my job has an ‘expiry date’, ” he admits.

Medical officer, Dr Michael*, 31, applied for a transfer to return to his home state in Melaka to be with his family.

“I was away from them for about two months during the MCO between March and May when I was posted in Selangor.

“My parents are getting older and being the eldest, I wanted to be around to take care of them, ” he says.

Dr Farah*, 28, last met her parents in Melaka in August, and now, she is unsure of when she can see her family again.

“I’m honoured to be able to serve our nation during the worst pandemic in history.

“It is part of our responsibility to serve the people to the best of our ability.

“The toughest part of this pandemic is to see how heartbreaking it can be when family members are not allowed to visit their loved ones who are infected.

“This is a time when people need to see those whom they love the most, ” she says.

It’s even more distressing if the patient dies, as protocols have to be followed.

“As a doctor who treats this infection daily, I urge everyone to behave as if they have the virus.

“This means practising the new normal thoroughly such as social distancing, wearing a mask and washing their hands, ” she says of the simple but life-saving practice.

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