Frontliners soldier on even as they are emotionally and physically burned out

Exhausted: A frontliner in PPE suit taking a break after work in a red zone area during the conditional movement control order period. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: As the number of Covid-19 cases in the country spikes, the frontliners are facing increasingly long hours and fatigue, besides mounting frustration.

Similar to the second wave of infections that hit the country earlier this year, they say that work can be overwhelming, especially when the number of patients coming into hospitals doesn’t seem to be abating.

From June to August, the number of daily cases were within single and double digits but in mid-September, the daily numbers started hitting triple digits.

By October, cases started hitting new highs, with more than 800 positive daily cases recorded in the past four days.

A medical officer in Sungai Buloh, *Dr Amiruddin, who has faced the waves of infections from the start, explains how their contingency plans work.

He says they could not afford other hospitals being shut down for Covid-19 as they will have to bear the brunt of their workload.

“Remember, Hospital Sungai Buloh has the highest number of ICU (intensive care) beds in the country. So, once we close, there is already limited beds elsewhere. Other hospitals are burdened by our patients also, ” he said, adding that in his department the juniors were pulled into the wards to help out with the hundreds of daily admissions while the seniors handled the Covid-19 ICU admissions.

“Tiring? Yes. Hospital Sungai Buloh never stopped admitting Covid-19 cases since the first wave.

“We are always at constant vigilance. We are emotionally and physically burned out.

“But it’s what we do and what we have prepared for since the first wave, ” he said, adding that he wouldn’t be able to imagine the magnitude of stress faced by the Sabah hospitals.

A medical officer in the Tawau Hospital, *Dr Farid, said that leave was frozen while cross-district travel was not allowed.

He said that Tawau was considered to be another epicentre of the virus, dealing with cases from Semporna and Kunak as well.

Dr Farid managed to go back home to Melaka in August, the first time in almost a year that he managed to go back. Usually, he goes back about four or five times a year.

“I don’t know when I will be able to go back home next. I was lucky to be able to go back and see my wife, ” he said, adding that the situation was still manageable for now but this would not be the case if the numbers kept rising.

“We are very cautious because there is an increasing number of patients. There is a worry that we won’t be able to cope, ” he said, adding that this was the biggest test in his career so far.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah recently said complacency over the observance of standard operating procedure was to blame for the spike in cases.

A lab technologist from a government hospital in Kuala Lumpur, who conducts the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests on swab samples, said while the workload was not as heavy as before, this could change.

“Currently, our lab only does testing for our in-patients such as those going through the pre-operation screening. But we are on standby if we are needed to assist the ministry, considering that positive cases in Selangor are rising, ” she said, adding that they had to process almost 300 samples a day when they were processing samples for the Health Ministry back in April.

However, she said her lab was currently processing not more than 100 samples a day.

“We are all so far okay but we still need to work during weekends, ” she added.

*Dr Amirah, who works in the infection control department of a hospital in Klang Valley, said they were always on heightened alert as the situation could change rapidly.

She said that during the movement control order (MCO) period in March, treatment for non-urgent cases was held back.

She said that in between the second and third waves, they had to go back to their usual routines.

But if Covid-19 cases were high, the non-Covid cases would suffer as resources would have to be diverted.

“There is a different type of stress now. We can only rely on the community to break the chain of infections, ” she added.

Meanwhile, a paramedic said he was at a loss on how to convince those who would not follow procedures such as wearing a face mask.

He said frontliners like him had to stand under the hot sun while attending to patients, and wearing full personal protective equipment for hours on end was not easy as they could not drink even if they were thirsty.

“We are also human and the tears just roll down. The sad thing is there are some who still take it lightly.

“We were given a breather but then the cases spiked. Please follow the SOP because breaking the chain of infection is not easy, ” he added.

Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Datuk Dr M. Subramaniam said the people must not let the sacrifices of the frontliners be in vain.

“If everyone played their part, the number of cases will be down and they can have some breathing space, ” he said, adding that many frontliners had to sacrifice time with their families and loved ones to deal with the rising number of cases.

“Please appreciate them and do your part, ” he said.

*Names have been changed*

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Covid-19 , frontliners , fatigue , frustration , workload


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