Inside the pandemic

Ameera Fouad , Tuesday 9 Jun 2020

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers across Egypt are battling for the third month in a row to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, reports Ameera Fouad

Doctors of Al-Agami Central Hospital working on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19

A peek inside the Al-Agami Central Hospital in Alexandria says a lot about the round-the-clock efforts being exerted by all medical workers, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, drivers, cleaners, administrators and many others who have been working day and night to help patients infected by the Covid-19 and to keep us all safe during the pandemic.

The hospital was one of the earliest in Egypt to admit Covid-19 patients since the outbreak of the virus in March. It has witnessed moments of triumph and moments of weakness, moments of joy and moments of sorrow in turn since then. 

Some of its nurses have spent 42 days in the hospital caring for patients without seeing their families, friends or even the streets outside. Others have preferred to isolate themselves from their families when returning home after work. Some others still have sadly caught the virus, adding to those who have fallen victims to infection while performing their duty. 

Ahmed Ibrahim, head nurse at the hospital, is one of the many heroes working on the frontline in the battle against the virus. “We are living with the patients in their struggle, from the moment we receive them from the ambulance and through all the stages of the infection until they recover and we bid them farewell,” he said.

Due to a surge in the number of cases, the hospital has been receiving only “severe” and “moderately severe” cases of Covid-19, he said, especially patients who need ventilators and to be placed in intensive care units.

Ibrahim has been fighting Covid-19 since 7 March.  He spent his first 42 days in the hospital, and then he decided to do two-week shifts. “It was my first time to stay continuously 42 days inside the hospital, but all the nurses and other health workers decided to step in and take the lead. We were the first ones to be on the frontline to fight Covid-19, so we wanted to set an example for other hospitals in Egypt,” he said.

Ibrahim recalls one moment when one of the staff members became a case himself. “It is not only because we have become more than a family inside the hospital, but also because it affects all of us psychologically to a great extent and makes us more worried about ourselves and the rest of the staff,” he noted. 

Like Ibrahim, nurse Naglaa Khalil is undertaking her sixth shift inside one of the hospitals in Alexandria. Khalil, who wears a mask and safety equipment all day long, described the fatigue of a very long day that might suddenly be interrupted by the call of duty. “I always feel relieved when I can remove all the personal protection equipment I wear all day, and I pray to God for keeping me safe for a new day to begin,” Khalil said.

Khalil has been working as a senior nurse for more than ten years at the renal dialysis unit of the hospital and says that nephrology nurses must provide their patients with more than just the technical aspects of care. “Patients who are fighting Covid-19 and also fighting kidney failure are at a higher risk, and sometimes this may even lead to death,” she said.

Nurses in this unit in particular are not only nurses. They are also caregivers, advocates and educators, as well as facilitators and mentors. “We apply many measures of infection control so that we can prevent any other nurse, healthcare worker, administrator or doctor from catching the disease,” she added.  

Khalil recalls one of the worst incidents the hospital had faced in the past few months, which involved the death of a mother and her child. “The mother came to us in a critical condition in her eighth month of pregnancy and diagnosed with Covid-19. She had severe breathing problems, and though we did our best to save her and her baby, the baby died just two days before her own death,” Khalil said, while trying to hide her tears. 

“This was something I will never forget. And it is why I always advise people to seek treatment quickly if their condition worsens.” 

 “I got very emotional too when my friend in the same unit was diagnosed positive with the virus. But thankfully, she got treated and now she is totally fine.” 

Khalil is herself a mother of three children, though she has barely returned home since the outbreak in March. “My husband is my backbone, and he is taking care of the children. They all know that I am on duty and I must keep carrying one,” she said.

Doctors of Al-Agami Central Hospital working on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19

HEROES AGAINST THE VIRUS: Most of the nurses and healthcare workers agreed that heroes were not born but made in the fight against the virus. 

“We ventured into the unknown from the first day, and we reacted to every situation with very limited knowledge of what was awaiting us,” said Amal Hassan, head of quality control at the Al-Agami Hospital.  

“Isolation and Covid-19, how contagious the virus is, what protocols of treatment are best – these are just some of the questions we had. There are still some uncertainties about the virus,” Hassan said. “We are literally inside the pandemic, and we have learned that all the precautions and safety measures have become essential parts of our lives, not only for nurses and doctors, but also for administrators, worker, porters, cleaners, drivers and so on.”

Health administrators and quality control personnel are sometimes forgotten in the midst of a crisis and sometimes not given credit for the work they do. “We deal with situations using technology such as Whatsapp to prevent paper handling,” Hassan commented. “Simple groups like these have become a ‘moveable library’ for all of us inside the hospital. We share our expertise, knowledge and information this way,” she added. 

Hassan warned of the depression that might affect Covid-19 patients. “Some patients can become very depressed. Along with their physical diagnosis, some patients can become aggressive and develop severe symptoms of anxiety that may lead to harm to others,” she noted. 

“They might even exhibit uncontrolled behaviour and spread the virus,” Hassan added, noting that in some cases they had to be especially careful of the patients’ psychological and emotional state.

However, despite the ongoing pandemic and the stressful work the healthcare workers are facing, every one working on the frontline recollected moments of joy and triumph. What could be better than to walk an elderly man with an underlying health condition outside to be discharged after being treated for Covid-19?  What could be more satisfying than the happiness at the improving condition of a child?


*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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