KUCHING: Today is Labour Day, the annual holiday observed by countries around the world to celebrate the achievement of workers.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed back all thoughts of celebration among workers this year, more so the medical frontliners who continue to battle to contain the novel coronavirus.
The Borneo Post recently spoke to several government doctors and nurses stationed in Kota Samarahan who shared what it is like to serve on the frontline during this trying period.
Kota Samarahan Health Clinic Outpatient Department medical officer Dr Aaron Wong Wai Loong, 32, said one of the risks faced by all medical frontliners on a daily basis is becoming infected by Covid-19 during the course of discharging their duties.
“I remember on multiple occasions, my colleagues had to be swabbed and quarantined because of exposure to irresponsible patients who were found to be positive for Covid-19.
“These particular patients refused to admit that they had been in contact with other positive patients, and ended up exposing medical staff to the virus,” he said.
With those exposed being placed under quarantine, Dr Wong said it was left to others to shoulder the extra burden of keeping the clinic running during the absence of their colleagues.
Despite the extra workload, he said the joy of learning that his colleagues were later cleared of the virus was a source of motivation to all staff at the clinic.
“Seeing them returning to work with their faces full of joy and energy after their swabs tested negative was a great motivator for us to continue working,” he said.
On the challenges faced, Dr Wong recalled a particular harrowing experience when the clinic almost ran out of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We had to resort to modifying garbage bags to use as replacement gear because the new stock was in the process of being delivered, and we still had to continue with the screening and swabbing process.
“Then, out of the blue, as I was preparing to don the makeshift gear to enter the Covid-19 area, a car pulled up at the clinic with PPE donated by the public,” he said, adding everyone was overjoyed at receiving what he described as the “perfect gift”.
On his Labour Day wish, he said it was for all frontliners to continue persevering and supporting each other during this pandemic, and for all citizens to adhere to the Movement Control Order to meet the objective of breaking the chain of infection.”
For public health nurse Jacqueline Kho, 51, she said serving during this pandemic period has provided the opportunity to gain new experience and knowledge.
“We had to set up a quarantine centre in just one-and-a-half days, to enable us to receive incoming patients the following day.
“Arranging linens for staff and in-patients; arranging food for in-patients and staff; arranging a nursing team to work at the quarantine centre; arranging clinical waste management – all clinic staff from various categories and levels had to show high team spirit,” she said.
In the end, Kho said, they managed to set up two quarantine centres, one sampling centre, and an active case detection team in Samarahan.
One particular distressing moment for her was when she had to be quarantined for a week due to being exposed to a positive patient.
“The anxiety of waiting for your own sample result is distressing, as you start fearing that it would turn out to be positive and you could have potentially infected other colleagues.”
Kho, who is in her 26th year of service, said among her daily challenges is to ensure the PPE supply for staff is adequate, and to arrange for replacement staff when fellow nurses are placed under quarantine.
“I’m appreciative of and grateful for my nursing team’s efforts, contributions and hard work throughout weekends and public holidays, especially with minimal workforce.
“I’m also thankful to others especially the Samarahan Resident for his concern, support and fast action, and his staff’s great effort and help ever since we started our quarantine centre,” she added.
Medical health officer Dr Nor Atikah Anuar, 32, recalled one particular challenge of having to deal with a ‘stubborn’ patient who turned out to be Covid-19 positive.
“Initially the patient denied any travelling history, but he had actually just returned from visiting his son who had attended the tabligh gathering.
“The patient did not give proper history, and I ended up having to be quarantined for a week because of exposure and was swabbed twice,” she said.
Like Kho, Dr Nor Atikah said this pandemic period has enabled her to learn much, particularly by watching the press conferences given by Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah which come with comprehensive daily reports complete with facts and figures.
“As a frontliner, I would be very grateful if the public cooperate by staying at home and maintaining good personal hygiene, and also practising social distancing when they are out.
“I pray that our scientists are able to develop a new vaccine, and may the Almighty help us in battling Covid-19.”
Nursing sister Siti Nor’Ain Mohammad Haniffa, 40, said she hopes the people can understand the sacrifices made by medical frontliners in combating the pandemic, which include not being able to see their family for extended periods.
“We work non-stop every day of the week, and are in direct contact with Covid-19 positive patients and PUI (Person Under Investigation) cases, and hardly have time for our own family.
“My four-year-old son even complained once, saying ‘mama asyik-asyik kerja, asyik-asyik kerja’ (mum, you are always working). I told him that it is my responsibility as a nurse.”
“To everyone out there, I would just like to say we are all trying our best.
“We hope everyone understands the situation we are now in.”
Meanwhile, health inspector Hapizan Napi, 38, whose daily duties include conducting contact-tracing on those who have been exposed to positive cases, said it was important for fellow frontliners to take precautions at all times.
He said he is currently undergoing quarantine from April 26 to May 9, after coming into contact with another healthcare worker who tested positive for the virus.
“With more people now aware that containing the virus is a shared responsibility, I hope this pandemic will end soon.
“Stay home, stay healthy – that’s the only advice I can give to the people,” he said.