Covid-19 takes a toll on frontline workers’ personal lives

By Phan Duong   February 13, 2021 | 10:30 pm PT
The night before Valentine’s Day Thuy Linh and her husband, Anh Tuan, saw each other from a distance while working at a Covid-19 field hospital in Hai Duong.

The two, nurses in the outpatient and intensive care units at the newly set up field hospital in the northern province, Vietnam’s coronavirus epicenter now, have spent the last couple of weeks tending patients.

But they do not see each other every day and have not spoken in person for more than two weeks.

If the pandemic had not broken out, the young couple would have been celebrating the Lunar New Year with their three-year-old daughter and enjoying Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

Linh, 27, told VnExpress, "Before I had our daughter, Valentine’s Day was always romantic for the two of us. After [she was born] it has become a day for the whole family."

Linh and Tuan work on two different units in the field hospital. Photo courtesy of Thuy Linh.

Linh and Tuan (pictured) work in two different wards at the field hospital. Photo courtesy of Thuy Linh.

On January 28 Hai Duong was hit by a new Covid-19 wave that broke Vietnam's 55-day clean streak, forcing the couple to start their works at the Chi Linh District medical center, which later became a field hospital.

Tuan had previous experience but Linh was a newcomer and took several days to get used to working round the clock.

She does not dare to drink much water since that might mean having to take off her protective suit to go to the restroom.

Once she took a critically ill Covid-19 patient to the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi and returned to Hai Duong at 4 a.m.

"That was the first time I ever took a shower at 4 a.m. I was wary thinking about people who had a stroke while showering in the wee hours, but I was also afraid of getting infected by the novel coronavirus."

Unable to see each other every day, Tuan and Linh call each other to talk.

On Lunar New Year’s Eve (February 11) Linh told him how her unit celebrated the holiday. Tuan told her his colleagues organized a performance at the hospital to welcome the new year.

Their daughter was sleeping with Tuan's mother then.

The couple is not the only one to be separated at Tet or on Valentine’s Day by Covid-19.

Police officer Nguyen Van Hai looks at his wife from a distance. Photo courtesy of Hai.

Police officer Nguyen Van Hai looks at his wife from a distance. Photo courtesy of Hai.

Police officer Nguyen Van Hai was standing silently behind a barrier to see his wife, Nguyen Thi Ngoc, who was in quarantine in Chi Linh Town, a Covid-19 hotspot in Hai Duong.

Since Covid resurfaced in Hai Duong, Hai, busy with his duty, has not been home. He is extremely worried that his wife and many of their neighbors had attended a wedding related to a Covid-19 patient.

Two days after Ngoc went into quarantine, Hai finally found time to bring her some stuff. Standing at a distance from each other, they could not talk and had to silently look at each other.

"He is worried I will be unhappy in the quarantine facility, always tells me to wear masks and eat well," Ngoc said.

Hai had also reassured her he would take care of the family during Lunar New Year.

A few hours before Lunar New Year’s Eve, Hai brought some food to the facility for his wife and some neighbors. Some time later, in the early morning, he finished his work and again visited the facility to give Ngoc li xi (lucky money).

"Just like for many other families amid the pandemic, this Tet is special for our family. But the situation makes us cherish our love and the time we spend together," Ngoc said.

After 29 years of marriage and two daughters, the couple still never fails to celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers and gifts.

Many other couples in Hai Duong have also been separated amid the Covid-19 battle.

Major Nguyen Van Hoa, police chief of Hoang Tan Ward, Chi Linh Town, told his wife Huyen Trang, who takes care of Covid-19 patients at the field hospital: "We are in the same Covid-19 battle."

Since Covid-19 broke out, both have been busy. Hoa patrols and supervises several checkpoints since his ward has coronavirus cases and many residents are in quarantine.

He does not even have time to go home and get clothes for his wife to the hospital, which is five kilometers from home. But he calls her without fail every day.

Trang and Hoa talk on a video call. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Hoa.

Trang and Hoa talk on a video call. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Hoa.

Trang was initially apprehensive since her children cried when told to stay with her husband’s parents and the work at the hospital was overwhelming.

"I encouraged her, told her that she is a soldier in a white blouse and I am a soldier in a green uniform, and that we both have one goal: defeating the pandemic," Hoa recalled.

He hoped to accomplish the mission so that his family could reunite afterward.

Hai and Ngoc were lucky that Ngoc finished her quarantine on February 13, a day before Valentine’s Day. Hai picked her up in the afternoon, and their daughters had cooked dinner to celebrate their family reunion.

It was the 30th Valentine’s Day that Hai and Ngoc spent together.

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