Ignorance, fear leave frontline coronavirus doctors without abode

By Phan Duong   February 12, 2020 | 06:59 pm PT
Landlords scared of viral infection are evicting doctors risking their lives treating patients in the fight against the new coronavirus.

At 7.30 a.m. on February 7 Dr Than Manh Hung, deputy head of the emergency department at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, put on his protective clothes to examine four coronavirus patients. They were stable and their temperature was normal.

There are five doctors in the department and a nurse, and they have been at work for eight days to monitor and treat the patients, and be ready for any new epidemic-related developments.

On January 30, after two cases of infection were confirmed in the northern province of Vinh Phuc, Hung only had time to go home and pick up a suitcase packed by his wife, kiss his sleeping children goodbye and return to the hospital.

Doctor Hung smiles whilte telling his story. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Dr Hung smiles as he narrates his story. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

He says his mother "cried and did not want me to go." "If everyone chooses easy jobs, who will handle difficulties?" he asked her.

Since that day he has called her twice a day to comfort her. His wife is also a doctor, and understands her husband’s responsibilities.

Hung sometimes gives himself a massage since he sleeps on a hard, cold chair every night. He got himself some painkillers the previous day.

"I took part in the battles against the H1N1 epidemic in 2009, MERS-CoV in 2012 and flu, measles and dengue epidemics. During the H1N1 epidemic, I was worried since I did not know how the new virus spread and its virulence."

So on hearing about the new coronavirus outbreak in China he and his colleagues quickly learned about it.

"Before Vietnam had any case of infection, we had compiled a document on the disease and built a response scenario."

In a small room in his department, Hung hangs some sweaters outside the closet to dry them with wind from the air conditioner. Under his table is a suitcase filled with clothes.

Over the last week 15 patients have been admitted to the department of internal medicine. With 30 suspected cases and the virulence of the virus, the number of doctors approaching patients is always limited, which also helps them save on protective gear.

Doctors at the hospital have some local food from people living nearby on February 7. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Doctors at the hospital get food from people living nearby on February 7, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

"One doctor and two nurses take care of 30 patients in each shift, and so there is much work," Tran Hai Ninh, head of the department, says. "Patients are completely quarantined. [So] we not only examine them but also do the logistics work."

They joke they are "hotel staff" because they have to take care of each patient’s food and hygiene. Some ask for snacks, and the nurses have to ask people to buy and bring them around.

On February 7 Ninh was walking around looking for a place in the department to install a wifi connection. The wifi connection enables the patients to catch the news on the Internet and amuse themselves."The hospital does everything to prevent patients from walking out," Ninh says.

Ninh has been in the hospital since January 30 while her husband works at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, and the couple have no time for their family. They have sought their parents’ help to take care of their two children.

Doctor Ninh and the hospitals technical staff check around to install new Internet connection for patients. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Dr Ninh and the hospital's technical staff scout the place to install a new Internet connection for patients. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

"During the day I am so busy and reject all my children’s calls. I only pick up my parents’ calls since I am worried. I call the kids at 9 p.m. before they sleep."

The hospital has four departments working with the virus, outpatient, emergency, internal medicine, and virus and parasite related diseases.

The 60 doctors and nurses who work around the clock always follow safety rules to protect themselves. But, unfortunately, they face discrimination since people are ignorant and worried about the epidemic.

A nurse in the virus-parasite department was evicted by her landlord, who then spread lime all over the house before her husband explained that she was quarantined and never visited home.

Another nurse faced a similar situation after a local medical center claimed he had contracted the new coronavirus. Dr Hung had to call the center to explain.

Some of the medical staff are staying at the hospital though they do not need to be quarantined because of the stigma they face.

Vietnam declared the novel coronavirus an epidemic on February 1 and schools across the country are closed until next Sunday.

Out of the 15 confirmed infection cases so far, seven have been discharged from hospitals. The global death toll has reached 1,363 as of Thursday morning.

go to top