Media pressure, cultural differences challenge nurses treating British pilot

By Anh Thu   June 24, 2020 | 08:04 pm PT
Media pressure, cultural differences challenge nurses treating British pilot
Nurse Le Hong Tham and her colleagues take care of "Patient 91" at Cho Ray Hospital, HCMC, June 22, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
With Vietnam's most critically ill Covid-19 patient receiving global attention, "extremely stressed" medics say, apart from the language barrier, they are under increasing social and media pressure.

"As the British pilot garnered global attention, we (nurses) felt more stressed and in fear of committing mistakes that would affect the country’s image," said Le Hong Tham, 28, working at the Intensive Care Unit of Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC.

Tham has five years of experience in nursing and has been assigned to directly care for the pilot, referred to as "Patient 91," since May 22 when he was transferred to the hospital for lung infection treatment after being declared free of the novel coronavirus. Alongside Tham, there are 11 others nurses, divided into three shifts per day.

The 43-year-old British man who worked for national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines has returned from the dead and is experiencing what health experts called a "miraculous" recovery.

The patient is over 1.8 m tall and weighs 88 kg, while the average female nurse only weighs around 40 kg. Therefore, there are always two nurses in the room assisting the pilot to exercise and perform physical therapy. Even when the patient sleeps, nurses are required to monitor his status, without distraction.

"If the patient shows any abnormal signs the nurse cannot timely detect, the consequences could be unimaginable," Tham said.

Nurse Le Thi Hong Tham goes through over 32 days taking care of the British pilot, Vietnams most critical Covid-19 patient. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Nurse Le Hong Tham has spent the past 32 days caring for the British pilot, Vietnam's most critical Covid-19 patient. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

At the beginning of treatment at Cho Ray, the critical patient was reliant on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and, with no close friends or relatives in Vietnam, on the physical and emotional support of nurses.

Tham said this the pilot has probably been the most memorable patient of her career. Due to language and cultural differences, most of his caregivers went out of their way to "pamper" him.

After the patient exited a two-month coma, one of the biggest challenges proved to be his Scottish accent, which the nurses found hard to understand.

Tham actively studied English to improve their communication, at times resorting to Google Translate to explain certain health details or to get to know him better.

He is quite sensitive and has a low pain tolerance. Nurses must inform and explain in detail any procedures prior to commencement, according to gentle and resilient Tham.

The patient’s eating regime and taste also proved a major obstacle. When he started eating again, Vietnamese cuisine simply did not appeal, forcing the hospital kitchen to dish up anything from spaghetti to western-style lamb chops.

The British national has been hospitalized for the past three months since he originally contracted Covid-19 on March 18. The fate of "Patient 91" has received unprecedented national and global attention as Vietnam, a country of 96 million people and sharing a long border with China, has recorded no deaths thus far.

Hoang Thi Thi, head of the intensive care unit at Cho Ray Hospital, said: "When the patient started to recover, everyone thought he had escaped death and the situation could not get worse. The more optimistic people get, the more worried nurses are. The patient could deteriorate if he is not closely monitored."

Previously, when he was in coma, nurses took turns to be present 24 hours a day to prepare medicine, wipe his body and monitor his movements. Now as the patient is fully conscious, they spend more time conversing to ease his burden.

The British pilot wishes to be discharged from hospital soon and return home to Scotland where he has a close friend who sent him a scarf with the word "Motherwell," the name of a local football team, woven onto it.

He will need another two to three weeks at least before he can move around safely, doctors said during a prognosis discussion Monday afternoon.

"All of us are happy to see the patient make progress every day. We are sure to make every effort until the patient is completely healthy and can return home," Tham added.

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