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Tensions run high in Hanoi Covid treatment ward

By Chi Le   June 23, 2021 | 10:00 pm PT
Tensions run high in Hanoi Covid treatment ward
Nurses at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi helps a Covid-19 patient breathe. Photo courtesy of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
Nurse An likens her job to that of a craftswoman, constantly on the move. At a hospital where dozens of Covid-19 patients are treated, the slightest mistakes could cost lives.

A shortness of breath and high fever mean IV fluids and cold compression. Difficulty to breathe and reduced lung functions require massages to the lungs. These are some common tasks performed by nurses in the emergency ward of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, where 21 Covid-19 patients are being treated.

Many cases are so severe they enter a coma, with some drawing close to death.

It's tough being a nurse, Do Thi Hong An, 40, said. Especially so when put in charge of Covid-19 patients. Not all of them are willing to cooperate, she said.

For example, a patient may refuse to be intubated to be fed, trying to unplug all the wires and tubes connected to their bodies. It is An's job to make sure that doesn't happen.

Some patients, while still able to care of themselves, are too weak to carry things properly, however. They may spill waste on the floor, which means An and her colleagues have to clean up and disinfect the area. Certain others, knowing the nurses would take care of them, don't bother to look after themselves even if they are strong enough to do so.

"At those times, I often have to tell my patients they're now healthy enough, that they need to exercise to help with a quicker recovery. Only some heed the advice," An said.

Frustration naturally arises when patients don't cooperate with their nurses, but that is no cause to back down. An said she would often vent to her colleagues about it, then carry on with the job. If push comes to shove, another nurse may take over from her instead, she added.

But in the end, nurses need to empathize with their patients, according to An. Not all of them have family members to care for them, and some even have to bring oxygen tanks home to treat themselves. At those times, nurses would reassure and instruct them to follow healthy diets, exercise and treatment regimens.

New wave, old challenges

An said the fourth coronavirus wave is the most challenging one so far for Vietnam, with quicker disease progression and longer incubation time.

"Some patients have been here for so long, even we doctors and nurses feel that way too. We need to be ever more patient with those cases that don't improve over time," said An.

Taking care of patients is one thing, coping with working conditions another. The past summer months have been some of the hottest, sapping the nurses’ strength. And that's not to mention their protective suits, which seem to exacerbate the heat dozens of times over. Despite such arduous conditions, An often refrains from drinking water at work as the procedures required to take off and put the suits on are usually not worth the trouble.

"Sometimes I just want to snatch the mask off my face to drink a gulp of water while pouring it for the patients. As soon as the shift's over, I would text my coworker to bring me a water bottle," she said, adding the long hours spent inside the suits may also cause rashes.

The hospital once experimented installing small fans inside the suit to relieve the heat. While they do work, they carry the risk of damaging the suits, so An also tried not to use them too much to protect both herself and her patients.

For the nurses, the most memorable moments of happiness are when a patient gets discharged from hospital. They would often remind themselves to take photos with the recovered patients to commemorate the occasion.

"Another discharged patient, another day closer to returning home ourselves," An said.

 
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