Veteran doctors step up as Covid-19 fight intensifies

By Thuy Quynh   March 21, 2020 | 05:44 pm PT
Veteran doctors step up as Covid-19 fight intensifies
A medical staff sprays sanitizer on a person coming for a check-up at a hospital in Hanoi, March 17, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
Doctor Nguyen Thi Khuyen has become a familiar face and smile in Lien Mac Ward, Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi.

The 64-year-old physician, who retired 10 years ago, not only distributes leaflets on the Covid-19 pandemic door to door each day, she directly provides useful, reassuring information.

Khuyen is one of several retired doctors in Hanoi who've decided that a global pandemic is time to practice again, in any ways they can.

Residents in the area see Khuyen as an extra reliable source of information about the pandemic, besides the ward’s loud speakers and media news.

In each and every house she visits, she meticulously instructs inmates on how to wear face masks, the process of washing hands and advises them to refrain from gathering in crowded places and to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Doctor Nguyen Thi Khuyen. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh. 

Retired doctor Nguyen Thi Khuyen in Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh.

"I have knowledge, health, time and the opportunity to disseminate, there is no reason I stand outside this war," she said.

Khuyen used to head the Lien Mac Commune medical center before calling it a day. She and 280 other retired doctors in the city have joined the battle against the deadly virus.

She does think about the possibility of being quarantined and living away from her family, but "I'm not afraid."

Khuyen said she is happy that everyone supports her work. As a doctor, Khuyen fully understands the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"What I can do I am willing to do. First I disseminate, maybe later I will be involved in caring for infected patients. I am also willing to leave home if there is a mobilization order," she said.

A yoga class with more than 20 members has followed her advice to suspend operations. Khuyen has also joined local officials in advising households to cancel parties and confine themselves to getting marriages registered. So far, three wedding parties have been postponed in the ward.

"I am not afraid of difficulties. What I am concerned is that people do not know how to prevent the disease and end up spreading the virus among the community."

At risk, but willing to ignore it

Like Khuyen, Dang Minh Vu, a medical official in Dong Ngac Ward in the same district, who retired five years ago, is willing to join the battle.

In his 70s, he suffers from high blood pressure and understands that he is at higher risk of contracting the virus. However, he said: "I am very confident because I have had experience participating in fighting the SARS epidemic in 2003."

Doctor Dang Minh Vu. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh. 

Doctor Dang Minh Vu in Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh.

No resident of the Dong Ngac Ward was infected during the SARS outbreak. There were only two F1 patients who had come into close contact with an infected patient and some F2 and F3 patients. They were all isolated at home, Vu recalled.

Vu had to go to each patient's house twice a day to check their body temperatures, blood pressure and to handle the situation promptly if anyone in the family showed symptoms of being infected with the virus.

"The prevention of SARS and Covid-19 is basically the same, but Covid-19 is more powerful than SARS," he said. "I learned more about medicine and have experience in fighting SARS, so I now have to join thís battle."

His native place is 30 km away from where he lives. Each times he goes there, he advises his family not to gather in large numbers and to dispose of face masks safely after use.

He knows that in case the number of infections rises, retired doctors might have to directly take care of and treat infected patients. There is the possibility that he would have to be isolated for 14 days, 20 days or even more but he is ready to be mobilized.

Back in action, 25 years on

Nguyen Thi Bich Lai, 68, is another one of the 280 retired doctors involved in the Covid-19 fight in the district. Having retired 25 years ago, Lai now heads a flourishing sports club. She is excited about the upcoming training course for the anti-pandemic team, but does not forget that she has to take good care of her own health.

Members of her club still practice together, but she encourages people to wear face masks every training session, stand 1.5 meters apart from each other and not talk much.

Doctor Nguyen Thi Lai. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh. 

Doctor Nguyen Thi Bich Lai in Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh.

"At first, wearing medical masks made everyone uncomfortable. We switched to wearing cloth masks and that is much more comfortable," she said.

Over the past week, as the number of infections rose fast in Hanoi, her club has stopped operations and members practice at home.

"I love medicine so I want to join the fight and to do this, I need good health," she said.

Vietnam has put 90,000 doctors and 125,000 nurses ready to fight the epidemic, but also prepared to recruit medical students and retired doctors when needed.

Hanoi currently hosts the highest number of active Covid-19 infections in the country, 34 out of the nation's 77.

But that does not faze the retired doctors.

Doctor Vu said: "I am willing to work not just during the day, but at night and overnight. I hope that Dong Ngac Ward and the Bac Tu Liem District in Hanoi as well as the country as a whole can control the pandemic soon."

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