Covid-19 warrior shares vivid images of battling an invisible enemy

July 16, 2021 | 06:56 am GMT+7
Vo Tri Bao Hung Doctor
Watching a fleet of nearly 30 vehicles that brought in new patients the other day, I felt like I was at war.

But this is no ordinary war. The enemy is very dangerous, attacking people very quickly in many places, but no one can see it.

I am a doctor currently on duty at a Covid-19 field hospital in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12. These days, every one or two minutes, we receive calls asking if the hospital still has any room for new cases.

The hospital, which has a capacity of 2,500 beds, started operations on July 5. In the first three days, it admitted 600 Covid-19 patients before the number doubled the next day and in less than a week, we had 2,480 patients.

It is the first time that I have faced such a large and rapidly growing number of patients.

There were times when traffic jams happened right on the path leading from the hospital’s gate to the treatment areas. The field hospital has been set up in a resettlement house, so it had to stop accepting patients temporarily sometimes to repair rooms and equipment.

Early last week, we worked almost all night to arrange for thousands of patients to get admitted and have a meal. The hospital orders meals for patients and staff from outside, but under impact of the social distancing measures, the food normally arrives 2-3 hours late and breakfast is served at 9-10 a.m. and doctors have dinner at 9 p.m. or later.

In recent days, the meal times have improved, only late by around one hour. The hospital has received food from benefactors, improving the situation.

The field hospital focuses on screening Covid-19 patients to detect those with severe conditions and transfer them to hospitals specializing in treating such cases.

Typically, my day starts at 6 a.m. I visit all the patients to see if anyone has developed any critical symptoms and need to be moved, and repeat the inspection another two times every day.

My phone keeps ringing from early morning to late at night and most of them are calls asking us to receive new cases, transfer severe patients, consult patients and their relatives, and to handle other hospital businesses.

I normally go to sleep at 2-3 a.m. Each doctor spends the night on a canvas bed with a pillow and blanket. I guess a rustic existence is to be expected in a "field" hospital.

In fact, medical workers don’t need much more than basic living conditions, and sleeping on a canvas bed is already a privilege. The hospital has not been able to equip all of us with what is much more important in the fight against Covid-19, like masks, gloves, and protective suits.

Medical staff take some rest after receiving Covid-19 patients at a field hospital in HCMCs Thu Duc City, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa

Medical staff rest after receiving Covid-19 patients at a field hospital in HCMC, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Medical staff at the field hospital come from different provinces and cities.

My hometown is in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre and I’ve been saving a few minutes every few days to call home. Only hearing my loved ones’ voices can make me happy.

This is the second time I have joined the medical frontline in the Covid-19 fight.

The first time was during the first wave last year. I worked for two months at the field hospital in Cu Chi District.

We medics were very busy then, too, but the pressure was not as intense as it is now in HCMC.

We know we have to work as quickly as possible so that more patients would have a place to rest, eat and receive treatment. Everyone has to find his or her own reserves of strength and many of my colleagues seem spent.

Recently, the hospital received more staff. Now with 45 doctors, more than 60 nurses and over 70 nursing assistants, we have been able to divide our work shifts, but it is still impossible to avoid overloading.

Fortunately, most of the Covid patients here are mild and asymptomatic. If the number of critical cases was to rise, we would not know how to handle the situation.

More field hospitals are being opened, but most face the problem of lacking medical staff and equipment.

So, even as we keep doing our best, we know that the fiercest days in this battle against an invisible enemy are yet to come.

*Vo Tri Bao Hung is a doctor at a Covid-19 field hospital in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12. The city is currently the epicenter of the fourth Covid-19 wave in Vietnam, by far the most challenging that the nation has faced.

 
 
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