Encounters on the COVID-19 ward

Maria* and her husband Stefan* moved to the Middle East in January 2020 for Maria to start a job as a midwife. As the coronavirus pandemic arrived in their city, Stefan had to leave to renew his visa. Borders were subsequently closed, and flights stopped, so they are now in two different countries waiting to be reunited. During this time, Maria has moved to working on a COVID-19 ward, caring for patients there. Here Maria shares some of her experiences from the clinic where she works.

I work in a private clinic, but when the pandemic started the Government asked them to take in COVID-19 patients. At the end of March, there weren’t enough staff to work on these wards, so I was asked to work there. I said I couldn’t be a midwife and work with COVID-19 patients. My bosses weren’t happy with this, and my job was in question for a few days. But they eventually agreed and I’m now just working with COVID patients.

In this country, if people test positive, they are taken to the hospital. Therefore, out of the people we see, about one in 30 have a real need to be in the hospital. The rest are there in isolation and soon become bored. Those who aren’t showing symptoms are often emotionally sick. Many fear they will die, even though they are not sick. They go through the grief process of being afraid, then they get angry that they have to stay in the hospital, followed by depression and finally acceptance. Many just want reassurance.

All patients are in a room on their own; they don’t see anyone else. I’m not using my midwifery skills, so I have time to talk to people, and it really makes a difference. It changes the way people act towards me because I spend time with them and listen to them. This is a great opportunity, especially to spend time with people I wouldn’t normally get to speak to—including men.

One senior official is on our ward. At first, he asked if there were any Arab men around that he could talk to. When I said there weren’t any, he asked if there were any men at all. As there weren’t any available, he asked if I would talk to him. I agreed, and now we talk whenever I am working. The policy is changing, and patients are being moved to spend their quarantine in hotels. This man asked if he could stay on our ward because he had people he could talk to. He stayed, and our conversations continued.

One man has been on the ward for four weeks. His daughter caught the virus from him. He was afraid for what would happen to his children if he died. His own father had died when he was ten, and he didn’t want the same for his children. His test results kept changing, so he was kept in hospital longer than usual and I was able to spend time with him.  As I spoke with him it became clear that he had real issues with self-image and he really opened up to me, speaking a lot about his wife and children. I asked him if he would mind if I prayed. He agreed, and so I was able to spend time praying with him.

Another man was here with his four-year-old son. They had caught the virus coming back from North Africa, where they are from. The first time I met them I was to swab them for their test. It was clear the boy was traumatised by all the swabs he had experienced so far. It is not a pleasant experience for anyone, never mind four-year-olds. The father asked if I could do his swab first so his son could see it doesn’t hurt much. Then he helped me hold down his son so I could swab him. I told them: “I pray God will make this one negative as well, so you can go home.” They thanked me and said: “Thank you, inshallah [if God wills], we will go home.” Praise God, the swabs came back negative and they were discharged.

Since the beginning of my nursing career, I have learnt that you make friends with the cleaners because they know what is happening and can help you when you need it. There is one girl I have spoken to. She is from a Hindu family from a village in Nepal. She asked me if I was a Christian. I told her I was, and she replied that she liked going to Christian churches. I asked how my church was different to hers. She explained that at the temple all you do is make sacrifices and pray. When you go to a Christian church, you get together with others and sing and people are always hanging out. She has been to church in the past, but her parents told her not to go anymore because the people there are different. She believes that all gods are the same and it doesn’t matter which church you go to. She also said how her generation is different to that of her parents in the way they believe. When I asked her, she said she would like to go to church again so when churches open up again, I will invite her.

Arabian Peninsula: Theresa, a physical therapist in the Middle East, enters a hospital treatment room. Photo by Jay S.

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