Masked Heroes: the Lebanese nurses on the COVID-19 frontline

18 June 2020 21:05:00 - Last updated: 18 June 2020 23:32:26

The provision of quality healthcare hangs greatly on the efforts of overworked and underpaid nurses, who are currently serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential workers have been serving their people passionately since the beginning of lockdown, but the public lacks insight on what truly happens in the dreadful hospital hallways where the Coronavirus unit resides.

Although drenched with their blood, sweat, and tears, hope remains the most critical aspect of the hospital’s most vital organ — the team of brave nurses on the frontline of the pandemic. A few nurses have exclusively shared their experienced with The Phoenix Daily amidst their rollercoaster of emotions, that is the Coronavirus hospital unit and chronicled the strict procedure followed by essential workers amidst the pandemic. The interviewed nurses remain anonymous upon request to ensure confidentiality and security.

No one is permitted on hospital grounds without a mask, and naturally, all physical distancing and disinfecting measures are to be maintained at all times. Visiting hours are minimal and restricted, nebuliser treatments have been halted, and any patient admitted into the hospital with pneumonia-like symptoms is directly put into full PPE before further entering the premises. Hospitals in Lebanon have succeeded in creating the optimal environment for a Coronavirus response unit, but many nurses continue to share their unheard and ongoing struggles amidst the pandemic.

 

A student nurse completing her clinical hours at AUBMC emphasized the obstacles placed by the persistent financial crisis plaguing the country. The hospital staff is facing shortages in several medications and other medical equipment and PPE. “Face masks are not available for everyone anymore. In fact, we are being asked to get our own masks” she tells The Phoenix Daily. Further, the aspiring nurse notes that “the simplest things such as alcohol swabs, needles, and even face shields are all in shortage.” She also hoped that the people of Lebanon remain wary of the virus and follow strict social distancing measures. So long as the infection rate is controlled, then the hospital will be fully equipped to provide adequate care for those currently in need. 

Aside from the struggles essential workers are facing in terms of equipment shortages, many nurses are being dismissed in order to cut down on hospital expenses — even nurses working on different floors or separate units. Ultimately, nurses were faced with an excessive workload, as they are now responsible for new patients, new diagnoses, new procedures, and not to mention new work-life environments. 

 

Another nurse, from Rafic Hariri Hospital’s Coronavirus unit, expressed his own fear upon being stationed in the COVID-19 unit. After the infection rates skyrocketed in China and Europe, with the accompanying unimaginable death toll - fear was embedded in countries that had not yet been hit by the deadly wave. Upon recording the first ever infection in Lebanon, the country went into panic-mode and adopted strict lockdown measures, and the nurses were of no exception.

“The bigger issue that we are facing is that people are afraid,” he explained. “Healthy patients experiencing something as simple as a headache or a slight cough are contacting the Red Cross to be admitted into the Emergency unit — this puts a lot of pressure on nurses who already have an immense workload.” Statistics have shown that a daily average of 27 people are being admitted by the Red Cross for showing potential symptoms of Coronavirus. To adhere to all guidelines set out nationally, the hospital is forced to admit healthy patients to follow procedure. This includes asymptomatic patients as well for reasons that remain unknown. Yet the Rafic Hariri Hospital nurse tells The Phoenix Daily he speculates that it may very well be related to the persistence of protests against the government and the ongoing deteriorating national situation.

 

Further, when speaking to nurses from Saint George Hospital University Medical Center (Al Roum Hospital) there was a clear expression of a more positive attitude regarding the pandemic. For many new nurses, the pandemic became a learning experience in more ways than medical. However, working in the COVID-19 unit of course prevented many essential workers, including studying and young medical workers, from visiting their loved ones. “I rented a small studio with my workmate in fear of passing the disease on to our loved ones. We contacted an NGO called Baytna Baytak that offered us a place to stay for free.”

In the last 3 months, the nurses had changed their address 5 times — from Achrafieh, to Mar Mikhael, then Gemmayze, and finally Mansourieh. “It was the first time I lived without my parents,” says an Al Roum Hospital nurse.“We learned to be more independent and manage our living expenses on our own.”

 

The stresses our healthcare workers have endured in the past few months (with more expectedly to come) are, without a doubt, unimaginable — from medical to mental to personal — and not restricted to those working in the COVID-19 unit. It is also notable that not only do these nurses share the same struggles, but also certain opinions regarding the Ministry of Public Health.

Several of the nurses that were interviewed exclusively for The Phoenix Daily expressed their personal lack of trust in the Ministry of Public Health’s transparency and reliability in the statistics. Several nurses admitted that according to their knowledge, some cases were not recorded and shared with the public. Although this is not a grand surprise, it is more of a confirmation to the population that even in times where the truth is undeniably essential, the government continues to cast shadows on vital information. But for what reason?