By Shanika Abdullatib
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Last month’s rising trend in daily new COVID-19 cases signalled the start of Malaysia’s third wave of infections with Sabah showing signs of turning into a COVID-19 hotbed.
Yesterday, Malaysia recorded a whopping 871 new cases – the highest-ever number reported in a single day since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak – and total cases leaped to 20,498 and active cases 7,049
Healthcare personnel and volunteers, who had enjoyed a respite just before the resurgence in cases last month, are forced to don their personal protective equipment (PPE) once again and fight their own fear, sadness and frustration as they work tirelessly on the “battlefield” screening and treating COVID-19 cases.
Among them is Dr Saraswathy Subramaniam, 29, a medical officer at the Emergency and Trauma Department at Hospital Tawau, Sabah, who, in her own words, almost lost her life to COVID-19 which she had contracted while on duty in Hospital Semporna where she was deployed early September following a spike in case numbers in Semporna.
The young doctor, who is from Kuala Selangor, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept 29.
She said she became very weak and lost her sense of smell. She also developed inflammation in her heart and almost blacked out. She was hospitalised in Hospital Tawau until Oct 15 and is set to resume her duties at Hospital Semporna this week.
WORKING DAY AND NIGHT
“To be honest, I was not sad when I tested positive for COVID-19 because I was prepared to face any risk the minute I was told to report for duty at Hospital Semporna.
“In fact, I am grateful I pulled through… there are so many other patients whose conditions were worse than mine,” Dr Saraswathy told Bernama, adding that despite the ordeal she went through, she cannot wait to return to the “battlefield” to help her colleagues to treat the rising number of active cases.
She said the current critical situation in Sabah has taught her how valuable life is.
“It’s a challenge for us to treat COVID-19 patients because by the time they are admitted to hospital, they are already in the fourth or fifth stage of the disease and have various complications,” she said.
According to Dr Saraswathy, Hospital Semporna frontline staff are forced to forego sleep as they have to work day and night considering that the hospital does not have the capacity to handle the overwhelming patient load.
It is even more frustrating for the frontliners when patients “disappear” whilst awaiting their COVID-19 screening outcome, which puts healthcare workers at a higher risk of getting infected by the virus.
As frontliners, Dr Saraswathy and her colleagues do their best to keep themselves safe by complying with the standard operating procedures (SOPs), reducing contact with their patients as much as possible, providing prompt treatment to patients who show symptoms and practising a high level of self-hygiene.
In a tweet on Oct 12, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the battle of the frontliners in Sabah is reaching a “critical moment” and that a community surveillance and contact tracing strategy is being taken to treat infected persons and break the chain of infection.
Many healthcare workers from green zones nationwide have already been deployed to the red zones in Sabah and in the peninsula.
Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) emergency medicine specialist Dr Mohd Afiq Mohd Nor said he is experiencing a sense of déjà vu looking at all the preparations being made by UMMC.
“We’re repeating what we did in March (this year)…we’ve to reassign the staff, set up tents to carry out screening and again teach everyone how to put on the PPE and remind them to follow the SOPs,” he said.
Although the hospital’s frontliners are now in a better position to deal with the crisis due to the experience they had gained earlier, they still cannot help worrying about their exposure to infection.
Dr Mohd Afiq said having seen colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19 gasping for breath and going through quarantine, his own anxiety level has multiplied although he heeds every safety precaution.
“We’re always reminding each other not to be careless when handling a patient or equipment as we can’t tell when we will be exposed to the virus,” he said.
Hospital Kuala Lumpur Department of Emergency and Trauma medical officer Dr Ahmad Samhan Awang said the level of physical and mental stress faced by medical staff cannot be underestimated.
He said physical stress is caused by the increased workload when colleagues have to go on quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 cases while mental stress is caused by patients who hide their history of close contacts.
“We have no other choice except to bear with it and to keep encouraging our colleagues to remain strong because Malaysians are banking on us frontliners to flatten the infection curve,” said the father-of-two, adding that he is prepared to face any risk in the event he is deployed to Sabah which is in need of experienced medical personnel and resources.
Meanwhile, 17 members of Tinagayan Youth Club (Kelab Belia Tinagayan or KeBaT) have stationed themselves at the operations centre of Bubul Ria PPR housing project, a COVID-19 red zone in Semporna, since Oct 11 to volunteer their services for cleaning, disinfection and food delivery activities.
KeBaT chairman Fazlan Thomas, 32, said they decided to volunteer their services following requests for help from other non-governmental organisations and the Ministry of Health (MOH) as Hospital Semporna was facing a shortage of staff after several employees tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be quarantined.
“I announced on social media that we were looking for volunteers (to serve in Semporna) and didn’t expect so many people, including from Sarawak and the peninsula, to show an interest,” he said, adding that all the volunteers came under the supervision of MOH and, as such, have to comply with SOPs.
Aged between 17 and 40, the volunteers’ duties include disinfecting the surrounding areas, delivering food to patients and managing the Bubul Ria PPR operations centre’s logistics and documentation.
“Inspired by our hardworking frontliners, we resolved to strengthen our mind and spirit to participate in this mission. Some of us, in fact, are temporarily staying in the flats in Bubul Ria PPR so that we don’t have to return to our families while we are volunteering as the risk of infection is there,” said Fazlan.
While the nation’s frontliners return to the battlefield, here is a quote by Dr Noor Hisham for them to dwell on: “To all our frontline workers, please remember that we are the protectors of the rakyat’s health and our nation’s safety; we are the last line of defence of the country. We must keep our spirits up and continue to be strong. We have a small window of opportunity to do it right and flatten the curve again. It is Now or never.…”
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
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