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ICU Nurses Reflect On COVID-19 Pandemic Challenges

11/05/2022 11:17 AM

By Balkish Awang

This article is written in conjunction with International Nurses Day observed around the world on May 12 each year.

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) --Since March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on the nation’s healthcare system as large surges of intensive care unit (ICU) patients overwhelmed hospitals. 

Nevertheless, the healthcare workers continued to devote their time and energy to contain the pandemic for two years before the nation entered the transition to endemic phase on April 1, 2022.

As we observe the International Nurses Day tomorrow, let us reflect on the contributions of our very own Florence Nightingales, their immense sacrifices, invaluable dedication, commitment and unwavering efforts in managing COVID-19, often times risking their own lives, for the nation.



Bernama spoke to three nurses about their experiences and the challenges of nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mazura Zulkeflee.

Head Nurse Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah, Alor Setar, Kedah, Mazura Zulkeflee, 40, said the pandemic was one of the most difficult and challenging episodes of her nursing career, and its memories are bound to stay with her long after the ordeal is over.

“I was tasked with caring COVID-19 patients during which time we were overextended with patient loads and staffing shortages.  As the number of COVID-19 cases grew, and an alarming number of patients been hospitalised, we were left feeling burned out. These were indeed trying times, and I even cried while I was driving to work,” she told Bernama recently.

“My routine was to break the news via video calls to family members of patients who succumbed to the deadly virus, regardless of time, whether 2 am or 3 am. These were heart-wrenching moments as the kids were too young to understand that their parents had gone forever,” Mazura recalled.

Mazura admitted that she was at first drawn to the attractive salary the profession had to offer, but gradually found her passion in nursing following her interaction with patients, especially those who were bedridden and needed care and support for recovery.

 In fact, her experience in caring a COVID-19 patient left her devastated until now. The patient in her 50’s and married, shared some moments with her, but in the end, she passed away.



A healthcare frontliner at Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) monitoring the condition of a bedridden COVID-19 patient. --fotoBERNAMA (2022) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

At the onset of the pandemic, there was no doubt that COVID 19 had presented an unprecedented challenge to public health.

According to Mazura, there was a dire lack of hospital beds brought on by the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases, with existing beds fully occupied with seriously ailing patients infected with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

“At that time, the only place with additional beds was the ICU. Mortuaries could no longer accommodate dead patients, with efforts to bring the corpses at the ICU to the mortuaries delayed. As such corpses or dead patients were frequently occupying the space at this ward. These were really heart-breaking moments,” said Mazura, who brings with her 15 years of nursing experience.

Mazura has been working at Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah for the past two years.  Prior to this, she was attached to Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) for eight years and Hospital Sultan Abdul Halim (Kedah) for five years.

According to Mazura, while waiting for dead patients to be sent to the mortuary, healthcare workers at the ward were faced with various other challenges.

A nurse checking on a COVID-19 patient who is warded at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). --fotoBERNAMA (2022) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

These include arrangements for the transfer of patients from their previous hospital to the ICU in addition to the use of ambulance that was always full. The number of patients at the ward was also high.

Despite the drop in COVID-19 infections, the people should not let their guard down and should continue maintaining good hygiene practices at all times, among other SOPs, she said, noting that while the coronavirus is invisible, its effects are visible everywhere.

“Don’t be self-centred. If you develop symptoms or are not feeling well, avoid meeting other people. This way, you can avoid from being infected or infecting others if you are COVID-19 positive.

“My advice is even if the government eases on the use of face masks, we should continue with the practice as it is important in breaking the chain of infection as the virus is always there with us,” said Mazura, who lost her 40-year old cousin due to COVID-19.



Nuurul Asiah Majid.

Meanwhile, Nuurul Asiah Majid, 36, who served at the ICU ward of Hospital Sultan Abdul Halim, Sungai Petani said, she chose the nursing career on her mother’s choice.

However, after 12 years in the profession, Nuurul Asiah, who has a child of her own, admitted that she became passionate and committed to nursing after going through various experiences on the job and having met all levels of society.

Sharing her experiences at the ICU during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said the fact that the virus could wreak havoc and killing many lives both in Malaysia and worldwide, was beyond her imagination.

“As a frontline nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation was more challenging for those working at the ICU compared to other wards.

“We had to be prepared at all times and must be sensitive to every changes experienced by the patients based on the key indicators such as blood pressure, respiratory system, and heart readings at every minute and hour given that most patients at the ICU are critical cases.

“We have to be prepared for any eventuality as the conditions of patients at the ICU would vary during their stay although they were stable when they were first warded.

“Should there be any changes, the nurse at the ICU should act swiftly and efficiently in providing an effective treatment to the patient based on the doctor’s instructions,” she said, adding that at the ICU, various monitors, tubes, infusion medicine machinery are available, and the nurse should be well-versed with the applications.

(photograph for illustrative purposes) --fotoBERNAMA (2022) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

According to Nuurul Asiah, she had no regrets for choosing nursing as her career, and in fact, the knowledge and experience gained while caring and helping patients at the ICU to recover, are invaluable.

“The real satisfaction is when you see patients, who were frail and fragile on their first admission at the ward, finally recover and return to their families,” she said, admitting that she was often overwhelmed with fear during the process of treating COVID-19 patients.

“Frankly, I was at first afraid when I was assigned to care for COVID-19 patients. What was worse, cases were on the rise and many general wards had to be closed and converted into COVID-19 wards.

“During that time, our leave had been frozen due to staff shortage. Emotionally and physically, we were all drained, coupled with the fact that we had to wear the personal protective equipment (PPE) suits for a long period of time during work,” she said.  

However, she and her colleagues were always grateful that they succeeded in carrying out their responsibilities in helping patients and the community.

“Given the steady drop in COVID-19 cases, coupled with many COVID-19 wards closed and critical cases at the ICU on the decline, I can now heave a sigh of relief and hope we can all return to our normal lives,” she said.



With the easing of restrictions and SOPs previously imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the nation’s transition to endemic phase since April 1, the public should not downplay the deadly risks of the virus which is still present in the community.

On April 27, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced the easing of several restrictions, which include the lifting of the requirement for check-ins on MySejahtera effective May 1. The wearing of face masks is no longer mandatory outdoors. However, it is still mandatory to wear face masks while indoors and while using public transport, which includes e-hailing services.

Norlita Md Nor.

In this regard, nurse Norlita Md Nor, 40, hopes Malaysians would continue to maintain the SOPs earlier set by the government although the nation has now entered the transition to endemic phase.

The people should also appreciate the contributions and sacrifices made by healthcare personnel who played a vital role in healthcare service delivery in Malaysia, she added.

Norlita, who is a staff of the ICU ward at Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah said, patience is a key quality that makes a good nurse.

“This is because nurses need to control their emotions regardless of time, as patients at the ICU are mainly critical cases and anything can happen all of a sudden.

“At this ward, we have to monitor the conditions of all patients every hour. Anything abnormal, we have to immediately inform the doctor,” said Norlita, who has been in the nursing profession for 16 years.


Translated by Salbiah Said



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