Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Four UAE hero medics who caught coronavirus and returned to front lines share their stories

From doctors to ward attendants, workers recount early days when virus gripped the nation

Medical staff have spoken of overcoming their fear and anxiety after contracting Covid-19 from packed hospital wards at the peak of the pandemic in the UAE.

Their stories are typical of the dedication of frontline workers who are back at their jobs, even as cases start to rise again promoting new warnings from health officials.

The National recounts some of their stories:

The cardiologist separated from his family

The dry cough and fever now familiar as coronavirus were becoming common in patients arriving at NMC Royal Hospital in Dubai Investments Park, one of many hospitals beginning to fill up. That is when cardiologist Dr Davinder Singh was told to take a nasal swab, as one of his colleagues had caught the virus.

“Every day my work put me in direct contact with Covid patients, so I knew there was a good chance I would get it,” said Dr Singh, who has fully recovered and is back at work.

Dr Davinder Singh, a cardiologist at the NMC Royal Hospital at Dubai Investments Park, who has recovered from Covid-19. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Davinder Singh, a cardiologist at the NMC Royal Hospital at Dubai Investments Park, who has recovered from Covid-19. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I wore all the protective equipment and was very careful. I don’t know how I got it,” he said.

A surge in cases in early April caused concern among the medical community about how damaging the virus could be.

On March 30 there were only 41 daily cases, but by April 15 that daily figure had soared to 432.

Authorities moved swiftly and established drive-in testing centres, stepped up tracing, imposed night stay-home restrictions and launched public awareness campaigns about wearing masks.

As a healthy 40-year-old, Dr Singh was not in the high-risk category and as his family were back home in India there was no chance of passing on the virus to loved ones.

“The first few days ... were scary,” said Dr Singh, whose wife and two children aged 3 and 7 live in Punjab.

“Even as doctors we did not know much about the virus then so there was still a lot of nervousness.

The hardest thing is being away from family. I did not tell my wife for two months that I had the virus

Dr Davinder Singh

A 14-day quarantine at home gave Dr Singh precious time to study for medical exams he is due to take later this year.

“This coronavirus has not stopped me wanting to be a doctor,” said Dr Singh. “My job is very important, particularly at this time. I must continue doing this work.

“The hardest thing is being away from my family. I did not tell my wife or family for two months that I had the virus. I did not want them to worry.”

The doctor worried about her parents

Dr Iffat Sultana, an internal medicine consultant at NMC Royal Hospital, tested positive on April 19.

“A day before I had screened 38 patients and all had flulike symptoms,” the Pakistani resident said. “That was a typical day at that time.”

Dr Iffat Sultana is an Internal Medicine Specialist at the NMC Royal Hospital, DIP who recovered from coronavirus and carried on treating patients. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Iffat Sultana is an Internal Medicine Specialist at the NMC Royal Hospital, DIP who recovered from coronavirus and carried on treating patients. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dr Sultana, who is single and has been in the UAE for six years, had mild symptoms, including conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Several colleagues also tested positive at the same time.

“There was a lot of anxiety among all of us,” Dr Sultana said. “Doctors are human too so there was a lot of nervousness as soon as news of the virus came out of China.

“We all knew the UAE is such an international hub so it was inevitable it would come here.”

Dr Sultana, 40, spent three days in hospital, then isolated at home for a week.

“Both of my elderly parents are with me in Dubai so I was worried for them,” she said. “I knew 90 per cent of people made a full recovery but I did not want to tell them I had the virus as I did not want them to worry them.”

Dr Sultana has gone back to work and has treated many more patients. "Working for 15 years in this field I understand this is part of the life I have chosen,” she said.

“It is my duty to help society when it needs my profession most.”

The nurse who gave hope to her patients

Seema Mary Rajan, 39, a nurse at Al Zahra Hospital in Sharjah, tested positive in May.

“It was terrifying at first, I was so scared,” said the Indian mum of one. “But when I recovered and went back to work I saw the impact my recovery had on the patients.

“It helped them to stay positive.”

Seema Mary Rajan, a nurse at Medcare Hospital in Sharjah, suffers ongoing breathing problems and joint pain. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Seema Mary Rajan, a nurse at Medcare Hospital in Sharjah, suffers ongoing breathing problems and joint pain. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ms Rajan said her symptoms included a shortness of breath, feeling faint and vigorous coughing.

She added that working in an intensive care ward with Covid-19 victims had prepared her for the worst.

“The staff were taking precautions like taking extra vitamin C each day to keep our immune systems strong,” she said.

“I made a full recovery after a few weeks. I tell people it’s important to keep themselves healthy so they can be protected against the virus.”

The medic who could not see his elderly mother for months

A doctor at the same hospital said the most difficult aspect of testing positive for Covid-19 was not being able to see his mother for three months.

“She is 82 and I was worried about her health, especially because I work in the emergency department,” said Dr Mohamad Karima.

Dr Mohamad Karima, an emergency room doctor, at Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Mohamad Karima, an emergency room doctor, at Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I knew she could be affected at any time so I had sent her to my brother, who also lives in Sharjah, long before I tested positive.”

The Syrian father of five said testing positive had proved a difficult experience.

“Spending quarantine at home was no problem for me as I had no symptoms other than a shortness of breath and feeling weak, but I was worried about my family,” said Dr Karima, 56. “Thankfully they all tested negative.”

Updated: September 3, 2020 01:55 PM

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