COVID-19: Helping strangers lying in a bed, nurses make the ultimate sacrifices, but face discrimination


By Bibi Khatoon

Esofa Piggot has been sacrificing time away from his wife and two children –one just two months old –to work at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where the most severe cases of the illness are dealt with.

Piggot, along with some other nurses and doctors, have chosen to live in government staff facilities, instead of going home.

“…knowing how deadly this pandemic is… they’re actually stepping up and working. And they’re not working because their mothers and their fathers [are there]. They’re coming because there’s a stranger lying on a bed that needs care,” he told the News Room in an interview this week.

Piggot is a nurse and spirometry technician, involved in lung function testing. He is also an emergency medical responder, a midwife and the most senior nurse for his unit. Therefore, when the job came for him to head the batch of nurses working at the COVID-ICU, it was not much of a choice.

“…it comes with the territory,” he told the News Room in a recent interview.

Nurse Esofa Piggot

Nevertheless, he said “walking into an infectious unit like that, not knowing or not understanding everything that goes with it, it is challenging.”

There are 12 nurses who have been assigned to the unit along with three teams of four doctors. There they are provided with protective gears –Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – to guard them from the infectious disease.

Nurses and healthcare workers have been lauded as “heroes” across the globe as they are on the frontline fighting a pandemic, but this team of nurses have had their job made worse as a result of discrimination from the public.

Piggot said several nurses have complained of facing discrimination when they attempt to use public transportation or visit supermarkets. He noted that it is harder for those whose profession is well-known in their communities.

“I’ve heard stories from nurses getting difficulty in getting transportation to get here especially if they’re well-known in their village where they’re living. Even if they try to change their uniform to come out casually –it is a stigma being attached not only to the nurses but the doctors as well as the auxiliary staff,” he told the News Room.

Piggott said he is spared such experiences since he has his own transportation but even he had a similar experience recently.

It was during his visit to a supermarket, where he would usually go with casual clothing, when he ended up in a rush and had on his uniform.

“The workers there, they stigmatized me in the way the looking at me…it made me feel different,” he said.

In this regard, Piggot is appealing to citizens to help nurses instead of discriminating against them because without them, the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic will be lost.

“I’m asking john public to help a nurse,” he said.

Piggot suggested that persons can assist in transporting health workers to their place of employment as some are forced to walk from the bus park to the GPHC.

“Take the necessary precautions – wipe your car, Lysol your car, even if you want to put a little bit of plastic as protection, there is nothing wrong with that; but do not discriminate against that person because it is unfair for nurses to be walking from the park right now to come to work,” he said.

“Are we going to wait until our relatives come (in the unit) to plead with doctors and nurses for help?” he questioned.

The News Room has also learnt that some taxis have also reduced or stopped visits to the GPHC following the first COVID-19 case on March 11.

Despite the challenges, Piggot lauded the work of his colleagues noting that the absenteeism rate is very low.

The COVID-19 ICU is sealed off from the rest of the GPHC.

As of April 9, Minister of Health Volda Lawrence reported that there are four persons at the ICU of which one is critical.

Guyana has so far confirmed 37 positive cases and six deaths from related complications.

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