Local health workers on the frontline of the almost unending COVID-19 pandemic have described the last two years as ‘heart-rending’ even as they continue to risk their lives daily in a bid to provide the best quality care to patients.
In recent weeks, Guyana has seen a decline in positive cases and hospitalisations and the once overflowing Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID patients has become almost empty.
Now, cases are on the rise again, but there are only a few patients in the COVID-19 ICU.
The News Room caught up with several doctors and nurses who work in the unit at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (COVID Hospital), and they said the battle has been nothing short of challenging, especially when patients die.
“With COVID-19, as you might have seen across the globe, we would have given quality care, but unfortunately even with all of that, we have lost patients and this has obviously affected our staff,” Dr. Tracey Bovell, the Doctor-in-Charge of the COVID Hospital said.
She explained that some doctors and nurses with long careers in the medical field have never had so many patients die under their care and it has taken a toll.
But even with all of the challenges faced, which include fear of contracting the virus, the long working hours and absenteeism, Dr. Bovell lauded her team’s effort at the hospital.
“It has been challenging, it has been heart-rending, but we have an awesome team and I am starting from the Georgetown Public Hospital COVID-19 Task Force, from that Task Force we were able to create protocols [and] policies that not only protect the patients but because those protocols and policies were used and integrated into all the other regions and at the Ocean View Facility, we were able to provide quality care for patients,” Dr. Bovell related.
Part of the job has now become standing in for dying patients’ relatives and loved ones and assisting these health workers struggling with mental health problems.
Dr. Bovell said to this end a permanent psychologist was employed at the COVID Hospital.
“We have the psychologist that was always available to us from the very beginning,” Dr. Bovell said.
She related that they would also try to motivate health workers by giving them time off with their families and have suggested outings in the past.
“Our schedule is good enough so they have quality family time,” Dr. Bovell said.
But it was not always like this. In the beginning, health workers had to stay away from their homes because of the fear of contracting the virus and infecting their family members.
As time went on and more research and information were provided about the virus coupled with the use of Personal Protective Equipment, that fear has somewhat diminished.
“We now having persons go home to their relatives, initially everybody was so scared that some persons were actually saying ‘I am willing to do this but I don’t want to be with my parents because I can give it to them,” Dr. Bovell said.
Guyana has been lucky enough that while many health workers contracted the virus, only a few died.
“You protect yourself, you put on your PPEs throughout your stay at work, but contracting COVID does not mean because I worked at the Infectious Diseases Hospital that is where I got COVID…we all have our personal lives,” Dr. Bovell stated.
It must be noted that even though several health workers got infected while on the job, this has never deterred them from returning to work when they would have recovered.
“We would have had nurses that would have contracted COVID, the good thing about it is that even though they would have contracted COVID, they never thought about leaving the hospital after that, they came back and they started working the same way they were working before,” the Department Supervisor at the Hospital, Sister Shannon Haynes said.
Dr. Christopher Hochan started working at the COVID Hospital from the time it was opened. The young doctor began his career when the pandemic started.
“That was actually my first job because I applied to the Ministry of Health for a job because I knew they would have needed people for the pandemic,” Dr. Hochan revealed.
He works in the ICU and for him, it was especially challenging during the ‘peak season’.
“We had a lot of deaths and it was not an easy thing to deal with, for the family and for us,” Dr. Hochan said.
Deborah Patterson has been a registered nurse for nine years and spent her entire career working at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
She willingly volunteered to work at the COVID Hospital; she explained that because people were afraid of the virus because they did not know what to expect but for her, she took comfort in knowing that the patients were COVID positive.
“For me I was safe than with the known, not working with other patients who were not COVID patients which were the unknown [because] for me I stand a greater chance of contracting COVID because I wasn’t aware of what they had,” Nurse Patterson who is now a Ward Manager related.
Alex Garnett spent the majority of his career working as an ICU nurse at the COVID Hospital. He was another eager volunteer who wanted to serve his country.
“I’ve been a COVID ICU nurse since day one and I love doing research and when COVID-19 started I knew sooner or later it would reach Guyana and I opted to be a part of the team,” Nurse Garnett said.
He explained that the was a bit fearful but he persevered because “the minute I entered the [ICU] I realised that I have to get rid of that fear because my patients were fearful, and I could not be fearful and my patients be fearful too.”
Another ICU nurse, Saudia Amin said despite all the challenges there is nothing that compares to seeing your patients recover from the dreaded virus.
“It is like the best feeling a nurse or a doctor can feel,” Amin said.