Ever since the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 infection exploded in China, medical workers have been battling the deadly infection at its speculated epicentre—Wuhan. According to reports, over 1,700 medical staff have contracted the infection, with nine succumbing to it already. However, highlighting their true plight is a gut-wrenching retracted letter by two Chinese nurses serving in Wuhan, Yan Zhen and Yingchun Zeng, which was published in The Lancet on Monday.
Yan Zhen of the Sun Yet-sen Memorial hospital, and Yingchun Zeng of the Guangzhou Medical hospital, who are currently providing medical care in Wuhan, narrated the punishing conditions under which they are laboring throughout to save lives. They appealed to their counterparts across the world to aid them in their fight against the disease.
Bringing the extreme working conditions and scarcity of essential equipment to the fore, they wrote: "The conditions and environment here in Wuhan are more difficult and extreme than we could ever have imagined. There is a severe shortage of protective equipment, such as N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, gowns, and gloves."
Physical distress and practical challenges beyond limits
Constant sterilization of equipment such as plastic googles has led to practical difficulties such as reduced visibility, and continuous washing of hands has given rise to painful rashes covering their hands, they narrated. Highlighting one such challenge faced during the use of the crucial N95 respirator, they highlighted, "As a result of wearing an N95 respirator for extended periods of time and layers of protective equipment, some nurses now have pressure ulcers on their ears and forehead."
These struggles are just some of the several that they have been facing since the outbreak. Pointing out to the physical discomfort and impeded mobility that several layers of protective gear cause, they said in the letter, "In order to save energy and the time it takes to put on and take off protective clothing, we avoid eating and drinking for 2 hours before entering the isolation ward."
Even simple tasks such as unpacking medical devices or serious tasks such as administering injections are made difficult by the four layers of gloves they wear inside, wrote the nurses. Adding to the backbreaking working conditions is the agonizing response of their bodies to the stress. Painting a painful picture, they add, "Often, nurses' mouths are covered in blisters. Some nurses have fainted due to hypoglycaemia and hypoxia."
While their bodies languish, so do their minds
Reflecting the psychological toll that is making their ordeal increasingly onerous, they wrote, "In addition to the physical exhaustion, we are also suffering psychologically. While we are professional nurses, we are also human. Like everyone else, we feel helplessness, anxiety, and fear. Experienced nurses occasionally find the time to comfort colleagues and try to relieve our anxiety."
The uncertainty about the duration for which they may have to serve adds to the fear of the nurses as they are the "highest-risk group for COVID-19 infection", the nurses said. Despite 14,000 voluntary medical workers from across China answering the call for help, the cause needs more helping hands emphasized the nurses.
Making a vehement plea to the international community of medical staff, they wrote, "But we need much more help. We are asking nurses and medical staff from countries around the world to come to China now, to help us in this battle."