The Coronavirus Pandemic has taken a toll on all aspects of human life, affecting not only the economic sector, but also the public and health sector as well. We may be sitting in our homes protecting ourselves from the virus but there are many valiant heroes in the world who are helping fight the virus by risking their lives and saving others; and the Medical Personnel’s are on top of the list. The Khojanews team got in touch with Dr. Ali Khatau, a 25-year-old medical doctor working in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and the Chief Medical Officer for LyfPlus Limited, to interview him about his experience as a frontline doctor during a pandemic.
When did you start your Medical Practice?
After graduating from Medical school, in November 2019 I started working as a medical doctor at one of the biggest hospitals in Tanzania. My journey so far has been quite an experience, seeing a number of different cases from different specialties.
Do you recall your first encounter with a Covid-19 patient?
During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, somewhere around mid-April, I was practicing at the internal medicine ward and we admitted a patient called Mohammed. (Patient name has been changed to maintain patient confidentiality). Mohammed was a 25-year old who weighed around 100kgs and had a single complain of general body weakness. After extensive blood workups and a chest X-ray which was normal, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus. However, the next morning he developed fever and his blood oxygen levels suddenly started to drop after which we had to put him on oxygen support to which he responded well. The same evening, his blood oxygen levels dropped further and we had to increase the amount of oxygen that was being given to him. At this point, he was a strong suspect for Covid-19 and we transferred him to an isolation ward specifically for Covid-19 patients. He eventually tested positive for Covid-19 after 2 days. That was my first experience dealing with a Covid patient.
What were the precautions undertaken by you, as a Doctor?
I was quite concerned about being infected since I spent around 15 minutes doing an ECG on him but I had worn all necessary PPEs. However, I felt it would be wiser to move away from my family home to reduce the risk of exposure to them, so I moved to a small apartment since then.
How would you describe your experience of working in a Covid-19 ward?
My colleagues and I had regular shifts at the Covid wards which contained confirmed Covid-19 patients in one ward, suspected Covid-19 patients in the other and an isolated Intensive care unit (ICU) for the more severe cases. The initial few weeks were very exhausting as the wards were pretty full with no extra beds to take in more admissions. It was also the month of Ramadan and many of us had to do 12-hour shifts caring for 20+ patients while fasting.
With help from other medical professionals like nurses, health attendants and specialists, we were responsible for full care including administering medications, drawing blood samples for investigations to checking on patients at least twice a day, every day. Some of us even took nasopharyngeal swabs samples for the confirmatory Covid-19 test which was quite an experience for us.
My time in the ICU was also quite an experience, as we dealt with patients who had severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and required up to 60 litres of oxygen per minute. I came to realise that even though Covid is more fatal in the elderly with comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension compared to young, healthy adults, there are still fatalities and severe cases among young, healthy people and there are also quite a few elderly with comorbidities who survived.
What was the most challenging aspect of the situation for you and your team?
We had quite a few Covid cases among the healthcare personnel working in the hospital due to the repeated regular exposure to Covid positive patients. A few Medical Officers, Master’s Degree students and nurses also ended up testing positive for Covid and had to be isolated for a few weeks with medication.
Perhaps, one of the most heart breaking aspects of this whole ordeal was how we would have to isolate patients away from their loved ones without the assurance that they will make it out alive. In some cases, the last time the patients saw their loved ones was just before admission, they never got a chance to speak to the families again.
What are your thoughts about the future with Covid-19?
Thinking about life after Covid, there is always the possibility that the virus is here to stay. We might never eradicate it fully, but might just end up seeing it as a normal disease like any other. An example of this is HIV/AIDS which caused havoc when it started and is now seen as any other disease with specific treatment protocols in place. In all, the past few weeks have been extremely trying times for all of us especially health care professionals working on the frontline with the constant risk of infection, dealing with deaths and severely ill patients.
We salute to all the healthcare personnel worldwide for their relentless services on the front lines!