The “Astronauts” on the Covid-19 frontline

By Paula Martins, in News, Health · 29-01-2021 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

Many patients and few human resources - Health professionals are tired of this pandemic and the pressure it has put them under. However they never forget their role of providing the best care possible and highlight that hospitals remain safe places.

There are many reports of nurses who are finding themselves in a critical situation thanks to social media. These health care professionals complain of having facial wounds due to having to wear protective equipment for hours on end and of being unable to eat or go to the toilet for hours, but the main complaint always goes back to a basic lack of human resources.

“We try, as a team, to protect ourselves from the high levels of physical and mental wear and tear we are subjected to. We are all on a mission, and if someone goes down then we are compromising others. And already there are so few of us! Long shifts, without breaks -due to a lack of human resources-, many hours soaked in sweat, without eating, drinking or going to the toilet. The sensation of shortness of breath is constant under protective equipment. We often have to slow down to face the respiratory effort and be able to think”, said Rui, a nurse on Coronavirus frontline in Coimbra to The Portugal News.

“Patients are fragile, desolate, frightened to see roommates leave so quickly and in a cold way due to the characteristics of the infection, they are not even allowed the comfort of a visit”, he tells us.

However, these “astronauts” as he refers to them, try to do their best everyday to comfort their patients. “We, “astronauts”, are inhibited by the equipment we have to wear in being able to give the comfort and empathy patients deserve. We often cannot even give them a hand of comfort during their last breath”, he said.

Joana is also a nurse and is currently in prophylactic isolation after having had contact with her boyfriend, who shares the same profession and recently tested positive for the coronavirus. She believes that human resources have not grown in proportion to the increase in the number of patients. “Regarding my service, with the increase in the number of cases, I saw my team decrease day by day. Now, as we are in isolation like so many others who have also contracted the virus while complying with their duty”.

For this reason, “days off, started to become less and less, because we have colleagues who are infected and missing but will still have to cover the shifts”, a frontline nurse in Coimbra told The Portugal News

Not only nurses and doctors are needed. “The reinforcement of human resources should also be focused on non-hospital personnel, such as security guards, cleaning and hospital porters”, pointed out Joana.

Additionally, Rui also regrets the policy for hiring and valuing human resources that doesn’t exist. “Precarious contracts, without prospects, which are an insult to the value of the most important element of the institutions – those who work there”, he said.

There is a subject that all nurses speak in one voice about: “People should not stop going to hospitals because they are afraid of contracting Covid-19”, reinforcing the idea that hospitals are safe places.

“At this time, many people delay going to the Hospital which leads to the progressive worsening of their condition and when they finally go, their condition is often irreparably worse. There are growing reports from several health professionals about the morbidity that will grow due to the postponement and detection of various conditions”, said one of the nurses.

Following the same line of thought, Rui says: “hospitals are safe places, with cleaning protocols, infection control and well-defined circuits. The probability of being infected, compared to other places - public transport, for example -, is incomparably lower”.

Further on in the south of the country, Filipe Brito, a nurse in the first intensive care unit (ICU) in Faro Hospital said: “I think that the management of the hospital have been making the best decisions possible. The teams have been reinforced in terms of human resources, with more nurses”, adding that “I do not agree with that view that the government did not do anything well, I disagree because nobody in the world was prepared for this, therefore, we are also running a little behind”.

Covid care in Faro hospital
When infected patients come to the hospital they “are screened in a pavilion ahead of the hospital, those who need hospitalisation go to specific ward and those who need intensive care have direct entry to the ICU. We had an open unit; we have already opened the second and are currently on the way to the third. This is all part of the contingency plan”, said Filipe Brito.

“Then in relation to the equipment we are also supplied, we had ventilators that arrived in the first wave”, he said while confirming that there is no shortage of material for now, in Faro.

It has been reported that in some hospitals, health professionals have already had to start choosing between those who live and those who die due to a lack of resources but Filipe Brito guarantees that this has never happened in Faro hospital.

“This is not happening in Faro. Choosing between who lives and who dies is a simplistic approach, intensive care is the hospital of the hospital, critical patients are only admitted to intensive care if they are able to go through that phase and there are criteria for admitting patients, and Covid-19 patients are also like that. Doctors select. You don’t select between who lives and who dies in hospitals, you just select who receives more resources. Hospital resources are finite”, he concluded.



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