Wahida Ghalayini is the head of the nursing department located on the third floor of the hospital which was "set up within 24 hours" to receive patients infected with the new coronavirus.
"The nursing team did not hesitate for a second when asked if they agreed to be assigned to this floor,” she told L’Orient-Le Jour. “They did it because they firmly believe in their mission.”
Ghalayini explained that this floor is completely isolated from the hospital, with an entrance to the emergency room and two separate elevators. "The doors are closed to prevent anyone except the medical team from getting inside," she said. “Within twenty four hours, we created an operating room, another for dialysis, a laboratory, a storeroom for drugs, medical supplies and equipment and we also equipped it with a radiology center and a CT scanner. This floor became independent and completely isolated from the rest of the hospital. "
The floor has four wings with sixteen rooms each, in addition to an intensive care unit consisting of eight negative pressure rooms and an isolation department with four negative pressure rooms. "In these rooms, the air is filtered and its pressure is lower than outside. As a result, viruses are blocked in there. In this floor, prevention measures are strict."
"Everything is disposable, even the meal trays and cutlery, to avoid any contact with the staff," explained Ghalayini. "Not a single piece of paper comes out of this floor, not even the written instructions given to the patients who instead take pictures of them using their mobile phones."
The same applies to the administrative formalities which are done over the phone. "We don't want to risk spreading the virus out of the floor."
"In addition, patients in quarantine do not wear a white coat, but their own clothes, which we wash on site, in line with well-defined criteria, after putting them in water-soluble bags," Ghalayini said. " As for staff members, they were exempted from signing their timesheets, but they are only allowed to leave the floor after taking a shower and changing their clothes. "
Lack of recognition
Visitation is not allowed and law enforcement officers are posted at the entrance of the department "to prevent intruders from coming in." To mitigate as much as possible the effects of isolation on the patients, a television set has been installed in each of the bedrooms, with Internet connection all day long, to allow them stay in contact with their families. "A nurse is giving them advice and recommendations. We are also providing psychological support for the patients , as well as the nursing staff, knowing the stressful situation they are facing," Ghalayini explained.
The nursing team is also facing great challenges. Although Ghalayini deals more with administrative matters and less with patients, she was unable to visit her mother since the coronavirus outbreak. She simply does not want to take the risk of transmitting the virus to her, "even though we are taking all the necessary precautions."
Ghalayini and her doctor husband are no longer receiving visitors and also are avoiding going out. To change their mood, they take "a short drive and then quickly go back home." Many nurses haven't been able to return to their homes since the virus outbreak and have chosen to stay at the hospital. "Despite all this, people still find a way to harass us. When they come across us, some people mock us saying, 'You corona people, stay away'." said Ghalayini. "It is annoying. "
Nurses have also to handle the mood of the patients, and some are too demanding; not to mention the already stressful working conditions. "We have to work long hours," said Ghalayini. "The coveralls and protective gear we wear are bulky and are made of nylon. It is still winter time and so we are managing. But with the summer season approaching, they will be an additional source of heat. Even air conditioning will not help us bear them." Moreover, it takes them more than half an hour to remove their protective suits. "We do so under the supervision of a third person who makes sure we touch nothing. So far, none of the team has contracted the virus and this is a great achievement," Ghalayini said.
The biggest challenge and source of stress, she noted, remains "the criticisms we are facing, despite all the efforts we are exerting." "We have managed to prepare this hospital in just 24 hours so we can treat the coronavirus patients. But since the start of the epidemic, we are only hearing negative comments," she said. Sad enough since they were "the first and only ones to lead the fight against this epidemic."
"We are the first point of contact with the patients. We are caring for them with love, ethics and conscience," Ghalayni said. Added to this is the "condescending attitude towards the nurses; many of whom are mothers who have refrained from going to their homes to stay at the patients’ bedside."
With Lebanon suffering from shortage of nurses, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital nurses work overtime and take care of more patients, with all the physical and mental effort that entails. "Despite this, no one appreciates our work. Even more, our rights are being ignored at a time the hospital cannot operate without us," Ghalayini concluded.
(This article was originally published in Frecn in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 12 of march)