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Frontline doctors recall the three-month fight against COVID-19

Happy and relieved. That’s how Dr Pham Ngoc Thach, director of the Hanoi-based National Hospital of Tropical Diseases, feels after three months on the frontline battling in the war against COVID-19.

A doctor walks in the quarantine area at the Hanoi-based National Hospital of Tropical Diseases, one of the frontline hospitals in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam. Photo

Dr Thach is one of thousands of dedicated medical professionals defending Vietnam against the coronavirus.

For more than 110 days, thanks to the commitment of the healthcare staff, these men and women have overcome challenge after challenge. In some cases they have been forced to live 24/7 at various hospitals under quarantine, unable to go home and see their families.

Life has sure been tough, but now as the light at the end of the tunnel begins to shine that little bit brighter, they can see their efforts paying off for the good of the nation.

“At present, there are only 20 patients being treated out of 157 COVID-19 infected cases,” he said. “The rest have all recovered.

“Doctors can now take turns to go home for a rest, but they are always ready for the next fight against the pandemic.”

It was the second day of the Tet holiday when the alarm bells began to ring for Thach when a worker returning from China’s Wuhan City tested positive.

In the days that followed there was another. Then another. And another.

From his years of medical experience, Thach and his colleagues knew the war was about to begin.

Little information was known about the disease, but that didn’t stop him and his colleagues starting the unenviable task of finding out as much as they could.

A decision was made to use conventional antibiotics and antipyretics, a drug used to treat HIV, for the first five patients. 

The tide, it seemed, had been stemmed, but only for the time being as more challenges were soon to come.

At the beginning of March, patient 17 came back to Hanoi from Europe, bringing with her COVID-19. This was the changing point for Thach. The invasion of the virus had begun in the capital city.

“It was then the real battle began,” he said. “We were testing hundreds of people every day and patients with complicated illnesses were testing positive.”

Nationwide the invasion was getting stronger. A British pilot, who still remains in a critical condition in HCM City today, tested positive. Another Brit with diabetes and hypertension also tested positive, and an elderly woman connected to patient 17 contracted the disease.

She spent nine days in intensive care critically ill and suffered multiple heart attacks.

Only recently as she continues her rehabilitation, she has talked about her relief after showing immense signs of improvement. She has also been given the all-clear from COVID-19.

Dr Pham Ngoc Thach, director of the Hanoi-based National Hospital of Tropical Diseases. Photo

Dr Dong Si Khiem, deputy head of the hospital’s Emergency Department, said she could have suffered brain damage or even died if she was not rescued in time.

March was another extremely testing time for Dr Thach and his colleagues. This was the month two doctors at the hospital discovered they were infected, adding even more strain on already stressed out staff.

Around the world doctors, nurses and many other frontline workers had put their lives on the line only to succumb to the disease.

And while every life matters, Thach has no intention of seeing one of his colleagues lose their lives to coronavirus. And through a combination of hard work and dedication, that has not happened on home soil.

Thach and Khiem both agree Vietnam is far from out of the woods. They know COVID-19 could strike, and strike hard, at any time.

But they can both sleep that little bit easier these days knowing they are backed by an amazing frontline packed full of dedicated staff ready and willing to continue the fight whenever the need arises.  VNS

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