‘I bawled for two hours. I wanted to mash-up everything in the house.’
These poignant words from a mother who lost an adult child have haunted me this week. The young woman had been discharged from one of our hospitals after being warded for approximately two weeks.
Five patients were released at the same time, allegedly to create space. She was not a Covid-19 patient. The next morning, she was rushed to another hospital and died from a heart attack.
Later that same day, I spoke with the adult child of a Covid-19 patient about his parent’s condition. It was after three days without an update since being told that the situation had worsened.
‘Can you imagine how stressed I am? When I called, I got bouffed from the person who answered!’
His mother died within five hours of our conversation. Families are under strain while the hospitals creak under the load of Covid-19 demands.
Our doctors are stressed. A recent local study found high levels of anxiety, stress and depression (Nayak et al, 2021). The slog is relentless. The fear that they could carry home an infection plagues them. Sleep-deprived, they go home like zombies. All the clapping from 2020 has died out.
How can they feel like heroes when people they care for are dying or not recovering quickly? How do they feel when they have to tell a family that their parent or sibling has died? How do they deal with the screams of despair?
Which of them signed up to play God in allocating time and resources among their patients? How are their families holding up in this time of great distress?
The leaders that we see on television are trustworthy, but how much more can we expect from them?
We need to remove the fiction of a parallel system. The entire system is strained; management, not only medical, decisions are required. There is a need for reconceptualising the way we go forward.
According to the maps released by the Ministry of Health this week, our food manufacturing and distribution chains are significantly at risk. Business leaders are not public health professionals, nor do they grasp the significance of data efficiently.
Our health professionals need to speak about behavioural changes in these sectors. Creating changes requires the workers in the factories and supermarket aisles to understand the risks. By so doing, there will be a knock-on effect on the adoption of safe practices in their home communities.
The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association and the Supermarket Association are natural allies for health education and a directed vaccination drive.
In September 2020, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said: ‘This is our World War 1 and World War II… the virus is showing no sign of going away.’
In war, a nation summons its reservists. There is no time for ‘fighting alone or winning alone’. As our health leaders, they have to face the truth, even when it is ugly. All our sectors, with their unique skills, must be co-opted. That is the only way we can succeed in this battle.
Having gone the step of inviting help for the vaccination drive, the ministry has to recruit support for the hospitals. Providing phone and other communication support for the families can be done by retired medical professionals or nurses.
Empathy is the critical criteria to deliver dignity to our families. It is a wonderful opportunity for the large telecommunication service providers to set up a functioning system that allows families to have peace of mind.
Ensuring that food is prepared and delivered on a timely basis is a logistical task. This move would boost the resilience levels of both medical staff and patients and can be farmed out.
Red Cross volunteers and other non-governmental organisations can deliver non-medical care for patients, such as help in maintaining basic hygiene standards. Even giving a patient a glass of water saves a nurse a headache and restores the patient.
We have to re-imagine national collaboration. We cannot afford to fail the country at this time. There is no shame in asking for and taking the help.
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