Life inside locked down Da Nang Hospital, Covid-19 hotspot
When they were called to the hospital on Sunday, Thai Thu Ha’s husband quickly packed some clothing for the pregnant woman.
The conversation between them was short when he drove her to the hospital, where Ha works at the Heart Center. They were both anxious and wished each other safety.
Shortly after the doctors and medical staff entered the hospital, their samples were taken for testing.
They then divided themselves into two groups, and a third of them went to quarantine where they would remain for five days while the rest started working.
The hospital has announced it would no longer take in patients unless it was an emergency, but has around 4,000 patients and their family members inside.
Many people at Da Nang Hospital could not sleep on the first night as phones kept buzzing with messages from concerned loved ones.
“It was the most memorable night in our medical career so far,” Ha said.
The hospital workers were caught off guard by the lockdown orders, and no one was mentally prepared to be away from their family.
Ha said: “On the first night of the lockdown there were mothers crying because they missed their babies and could not breastfeed them. Children missing their parents kept calling them up and asked when they would come home. Many couples work in the hospital and have to rely on their parents to take care of their children.”
Da Nang Hospital has been linked to at least 72 Covid-19 cases since community transmission resurfaced in Vietnam last Saturday.
Da Nang City has reported 91 cases, while 25 other cases have been reported the nearby Quang Nam and Quang Ngai Provinces, the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, Hanoi and HCMC, all linked to Da Nang.
Authorities have not identified the source of the new wave of infection, which has seen the first three deaths due to the coronavirus in Vietnam.
At midnight on Tuesday, besides Da Nang Hospital, Hospital C and the Da Nang Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital were also locked down following confirmation they had had Covid-19 patients inside.
Family members could no longer care for or bring things to inpatients and had to depend on security guards for the delivery.
Whenever new cases were identified, doctors and other medical staff have had to check their own work schedule to see if they were possibly exposed.
One of Ha’s team members has tested positive for the coronavirus.
She said: “When they received the [positive] test result, they were not as worried about themselves as they were about their parents and others they had come into contact with, and about the fact their neighbors might stigmatize them.”
She hoped people would not look down on those associated with the hospital.
Some of the staff are assigned to take care of patients and others to receive aid delivery, deliver meals and keep track of patients’ records.
Under the personal protective equipment, glasses and plastic face mask, it is hard for them to identify each other and so they have their names written on the back.
An employee at Da Nang Hospital with his name written on the back of his protective suit. Photo by Thu Ha
Dr. Pham Minh An, 28, a staff at the Department of Intensive Care Unit – Poison Control, said: “Because of work pressure, sometimes we don’t have enough energy to talk to each other.”
Dr Pham Thi Hong, deputy director of the city’s 115 Emergency Center, said she has not slept well for days and lost a few kilograms since the phone has never stopped ringing. 115 is a national hotline.
Hong said: “People at the center try to eat and sleep in between the constant emergencies. Many have to wear diapers.”
She said this time it has been much more challenging than in March, when the city received several patients linked to overseas arrivals, but her staff are “determined to not give up on any case.”
“Many emergency personnel have volunteered to enter the locked down hospital to support doctors. In the case of couples working at the center, they have to split their time so that one can stay at home to look after the children.”
She sympathizes most with a worker at her center whose husband is a soldier also working on the frontline.
Ngo Thi Kim Yen, director of the city’s Department of Health, said: “Da Nang health workers do not have a clear day or night timeline; they are always on standby. We encourage each other.”
The department of intensive care unit – poison control at Da Nang Hospital where An works was exposed to three Covid-19 patients on Monday, all nurses. Everyone in the department has not met each other since and communicated via a group chat.
Trang, An’s wife, reminds him to be mindful of his diet since he is trying to lose weight. After work she comes by the hospital to give him a blanket and food though he has everything he needs.
Ha said the staff try not to skip meals and take care of themselves since they know people outside worry greatly for them.
They do not need beds to sleep, she said.
“We use whatever we have. Some people lay mats on the floor, some line up cardboard boxes, some sleep on chairs, while others share hospital beds.”
On Wednesday morning An’s department had 12 confirmed cases, nine of them patients and the rest their relatives.
But the young doctor remains optimistic that the disease can be conquered if everyone works together.
Ha sent a message to people, saying, “Everyone, please stay at home for us.”