(Continued from Infected I)
The nurse looks at Julius sympathetically. She can understand his frustration, and the truth is, she is also frustrated. It puts her and her colleagues in awkward situations when they see patients die as they watch helplessly.
She quickly calls the doctor on call, even though she knows there is nothing she (the doctor) can do for this woman. The doctor on call is Dr. Lucy Esita. Since childhood, Lucy had always wanted to be a doctor, and to date she takes her job very seriously. To her, human life is precious, and a doctor’s job is to do everything humanly possible to preserve it.
She comes to the casualty area running. She had been doing ward rounds when the nurse paged her.
“What is wrong with her?” she asks the nurse.
“She has a high fever and she is having trouble breathing. The husband says that she had been complaining of a headache earlier. He says that they went to a clinic earlier and she tested positive for malaria, although he is convinced that she is positive for COVID-19.”
“We will put her in the ICU and get her oxygen. We will run the malaria test again when her life is out of immediate danger. But I tend to agree with the husband. Malaria hardly affects the respiratory system. Call the COVID unit. Tell them that we are taking a suspected COVID-19 patient to the ICU.”
“You haven’t seen the memo?”
“The hospital director sent a memo earlier in the day saying we should turn away COVID patients because we do not have oxygen or ICU beds. He said we should send suspected COVID cases to Beeline and Meke Mission.”
“This woman cannot make it to Beeline, leave alone Meke Mission. And I know for a fact that we have two ICU beds and at least two oxygen tanks. We are admitting this woman here.”
“I hear those two are being reserved for the Governor and his family.”
“Is the Governor critically ill?”
“Is any member of his family critically ill?”
“None that I have heard.”
“Then we are taking this woman to one of those beds.”
“We could be fired, doctor.”
“Don’t worry Edna, I am not going to put your job at risk. I am going to take full responsibility for whatever happens.”
“There is another problem doctor. We do not have PPEs.”
“What are those people working in the COVID wing using?”
“They are recycling the ones that were issued to them last month.”
“But I thought we got a donation of PPEs from the Association of Shava Business People?”
“Yea, I heard so too but no one knows where they went.”
“Listen, Edna. Get me gloves and another mask. I am taking this woman there myself.”
“The COVID unit will not let you in, and the technicians won’t help you set up the oxygen.”
“Let them dare to stop me. I do not need any technicians. I will set up the apparatus myself. Just give me a fresh mask and a pair of gloves.”
Julius’ hopes rise as he sees the doctor hold an intense discussion with the nurse. He cannot hear what they are saying, but from they keep glancing at Grace, he knows they are discussing her. Grace’s situation is becoming worse. Finally, after talking to the nurse for about three minutes, the doctor puts on a surgical mask and a pair of surgical gloves. Then she approaches him.
“Hello Julius. My name is Dr. Lucy Esita. I am the doctor on call tonight. The nurse has informed me about your wife’s case. I am going to admit her.”
“The nurse told me that this hospital doesn’t have the capacity to handle suspected COVID cases.”
“Yea, that is what the hospital director told her to tell you and everyone else. It is not her fault. But don’t worry, I will take care of your wife. Do you think you can help me carry her? I would have asked the nurse to help me but I don’t want to get her into trouble.”
Julius takes Grace in his arms and follows the doctor to the ICU unit. It is a large hall with ten beds, all evenly spaced from each other. Each bed has sophisticated looking machines around it. Eight of the beds are occupied.
“There two vacant beds here,” Julius whispers.
“We will talk when we get out of here.”
Under the direction of the doctor, Julius places his wife on one of the two empty beds. Lucy tucks her in then places a gas mask and a number of tubes on her.
“You can’t use that bed doctor,” a panicky nurse says, coming from the nursing station. He was probably dozing when they came in.
“Orders from above. Didn’t you see the memo?”
“I don’t care about memos, nurse. I have a dying patient and I won’t deny her treatment just because some memo said I should. Now get me a dose of paracetamol for this patient,” she tells the nurse, then turns to Julius. “I will give your wife paracetamol for her fever. I will also give her something to ease congestion in her lungs then you and I will go back to the admissions office so that we can fill the necessary forms. I will also need you to fill me in on her medical history. The nurses here will take samples and take them to the lab so that tests can be done, including a COVID test and a repeat malaria test.”
“Does your wife suffer from any chronic illness?” Lucy asks Julius. They are back in the admissions office.
“Yes, she has asthma.”
“No. Before today, she has actually been very healthy. She hasn’t had an asthmatic attack in years.”
“Alright, I think that should be it for now. I will need you to go home and rest now. Come back tomorrow so that we can test you as well, then after that you can go and self-isolate at home as we wait for the results. Since you are asymptomatic, there is no reason why you should be isolated here.”
“Actually doctor, I am not sure whether it is my imagination playing on my mind, but I think I am beginning to get a sore throat. And I have a slight headache. But maybe it is because of staying out here in the cold.”
“We will take no chances. Let me take your temperature.”
She goes to an adjacent room and gets a thermo-gun. Julius’ temperature is 39.5.
“I am sorry Julius, but I will have to admit you to the isolation center.”
“I am finding is strange that you have two vacant ICU beds and two isolation rooms yet nurse Edna had initially told me that this hospital doesn’t have the capacity to take care of COVID patients. Why would the hospital director deny services to those who need them?”
“From what I hear, he is under instructions from the Governor to reserve two spaces in the ICU and two spaces in the isolation center just in case the Governor or members of his family fall sick. I will probably be fired tomorrow for admitting you and your wife. But I really don’t care. Patients always come first for me.”
“I am grateful doctor, and if there is anything I can do to save your job, let me know. By the way, why don’t you have the full PPE attire?”
“There are no PPEs in this hospital, Julius. I had a choice of either attending to your wife and risking my life, or looking out for myself and risking your wife’s life. The choice was easy for me. Your wife is critically ill, while I am not. Saving her life was a priority.”
“Thank you doctor. But I am a member of the Association of Shava Business People and I think we donated PPEs to this hospital and Meke Mission. We figured Beeline can afford to take care of its medical staff.”
“I remember we were very excited when we heard about your donation. But we have never seen them. Even the medics who regularly work with COVID patients have been recycling old ones.”
“That is actually criminal. I will call our chairperson tomorrow and let him know.”
Lucy panics as she rushes to the ICU unit. She has just been paged by one of the nurses in the unit. She tried to hide her panic from Julius as she left his room, but she has a feeling that the page has something to do with his wife and not the other eight patients in the ICU unit.
Lucy ignores the nurses as she runs the last few steps to Grace’s side. She finds the later struggling weakly. Then Grace lies still. Lucy checks her pulse. Still unbelieving, she places her stethoscope on Grace’s chest. There is a lump on her throat as she looks at her watch.
“Time of death, 0315hrs,” she says and walks away, without another word to the nurses.
Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/candle-light-candlelight-flame-2038736/
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