Thu | Jan 20, 2022

Balancing life and livelihood

Daily conflict, depression and fear grip healthcare workers on COVID front line

Published:Sunday | September 12, 2021 | 12:05 AMMark Titus - Gleaner Writer

Brendan Wallace* has been a patient-care assistant in the public-health sector for more than a decade, and while he loves serving others, he is now trying to balance his sense of duty with the increasing risks that the dreaded COVID-19 brings.

Wallace tested positive for the virus last week, just hours after learning that some of his patients who had been admitted for other medical complications weeks ago also had the virus, but had not been not tested on admission.

“We do everything for the patients that they cannot do for themselves – bathe them, feed them, dispose of their waste … just about everything,” said Wallace, who has been in healthcare since 2008.

“We are upfront with the patient more than the doctors and nurses, but there is no system to protect us. It is only when situations get bad that we learn that our patients have the virus, too.”

He continued: “We watch the suffering, sometimes telling them that it will be fine when we know it is not. Sometimes you have to be a pastor or even marriage counsellor - just anything they want you to be. But now I have to be isolated from my family and just praying that I will not be numbered among the dead.”

A devoted Christian, Wallace was reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine, but the rapid rise in infection numbers caused him to change his mind, especially after seeing the spike in hospitalisations of mainly the unvaccinated.

His little daughter was also a major influence, desiring to protect her from this ugly experience.

WORKERS AT A DISADVANTAGE

For Wallace, the Government’s failure to provide adequate training for patient-care staff has placed the workers at a disadvantage as the demand for the services of healthcare professionals intensifies as well as administrators rejecting an appeal for a reserved space for front-line workers should they become ill.

According to Wallace, when a COVID-19-positive case is confirmed at his Type C health facility, the patient is immediately moved to another area until bed space is identified. While getting a bed might take several days, once inside the isolation ward, that COVID positive patient cannot leave.

“If there are 20 patients in one space, they have to do everything right there. Then a patient-care worker will dispose of the waste,” he shared.

“As you go around the compound you will come across doctors, nurses, porters, all manner of healthcare workers broken down in tears as those full of life yesterday become lifeless tomorrow. It is even worse when you have a colleague losing their life because you have to decide whose life is more valuable or whose life is worth more than a cylinder of oxygen.”

Wallace noted: “It is not encouraging to know that it could come down to this is. A lot of us are probably going to need to seek counselling because I will be at work and just want to leave but can’t because I have mouths to feed.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com