Corona Virus: A special report on how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life – and death – as we know it.
Dubai: The first case of coronavirus in the UAE was announced on January 29, 2020. That’s around three-and-a-half months ago. Time flies, you would ordinarily be inclined to think. But these are extraordinary times.
Ever since the beastly virus spread its ugly tentacles, everything we’ve been thinking, saying or doing has revolved around COVID-19. But beyond the general fatigue that we’re all beginning to feel, there is no denying that life as we know it – why, even death – has changed forever.
Gasping patients gone without a goodbye; family members watching funerals of loved ones on Facebook; infected couples having to leave young children in the care of others; tables turning on doctors and nurses … COVID’s trying tales are heart-wrenching.
But the unimaginable trauma notwithstanding, there are those who are counting their blessings too, whether it’s a new mum beating the virus with her just-born; a patient coming off the ventilator after 20 days; or the UAE’s health care community clocking record testing rates and its researchers achieving a treatment breakthrough.
A look at the trials, tribulations and triumphs of UAE residents since the COVID-19 combat began:
The ultimate trial
It’s bad enough to lose a loved one, but not being able to bid goodbye takes away even the sense of closure.THE WAY IT ISGlobal protocols on heath safety, hygiene and social distancing stipulate that coronavirus patients must get treated in isolation, and even depart alone.
Global protocols on heath safety, hygiene and social distancing stipulate that coronavirus patients must get treated in isolation, and even depart alone, so one has no choice but to let go.
When Bangladeshi expat Tofail Alam, 51, passed away in Abu Dhabi last week, his wife Nausheen told Gulf News her husband went to see a doctor at a hospital in March because he had a bad cold.
“But he was admitted the same day and transferred to a public hospital for treatment. We lost the pillar of our family to the coronavirus pandemic. It is so devastating that I simply have no words.”
A friend who tried to contact Alam in hospital said, “The calls never went through. So all I could do was ask the nurses about his condition.” Somewhere along the line, he learnt that the father of two was no more.
Funeral on Facebook
Even in non-coronavirus cases, flight suspensions in recent times have meant that some residents haven’t been able to attend funerals of loved ones in other countries.
Among them: A Keralite family in the UAE who watched the funeral of their cancer-stricken son Jeuel G. Jomay, a Grade 10 student at a Sharjah school, on Facebook on April 16. They could not accompany his body when it was flown to native Kerala under lockdown.
Jeuel’s funeral ceremony back home began at 4am in the UAE. His cousin told Gulf News her family and Jeuel’s family watched the five-hour ceremony on Facebook while the St Mary’s Church in Sharjah provided a link to the YouTube livestreaming on its website for members here to watch the service.
“None of the flights was getting sanctioned soon. Jeuel’s father wanted to fly with him. But that was not possible,” the cousin told Gulf News at the time.
Similarly, on April 17, Dubai-based Pakistani expat Ghulam Mustafa Awan watched the funeral of his father Malik Nazir Ahmad on video. Ahmad had died of a heart and lung condition.
“I tried everything, but I couldn’t go and see the face of my father one last time,” said Awan.
I tried everything, but I couldn’t go and see the face of my father one last time.
– Ghulam Mustafa Awan
In both cases, COVID-19-related restrictions prevented their travel.
Telling a young COVID-19 mother of three that her husband, also a coronavirus patient, has passed on can by no means be easy.
But that is precisely what Dr Samara Khatib, Consultant Family Medicine and team lead at the COVID-19 ward at Mediclinic Parkview Hospital in Dubai, was tasked to do recently.
“We had to take the help of mental health professionals to break the tragic news to the patient, who is in her 30s,” said the American doctor of Syrian origin. “It shook us as healthcare workers.”
We had to take the help of mental health professionals to break the tragic news (that her husband had died) to the patient, who is in her 30s.
– Dr Samara Khatib
Coronavirus has struck other couples too in the UAE, which has meant they have had to leave their children in the care of others.
Dubai-based Suman Manning, who tested positive along with her triathlete husband Shane Manning, said her sister took care of her triplets during the ordeal.
Although she showed no symptoms, she had to isolate herself and tell her kids and sister to keep away from her, while her husband was recovering in hospital.
“It was a particularly trying time as the kids had just started the first week of remote learning and needed some kind of support,” she told Gulf News earlier.
‘We’re not invincible’
Working on the frontlines in the face of an invisible and yet-to-be-conquered virus, doctors and nurses are probably at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19.
Ask Reem Yousef, who works as an emergency nurse manager at the Emirates Specialty Hospital in Dubai.
It is really hard. I am literally wearing my heart on my sleeve for my little one, Relle.
– Reem Yousef
“The Lebanese mum, who is still breastfeeding her nine-month-old baby, told Gulf News: “It is really hard. I am literally wearing my heart on my sleeve for my little one, Relle.
Yes, there is fear of contracting COVID-19 as we work 12-15 hours a day for five days. We try our best to manage. When I go back home, I take utmost care to completely sterilize myself before I hold my baby in my arms again.”
Dr Khatib said she tests herself for the virus at least once a month. “I am also very particular about hygiene. It’s almost as if I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
There is no respite on the front line and when we see our own colleagues falling prey to the virus, we feel emotionally distraught. It makes us realise we are not invincible.
But we have a responsibility to stay safe and healthy as we can pass on the virus to other patients or our families back home.”
Despite the best efforts though, the tables do get turned sometimes. And when that happens, the resolve to combat coronavirus only gets stronger.
As a doctor duo at Zulekha Hospital Dubai, Dr Nishath Ahmed Liyakat and Dr Unni Nair, who have recovered from COVID-19 testify, there was no way the virus would have held them back from doing their duty once they had received the treatment and completed their quarantine.
Victor and the virus
Yes, the dismal health crisis surrounding us does have its share of good news. As the official tracker posts new cases every day, there are considerable recoveries too, with each corona warrior, irrespective of whether they are a mild or critical case, emerging as an emphatic victor against the virus.
Speak to patients who have turned the blind corner, and their words inspire you. While some will tell you coronavirus is not a “death sentence”, others will say they do not wish their “hellish experience” even on their worst enemies.
I prayed hard to God and placed my trust in the medical team. Now, I’m getting better every day and can only remember those weeks on the ventilator like it was yesterday.
Either way, there is no bitterness and no taking away from the huge sense of relief and gratitude on the road to recovery.
“I hardly had any symptoms and it never felt like a death sentence. But now that I have completed my quarantine, I thank God it’s over,” said one young Indian woman who did not want to be named.
Wilfredo, a Filipino expat, who came out of the ventilator after 20 days at Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah, said, “I prayed hard to God and placed my trust in the medical team.
Now, I’m getting better every day and can only remember those weeks on the ventilator like it was yesterday.”
In Abu Dhabi, Raneen Abu Zaher, a Palestinian homemaker, and her newborn son, Jad, who also beat coronavirus, inspire hope.
The duo were diagnosed with the infection when Jad was just a day old. But two weeks later, when they got the all-clear, the mother of three told Gulf News, “I tried to hold on to my faith, and prayed for my entire family.”
‘UAE will not let you down’
If there’s one thing any patient in the UAE will vouch for, it’s the fact that they could not have been in better hands.
Whether it is Liu Yujia, a 73-year-old visitor from Wuhan, China, who was the first patient to have fully recovered in the UAE or Aubrey Escano, 27, a Filipina from Abu Dhabi who is currently under quarantine, there has been only praise and gratefulness for the UAE for the manner in which coronavirus cases are handled.
Escano in her message said, “I would like to tell COVID-19 patients not to lose hope, not to worry and continue the fight because the UAE will not let them down.”
The exemplary patient care apart, the UAE has also hit international headlines for carrying out a record number of laboratory tests for coronavirus.
According to the Ministry of Health and Prevention, the UAE leads global coronavirus testing with 1.5 million tests conducted since the beginning of the outbreak.
The UAE daily testing average equals a four-month average of COVID-19 testing in other countries.
I would like to tell COVID-19 patients not to lose hope, not to worry and continue the fight because the UAE will not let them down.
– Aubrey Escano
Addressing a UAE Government remote meeting today, Minister of Health and Prevention Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammed Al Owais said, “The UAE’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unique and different from other countries.
The UAE has shown exceptional management of the crisis, whilst leveraging other countries’ experiences.
However, the level of response was different, given the demographic composition in the country, which is home to more than 200 nationalities, and its distinct resources, readiness and experiences in many sectors.”
On May 1, doctors and researchers at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre also achieved a major breakthrough with a promising stem cell treatment for COVID-19 patients.
The Ministry of Economy even granted a patent for the development of the innovative method, which was administered to 73 COVID-19 patients, all of whom were cured of the virus using stem cells.
Researchers, who have completed the initial phase of clinical trials, are now working on demonstrating the efficacy of the treatment.
Now that is no mean achievement, by any measure.