A tale of frontliners

My wife is a frontliner. Every morning at 6am, she gets up, showers, gets ready and leaves.

My five-month baby is usually awake by then. She holds him tight and kisses him, before turning to hug me goodbye too. The goodbyes are silent, but there are many things unspoken between us in that few minutes, because we know by the end of this day, our lives could have been turned upside down if she has been exposed.

She comes home at 6pm, sanitising her hands and showering again before coming into the house. This is after showering and throwing off her clothes at work for a deep clean.

My baby is already nervously looking for his mother by that time, and she is equally the same, nervously switching back and forth between the excited anticipation of finding her son but also unsure on whether to even touch him, let alone feed him as she worries about whether she has been infected.

This cycle repeats itself, as it has continued for days past and will continue in the days to come.

One of the greatest effects felt by frontliners is the physical fatigue of the long-hours baking in the outdoor sun wrapped in personal protective equipment (PPE). Almost all high-risk screening of Covid-19 patients are carried outdoors to minimise the risk of cross-infection.

Close behind is the mental fatigue, the worry and fear of whether they could have been exposed and may infect the rest of their families.

For us, the Covid-19 nightmare is not just limited to Malaysia alone.

We have friends and family battling this disease all around the world, and every day, we wake up worried about how they are doing.

What we face at home is not unique. It is repeated in many households in Malaysia and beyond.

The frontliners are the new soldiers, battling to save their families, loved ones, their people, their country, and yes, perhaps even the world.

The front line is made up of many heads, hearts and hands, functioning as one seamless unit, from the medical specialists to the medical officers, house officers, assistant medical officers, nurses, nursing care aides, health inspectors, lab technicians.

And this long list does not even cover the healthcare professionals (HCPs) who make up the front line, or the countless other unsung heroes – the security guards, the cooks who ensure food is delivered to patients, the cleaners who are exposed day in and day out to remove clinical waste; the front and back staff who are not clinically trained but still working in high-exposure risk environments.

Of course I have to also single out my colleagues in the private primary care and GPs who are the “lone-rangers” without the comprehensive support system of their public sector colleagues.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, healthcare professionals had often been easy scapegoats for many things. In times of economic uncertainty, we target them when freezing wages, we blame them for profiteering, we scream at them in hospitals or clinics for not serving us quickly, we opt to not renew junior officers’ service contracts, we question whether they truly deserve that “critical” allowance.

On social media, one sees comments like, “They are getting paid, so what?”, or “they are only doing their job, right. Don’t know what’s the big fuss?”.
Today, the frontliners are the ones fighting this pandemic, and dying, no less.

The American Medical Association (AMA), as do other international organisations, have actually discussed the issue of refusal to provide care, and one would be surprised to find that legally, healthcare professionals can refuse to treat patients if they themselves are in danger.

In this pandemic, there has not been one medical personnel who shirked away from serving. Despite the dangers they face, they continue to stand on the front line.

This, more than anything else, should show the rest of us of their spirit of volunteerism, sacrifice and heroism.

Now, there is a call from the health ministry to address the shortage of PPE for frontliners.

Now is the time for us to help protect them, while they protect us.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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