BEIRUT: “The risks threaten us every day as staff in the hospital, but this risk should not prevent us from doing our work and caring for patients,” 29-year-old Habib Jaafoury told The Daily Star.
Jaafoury is one of 14 student resident doctors from the Lebanese University who volunteered on Feb. 21 to work unpaid in Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital coronavirus ward.
Following the announcement of the first coronavirus case in Lebanon, the 14 students immediately formed a team to help after a meeting was held in the hospital.
“Our decision to face the threat of coronavirus was optional, it was a personal decision, neither the hospital nor the university forced us,” Jaafoury told The Daily Star.
Rafik Hariri University Hospital is the largest public hospital in the country and has dealt with more coronavirus cases than any other hospital in Lebanon.
The 14 students had several training sessions relating specifically to the work they would be doing to help coronavirus patients, both medically and mentally, before starting to work 12-hour shifts.
Mohammad Cheet, one of the volunteers, described the intense nature of his shifts.
“You never know when you’ll be called into the intensive care unit to look after a patient or to emotionally support the isolated people and answer their questions," Cheet said. "This isn’t a pleasant period for anybody especially those who are quarantined in a hospital room, away from loved ones and uncertain about tomorrow.”
Thrust into a difficult working environment, Cheet also had to get used to working in the protective gear.
"You feel like you are scuba diving all day long! The suits are hot and heavy, and you have surgical masks, eye goggles and face shields.”
For both Jaafoury and Cheet, the workload has steadily increased as the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in Lebanon has risen, reaching 304 Monday. Despite this increasingly physically and emotionally draining work, they both remained in good spirits.
However, both spoke of having proud but worried families. Cheet lives alone in Beirut whereas Jaafoury was living with his family in Jbeil before he began volunteering.
As he began working with coronavirus patients, Jaafoury felt compelled to leave his family home and move into the dormitories connected to the hospital. “I miss my family so much. I speak to them daily and offer reassurances, but I cannot leave and give up my duty and endanger my family.”
On Monday, the World Health Organization warned that the spread of coronavirus is increasing rapidly worldwide, with 100,000 news cases being reported in the four days preceding Monday. There is also a widespread consensus that a vaccine is unlikely to be found within the next 12 months, meaning the health care system in Lebanon is likely to face a long continuous struggle to save people's lives.
Even though Cheet and Jaafoury are working unpaid, in difficult conditions and away from their family with no end in sight, they remained undeterred in their commitment to the hospital.
“I will stay volunteering until the coronavirus crisis is over," Jaafoury said.