Never mind about stepping out of our houses together with the rest of our countrymen to clap in appreciation for the services of our medical frontliners in this time of the pandemic. That may be too Mat Salleh. Too much.
But when was the last time, if ever, we thanked them for their services in person? Let’s be honest about it.
Yet these men and women in the medical fraternity have been plodding on, risking life and limb, in what seems to be a never-ending battle against Covid-19.
Our unsung heroes have been waging the war against this highly infectious virus despite the threat it poses to their well-being.
Their sense of selflessness, commitment and dedication is second to none but, sadly, is under-appreciated.
It’s not that they are complaining but the truth is we have been too caught up with our problems to notice the extraordinary measures they have been taking in these extraordinary times to ensure the safety of others.
Sarawak General Hospital Infectious Disease Unit Head Dr Chua Hock Hin says although it has been over a year since the pandemic struck, there is still much to learn every day.
“This is the first pandemic of a large scale that the world has faced since the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Hence, there were a lot of uncertainties in terms of how best to manage the cases and the public health measures that need to be carried out to control this infection.
“I remember when it first came to the nation back in January last year, the only guidance I had was based on information from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and from what is done in other countries such as China, United Kingdom, United States, Singapore etc,” he recalled.
He said in Sarawak, the resources in handling Covid-19 cases are limited as the state has limited hospitals in each city.
“Aside from Covid-19 cases, we also have to cater for all types of diseases such as cancer, trauma, general medical and surgical illness at the same time. Therefore, we need to optimise our resources to ensure Sarawakians still get access to basic treatment during this pandemic. Things are never easy.
“There is no weekend, no leave, and our work does not finish exactly at 5pm. There is a lot of planning, discussions, and decision-making needed to do on top of overlooking the overall clinical management of Covid-19 patients across Sarawak.
“It is very stressful and it is out of a normal day-to-day job, but it has to be done for the sake of my family’s health and the health of the people in Sarawak.”
Nonetheless, Dr Chua lauds the effort made by the government in helping and supporting the Health Department in fighting the pandemic.
“Sarawak is very fortunate indeed. The State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) led by Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas and its adviser Professor Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian play a big part and is active in assisting the state Health Department in building up Covid-19 testing capacities, providing isolation facilities, provision of medical equipment and most importantly, ensuring the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the state.
“Looking at the pandemic, the battle cannot be fought alone or by a single organisation without the help and support of the state government,” he added.
Dr Chua describes the Covid-19 pandemic as being on another level compared to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) back in 2003 and the swine flu (H1N1) in 2009.
“This pandemic, in particular, is dragging way too long and it seems like a marathon run with no end in sight but as of now, we are making good progress,” he said.
As a medical frontliner, he has had some unforgettable moments while handling Covid-19 patients.
“The most unforgettable is watching over a very sick patient on the verge of death from the virus in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). It was heartbreaking.
“But of course there are moments that bring me joy such as when they can recover from this deadly disease and walk back alive to the arms of their family.”
He noted that being in the medical team, they need to make important decisions on how best to treat their patients daily.
“When we can save their lives, we feel satisfied as we can make the right clinical medical decision.
“The ability to save another human’s life is the key that keeps all of us going despite the level of stress that we encounter every single day,” he said matter-of-factly.
And in the same vein Dr Chua, when asked about fears he may have developed himself since the outbreak, said if there was no fear, one would be complacent and careless.
“It does not matter that you are part of the frontliners or members of the public, if you are not fearful during this deadly pandemic, you will not take appropriate preventive and social measures to protect yourself and therefore, you will risk getting infected by the virus and will be a threat to your own family as well as your co-workers,” he said.
Adding to that, he stressed that the standard operating procedure (SOP) is in the best interest of protecting the people from contracting the disease within the community.
“That is why we need to adhere to the given SOP as there is always a chance you or others whom you are interacting with is carrying this invisible virus which may cause cross-transmission.
“It will be detrimental to you and your family members who happen to be a high-risk category such as the elderly, obese, those receiving treatment such as steroids, chemotherapy and medication that suppress your immune response, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, chronic smokers, vapers, and so on.”
With 23 years of experience in the medical field, Dr Chua stated that thus far, the biggest challenge he faced was to make the public understand the role they (the public) need to play amid the pandemic.
“The public needs to know and understand that there is always a possibility of them bringing the disease to their family members from their daily interaction at work or in their social circle.”
Towards this end, he says the Covid-19 vaccination is important to give everyone a measure of protection.
“The people should keep in mind that with the emerging new variants such as Delta, they can still get infected with the virus even though they are fully vaccinated but the positive side of it is that they are less likely to fall sick or very ill that could lead them to knock on death’s door or needing ICU care,” he explained.
Having said that, he said it was equally important to observe all preventive and social measures stipulated in the SOP.
“The role of the vaccines is like insurance you have at hand when you need it. So, the message that I would like to relay to the public here is to please come forward for vaccination and continue to adhere to preventive and social measures to protect yourself and your loved ones,” he emphasised.
On a personal note, Dr Chua is thankful that he has a thoughtful and supportive family during this difficult time, especially his wife.
“There are periods where I was feeling down and she knew how to lift my spirit.
“When you have supportive loved ones especially during these hard times, you will feel blessed and will always treasure all the time you can have when you are around them.”
Dr Chua applauded the frontline team for doing an excellent job and giving their best in combating the pandemic despite the challenges faced every day.
“I know everyone (frontliners) is extremely tired. However, we are in the last mile, and we should not give up. It is a once in a lifetime experience to serve, to protect, and save humankind from dying from such a life-threatening pandemic.
“I strongly believe with the grit and determination shown by our frontliners, we can ride out these difficult times,” he asserted.