What it's like to treat Covid-19 in New York: Zimbabwean doctor tells her story

06 April 2020 - 17:30 By Lenin Ndebele and Sharon Mazingaizo
More needs to be spent on health workers' physical and mental wellbeing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, says Monalisa Muchatatu, a Zimbabwean doctor based in New York.
More needs to be spent on health workers' physical and mental wellbeing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, says Monalisa Muchatatu, a Zimbabwean doctor based in New York.
Image: 123RF/Yuriy Klochan

A Zimbabwean doctor working in New York says she sometimes feels helpless in the fight against Covid-19 — and without a vaccine or cure, says the world should work more to flatten the curve.

Dr Monalisa Muchatatu, 38, an emergency medical practitioner based in Brooklyn — which by Friday last week had 102,863 Covid-19 cases — told TimesLIVE that not even the best treatment money can buy is enough to save all lives.

“It is quite distressing to work knowing that even with all these resources, sometimes patients will succumb to the illness. I, like other emergency doctors, battle with a sense of helplessness because we are essentially ‘doers’ but the cycle of the disease management is mostly supportive, so all the resources in the world sometimes make no difference,” she said.

Muchatatu said watching patients lonely and facing death has been traumatic.

“The hardest thing for me to digest is just how incredibly sad and lonely I perceive our patients to be in this tough time of their lives — and to be fighting alone without family, as we cannot allow visitors ... It makes me sad,” she said.

“Days are spent receiving new patients and trying to stabilise them to prevent them from declining, but also because all hospitals have had an unprecedented influx of patients.”

While safety is key for health-care workers because they are at the highest risk of infection, she said their mental health cannot be ignored.

“We need to wearpersonal protective equipment where available all the time and at a bare minimum N95 mask and gloves, and assume all patients are Covid-19 positive until proven otherwise,” she said.

“This stance saves you from being infected and potentially falling out of the available pool of providers during the pandemic, becoming the vector spreading the virus between patients, and also decreases your chances of bringing it home to your loved ones.

“Mental health checks with your colleagues are important. This is a very stressful time in our careers and there is no shame in seeking help to ensure we are at our best for our patients at their worst.”

Back home in Zimbabwe, meanwhile, doctors on Sunday took the government to court over its failure to provide protective clothing to about 1,500 doctors, almost 15,000 nurses and general staff on the front line.

“We bear the brunt of this pandemic and are vulnerable, despite the first respondent [the ministry of health and child care] telling the world that Zimbabwe is ready — to the extent of even offering to assist other countries in distress,” said Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights in their court application.

“We have observed with trepidation that Zimbabwe is not ready for the pandemic and the measures taken so far fall short of the steps that are necessary to prevent, contain and treat the incidence of Covid-19.”

Muchatatu said the Covid-19 pandemic has for the fight time brought the health profession together in fighting its biggest threat this century.

“This pandemic has yielded a very strong, inter-border, collegial relationship between health-care providers. We learn more about possible management regimens from international colleagues treating patients in other parts of the world,” she said.

Above all, she said humanity would pull through this critical stage.

“The human race is resilient. We have survived other pandemics in the past. We must follow the guidelines we are being given by our public health specialists. This will help to flatten the Covid-19 case curve to controllable numbers and decrease the magnitude of loss of life,” she said.

Zimbabwe finished its first week of the 21-day lockdown period with nine confirmed Covid-19 cases and one death.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he would review the lockdown progress after the 21-day period ends. Depending on the results of the effort, he could extend or call off the lockdown.


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