Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Like many other working-class professionals, they enjoyed the routine lifestyles usually associated with members of the elite in cosmopolitan environments. They regularly savoured the mix of office schedules, regular family interactions and social activities. But that was before the COVID-19 outbreak disorganised the world and put everything asunder.
Suddenly, these professionals were no longer comfortable in the company of their family members. Many of them started staying away from their homes for weeks even after rotation or completion of duty.
This is the new world of most health workers in Borno and Yobe states.
Some of these health workers have been sharing their experiences. And they were stories of pain, anger, frustration and social disconnection.
“It has been a very challenging experience,” said Yakubu Nyandanti, a professor of neurology and consultant neurologist at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH). “We were working in a very difficult situation and almost cut off from our families.
The professor recalled how he struggled to distance himself from his children and entire family members each time he returned home after work. He told the story of his loneliness, his fear of importing COVID-19 from the hospital wards to his house and how he became a stranger in the house he has lived in for over a decade as father, husband and leader.
“I started entering my house through the back door. Sometimes, I have to change my clothes again as soon as I arrive in my house. I will take my bath again and then isolate myself from my family. My children used to joke that my clothes might be carrying coronavirus. It was such an unusual routine that keeps me away from my family for about two months,” he narrated.
Though the COVID-19 has remained on the prowl within the country, the professor explained that the health workers have now adjusted to the new way of working amid the heavy risks. He said most medical workers at the height of COVID-19 pandemic worked under great risks, even as he recalled some encounters with patients brought to the hospital for some health challenges who later tested positive for Coronovirus.
“As a health worker, I have come in constant with some patients having the virus. I have also attended to patients I thought had some ailments who later tested positive for COVID-19,” he explained. He said such experiences scared him tremendously, admitting that he had to undergo rounds of COVID-19 tests during the period to be sure of his status too.
In his words, the fear of making his family members vulnerable was more traumatising each day he returned from the hospital.
“It was like I was bringing death to my family, but what do I do in this situation? But then, this is the profession we have chosen to save lives and we can’t shy away from our calling even when our own lives are threatened. We only take some precautions,” he stated.
He canvassed more collaboration between governments, health providers or health workers and the people to strengthen preventive measures. “We need to strengthen our preventive measures, we need to improve on our public health and get more personnel into the medical system, because the ratio of doctors to patients is bad in Nigeria,” he counselled.
Professor Nyandanti, however, commended the efforts of the Federal Government in the handling of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
Adam Abubakar, a nurse at UMTH and the branch chairman of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, minced no words in asserting that frontline health workers are risk takers. He said though he signed off his life the very day he volunteered to serve at the hospital isolation centre, he never knew it could also affect his family life.
“As a leader, I volunteered to serve at the isolation centre to encourage others make sacrifices. This is because many of our colleagues didn’t want to work there when the pandemic was initially announced in the country. It was very challenging when I started work at the centre, but we encouraged one another that we were not going to give up,” he stated.
He said the nurses often go on compulsory isolation for 14 days after each week of duty. This means they spend roughly three weeks in the hospital without seeing their families. “We only speak to them on phone. They cannot visit us until we complete the 14 days of isolation after a week of duty. It is good news if someone tests negative after each shift but if you are positive, you remain in isolation for treatment,” he informed.
He recalled that his children sometimes become eager to see him, adding that some of them even cry uncontrollably just because they want to be with him. He regretted that such family closeness has suffered a great deal because of the COVID-19 measures. Ï just cannot go home until I complete the isolation,” he added.
But the worse thing, he said, is the stigmatisation that frontline health workers suffer in the hands of their colleagues and relations.
“Our work is like humanitarian service, yet we face stigmatisation either from our colleagues who label us ‘coronavirus people’ and relations who look at us pitiably as if we will soon die. It has beens so traumatic for many of us,” he said.
Adama Mohammed’s story isn’t different. Her biggest challenge, she noted, is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the family life of frontline health workers.
The young nurse, who is among the medical team attending to COVID-19 patients in Yobe State, said her job has affected her family life.
“I have to distance myself from my family after each duty week,” she told the reporter. She appealed to the Federal and state governments to improve the welfare of health workers so as not to discourage upcoming health workers. “We need to train more health workers in this country. Government should be concerned about their welfare,” she suggested.
As the pandemic enters its sixth month in Nigeria following its first case on February 27, Adama advised people to keep observing the protective measures.
“We can conquer COVID-19 with these measures and everybody, including frontline health workers, can rebuild their family lives,” she said.