My experience working on the frontline combating COVID-19

This blog was written by Meshack Otewa, a registered nurse and educator working in Kenya. Meshack is also the author of the MeshRN blog which covers many diverse topics relevant to nursing.

No-one would have believed on 1st January 2020 that the world would be where it is now. We cannot travel as freely as we are used to, we cannot visit friends and have parties as we would have liked. We are being told to stay home, hospitals are struggling under the pressure as global rates of COVID-19 continue to rise. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything that we once perceived as normal.

I am a registered nurse who is currently working as a nurse educator. When the pandemic reached my country, Kenya, all learning institutions were closed. All students went home, and the training institution became a ghost of what it once was. As the cases surged, the need for contact tracing and quarantine emerged. In Kenya, we have a communal way of living and the poverty level means that self-isolating is extremely difficult. Most people live in one-roomed homes or two, and to expect them to isolate there is unrealistic. They are not able to keep to the required standards, and this is why spaces like my training facility were quickly designated as quarantine facilities. This is where I offer my services as a front line worker, with a team of nurses, clinicians, nutritionists, public health officers and laboratory technologists.

We were trained on COVID-19 case management and infection prevention. Studies have shown that most healthcare workers contract the virus during the doffing process. Therefore, the emphasis of our training was on donning and doffing of the personal prevention equipment (PPE). Equipped with the knowledge and practice, we were ready to start welcoming those needing to quarantine.

A typical day starts with temperature checks every morning for all the people staying in the facility. During this time, we check if they have developed any symptoms or any other complaints. Many report headaches due to the arid climate and dehydration.

Mental health support is provided for all those staying at the facility. The fact that there is a possibility that they may have contracted the virus wears them down. Counselling is provided prior to the test day, which happens between day 4 and 8. The turnaround for the test is 2 to 4 days because of the distance. The samples are taken 400 km for testing, as we don’t have testing centres nearby.

We face many challenges working in this context, but the biggest challenge has been the shortage of PPE. The difference between the caregivers in an isolation centre and quarantine centre is that at the isolation centre they know the patients are COVID positive while in the quarantine centre, health workers have a 50/50 chance of testing positive.

My experience working at this quarantine centre took me back to when I was a clinical nurse. My last placement, which was almost two years ago, was in an Intensive Care Unit. This experience came in handy in my new role in the quarantine centre. Once a nurse always a nurse. It has been a great experience, it has been a pleasure to care for people again.

Many healthcare workers are contracting the virus in the line of duty and governments must do more to protect them. We all have a role to play in stopping this virus; keep proper hand hygiene, keep social distance, wear a mask and stay home when you can.