Many people all over the world have been quite anxious about the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Many have lost their loved ones, their livelihoods and even their minds from the impact of this pandemic. On March 12, 2020 Ghana recorded its first case of COVID-19.

Being an infectious illness, it is not surprising that people are afraid to go near those who are infected. It is probably not enough consolation knowing that majority of those infected will recover from the illness without any form of special treatment. Unfortunately, there are also a few people who will require specialized care.

In the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital where I work originally, my department made a call for volunteers to join the COVID-19 team which was intended to triage patients and relatives who come to our unit and treat any patients that we suspect or diagnose as having COVID-19. Guess what, I joined the team. I joined so that I could get additional training to be able to care for children with COVID-19.

My task at this point was mainly to screen people, entering the department, for COVID-19; train other health care workers in the department and helpto set up the department’s holding bay for children with COVID-19.

Sometime after, there was a call for volunteers to work at the National Treatment Centre specifically the National COVID-19 ICU. This time, I had mixed feelings about volunteeringbecause I knew this meant I would be treating people infected with the novel coronavirus. I delayed my decision to join for a bit because I was honestly uncertain about what could go wrong and afraid for the worst. 

Yes, I was afraid of all the possibilities and the fear of the unknown. I was also scared that I might pick the virus and infect my husband and kids with it. My husband Jeffrey was thankfully very supportive. We had a few more training sessions before the start of workwhich really boosted my confidence. I decided, eventually, to join the team and the day came for work to begin at the treatment centre.

Entering the patient’s room for the first time, there I was with all my tasks outlined for me. 

The moment of truth had come and I still had mixed feelings; wondering if I had made the right decision to volunteer in the first place, along with all the potential risks it posed to my family and I. Apparently, the fear never went away (I soon realized). I said “Hello” to the patient and started performing my tasks in the room which involved setting an intravenousline for the patient (i.e. placing a needle/cannula into a vein through which the ‘drip’ and medications can be given).

As I got close, I felt my mask may have shifted a bit…. (“Yikes!Am I exposed?”) Many ugly thoughts ran through my mindthat instant. Thankfully I still felt my breath was being filtered well by the N95 mask I had on my face, so I cooled down a bit. The next few days after that incident had me really thinking. Many “what ifs?” ran through my mind. I got to speak with our consultants Drs. Owoo, Dame, Commey as well as my other team members who calmed me down and asked me to alert them if I had any further concerns or symptoms. Their support helped a lot.

Donning and Doffing are everyday words for me now. ‘Donning’ means putting on the personal protective equipment (PPE). This is done before entering the COVID-19 patient’s room/area. Taking it off is called ‘Doffing’. Thankfully during both procedures, I get the support of a supervisor to ensure that I am well protected before I go inand also ensure that I take off the PPE in a manner that prevents self-contamination.

Per the training and experience, I knew that anytime I entered the patient’s room, I had to perform every task that was required. It didn’t matter whether it was a cleaning or nursingrole. As staff on duty, we worked as a team and ensured that all the patients received the care that they needed. The tasks of the individual team members overlapped all the time. The doctors would do cleaning and perform other nursing duties and vice versa – all with the aim of reducing the number of exposures for health care workers.

Of course, the team work was great. We would mostly use first names which helped to break the ice and helped break barriers. Titles were not routinely used which I felt helped to make people feel more at home and bond better. In between seeing patients, we wouldplan for the next entry into a patient’s room. We planned andmade sure that we prepared whatever we needed to take in ahead of time. All the preventive measures for COVID-19recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) were still practiced religiously. 

Of course, there is time in between to have meals and also to catch one’s breath. Yipeeeeee! Very welcome breaks.  During these breaks, we sit about 2 meters apart (physical distancing)and practice the other recommendations of WHO to fight COVID-19.

Going home – yes at the end of the working day or night, I go back home to my family. This means that I need to ensure that I do not take the virus back home. I practice good hand washing and change back into my home attire before leaving the hospital. Once I get home, I take a shower before coming close to anyone in my home. We all do miss, to an extent, the physical closeness that is discouraged now. We miss seeingand hugging our friends and even some family members. The masks however cannot steal the smiles that show in our eyes even when the mask covers the mouth and nose.  We all need to stay strong and help fight COVID-19. 

Although it took me some time to say “Yes” to volunteer for the National COVID-19 ICU team, I have not regretted this decision. There is so much joy when our patients recover andgo home. There have also been a few sad moments when patients died or were not doing well. Our clinical psychologists were however always there to provide both staff and patients with the much needed psychological supportduring those unfortunate times. We also had each other. We were there for ourselves as staff and for our patients as well.

Fellow Ghanaian, kindly ensure that you take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Fellow Ghanaian health care worker, let’s not allow fear to prevent us from caring for people infected and affected by COVID-19. By all means say ‘Yes’. By all means get trained in the appropriate wearing of PPE and caring for people with COVID-19. 

Fellow Ghanaian health care manager, by all means get us the PPE that we need so that we can continue to give off our best in caring for the people of Ghana.

I know that this is not an easy task but yes we can! We all do hope that the COVID-19 pandemic ends very soon. May it, however, find us prepared and well equipped!

Let’s do this!

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The writer is a volunteer with the National COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit. She can be reached via hildaboye@gmail.com