While many Bahamians have been forced to stay at home to ride out the novel coronavirus, the country’s medical workers have been putting their lives on the line every day.
As Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands put it, they are the soldiers in this war, the people “caring for us when we get sick”.
He noted recently that one in five confirmed COVID-19 cases has been healthcare workers.
Anastacia Coakley, who has been a nurse for two years, has come face to face with COVID-19 patients.
“The process has been scary, nursing positive COVID-19 patients,” Coakley said in a recent interview with The Nassau Guardian.
“But having all of your materials at your disposal – and what’s more important, putting Jesus at the center of my life – made it a lot better to bear.”
Coakley, who works at Doctors Hospital, has to be in physical contact with COVID-19-positive patients, no simple feat considering the highly contagious nature of the virus, which has already claimed eight lives in the country – including a renowned physician.
Even while wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), which covers her from head to toe, Coakley said she was “nervous, honestly” the first time she had to go into a room with a positive patient.
But despite the fear, she said her “pledge and oath as a nurse” is what keeps her dedicated to the fight.
“If we allow fear to halt our destiny, who will help the people?” Coakley asked.
“Even though we are afraid for our lives and the lives of our loved ones, as a nurse or a doctor, you have to put aside your feelings by making the correct decision by saving lives.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Dr. Tina Bethel-Mims, a family physician at a public clinic.
“I mean, we’re all concerned and this can affect us…,” Bethel-Mims said.
“We’re concerned for ourselves and we’re concerned for our health.”
Bethel-Mims noted that even other countries that “generally have more resources than we do” are experiencing enormous amounts of healthcare workers becoming sick and dying.
But she said she is trying to avoid “fearmongering”.
“I’m just doing what I have to do,” Bethel-Mims said.
“I’m working and doing the job and I just – “ she paused for just a moment, her voice starting to tremble as she was overcome with emotion, “want to make sure that my family is safe.
“I haven’t seen my mother in weeks. She’s okay with that. We talk.”
As she quickly composed herself, Bethel-Mims added that healthcare workers are “real people too”.
“And we’re Bahamians, the majority of us are Bahamians,” she said.
“We care about our people. We care about our families, and so, we do what we have to do for everyone else.”
‘Treatment goes on’
Dr. Kitiboni Rolle-Adderley, a private physical therapist, said she is more concerned about her patients being exposed than herself.
“The only thing that’s really changed significantly is the fact now that we’re wearing masks and I now wear an isolation gown, and it’s more for the patient than it is for me because I treat cancer patients,” Rolle-Adderley told The Guardian.
“They’re immunocompromised. They may have had some form of chemotherapy or radiation, so their immune system is not operating the way it [should be].
“As well, I see a lot of diabetics [so] I make sure that I’m covering up before I get into their space and I’m not bringing anything in there with me and exposing them to it.”
Rolle-Adderley has shifted to doing mostly home visits for her patients rather than having them come into her office.
“I go into the home with protective equipment, my isolation gown, my hair is covered, gloves and, of course, masks, and my patients wear their masks as well,” she said.
“We’ve had to modify treatment for our patients, but treatment goes on.”
With Rolle-Adderley owning her own practice, COVID-19 presents a financial challenge on top of the health risk, but she tries to not let stress overcome her.
“I have patients that need me, I have a family that depends on me to help keep the family afloat and I have a good support system,” she said.
She added, “I love what I do. I absolutely love physical therapy and because I know the need for it has not gone away, I have to stay there.”
Coakley, too, said that despite it all, she loves being a nurse and that it is “the best job in the world”.
“As we go through this pandemic, the world counts on us to ensure we protect them,” Coakley said.
“So, when the nation has that faith in you, no way a dedicated nurse or doctor will not turn up for work.”
But Melissa Hart, a nurse at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), who is on vacation, said she intends to remain on vacation to spend time with her family.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in her family’s travel plans for the Easter holiday, which included a three-week vacation, which she had planned from last year.
“I’m due back on the 26th, but my supervisor actually called me [Saturday] to ask if I’ll consider coming out from vacation to return to work,” Hart said.
“But I told her, I’ll take my vacation and return when I’m due back. We are actually short-staffed but I told her I prefer spending this time with my kids.”
Bethel-Mims, meanwhile, raised a concern about healthcare workers experiencing burnout due to long hours.
She noted that her clinic is not operating as normal, and for the most part, employees have been going in just to call patients and reschedule appointments that are not emergencies.
Rolle-Adderley said her office, too, has been closed for the most part.
She said this was to avoid placing her staff members and their families at risk, as she noted that some of her staff live with elderly people who are vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19.
But all of the healthcare workers The Guardian spoke with continued to urge the public to follow the advice of the Ministry of Health by staying at home.
“Please stop congregating, take heed to what our health ministers are saying,” Coakley said.
“Take note to the death toll in two weeks. [T]hink about if the healthcare workers are sick.
“Who will take care of you if you or your loved ones become sick? Think about us and the elderly.”