A Belgian nurse struggling to save lives in an intensive care unit said she had reached her “breaking point” after seeing people that broke quarantine to enjoy the Easter weekend, putting potentially even more strain on the struggling health service.
Nurse Elke Loots said she and her colleagues have to work for hours in protective suits, during which time they did not even have time to go to the toilet, never mind drink or eat, working under incredible pressure to save lives.
But she said she was shocked at the numbers of selfish people she spotted enjoying themselves without thinking of the consequences as she went to and from work.
Although Belgium has a population of just over 11 million, it is in the top 10 of the countries with the most number of infections, with the latest statistics from the Johns Hopkins University showing 29,647 people infected. There have also been 3,600 deaths.
A since deleted post on Facebook included images of her face with pressure injuries from wearing a mask for hours at a time. The young woman doing a doctorate at the University of Antwerp has been working for the last three weeks in the intensive care unit.
Addressing people who were enjoying themselves over the weekend, she said:”You make it impossible for us and for the people we are caring for.”
She went on: “After three weeks of COVID-19 Intensive Care looking after patients and giving everything – and I mean everything – to try and keep these patients alive, today I finally reached my breaking point for the first time, and I want to share what I feel.”
She said that the people she and her colleagues were caring for are all grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters of someone. She said all of them were struggling to survive. She said all of them needed intensive care.
And she continued: “My team and I are 100 percent committed to our duty of care and we are also at high risk of being infected. I don’t complain because I do this job with full conviction. But I reach my breaking point when I see people who totally do not understand this and do what they want anyway. Great for you that it’s your birthday and you can celebrate, and your friends are visiting, and great to hang out together and drink and enjoy the great weather with the unexpected bonus of all this free time. But please, don’t be so selfish by endangering others and making our workload in hospital in the current crisis even harder, this is really not okay.”
She said anybody who had any doubts about the wisdom of that advice should come to the hospital for a day and see how bad the situation really was.
She said: “I would like them to come on a shift with us, spending hours stuck in suits that are too warm, we can’t go to the toilet or eat or drink, not to mention the pressure injuries you get from constantly wearing the masks and the enormous stress of the job which is hard enough anyway even without the emotional cost of caring for COVID-19 patients.”
The message attracted a lot of praise, and similar comments as well for example from nurse Naomi De Bruyne working at the University Hospital of Antwerp (UZA) who made a posting “… from the heart”.
She said: “I work as a nurse at a COVID unit, and when I get home I just stay at home. The only move I do is to the store and back home and to work and back home. Today I was in shock and just started crying in frustration. So many people lying in the sun, or sitting together on benches. The worst part is that the police are just standing there. I really understand that it is difficult and I am aware that there will be critics of this message, but I can no longer be silent.”
She said that she and her colleagues were at their limits, and that people under pressure by being stuck at home could still go for a walk, or ride a bike or skate, but not to go picnicking in parks.
She said she had asked the police herself what exactly was going on and was told they were not enforcing any kind of lockdown.
She said: “The deaths continue to rise, and those who sit comfortably in the parks mean there will be no summer for any of us, and a lot of businesses will simply go bankrupt. We should have more understanding for each other, the more human and follow the measures that are in place for a reason. I want to know where the message ‘we stand strong’ went?”
The post by Elke was widely shared but also attracted criticism as well as support, and she wrote that she had not been trying to betray herself and her colleagues as heroes or looking for pity, she just wanted to make people “wake up.”
She added: “The curve is determined by our behaviour. Just think of all the economic consequences: if things will go bankrupt, people will remain unemployed, family incomes will disappear completely or partially and people will have to live off their savings, more and more victims, schools will remain closed and so on. And I have not even discussed the psychological aspect such as depression and burn-outs as a result of this quarantine…”
Local politicians supported the nurses by publishing examples of people enjoying themselves, like a group in Aalter in eastern Flanders who had staged a garden party over the weekend, or large numbers that were standing close together in queues to buy ice creams. Police monitoring the situation also said that the goodwill when people first heard about the lockdown seemed to be waning.
Belgian biologist and expert on epidemics, Marc Van Ranst who is leading the fight against the virus, warned that the country was heading towards a Wuhan style lockdown. In a Facebook posting he said: “Everyone needs to understand how fragile the situation is at the moment, and how close we are to tightening current measures if the number of hospital admissions rises again.”
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