Despite the clear peril to their lives, these heroic doctors attended to seriously ill COVID-19 patients, until they themselves became too ill to treat others
By Henrylito D. Tacio
“We’re not even heroes these days. It’s our job,” wrote Dr. Daniele Macchini in his Facebook account. He is a doctor who’s at the forefront of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak in Bergamo, Italy.
To be a doctor is more than just commitment. “We risked something bad every day before: when we put our hands in a belly of someone’s blood we don’t even know if they have HIV or hepatitis C; when we do it even though we know they have HIV or hepatitis C; when we stick ourselves during an operation on a patient with HIV and take the drugs that make us vomit all day long for a month,” Dr. Macchini wrote. “When we read with anguish the results of the blood tests after an accidental needlestick, hoping not to be infected.”
Now, here are three doctors who were in the forefront in the battle against Covid-19 in the world’s epicenter of the virus. They have sacrificed their lives so others may live.
It all started in December last year. Dr. Li Wenliang warned his medical school classmates in an online chat groups that a disease like the dreaded Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had stricken several patients in a Wuhan hospital. All of them were being quarantined in the emergency department.
Dr. Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at the Wuhan Central Hospital, tried to alert authorities about the novel coronavirus – as it has no name yet but later on identified as SARS-Cov-2 – only to be reprimanded by local police.
In fact, Dr. Li and “seven other doctors who shared information about the outbreak” were summoned by the police authorities “and forced to sign a letter promising to make no further disclosures concerning the disease,” according to the South China Morning Post.
It was on December 30 when he warned his classmates. On the same day, according to an account posted on todayonline.com, “he announced that the city had confirmed 27 cases” and that most of them were “linked to a seafood market.” By February 6, he died after being infected by the virus.
“We are very sorry to hear the loss of any frontline worker who is committed to care for patients… we should celebrate his life and mourn his death with his colleagues,” Michael Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, told the attending media about the demise of Dr. Li.
Fourteen days later, on February 20, another doctor succumbed to Covid-19. His name was Dr. Peng Yinhua, a doctor of pulmonary and critical care at First People’s Hospital in Wuhan’s Jiangxia district who was supposed to tie the nuptial knot on February 1, but postponed it to help fight the outbreak.
In a post on the Facebook page of The People’s Daily newspaper, Dr. Peng “was hospitalized on January 25, having contracted the virus in his frontline efforts fighting Covid-19.” On the day of his supposed wedding, “his condition worsened and he was taken to the intensive care unit.”
On February 6, the 29-year-old doctor died. “Young doctor who delayed his wedding to fight against Covd-19 passes away,” The People’s Daily Facebook page said. “Chinese are again mourning the loss of a fighter in the battle against (the dreaded disease).”
On March 3, another Chinese doctor passed away after being infected with the novel coronavirus. Dr. Mei Zhongming, a 57-year-old oculist and deputy director of the Ophthalmology Department of Central Hospital of Wuhan, “was infected while treating patients with the virus.”
A report by thepaper.cn, quoting an unnamed doctor at the hospital, said that Dr. Mei got infected in mid-January “and his condition began to worsen around February 11.” Dr. Mei and Dr. Li were colleagues.
A report from Beijing which the Agence France Presse (AFP) dispatched said that doctors at China’s epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak were “exhausted” as they were overworked and unprotected.
“Doctors on the frontline of China’s new coronavirus epidemic are facing a daunting task: Treat an ever-growing number of infected patients and risk getting infected themselves due to a drastic shortage of masks and other protective equipment,” AFP reported.
“Tired and understaffed, medical workers have had to deal with thousands of new cases per week in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak that first emerged late last year,” the report added.
“Many doctors have had to see patients without proper masks or protective body suits, resorting to reusing the same equipment when they should be changed regularly,” the report further stated.
The report quoted an unnamed health official who said that some doctors “even wore diapers to avoid having to take off the equipment and make it last longer.”
But these doctors cannot do anything. “As doctors, we do not want to work while being a source of infection,” another doctor said, still unnamed as he feared for reprisals.
To end this piece, here’s again Dr. Macchini: “We simply earn our living with something that gives us emotions. It doesn’t matter if they are beautiful or ugly, we just take them home. In the end, we only try to make ourselves useful for everyone. Now try to do it, too, though: with our actions we influence the life and death of a few dozen people.”