Tuan took off his protective clothing, soaked in sweat, at 9 p.m. and got on a bus with 45 colleagues to leave a Covid-19 field hospital in Thu Duc City, ending their eight-hour shift.
In the last month, their accommodation has been a hall of the District 9 Children's Center. He quickly had his dinner before washing his clothes, calling his mother, practicing breathing techniques, and falling asleep in a chair.
The 28-year-old fashion designer had registered to become one of 160 volunteers on July 22, helping Covid-19 patients in the hospital.
Nguyen Minh Tuan starts his one-month mission at a Covid-19 field hospital in Thu Duc City. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Tuan.
At first, his mother cried a lot, telling him to go home instead of rushing into the epicenter. But Tuan's courage changed her outlook.
Tuan said his fashion store had been closed for a long time because of the new outbreak, and his staff returned to their hometowns.
He and his close friend read information about volunteer recruitment to support Covid-19 patients, so they applied.
“I saw many friends around me support frontline workers, but only a few went to work at hospitals,” he said.
“I read newspapers and felt sorry for doctors and nurses who work around the clock, and wanted to help them. If everyone is afraid, who will do these difficult jobs?”
They underwent two days of online training with frontline doctors. After passing the final theory exam, they talked with a counseling team to see if they were mentally ready.
Later, Tuan and his friend were delivered to the hospital to train with other teammates.
“Although the number of volunteers supporting frontline workers is not enough, we have to select them carefully, making sure they are healthy and mentally fit to serve patients,” said Thich Chuc Khai, head of the religious volunteer group at the hospital.
Medical staff carefully advised volunteers before letting them meet patients. Tuan and his friends had to wear protective gear, packing garbage, spraying disinfectant while avoiding the risk of cross-infection.
Volunteers try to cheer up Covid patients. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Tuan.
Each volunteer has a card to enter the intensive care unit. The first time he walked through the door, Tuan was nervous.
Having never done these jobs before, he felt confident in his meticulousness and neatness.
After the first few days, from a person who only interacted with fabrics, drawings, and celebrities, he gradually got used to working with garbage, cleaning hospital rooms, visiting patients, and reporting to doctors and nurses.
He does not feel pressured or afraid when dealing with critically ill people, controlling his emotions to support them and doctors.
As he worked, he prayed. Each shift has about four people in charge per floor, with on average one person completing 15-20 shifts. Therefore, they have to keep a watchful eye not to miss a thing.
“Every day, I go into each room to clean up medical waste, blood stains, urine. While doing it, I ask patients if they need any help. We usually help them change their clothes, diapers, brush their hair, and wipe their sweat,” Tuan noted.
In many severe cases, patients have to lie down and breathe continuously, so they cannot visit the toilet.
Once, seeing a patient struggling and not knowing what to do, he came over and said: “It’s okay, you can go to the toilet on the spot, we will change your diaper and clean up.”
The first time, they were embarrassed to change their clothes in front of strangers. A few days later, the patients called volunteers to assist them.
“Sometimes, I still wonder what would happen if I am tested positive. Then I reassure myself I was wearing protective gear, three layers of gloves, a face shield, a mask, and I have a Covid test every week,” he said, adding he has been vaccinated and is in good health, so “if I get infected, I will probably recover quickly.”
The volunteer team has also done unnamed tasks like chatting, singing, dancing… to lift up the patients' spirits.
Every day, they write on each other’s protective gear words of encouragement: “Let’s do our best”, “Don’t worry, we have it”, with their names for better identification.
Seeing many people grow sad because they receive no food from family members, they bought cakes as gifts to cheer them up.
Tuan in his protective suit. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Tuan.
“Patients easily feel lonely because they are used to having family members by their side to take care of them when they are hospitalized. We tell them to see us as their children and grandchildren, they can talk to us or ask us to do anything,” Vo Tan Dat, Tuan's friend, said.
After three weeks at the hospital, Tuan felt comfortable, temporarily forgetting his store has been closed for months.
He finds joy in working and talking with Dat and other teammates. Many people in the group are monks, nuns from religious institutions, sharing the same ideals of volunteering.
When his mission ends in one week, he will be isolated for another 14 days before going home. He said he had received a few orders to design dresses and had some plans, but was still thinking when the team leader asked, “Are you planning to volunteer for another month?”
“In the past, I was busy making money despite my health. Sometimes I only returned to my hometown to visit my parents once every two months. Coming here, seeing people breathing hard next to oxygen cylinders, I know how to appreciate life, love, and my family,” he said.
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