A frontline doctor’s husband died of Covid-19
Every frontline has a backline, and every Covid-19 medical worker has a family. For those who toil from dusk till dawn in PPE and sleep in hallways lined with patient beds and IV pumps, it is the thought of reuniting with their loved ones once the pandemic is over that motivates them and fortifies their minds.
However, that beautiful vista doesn’t always come to pass, especially when a medical worker meets their loved ones on the frontlines.
That’s what happened to Dr Hiền, a Covid-19 doctor whose husband died of Covid-19.
This story was originally shared on Zing and has been edited for clarity and brevity.
When a Covid-19 doctor’s family member also contracts Covid-19
Covid-19 Hospital No.16
Image credit: Ministry of Health
Dr Hiền is a medical worker at Hùng Vương Hospital in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. While she was still attending to Covid-19 patients at the hospital, her mother and husband contracted Covid-19. They were admitted into Covid-19 Hospital No.16 in District 7 in August.
On the evening of 18th August, Dr Hiền called her colleague, Dr Nguyễn Hồng Khánh Duy, who was working at the hospital where her family members were being treated.
“Could you please help me check on my husband and my mother?” she begged on the phone.
Sympathizing with his colleague’s anxieties, he put on PPE and walked to ward E3, where Dr Hiền’s husband and mother-in-law were being treated.
Image credit: Zing
Dr Duy helped the husband, who was still lucid at the time, chat with Dr Hiền via video call.
“I’m fine,” Dr Hiền’s husband spoke to her through an oxygen mask in a positive tone.
Their brief conversation went on with some jokes and laughter.
At that moment, even Dr Duy thought that Dr Hiền’s husband was doing well, given that his blood oxygen level (spO2) was above 90% – which is a normal level.
Nonetheless, a Covid-19 patient’s health can worsen acutely and rapidly.
Within only 24 hours since their last conversation, the husband’s conditions evolved quickly and his spO2 dropped to an alarmingly low level of 45%. His heartbeat was also irregular.
Image credit: VoV
After checking the patient’s vital signs, Dr Duy realized that the patient was being hit by a cytokine storm. Simply known as a condition in which a patient’s bloodstream is filled with inflammatory proteins, a cytokine storm can destroy a patient’s organs, trigger Covid-19 complications, and result in death, according to News Medical.
Immediately, Dr Duy called Dr Hiền to break the news and tell her to brace herself.
30 minutes after the husband’s condition took a drastic downturn, he breathed his last.
In a case like this, there’s nothing else a doctor can do.
However, Dr Duy still had to do one last favour for his colleague Dr Hiền, who asked to see her husband’s face for the last time.
A heart-wrenching favor from a Covid-19 doctor
Dr Hiền received a photo showing her husband’s vital signs at the time of his death
Image credit: Zing
Truth be told, you’re not supposed to come near a person who has died of Covid-19 for safety reasons. Even family members of deceased Covid-19 patients can only see their loved ones’ last moments through photos and videos from medical workers.
This is the rule and everyone knows it.
However, Dr Duy knew that he had to break the rule for his colleague Dr Hiền, who desperately needed closure.
That evening, Dr Duy and Dr Hiền walked down a long, pitch-dark lane to approach the area where Covid-19 bodies were stored. Dr Duy explained their case to the security guard in charge and implored the man to let the lady doctor take a last look at her husband.
Following the anxious but understanding guard’s nod, Dr Duy walked to a container and opened the door.
As they stepped inside, Dr Hiền collapsed at the sight of a white body bag. She reflexively ran her fingers over the bag to find the zipper.
Dr Hiền took a last look at her husband
Image credit: Zing
“Don’t open it!” the security guard screamed in terror at the sight.
However, it was too late. There was nothing else the man could have done to stop a woman from zipping off the body bag for a last look at her life partner. Under the dim light of a phone flashlight, Dr Hiền bade her farewell to her husband, whose face came out dully behind a transparent nylon layer. Ironically, the last moment between partners who’d planned to stay together for life, lasted only a few seconds.
Dr Hiền walked out of the container with dry eyes in complete silence, fulfilling her promise of not letting her emotions take over and affecting other people.
However, the security guard couldn’t control his fear and anger, who probably thought that these doctors must have known better than unzipping a Covid-19 body bag.
“I told you in the very beginning that you can’t open the body bag. I tried to help you. How could you do such a thing?” the man vented his frustration on Dr Duy.
Dr Duy apologized to the man, “I’m sorry. But you don’t have to worry because there was a layer of nylon in the body bag.”
The grievous sendoff between his colleague and her husband hit Dr Duy right in the feels.
He recalled that haunting moment in a low voice choked with heaviness, “I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to barricade myself inside my home with my loved ones and not do anything else.”
The angry security guard walked away, and the two doctors also returned to the Covid-19 ward when it was about dinner time.
Patients started to walk around exercising while some spoke on the phones with their families. Everyone had their own fears to mind and business to attend to.
So did Dr Hiền, who was waiting to receive her deceased husband’s belongings.
There was no funeral for her husband, neither was there any mourning time for her. She had to return to Hùng Vương Hospital immediately, where many patients were being treated and staff members scarce.
Dr Duy spoke a few words of consolation as he parted ways with his colleague, and immediately returned to his ward to continue his shift.
No words can describe the fullness of their sacrifices
Four months into Vietnam’s biggest medical crisis, thousands of medical workers and caregivers have joined the frontline. No words can describe the fullness of their sacrifices, from working in unrelenting conditions to risking contracting the very disease that they’re trying to defeat.
Many medical workers have contracted Covid-19, fallen in the line of duty, and so have their family members. Every day, they have to overcome the fear of going to work and put aside their emotions to continue working.
We stand with all Vietnamese people as we thank the doctors, nurses, medical students, and first responders across the nation who are toiling to keep all of us safe.
Also check out:
- Covid-19 Critical Care Ward: Inside Saigon’s last line of defense
- Vietnam’s road to normalcy: vaccine passport apps and obstacles
- A progressive transition into the new normal is Vietnam’s way out
- Ho Chi Minh City announces plans to reopen in September
- Covid-19 has touched every part of Vietnam except this place
Cover image adapted from: Zing
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