On January 20 of 2020, China confirmed human-to-human transmission of a novel coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei. This was a huge problem. After all, while Wuhan can’t compete with first-tier Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, it is still a provincial capital that serves as home to more than 11 million people as well as a transportation hub for the surrounding region. Even worse, the outbreak coincided with the Chinese New Year travel season, which is a time when Chinese people travel to reunite with their families for said celebration. As a result, there was a very real risk of the novel coronavirus growing out-of-control, which is why the central Chinese government jumped in with both feet.
One of the measures used to bring the novel coronavirus under control was the sending of healthcare professionals as well as other healthcare resources to Wuhan and its surroundings from the rest of the country. This was necessary because pandemics cause a surge in the need for healthcare resources. Something that can cause outcomes to worsen at a rapid rate when the need for those healthcare resources exceeds the ability of the local healthcare system to provide those healthcare resources. By this point, it should come as no surprise to learn that Zhang Dan was one of the nurses who volunteered to head into Wuhan.
How Did Zhang Dan Cope with the COVID-19 Crisis?
Speaking bluntly, pandemics are terrifying. Something that is particularly true for new pandemics. After all, an existing pandemic means that healthcare systems can count on existing experience, thus making it that much more manageable. In contrast, new pandemics are much murkier, with the result that healthcare professionals are confronted with much more uncertainty even if they have considerable insight into the nature of the infectious disease as well as how to manage it. On top of this, healthcare professionals are exposed to the relevant pathogens on a much more frequent basis than the members of the general population, with the result that even the most thorough precautions might not be enough to prevent them from getting infected as well.
As such, Zhang Dan went in with the assumption that she could wind up losing her life as well. To prepare for this, she purchased life insurance that was payable to her parents, which might sound strange but makes much more sense when one realizes that China still has a relatively weak social safety net. Meanwhile, Zhang Dan figured that her husband could start over in the event of her death because the couple had no children together. Fortunately, her precautions in this regard were unneeded, though she did come under plenty of stress in the course of doing her duty.
Zhang Dan and the rest of her team had a single day of orientation before they were sent into the fray. To protect themselves, they had to don a great deal of protective equipment, with an excellent example being how they had to protect their heads with not one but two hats, not one but two masks, a pair of goggles, and a face shield on top of that. In total, it took them 40 minutes to put on the protective equipment, which is why they avoided bathroom breaks and instead wore adult diapers. As for the nature of Zhang Dan’s duties, much of it consisted of providing day-to-day care for seniors, with examples ranging from cleaning them to lifting their spirits.
Unsurprisingly, this kind of routine took a serious toll on Zhang Dan’s spirits. However, she managed to find a bright spot in the form of a street dog who had managed to catch her eye. It wasn’t too long before she had named the street dog Doudou, which is a rather affectionate name that can be translated into something along the lines of “Beanie.” Soon enough, Zhang Dan wasn’t just feeding the street dog scraps of food but also making the street dog a winter vest using her scrubs. By the middle of March when the volunteers were getting ready to go home, she made an effort to find Doudou a permanent home with the help of some local individuals. Zhang Dan had already gone home when she checked in on her canine companion. Upon learning that no one had offered to adopt Doudou, she decided to introduce a fifth dog to her four-dog household, which is where matters stand in the present time.
Zhang Dan is far from the only healthcare professional to have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in a negative manner. After all, the novel coronavirus has spread throughout the entire world, which includes a number of countries that have been hit much harder than China ever was. As a result, there are a lot of healthcare professionals who have been put through either similar conditions or even worse conditions. There are hundreds of individuals who have died because of their exposure to the infectious disease. On top of that, many more have reported some combination of anxiety, stress, and depression, with the result that there have been reports of healthcare professionals committing suicide because of the psychological pressure placed upon them. There have even been reports of violence committed against said individuals during the COVID-19 crisis.
Unfortunately, this isn’t over. Many countries have managed to bring the novel coronavirus under some measure of control. As a result, while it is likely that they will continue to see cases show up here and there, they have bought themselves enough time to boost their healthcare capabilities to the point that they can handle said issue without having to stop their economies. However, there are also many countries that have either failed to do the same or are still in the process of bringing the novel coronavirus, meaning that their healthcare professionals will have to bear up under much tougher-than-normal working conditions for some time to come. Of course, there is also still the very real risk of a second wave of the novel coronavirus. Hopefully, even more countries will be prepared for that occurrence should it happen thanks to the experience that has been built up in recent months, but that isn’t something that we can be sure of until we see what happens.
Photo via EPA