COVID-19 Chronicles Ep 2. Anxiety on the Frontlines: Health Workers and Others Face Fear and Uncertainty

0:00 / 0:00
Ep 2

Najib describes health workers’ psychological hardship and Marzia relates how she and her family coped during the pandemic.

Najib: Among the healthcare workers in [the PRC] what we found was one of the biggest challenges was psychological.

Healthcare workers were working almost 24 hours a day to deal with this unprecedented unknown flu, eventually called COVID-19. Healthcare workers were responsible for testing, treating, and tracking suspected cases, especially difficult when people are traveling either within the city, across the province, or even across borders. When people returned from areas that are considered higher risk, they were quarantined in a hotel for 14 days and then 7 days at home, they underwent repeated nucleic acid tests.

Healthcare workers monitored the returning people’s close contacts and those who have been deemed exposed to COVID-19, including possible COVID-19 contaminated food such as fruits and vegetables. The health centers in [the PRC] regularly collected samples from workers who delivered these food packages. Healthcare workers assisted the whole population in cities and provinces to deal with the mass testing. Healthcare workers worked closely with neighborhood communities, health professionals, collecting samples every day, and collected samples from those who are bedridden or sick with the disease, and also those who are quarantined. Healthcare workers were so busy they could not go for lunch, restaurants were closed and the township health centers and others had to give them instant noodles and self-heating rice just so they could take turns eating and also sleeping so the testing and vaccination of the large population shouldn’t stop.

Many of them would go home very late at night, have a few hours’ sleep and do the whole thing all over again. Sometimes it would be difficult to agree to the quarantine measures. For example, some gaps in procedures, incomplete information, or ability to correctly follow the protocols would give rise to confusion and complaints and anger in the early days of the pandemic. Sometimes coordination mechanisms and networks did not function adequately to many health workers. People who took responsibility for rolling out these essential public health measures sometimes felt wrongly blamed for a process that was unprecedented and sometimes, of course, confusing and overwhelming. How did you cope with this stress and anxiety when you were there with your family?

Marzia: We tried to have a normal routine. We had clear times for studying or working, for lunch together, for cooking. We also would set a time for some exercise together. We could still go down and go to the park. But again, the stress of not knowing how the spreading was and how you could get it. There was really complete ignorance at the time.

Najib: Transparent and consistent communication is the most important thing to do when preventing and responding to an infectious disease. Communication through trusted sources that are consistent and regular reduce anxiety and also assist the people in making correct decisions that reduce their risk.

Among the healthcare workers in [the PRC], what we found was one of the biggest challenges was psychological. Though health workers may have mastered the procedures and the skills of how to test, treat and track the disease, still, many health workers experience difficulties in communication, difficulties on how to collaborate effectively with large teams, and even psychological difficulties. Technical issues can be resolved and overcome with skills, effort, study, and practice, but anxiety is invisible. Anxiety is something that needs to be resolved and addressed almost on a personal basis, and we need to empower people to try to address this very, very important issue when dealing with large-scale pandemics such as COVID-19. Consistent and reliable communication was seen as one of the best ways to deal with this issue.

Sometimes healthcare workers felt that communities were not being helpful because they did not understand. And this method of communication, again, often with incomplete information, but to the best of expert knowledge helped a lot in trying to reduce risk of everybody.

Marzia: I completely agree that communication is critical, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, of which there is very little knowledge. And that probably was the good thing and the bad things for us. The good thing was that not understanding Chinese, I was not fully aware of what was happening. But when information came in and I understood the scale of what was happening, we didn’t really have a sense of what’s happening.

Najib: What did you do to take care of your mental health in the pandemic, and what did you do to maybe even as a mother and as a spouse?

Marzia: We were running around the apartment, we were jumping, we were using our Xbox for We Dance, being active and making it fun for the kids. There are a lot of testimonies around the world that this work from home and this living indoors and not being able to go to work and the kids to school was heavier on women, because when kids don’t feel well or they are scared or they need help with the homework, they tend to be to go to the mother.

Maybe I was in a meeting with management and I had my son asking me how to solve the problem of math and then I would have to tell him to wait. But we had clear roles for all four of us—who cooks, who does a bit of cleaning, who helps with the homework. We were working as a team.

Najib: It shows to me that in times of stress and even disaster, you really rely on your family and your community, not just for food, shelter, protection, but also for mental health resilience and just coping with the pandemic. I really admire you and what you did.

Marzia: It was not always easy. We really had to alternate being strong for our kids.

Is this article helpful?

© 2024 Regional Knowledge Sharing Initiative. The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and presenters and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data in any documents and materials posted on this website and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in any documents posted on this website, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.