Thirsty? A day with a volunteer nurse in coronavirus-hit Qom

Qom, March 17, IRNA – The following is a short account of a day by a volunteer cleric helping hospital staff in Qom, the city which is severely stricken by the coronavirus.

As always, I was late. This time: 10 minutes. I sneaked into the gathering of the volunteers. Mr. Sadeghi, the supervisor of the morning shift, was giving a speech.

“A speech? Now?” I wondered.

“We are here to sell our time and efforts to God, no one else …  not the doctors or nurses. Selling goods to two people at the same time is hypocrisy,” he said.

Then, Mohajer came. He was the head of the night shift and an energetic young PhD student. He called the roll and asked the volunteers to choose the wards in which they had already made friends with the patients.

One went to the orthopedics ward, one to neurology ward, … and I? I chose the ob-gyn.

                                                                                                                                                           

Mohajer handed out the special gear to each person and said, “Today, we have no pants. So keep your own pants on, but make sure to wash them at the end of the day. And wear three masks because we don’t have any N95 respirators.”

“From tomorrow, we may have to wear clothes people have sent. No gowns. We don’t have enough of those.”

We put on our whatever protective clothes we had and left for the rooms of the patients.  My glasses steamed up as soon as I put the mask on my face.”

One of the volunteers have just lost his father to coronavirus in the same hospital. Though, he was extremely sad, he managed to pull himself together and help the patients.

Upon entering the elevator, a code 99 was announced through the loud speakers, which meant one of the patients had passed away.

What a day! It started with death of a patient.

It was a shock. Everyone became dismayed to hear the news. Though we have heard the tragic code 99 many times in the past two week, we are still not used to it.

To cheer the morose group up, someone said, “I guess we are the ill omen, here.” Another one said, “How coquettish was the girl who announced it? She sounded as if she was making her wedding vows.” Then he tried to copy her.

He managed to put a smile on our lips.

******

Each one got out of the elevator at the chosen floor. Mine was the fifth floor: the ob-gyn ward. It was, like all the other wards of the hospital, allocated to coronavirus-hit people.

Mohajer’s red eyes revealed that he had been up the whole night. I said, “Don’t burn the candle at both ends or you’ll get sick, Dude. Get some rest.”

“That’s OK,” he came back. Then, he asked me to make a visit to Ms. Paresh, a rustic old woman who had lost two sons in the Iraqi invasion of Iran. She was now fighting with coronavirus.

I greeted the nurses at the information desk, disinfected my hands, took a pair of latex gloves, and then headed for the rooms of the patients.

Room 1:

There were three patients. It is 8:05. Two of them had eaten their breakfast, but the other one had barely touched it. He May have overslept or had no appetite, or… Anyway, I took what was left of their breakfast to clean their bed trays.

Room 2:

There were three people in the room. I knew two of them a history professor and a young man. The other one was new; he was the only one up and was counting his prayers on his rosary. He looked like Afghans. And as there are many foreign students in Qom, I asked him if he was a foreigner.

“I’m from India. I’m student at Hojjatieh religious school.”

We talked for a while. Suddenly, he started to cough; he put the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. His coughs stopped after some seconds.

As I wanted to leave the room, the young man who had just woken up asked for water. Coronavirus patients feel constantly thirsty. Their throat is always dry.

I took him some water from the drinking fountain which was not ice-cold. I told him that ice-cold water was bad for them.

Room 3:

Patients were watching a program about coronavirus. I changed the channel for the program was disheartening for them. They need high spirits to fight the “damned” virus.

One of the patients needed to go to the toilet, I pulled out the just-emptied serum needle from his hand, helped him come out of the bed, took him to the toilet, and helped him sit.

He took about 10 minutes (!) to call me in again to help him come out of the lavatory.

Room 4:

As I knew the patients of Room 4 are Muslim women, before entering, I cried, “Decent?” after a couple of second, I entered the room. In that room, there was an old Azeri-speaking women, named Bulbul (=nightingale) who knew no Persian. She pointed to me to get closer. She said, “Su issiram,” which means, “I want water,” in Azeri …

***

Upon leaving the room, I heard the supervisor of the sanitation of the ward call me. “Can you please give me a hand here?”

A very bad smell nearly made me vomit. An old man’s diaper needed to be changed. We did that.

“I’m relieved. Thank you. May God bless you,” the old man said.

****

Every day, I visit patients room after room, give them breakfast and water. And if need be, try to calm them and give them hope.

It was about 10:30 a.m. that my phone rang. It was my beloved ball and chain. She was very sad and stressed-out; I had not seen her and my daughter for about two weeks. I took off the mask to take an easy breath. It is really pleasant, even in a COVID-19 hospital, to take your mask off after hours.

My patient wife asked me when I would be back and I had no clear answer for her. She burst into tears. She was in Hamedan, hundreds of kilometers away Qom, where I was.

“I have butterflies in my stomach. I’m afraid you may get sick too,” she said. I calmed her down and said that now my duty is to help these people.

I wanted her to put my one-year old daughter on the phone, just to hear her babbling voice. But she refused. She said every time when she hears your voice, she becomes a bit restless and ill-tempered. She needs you here.

I just remembered those girls and boys who lost their fathers in the war with the US-made terror group Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. They really miss their dads.

Another patient called me. He needed water…

Doctors dismissed some patients; they feel like they have been born again.

“Mr. Rostami,” a nurse called. She needed some help with some diabetic patients that needed insulin.

One of them had tattoo of a young woman with long hair on his arm. He looked at my surprises eyes and said, “It belonged to long ago, when he was truck driver. I was in love with these things.” The nurse injected the insulin through the girl’s hair that was moving in the wind.  

***

I made a visit to Mahmoud Farajollahi, an old man in his 80s. No one could catch what he said because they could hear his faint voice. He had no teeth that made the condition worse.

As he was speaking and guessed he wanted water. And he did. He nodded yes.

The water the old man was drinking set me in fire. I couldn’t help crying.

***

I felt tired. I needed a drink, a cup of tea, or… A nurse offered me a glass of carrot juice. People had sent the juice for the nurses.

The bottle read, “Well done, heroes!”

The nurse told me that he had not visited his wife and two sons for 13 days, though they were in the same city. He was afraid to transmit the virus home.

There are some hospital staff members that have not seen their families for three weeks.

The nurse who has not go home for 13 days and me

***

It is prayers time. We have put three prayer rugs in the emergency stair case for that purpose. That’s our prayer room.

I have said my prayers in different clothes: in khaki, in Sistan-Baluchestan, southeastern Iran; in religious cloak, when there was a flood in western Iran about 11 months ago; and now, in a nurse gown.

I love them all.

Written by: Mohammad-Javad Rostami, a hawza student

Translated by: Hossein Abolqasemi

9417**1424

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