We Care We Share
An initiative of UN Bhutan- resilience tools for COVID-19
Behind the wheels: Shuttling patients and hope during lockdown
The streets are empty. Apart from the occasional delivery vans and surveillance cars driving past, Yakub Rai, 24, drives the ambulance without a siren. It is midnight and Yakub is attending to a call from Babesa concerning a treatment for a dog bite ten minutes ago. With restrictions on free movement of vehicles during the lockdown, ambulance drivers like Yakub have been working around the clock and had never been busier.
This is already his eighth patient. Working on the night-shift tonight, Yakub started his 12-hour duty at 9 PM. All ambulance drivers at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) take on rostered shifts and are currently housed at the hospital.
“A few hours before Bhutan went into lockdown, we received a call from our office saying that we had to report at 6 AM in the morning. I must have picked and dropped over 20 patients that day. In the past our services rarely went beyond picking up patients, they would normally find their own transportation to go back home, now we drop them home,” says Yakub.
Prior to the nationwide lockdown, there would be about 7 to 8 patients a day who needed ambulance services. Most would shuttle on their own as it was convenient and quicker. However, as the period of lockdown extends, there are exceptions in place for patients to use private vehicles with urgent appointments. Still, the patient numbers have almost doubled and causes manpower challenge to ambulance services. There is even a pool vehicle service where a vehicle can transfer more than one patient at a time. Such services are given to patients who do not show symptoms of the virus but is usually visiting the hospital for regular checkups, chemotherapy appointments and injections. Generally, in extreme and urgent cases, ambulance drivers are accompanied by Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) to collect patients. There is another group of ambulance drivers who are solely designated for COVID-19 patients. They live within a contained zone and are isolated with strict safety measures.
“The management in our office is looking into finding volunteers among government drivers to help ease our work. It will really boost our morale and services. We were advised that we should stay at the hospital for now, in case we might get infected and take a role in transmitting the disease to our families and neighbours,” says Yakub.
Ambulance drivers are required to change their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) starting from their facemasks, gowns, gloves, and caps every day.
“We are doing our bit, but I do feel overwhelmed with mixed emotions sometimes with lockdown and the thought of how we haven’t seen our families all this time. But we try to be positive, everyone is having a tough time adjusting to this new way of life,” adds Yakub.
On a lighter side, Yakub shares that for the entire duration of his lockdown duty, the ambulance did not have to squeeze through traffic or use their sirens at all.
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