From Where I Stand: My commitment to serve humanity is renewed after recovering from COVID-19

Date: Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Author: Habib Asgher

Farheen Sarwat, 49, has worked as Senior Emergency Staff Nurse since 1989 at the Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi, a city adjacent to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Holy Family Hospital, established in 1948, is a 1000 bedded hospital, where Farheen looks after patients coming to Emergency in Pediatrics, Gynecology Units and Emergency Operation Theatre. Farheen, along with a team of emergency doctors and nurses, is playing a critical role as a frontline responder of the COVID-19 pandemic since February 2020. But life changed for her when she herself was hospitalized with COVID-19. 

Photo: Courtesy of Farheen Sarwat

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I’ve been through thick and thin during 31 years of my professional life as a nurse. I’ve seen and treated victims of terrible accidents, people suffering from strange diseases and health conditions, but my hands never trembled while caring for patients. This pandemic, however, came with range of uncertainties, fears and worries as being an emergency nurse means you have to be ready to see possible COVID-19 patients coming with or without symptoms and care for them. Due to stigma and fear attached to the disease, most people here would not tell the truth when asked about their travel history or contact with confirm COVID-19 patients. While we were determined to see patients, perform triage and treat them, a fear of catching the disease was always there, especially when we were initially seeing patients with limited personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Although my hospital is not a designated facility to treat COVID-19 patients, we have testing facility and an isolation ward to move suspected patients before they are shifted to a designated hospital nearby. 

I live with my father in Wah, a town some 40 kilometers from my hospital and commute daily. But since the outbreak, I moved in with my brother in Islamabad as my responsibilities regarding work have increased. 

Then the day came I dreaded the most. I started to feel body pains and mild fever in the third week of April. My colleague asked me to get tested for coronavirus, but I was in a constant state of denial. It’s nothing… it’s only because of fatigue due to long shifts and improper diet. I’ll be alright, I would tell this to my colleague. However, the fever and pains continued, and I was subsequently tested for coronavirus and shifted to Rawalpindi Institute of Urology, which has been converted into COVID-19 treatment facility by the government. I was still skeptical and was in disbelief that I had caught the virus. But the next day I found out the test result was positive. 

Everything changed… I felt dejected, hopeless and hapless. I was constantly shedding tears and crying. I was so worried about my brother and his family, my father and sister because I feared I might have infected them too. Since I’m diabetic and have hypertension, I started to believe this virus would end my life. I handed over my personal savings in cash to my brother, in despair, telling him that this money is of no use to me. He started crying, tried to calm me and told me that nothing will happen to me. I was relieved when I was told that my family members’ tests were negative.

The next few days were very distressing and painful for me. Though my symptoms didn’t worsen, I was mentally stressed. Doctors, however, encouraged us to stay positive and continue to pray. My belief in prayer strengthened during the eight days I spent in the hospital as COVID-19 patient. I felt a positive energy and started to see the light and hope. One day I suffered from shortness of breath. I started walking and praying until I was stable. Now I was determined to fight COVID-19 and come out of it strong, with encouragement from my colleagues.

My father was worried about me, he wanted to visit, but was told by the medical staff that it was not possible. I also felt uncomfortable seeing my family until I’d recovered. A test was conducted a week after my admission and, to my surprise, it was now negative. I was very happy and could go home on 4th of May. I rejoined my duties on 22nd May and was warmly welcomed by my colleagues. 

Now I’m not afraid of seeing COVID-19 patients. I know that it’s my job and if we don’t do this, no one else will. I have a passion for my work knowing I can save their lives. But for emergency doctors, nurses and other staff, self-protection is very important as we are the first responders. 

I ask people to not be afraid of COVID19, rather be prepared to fight it while observing precautions and keep praying that this ends sooner rather than later. Now with personal experience, I’m confident that I’ll be in a better position to identify and care for COVID-19 patients and help them. I’ll now be advocating for testing of every patient coming into the emergency department.

I now spend my days living with my father and taking care of him in Wah. He is happy that I’ve recovered from coronavirus. I’m more committed than ever to serve humanity and I feel proud to be a Nurse."