March 2020 will always be remembered by Muhamad Hariz Bin Muhamad Razali. It was the day when Hariz confronted the possibility of contracting the virus after being exposed to a positive case during work. From being anxious about his health to worrying about exposing his family to the virus, Hariz was faced with a multitude of emotions during his two-week quarantine period.
In this article, the 29-year-old physiotherapist at Sengkang General Hospital reflects on his experience as a frontliner during the pandemic.
How did you feel when you saw the news of the rise in community cases?
I felt a wave of different emotions. To be honest, it was a little disappointing as Singapore was doing so well up till that point in time. However, it is important to understand that the virus is a mutated one and the newer strains are more contagious. I also thought of the vulnerable groups in our society like the elderly, unvaccinated individuals and my fellow healthcare workers. The pandemic burnout is real; to face another wave of community cases may be detrimental to everyone's physical, emotional and mental health.
As your work requires you to be in close proximity with positive cases, was there ever the fear of contracting the virus?
Actually... I had to serve a two-week quarantine because I was exposed to a patient with COVID-19 at work, during the initial outbreak in March last year. Contact tracing was swift and when the news broke that I had to be quarantined, I was shocked, anxious and fearful – not just for myself, but for my family too. Self-isolation was a dampener. Fortunately, I had so much support from my workplace (I received a care package!) and loved ones. Upon returning to work, I felt reassured as the hospital had implemented strict screening and tightened protocols when handling suspected COVID-19 cases.
How has work changed for you before COVID-19 struck, and now?
Apart from the changes in workflows and processes, work has largely stayed the same for me. It has always been, and always will be about my patients' well-being and rehabilitation. Furthermore, consistent hand hygiene and infection control measures remain strict in the hospital, pandemic or not.
Could you share one memorable experience you've had with a patient with COVID-19 during this period of time?
I had cared for a migrant worker. As he spoke basic English, we had to communicate mainly through gestures and demonstrations. His tolerance for exercise had been poor, and he got breathless just by walking. As we spent more time together during therapy, he opened up and shared the reason why he came to Singapore to work. He even showed me a photo of his wife and child on his phone and said, "Need to get better so can work for family." This touched my heart. I encouraged him to continue his therapy for a swift recovery.
What keeps you going during this difficult time?
It is my hope that we will eventually return to our lifestyles pre-pandemic. I wish that our children will be able to play freely outdoors and that our elderly will not be confined to their homes. It would be a dream for students to reconnect with their peers face-to-face, as well as working adults to pursue their dreams without the limitations of the pandemic.
How do you feel about the reports of discrimination against healthcare professionals?
Disappointed. When you are on the ground, you know how stringent healthcare professionals are with infection control. I am also aware of the amount of effort that goes into ensuring that the virus is contained. However, we are a resilient bunch and it is not easy to break our spirits.
As a frontliner, could you share the importance of being vaccinated?
Being vaccinated not only protects you from COVID-19, but minimises the risk of your loved ones contracting the virus. Although the vaccine does not completely negate the chances of getting infected, it will help to reduce the severity of the virus' effects on your health.
During this challenging period, is there something you'd like to say to your healthcare colleagues and the public?
To my fellow healthcare heroes, I'd like to express my heartfelt gratitude for your hard work and sacrifice. Let's press on for Singapore's future. As for members of the public, your support makes a huge difference in our morale! Do also stay safe, be responsible and abide by safety regulations as we all have a part to play in our fight against COVID-19.