‘We Live in Fear Every Day’: Burnt-Out Health Workers Prepare for the Worst in Wuhan

February 8, 2020 Updated: February 11, 2020
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Qinqin, a hospital worker in coronavirus epicenter Wuhan, has written a will in case anything unexpected happens as she toils to fight off the deadly virus that has brought the city to a standstill.

The hospital administrator has not had a day off since the Lunar New Year more than two weeks ago, when the outbreak pushed hospitals across the city to the breaking point.

On any given day, around 600 patients would flock to the hospital where Qinqin works (not her real name), to seek diagnosis and treatment for the virus. She would often not leave the hospital until midnight.

About 70 frontline medical workers at Qinqin’s hospital have contracted the virus, she told The Epoch Times. One of her colleagues, a man just over 30 years old, collapsed on the ground while working on Feb. 5. He later tested positive for the coronavirus.

A photo of a PowerPoint slide widely circulated over the internet, reportedly taken during a recent provincial-level coronavirus response conference, showed that 13 major hospitals in Hubei Province—Wuhan is the capital of Hubei—each had at least 15 medical workers who contracted the virus. One hospital had 101 infected health workers.

“It may be just a single slip: a face mask not adjusted right, or hands not washed properly, but the consequence is grim,” Qinqin said.

Epoch Times Photo
People wearing masks wait amid snow at a bus stop as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China, on Feb. 6, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

‘Live or Perish on Your Own’

Song, a retired doctor who was recently rehired at a private hospital, is among the scores of health workers who have been infected.

He became feverish around Jan. 18 while treating patients. Believing that he had contracted pneumonia, Song resorted to IV drips and injections. In a week, his fever had shot up to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with fever, he also had diarrhea, according to Li, Song’s sister-in-law.

A doctor told them he was infected by the coronavirus, but the hospital didn’t admit him, saying that “only when someone dies will they be able to check if there’s a spot for him,” Li told The Epoch Times.

Song is now at home and being taken care of by his wife and Li. Li said Song’s diarrhea has since gotten worse. She said they protect themselves with glasses, masks, and hats while caring for Song at home.

They have lost contact with their neighbors and friends, as people have stopped visiting since the outbreak scare.

She also believed the death figures to be far higher than what’s reported, saying that she witnessed staff at Wuhan Central Hospital “pulling dead bodies outside” when she took Song there to get injections.

“The common folk are waiting for death. Those in Wuhan are left to live or perish on their own at home,” Li said. “What else can you do? There’s no other way.”

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Commuters wearing face masks ride a metro train in Tokyo on Feb. 8, 2020. (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

Devastation

One day while getting back home from a meeting at 11 p.m., Qinqin sat on the road curb and cried, letting a sense of despair sink in.

“We live in fear every day, but still we need to do our job well,” she said.

Medical supplies have become a scarcity. Qinqin said the facility has had to ration the medical equipment based on each area’s “level of danger.”

The hospital receives 200 donated masks daily, barely enough for one-fifth of the frontline workers alone, while the number of hazmat suits could only equip one department unit, according to Qinqin.

As restaurants have shut down across the city, sourcing food for the staff has also become a challenge. “Without donations from the public, all of the supplies at the hospital would have run out over this period. We would have been in a mess,” she said.

“You asked whether I feel scared. I’m not sure either—because I don’t know what day my life will be over,” Qinqin said.

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