By Shima Shahrabi
March 5, 2020
Wearing a veil, a mask and a gown in the operating room, one nurse says: “When the staff sacrifice their lives and come to help, there should be enough facilities. Unfortunately, the facilities are very poor. The dress I am wearing is not appropriate at all.” She points to her pants and says, “This is not my uniform. I should not have to worry about finding suitable attire from early morning. Standard clothing should be abundant. For every shift I have to be able to give the patients and their companions a mask, and give them disinfectant gels and gloves. Alcohol should be available.” She shakes her head sadly and says, “Unfortunately, there is very little clothing and personal protective equipment.” A video of this nurse’s account of the situation was posted online by the head of Razi Hospital in Rasht.
Another nurse, Fatemeh, works at Shohada Tajrish Hospital in Tehran. “In the last few days I have seen Gilani nurses on Telegram channels saying that the situation is good for Tehrani nurses. But our situation is not really different. No facilities.” She pauses and says, “There is not a mask in the hospital — we have to make masks ourselves. The N-95 Protective Mask is not available in the market. There are low-quality filter masks; we go to medical supplies stores and buy them there. Gloves and alcohol are scarce, and that is not just the problem in Gilan hospitals but in other cities as well.”
According to the nurse, the four wards of Shohada Tajrish Hospital are all assigned to patients with coronavirus, or COVID-19. “But the treatment staff lacks equipment and we have neither standard clothing nor safety and security.” The nurse stresses that there is a high likelihood of adding a COVID-19 care unit: “The rest of the hospital is almost shut down.” The nurse referred to a letter the deputy health minister sent hospitals and medical centers on February 28, urging them to refrain from accepting unnecessary patients until further notice and to prohibit visits to patients in all departments. She said, however, that this directive was not fully being followed and that some patients were still being admitted.
The letter also called for hospitals and centers to form a committee of specialist physicians to discharge or transfer the patients to the intensive care unit. It threatened to punish the doctors and medical personnel if they failed to follow these orders, or if they left their jobs.
Hospitals Designated to Deal with the Crisis Still Il-Equipped
According to the nurse in Tehran, Imam Khomeini, Massih Daneshvari and the Martyrs of Yaftabad hospitals have adequate facilities — these centers were initially earmarked to deal with COVID-19 patients. However, one staff member at the Martyrs of Yaftabad Hospital we spoke to disagreed. “We do not have standard clothing. They have given us clothes but no shoe covers. No disinfectant is available and we use bleach to disinfect desks and phones.”
Amir, who works for Tehran’s Emergency Center, gives his account: “The outfits are not complete. We are not allowed to wear these clothes while visiting a patient who has symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. We have only two uniforms in each emergency zone. They said that, according to the protocols of the Ministry of Health, we are only allowed to wear special clothing when visiting a person who has been tested positive for coronavirus, not before.” He said authorities have given examples for this protocol: “When they said that a coronavirus positive patient needs to be transferred from one hospital to another and that we are assigned the task [of taking them], then we should wear these clothes.”
Parvaneh is a nurse at one of Gilan’s hospitals and says she has been frightened since the death of the 25-year-old nurse Narges Khanalizadeh from COVID-19 in Lahijan Milad Hospital. Lack of necessary facilities have fueled this fear: “Neither the masks, alcohol, and clothing are appropriate, nor the glasses and other protective equipment.” Earlier, a civil activist from the city of Langarud told IranWire that hospitals had provided medical personnel with plastic clothing used by fishermen. According to another nurse in Gilan, several COVID-19 care workers have resigned: “They have been told if they resign now, they will never be allowed back to work,” the nurse said.
Medical staff have also been threatened over video recordings and voice mails: “The hospitals’ medical staff have been notified by the intelligence department not to report any news and not to help the enemy’s intentions,” the nurse told IranWire.
Amid all the bad news and dire lack of necessary facilities and protection, nurses and other members of hospital medical staff made a bold decision on Tuesday, March 3: they danced in front of a camera, covering their entire bodies and faces to prevent the transmission of the virus, and then shared the clips on social media. One of them laughed when talking about it. “All of this is due to alcohol; we have been disinfecting our hands and surfaces with alcohol throughout these days.” Another nurse predicted what was to come next: “As soon as they find out who’s in front of the camera, the threats will begin.”