National

Medical workers under mental strain as Tokyo's daily virus counts go up and down

Jiji

Medical professionals in the capital are going through an emotional roller coaster with the coronavirus pandemic, torn by fear of infection and signs of encouragement as the daily case counts fluctuate.

At Kawakita General Hospital in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, not only pulmonologists but also surgeons and otolarynologists are handling patients to ease the burden on its respiratory specialists

Doctors see about 30 confirmed and suspected patients at its dedicated outpatient space daily, administering medicine and conducting polymerase chain reaction tests.

Takahiro Okai, deputy head of the hospital, said the emotional burden on doctors is significant.

Each doctor can receive only one N95 high-performance mask a day, there are not enough medical gowns and it takes time for new ones to arrive after orders are placed.

“Without ‘weapons,’ we can’t do our job,” he said.

In the meantime, Okai sees a silver lining in the halving of new patient numbers in Suginami from last week.

“We feel anxious if the number keeps rising. But if the number falls, we think we can keep going a bit more,” he said.

The burdens are also being shouldered by the nurses.

“We think about how we can protect ourselves and our patients,” said Kyoko Nagaike, 64-year-old head of nursing at Kawakita Medical Foundation, which runs the hospital. “The stress is high,” she said.

At the hospital’s branch facility, a pair of nurses are assigned to each infected inpatient. When one is in the patient’s room, the other stays outside to input the person’s symptoms on a computer and to prepare intravenous drips.

Some doctors and nurses are staying at hotel rooms the hospital has rented and do not go home to avoid the risk of infecting family members.

Though there are some empty beds now at the hospital, Nagaike said the possibility of an overwhelming spike in cases remains.

“We worry whether we will be able to cope if the number of infected people goes up sharply,” she said.

She urged people to comply with authorities’ requests to stay home and make other efforts to keep the virus from spreading.

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