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Formerly infected doctors prepare to jump back into coronavirus fight

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-02-12 13:58

Since early January, Hu Sheng has been at the heart of the battle against the new coronavirus infecting thousands in the Central Chinese city of Wuhan. In recent days, however, the 39-year-old doctor has been focusing on just one patient: himself.

The respiratory disease specialist's first encounter with the outbreak came on Jan 8. His employer, the Third People's Hospital of Hubei Province, reassigned Hu to the outpatient department to help colleagues deal with a sudden surge in fever and pneumonia cases.

The hospital is located just 7 kilometers from the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, where many of the first coronavirus cases were thought to have emerged in December.

Hu said doctors in the outpatient department were working 24-hour shifts, dealing with up to 100 patients each day. Around 60 percent of the patients had pneumonia.

The physician took all the usual protective measures, wearing a mask at all times while seeing patients. Yet after two weeks, he began to feel fatigued and developed a cough.

At first, Hu thought his intense workload was taking a toll on his health. But he decided to go for a CT scan anyway. Fifteen medical workers had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on Jan 21, and health experts confirmed the disease was capable of human-to-human transmission.

"I have a three-year-old child, and my parents are old. I had to be cautious, because I'd been working in an extremely dangerous environment," Hu told Sixth Tone.

Hu underwent a virus test on Jan 24. That evening, he was due to meet his family for a traditional Lunar New Year's Eve dinner. But he canceled his plans as soon as he saw the results: pneumonia.

In late January, as more doctors became sick, Wuhan's hospitals ramped up protection measures and medical staff began wearing hazmat-style protective uniforms, masks, goggles and face shields.

Hu said he is feeling much better after more than a week's rest at home. "I've regained most of my vitality," he told Sixth Tone. "I'm exercising a bit more each day to get ready for when I go back to work."

Hu has been living apart from his wife and child since being reassigned to the outpatient department, and his family remains healthy. But his wife, a doctor at a community hospital, is still working on the front lines, dealing with fever patients on a daily basis.

"She still lives with our young child," Hu said. "I've repeatedly told her to pay attention to every detail of protection at work, but I'm still deeply concerned about their health."

Ye Liwen, 27, was transferred to the fever clinic at the Third People's Hospital on Jan 4. She didn't tell her parents what she would be doing in her new position. "I didn't want to worry them too much," she said.

Her team had some five physicians on duty at a time, but the staff was constantly changing as doctors recuperated from illness and long shifts.

Anxiety on wards is dissipating, as staff members who had contracted the virus early on have recovered and returned to work, Ye said.

"From feeling a lot of panic at the beginning, I think the general atmosphere at the fever clinic is calming down," Ye said. "We understand more and more about the virus … (and) this gives us a sense of security."

(This an excerpt of an article published on Sixth Tone, an online magazine owned by the Shanghai United Media Group)

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