Doreen Alimah on duty at the Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi
Doreen Alimah is an alumna of the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKU-SONAM) as well as a medical-surgical nurse at the Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi (AKUHN). She graduated from AKU-SONAM in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and has been committed to serving patients under her care since 2013 when she began her nursing journey at the Hospital.
When COVID-19 was first confirmed in Kenya, she was assigned to the COVID triage desk, surrounded by posters that outlined symptoms of the virus. Doreen was responsible for receiving suspected COVID clients and scheduling them for testing. She was an initial contact-point for infected patients.
In mid-March, Doreen was seated at her station when a patient called in through the designated COVID hotline. This was during the onset of the virus when protocols for handling the disease in the African context were ambiguous at best and scanty at least. Doreen picked the call, and on the other end of the line was a client who revealed she was experiencing COVID-related symptoms. The caller was worried that she may have contracted the virus on a recent visit to Spain; one of the virus hotspots at the time.
“A few minutes after the call, she came to the triage desk, accompanied by her husband," Doreen recalled. Doreen handed her over to another nurse for swab tests, before accompanying the client to the laboratory.
Three days later, Doreen woke up sweating, fatigued and with a terrible sore throat. The sore throat was so bad that she mixed oranges, honey and lemon in hot water to feel better. Nonetheless, she was on the day shift and had work to do. As a social person, she complained to everyone that she was not feeling well, but she managed to make it through the afternoon. Doreen remembers being at her work station at 3 pm when the television flashed repeatedly with breaking news. “I remember hearing that the 5th COVID patient had turned positive. The patient was confirmed to be at a private hospital."
Shortly thereafter, two of her supervisors approached her and asked whether she was fine and if she had checked her temperature recently. “I replied so fast that my temperature was fine", Doreen recollected cheekily. She was told to go to one of the wards, where a nurse manager was waiting for her. As soon as she reached, Doreen was told that the patient she had handled had tested positive. Since she also had symptoms, she was to be isolated as well. Doreen was isolated and tested before the Hospital organised for her transport home so that she could begin self-isolating. “This was one of the most traumatic times in my life," she remembered.
Two days later, the Hospital called and informed her that the test results were negative. Doreen was relieved. However, she had to go in for review where she was isolated, tested and admitted into the isolation ward. “I was so scared and in denial," Doreen revealed, “My workmates were so worried that if I turned out positive they could be infected as well."
She added: “When I was admitted, my siblings and I agreed to keep this information from our parents." However, that same night, her father called her younger brother and insisted on talking to Doreen since he knew she was self-isolating where the siblings lived together. “My brother had to tell him that I was admitted and they were so stressed."
The AKUHN nurse tested negative after three consecutive tests.
Doreen reflected that the COVID scare reminded her of so many things about the nursing profession. “Most of my friends, colleagues and the hospital leadership supported me, and through their encouragement, I felt strong."
She added: “I learned that as a nurse, I am the immediate advocate for the patient. When I was in that hospital bed, I remember how I longed for the time when a nurse would enter the room so that I could speak to him/her. I realised how important we are as nurses to patients."
Doreen has since returned to work, acknowledging the importance of her role in defeating the pandemic. The Hospital also developed additional protocols to limit the extent of contact that patients have with healthcare workers while still providing quality care. One of the protocols that Doreen appreciated was that patients are provided with a ward mobile number upon arrival so that they can communicate their needs to healthcare workers who can then plan on how to intervene while protecting themselves.