She is one of the battalion of heroes we applaud every night at eight. But most of us do not really know what it is like to fight a hand-to-hand battle against Covid-19, side by side with patients in their hour of need and cheered by an admiring, but deeply worried general audience. We exchanged a few words with Salimatou, who has been working for a month as a night nurse on the front line at the Brugmann hospital, where she has now, thanks to the offices of Randstad Medical, been hired permanently. Prior to reaching her present position on the front line, she studied to become a nurse and gained experience at several hospitals in Belgium.
"As I start in the evenings, I often travel to work to applause. Some people have even got in the habit of congratulating me personally when I walk by their homes. They don't realise just how heartwarming such small gestures are to us."
"The risk is very real, that's for certain. But we have adapted to it, day by day, addressing problems as they arise. Under normal circumstances, I am alone on the ward at night. Now there are six of us. This serves to strengthen the bonds between team members. Usually, we pass each other fleetingly as we come and go and that's it. Now it's very different. Also, I'd say it's an honour to serve and fight this disease, as we are facing a pandemic of this scale."
"This situation is a hard slog for the hospital staff, but it is obviously also an ordeal for the patients, who are kept in isolation, as their family and friends aren't allowed to visit or contact them. Some of them cry with misery, so we have to comfort them, try to cheer them up… this aspect has become part and parcel of the nurses' daily reality. We have to lend a sympathetic ear to the patients as well as to their families."
"The first days were particularly trying. We only treated cases labeled as "suspected", which means the patients may be ill, but we can't be certain. This uncertainty caused high tension on the ward."
"Of course, In the month since I started serving at the front, I have been through a lot. It is incredibly hard to be around a patient for a while, only to watch him die a couple of hours later. Yet though this affects me deeply, I always try to put things in perspective. I tell myself we did all we could to save him. When I get back home, I find it very hard to get these images out of my mind. I try not to relive my working day and to keep it from having an effect on my loved ones. Though in some way it is obviously always on my mind."
"I have a family with young children and a two-year old toddler, but I try not to think too hard about the fact that I might catch this disease. My experience as a nurse has helped me to acquire the right reflexes. I have, for instance, put aside certain clothes for use when I go to work only. I never wear them at home. So the message I'd like to pass on is in fact a plea for prudence and love: stay at home and take care of your loved ones!"