In the new spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia, healthcare workers are facing new challenges. Nino Kvirtia, a doctor at the First University Clinic in Tbilisi, talked to OC Media about fighting both the virus and disinformation.
‘I’m a resident doctor at the First University clinic and I’ve been working actively with COVID patients since March. I start my 24-hour shift by checking what happened overnight. Because of the paperwork before and after the shift, it can actually last longer than 24 hours.
‘Then I equip myself and begin treating patients. My equipment consists of a respirator, face-shield, jumpsuit, shoe covers, and a cap. We really try to use this equipment sparingly, there’s not so much of it that we have the luxury of changing it all the time. So when we have, for instance, a new group of patients, several of us enter at once to take the decisions together instead of going in and out too many times.’
‘Inside there are nurses who are with patients constantly. Even though my shift is once in four days, I still spend the rest of my days in the clinic — it’s not a requirement and no one is expecting me to be there, it’s a personal choice. At the moment we have 52 patients on our floor and we have room for about 60. When we started receiving patients we had space for about 20, but we expanded.’
‘Since March, we have already confirmed a lot of information about the virus and how to treat it. We’re more ready and feel safer from a medical point of view. We became better at assessing the risks for patients and we know that the means that we’re using now are so far the most effective, even though there are still a lot of question marks in everything related to the virus. What medicine works, what doesn’t — there are no clear answers to that yet.’
‘The main challenge for me is disinformation being spread at the moment. I try to be active in social situations and on social networks, including different COVID groups on Facebook. The most difficult part is unqualified people giving medical advice that can bring harm in the future.’
‘What we’re fighting the most, as doctors, are antibiotic prescriptions. Antibiotics kill bacteria, they don’t destroy the virus. But it’s very hard to engage with the people who are defensive. They’re convinced that if a neighbour recommended something, they can’t have had bad intentions. The fact that a certain treatment helped a neighbour doesn’t mean that it will help you, or cause no side effects. That’s a very dangerous situation that all of us must actively fight by spreading the correct medical information.’
‘We are also constantly fighting for people to wear facemasks correctly, covering their nose and mouth. However, when I see someone wearing a mask incorrectly in public transport, I somehow struggle to correct the person. I am expecting aggression and misunderstanding, and I think it will be just a local unpleasant episode with little result.’
‘That’s why I think that there should be more active ways to encourage people to wear them properly.’
‘Talks about medical mask retaining carbon dioxide and poisoning you are absolutely wrong and ridiculous, because carbon dioxide, as well as other components in the air, moves freely in the mask. The problem is the moisture and warm environment created in the mask, which is ideal for bacteria, so it must be changed frequently. Multiple-use facemasks must be sanitised daily.’
‘Also, I want to note that using only a facemask and ignoring other means of protection creates a false sense of security. Only all three protection methods combined give us results. Practising them today signifies our inner culture, social responsibility, and commitment to solving this crisis.’
‘The system is developing, adapting, and it shouldn’t stop. There will be new protocols, and meanwhile, all we can do is learn the rules to the point where it’s automatic — by keeping a distance, washing our hands, and wearing facemask we’ll protect ourselves, and protect others from us.’
‘In the last few days, people have become more aggressive towards the healthcare profession because of unanswered calls and wait times in the ER — that’s because of the overloaded system.’
‘Everyone around me is working hard, and I feel like, after all this clapping, the aggressive attitude [towards doctors] is not correct.’
‘There are actions taken for confirmed patients to stay at home and be monitored by the family doctors to relieve the pressure on the system. If we break the chain of the spread, I’m hopeful that the clinics will have space for the serious patients. But people must also learn they can be at home, isolated and overcome it in that way.
‘When you’re at home, in most cases, you don’t need anything. People are outraged when doctors don’t prescribe them some medicines. My own personal challenge is to counter that belief.’
‘I often hear that the virus is connected with some political issues as if it’s in Georgia only. It’s almost useless for me to argue against this. Some of my patients who have tested positive for the virus and have symptoms are still denying they have COVID, but I’m not unmotivated to explain things over and over. Society should be more active to raise awareness.’
‘I am not afraid of COVID as much as I’m afraid of spreading it, so I’m strictly following the rules. I’m quite used to the regulations already.’
‘In the first months, of course there was this confusion, then there was the enthusiasm, and now I have accumulated the experience that I’m willing to share. I want to spend my resources for others — I know that despite everything, a doctor’s word can mean a lot, and I’m doing the right thing. It’s just that, everyone should help each other.’
‘We are all tired, but we shouldn’t give up. People shouldn’t divide healthcare workers, or the government, or the public from each other — we should stand together in this. I have hopes that something will change for the better.’
This article was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Regional Office in the South Caucasus. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES.