Hand Rashes From Overwashing, Ulcers From Perpetual Masks: Nurses Describe Life On Coronavirus Front Lines


By Ruth Eglash and Miriam Berger

With U.S. doctors and nurses just starting to gear up for the spread of coronavirus, Chinese medical workers have posted a remarkable account of what life is like there — a warning of sorts about what other countries may experience in coming weeks and months.

In a letter, two nurses describe how medical workers in Wuhan have developed ulcers on their ears and foreheads from wearing protective masks all the time. They said equipment shortages are so severe, they are cleaning and reusing plastic goggles to the point they are hard to see through anymore.

Yingchun Zeng, from the Guangzhou Medical hospital, and Yan Zhen, from the Sun Yat-sen Memorial hospital, are among the 14,000 nurses from across China sent to Wuhan as reinforcements.

Their account paints a stark, vivid picture of the front lines. Putting on protective gear takes so much time and energy, they said, many now abstain from eating and drinking two hours before going into an isolation ward so they won’t have to go to the bathroom. As a result, some nurses’ mouths are covered in blisters. Others have fainted from hypoglycemia.

On top of the physical exhaustion and challenges, medical workers are being stretched to their limits psychologically, say the two nurses, who arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 24. “While we are professional nurses, we are also human. Like everyone else, we feel helplessness, anxiety, and fear,” they said. “Even experienced nurses may also cry, possibly because we do not know how long we need to stay here and we are the highest-risk group for COVID-19 infection.”

They ended their letter with a plea: “We need much more help. We are asking nurses and medical staff from countries around the world to come to China now, to help us in this battle.”


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