Discovery TV documentary tells of Dubai hospital workers' heroics on Covid front line

Medical staff say second wave was most deadly in battle against the pandemic

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Of the many patients Waafika Seegers treated for Covid-19 as an ICU doctor in Dubai, the memory of one still haunts her.

The woman in her early 30s, with no risk factors, caught the virus during the second coronavirus wave driven by the Delta variant.

Already severely ill with Covid symptoms when she was admitted, her condition continued to deteriorate in hospital, even after doctors put her lying on her stomach to help her breathe easier.

“Eventually we had to intubate her and ventilate her,” Ms Seegers, nurse and intensive care unit manager at Mediclinic Parkview, told The National.

“I remember before intubating her she had called her husband on the phone.

“She said ‘You need to come in and talk to them because I don’t want to do this.'”

Waafika Seegers, intensive care unit manager at the Mediclinic Parkview at her home in JVC District 11 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

The doctors explained to her husband that if she was not intubated and put on a ventilator, then she would not make it.

“I think the last thing I remember her saying was 'I don’t want to do this, I am not going to wake up again',” said Ms Seegers, who is from South Africa.

The initial prognosis from the doctors was that she would pull through and seemed to be doing well. But her condition worsened rapidly and she eventually succumbed to the disease.

“Unfortunately we didn’t win that battle,” said Ms Seegers.

“When they start deteriorating, they go very fast. I remember even the doctors came in to say 'we checked everything, what is it about this second wave?' I think that was what was so hectic about Delta. Delta was a real killer.”

The second wave affected much younger patients, said Ms Seegers, who features in the documentary, Making Peace with a Pandemic, which charts Dubai’s response to the Covid crisis.

“We deal with death so much, we become hardened by it and it’s almost part of life,” she said.

“But suddenly when you have this pandemic and you are running from one [patient] to the other and people are dying and you don’t have all the answers, it’s really hard.”

The first part of the series, made by Nomad production company as part of a collaboration between the Dubai government and Discovery Channel, provides an insight into decisions taken by authorities to protect public health.

The second episode, which is harrowing at times, focuses on the emirate’s medical sector's response.

Slow recovery

Alice Augustin with her husband Jerry James during rehabilitation. Alice was very sick and lost her baby while she had Covid-19.

Alice Augustin, 36, a nurse from India, Kerala, who is one of the patients featured, was working as a school nurse and was seven months' pregnant when she caught Covid-19 in January 2021.

“I got back pain and fever,” she told The National.

Within two days she had developed shortness of breath. She was admitted to hospital with low oxygen saturation and moved to the ICU where she was ventilated.

“On February 7 they put me on a ventilator," Ms Augustin said. "At that time the baby died. I was on a ventilator, so I didn’t know.

“I was on the ventilator for 17 or 18 days.

“It was a very hard situation. Very hard in February and March. It was hard for my family.”

It was the first time the mother, who has a 7-year-old daughter, had been admitted to hospital with an illness. She could not be vaccinated at the time because it was not recommended for pregnant women.

“It’s the first time I took a lot of medicine," Ms Augustin said. "On April 8, I was discharged from the hospital. By June 1, I was better. I started to work in my home and I slowly improved as I was working and doing exercise. I was getting faster and better.”

She has since fully recovered and is working again as a nurse in Aster Hospital in Sharjah. She remains grateful to the doctors who helped save her life.

It is not always known why some patients become so ill but there are known risk factors, of which pregnancy is one.

Vaccines 'a game-changer'

Michael McLaughlin, a consultant, intensivist, anesthesiologist and director of the ICU at American Hospital.  Victor Besa / The National

Michael McLaughlin, director of ICU at American Hospital Dubai, worked in Glasgow during the world’s first wave if coronavirus.

He arrived in Dubai just as the second wave was beginning.

“We saw a few young deaths but most were in the elderly,” Dr McLaughlin told The National.

“We did, however, have a few catastrophic younger deaths that were less expected.”

The sudden influx of cases led to the hospital expanding its ICU capacity to cope with the extra demand.

“It started off with a relatively small number of patients," Dr McLaughlin said. "But it’s the idea of viral replication and this R number, the number of people who become infected, and as that grows you start to see patients coming in very quickly, very quick.

“We expanded to three ICUs with 40 or 50 beds, with four ICU physicians and the rest of our colleagues helping out.

“At the start, it is the slow creep. But once it really gets rolling, it’s that whole snowball effect.”

However, the vaccines have been a game-changer, Dr McLaughlin said.

“Even patients who were coming in if they were vaccinated they were fine," he said. "The patients we have coming in now are usually unvaccinated."

Ms Seegers said Mediclinic Parkview has not seen a Covid-19 patient for a while.

“We were very lucky to send one of our patients back to India," she said. "He was our longest survivor. His name was Rajed. He was on an ECMO machine but we couldn’t get him off.

“I am sure we had him for nine months to a year.

“Now he’s in a hospital back home in India. I think that’s what makes it worthwhile, the feeling we have done something to help people progress.”

The documentary, which aired on Discovery in the UAE in recent weeks, is available to watch on Discovery+, Jawwy TV and Starz Play.

Updated: May 19, 2022, 4:53 AM