Doctors serving on the front lines of the UAE’s Covid-19 outbreak say they never expected to be rewarded with a 10-year golden residency visa for doing what they believe is their duty.
On Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, granted the long-term visa to 212 doctors from hospitals across the emirate in appreciation for their work.
Dr Chinara Djantosheva, an intensive care specialist at Rashid Hospital, described it as a generous gift.
“I thought only big businesspeople got this visa and thought it was not possible when I got the call,” she said.
The intensive care specialist, from Kyrgyzstan, said receiving the golden visa, which the UAE government began issuing to investors and entrepreneurs last year, was unexpected and “a really big Ramadan gift from the rulers and the government.
“For doctors it has been a challenge to work when the pandemic is everywhere in the world but we have to protect our patients, our families and ourselves.”
Dr Djantosheva, 55, has been working with a team of specialists in Rashid Hospital since February, treating severe Covid-19 cases. In total, she has worked at the hospital for 11 years.
She said witnessing patients deteriorate rapidly is heartbreaking but has strengthened her resolve.
“We physically cry for some patients. Sometimes people think doctors are cold because they see people die. But for me, no way, I die too when we lose patients,” said Dr Djantosheva.
“Emotionally it’s not easy. When I come home I feel like I’m a lemon without any juice. Everything goes out of me but we take rest and go back again to save people because that is our duty.”
Samrat Waghaye, also an ICU specialist, said he was overwhelmed when he received an email from Humaid Al Qatami, director general of the Dubai Health Authority, late on Wednesday, congratulating him on the visa.
“When the whole world is fighting for survival and there is such a move from the ruling family and you are working for the government sector, you feel really appreciated,” said the 43-year-old father of two, who has worked in Rashid Hospital for a decade.
“I’m really humbled and thankful.”
Mr Waghaye’s family left for India in March for a short holiday but were unable to return after flights were grounded to limit the spread of the virus.
Staff at Rashid Hospital, one of Dubai's oldest and busiest government hospitals, have seen a sharp increase in the number of cases since the first patients had Covid-19 diagnosed in the UAE in late January.
The hospital worked quickly to prepare for an influx of patients.
New isolation zones were built and intensive care units were converted into negative pressure rooms that contain airborne contaminants and prevent microorganisms from spreading.
The doctors said they often found it difficult to switch off, thinking of their patients in critical condition long after their shift ends.
“It is all team work because, when patients are on the ventilator, we have restless nights. We check the computer to see if we are missing something, discuss with seniors and then when we finally extubate and discharge a patient, that is really rewarding,” Dr Waghaye said.
Precautionary measures at hospitals mean Covid-19 patients cannot have any visitors so doctors must update families instead.
“The family get a boost when they know there is hope,” he said. “They cannot see their loved one so we try to give them the correct picture.”
Dr Waghaye’s message to people in the UAE is to trust the system.
“What we are doing in the ICU is a medical effort but each front is working: the police municipality, and sanitation departments are making a tremendous effort to contain the pandemic. We will come out of it. We need time, faith and trust.”
Dr Madhavi Telang, another intensive care specialist at Rashid Hospital, said the gesture from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid residency visa was a surprise gift that recognised the fight the medical community had undertaken.
“For a few days, there was a fear factor but we had to overcome. Now we are comfortable with the masks and have learnt to live with the PPE,” he said.
The doctor, 48, has worked in the UAE for 14 years and takes the strictest precautions when she returns home to her husband and son.
“There have been stressful situations when patients die but patients are also recovering and being taken off the ventilator so we will win this fight.”
Dr Shahbano Afzal, 48, from Pakistan, said the long-term visa deepened her sense of belonging to the UAE.
“This feels even more like home because I’m really looking to buy a house and settle down here with my family,” said Dr Afzal, who lives with her husband in Dubai and has teenage daughters studying overseas.
“The pandemic is a challenge but we are working together. As a doctor I try to take fear out of my mind because we are involved in procedures by the patient’s bedside.
“My family does worry but I explain that we have the strictest protective measures. I have taken an oath that I will be there for my patients and that is what we are doing.”