Coronavirus: how Dubai nurses balance faith and duty during Ramadan

Nursing director Nazeera Syed gives a glimpse into the daily life of nurses in a Covid-19 intensive care unit as they fast from dawn to dusk

Nazeera Syed, nursing director at Medeor Hospital in Dubai, in protective gear before she enters the Covid-19 intensive care unit to monitor patient care. Courtesy: VPS Healthcare
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A faithful first responder in Dubai has said the holy month has been the toughest ever for medics as they balance faith and duty at the same time.

Nazeera Syed is among the thousands of devout Muslims who work in hospitals across the country.

They work long hours, wake up before dawn to eat, then go without food and water throughout the day as they tend to highly infectious patients.

Ms Syed, a nursing director in a Dubai hospital, said the past weeks have been taxing but fasting during the holy month has helped her stay alert.

“As nurses, we just don’t feel tired this Ramadan, though the challenges have been the toughest,” said the 45-year-old who heads a team of 100 nurses at Medeor Hospital.

“Once the patient is doing fine, then you feel great satisfaction.

Nazeera Syed, nursing director at Medeor Hospital in Dubai, speaks of the challenges nurses in the Covid-19 intensive care unit face handling patients and fasting. Courtesy: VPS Healthcare
Nazeera Syed, nursing director at Medeor Hospital in Dubai, speaks of the challenges nurses in the Covid-19 intensive care unit face handling patients and fasting. Courtesy: VPS Healthcare

“Fasting is not physically difficult but helps me keep focus on the spiritual. I feel more active when I’m fasting, it keeps me even more attentive.”

She wears full personal protective gear when she enters the hospital’s Covid-19 intensive care unit to monitor patients and explains how stifling the layers are for nurses on a 12-hour ICU shift.

“The gear makes you dehydrated and our nurses who are fasting must wear this continuously during the shift,” she said.

Nurses remove the overalls when they step out for a short restroom break and pull on fresh protective layers when they re-enter the ICU.

“Wearing it for a long duration is tiring and it takes time for the body to get adjusted to it.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed visits field hospital

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed visits field hospital

“Nurses work with so much courage. They don’t utter a word to object when we call for extra duties.”

Apart from supervising patient care across the hospital, she manages the schedules of the nursing team.

“I need to handle the pressure of managing the floor, understanding when the nurses need rest and keep the balance especially during Ramadan,” said Ms Syed who has worked in Dubai since 2005.

"Even staff who were on vacation have been called back to work."

In earlier years, medics worked for six hours during Ramadan leaving sufficient time to cook an iftar meal and pray.


Ms Syed said she was fortunate since her younger sister lives in the building she resides in and prepares the family iftar meal.

Her teenage children study in India and her husband took time off in March to be with them during state school examinations.

The family were scheduled to return to the UAE when the country suspended entry of residents to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“In a way, I’m relieved they are far away because I have no worry when I come home, although I take good care to sanitise fully before I leave the hospital,” she said.

Over the past month, Ms Syed and her team have held the hand of critically ill patients and explained along with doctors why they need to induce coma and put them on a ventilator to give the body time to fight the virus.

They brush aside fatigue and constantly monitor the ICU patients who have multiple tubes for breathing, feeding  through the nose and an arterial line for blood pressure.

Ms Syed checks in as nurses administer a cold sponge to suppress the high temperature of Covid-19 patients.

She carefully inspects so sedated patients do not get bed sores or pressure ulcers from lying immobile.

Nurses are vigilant as they lift patients gently and using gloves apply gel to keep blood circulating.

“We cannot think of ourselves and our struggles when the patient’s family is tense because they cannot be with their relatives in hospital,” Ms Syed said.

“We want to tell all families to please stay home and safe because we are taking good care of your loved ones.

“This may be the toughest Ramadan we have seen but it’s also a blessed month because patients have recovered. We pray for continued blessings so our patients get strong and go home.”