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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

Top doctor who treated 500 Covid-19 patients says his own battle with virus changed his life

Dr Nezar Bahabri, who amassed a large social media following for his dedication and charisma, still suffers 'long Covid' symptoms

A popular Saudi Arabian doctor who overcame Covid-19 said the experience changed his life.

Dr Nezar Bahabri, an infectious diseases consultant at Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, tested positive for the virus on July 25.

He had spent the previous few months on the frontlines of the pandemic treating hundreds of coronavirus patients.

Dr Bahabri, 49, said the experience taught him that doctors need to be more sensitive while delivering bad news.

I tell my patients we are in this together. I came out of this and so will they

Dr Nezar Bahabri

"Being blunt is an unacceptable way of delivering bad news," he said. "Please remember it's always about giving people hope though the mortality rate can be high."

Speaking at the UAE Infectious Diseases Week conference on his experiences with Covid-19, he said it was crucial for doctors to give patients hope.

Dr Bahabri, who has a massive following of nearly 130,000 subscribers on You Tube and close to 30,000 on Instagram, also urged doctors to take care of their own health.

"I joke with my patients and tell them we are in this together," he said. "I tell them I came out of this and so will they."

Three months since he became sick, Dr Bahabri still feels short of breath and carries a portable oxygen tank everywhere.

Dr Bahabri decided against going on the ventilator when he was a patient and chose "prone positioning" – where a person lies flat on their stomach.

This helps people who are struggling to breathe as it increase the amount of oxygen that gets in to their lungs. These experiences have changed how he dealt with patients.

"I started learning how difficult the disease could be. I could not even walk to the toilet without oxygen."

Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 343,000 coronavirus cases and he urged his fellow doctors to focus on people rather than simply treating a disease.

"Earlier I never thought of asking patients if we could make things easier for them or how we could make them happier."

“My nurse was my smile in the morning and the one who would give me hope. She was the real saviour."

Dr Bahabri's message to doctors, meanwhile, is to get some rest as stress reduces immunity.

He said doctors often forgot about their own health.

"I worked continuously for two months without taking even a day off. Everyone told me to rest but I could not because I felt responsible for my patients.

"Take a few days off and relax. Then, go back and serve."

The conference heard from another prominent Saudi doctor, Dr Ziad Memish, the kingdom’s former deputy minister of public health, who said the second wave of Covid-19 hit the Middle East in early October.

Despite this, Dr Bahabri remains optimistic.

"Three months ago, I was not able to walk for a metre but now, with time and exercise, I can walk for three minutes."

He cautioned that some patients will suffer for years but urged people to remain optimistic.

"I take everything that I was not able to do a month ago and am able to do now as a positive sign."

Updated: October 26, 2020 12:19 PM

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