The fight against Covid-19 at FV Hospital – Part 3: Heart-breaking decisions

“Many times, I saw patients die in the ambulance before a doctor could see them because there were no resources left to receive the patient. I felt helpless as a physician,” says Dr Trinh Van Hai, recalling the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

FV’s medical team faced extremely difficult days and nights

FV Hospital doctors will never forget the difficult decisions they had to make as Covid-19 infections peaked two years ago. Looking back at that challenging time reminds everyone at the hospital what they are capable of, and to work harder and learn more in the present. 

FV’s Emergency Department: Our Fierce Front Line

The Emergency Department of FV Hospital was constantly overloaded during the worst days of the pandemic. Patients were lined up, seated on the floor from the door of the Emergency Department through corridors to the parking lot, where some found seats and beds in temporary tents erected to receive patients in need of medical assistance.

Treating Covid-19 patients at the temporary tent area

Meanwhile, on the hospital switchboard, phones kept ringing. Ambulances peeled in and out of the hospital entrance. Between the sirens, you could hear the screams of people desperately trying to find emergency support for their loved ones, and the sobbing of relatives whose loved ones had passed away before making it to the emergency department.

Inside the Emergency Department, stress levels were even higher. Mr. Pham Minh Thi, Head Nurse of the Emergency Department, said that all ventilators were mobilised for Covid-19 patients, but there were never enough. Some patients were moved out of A&E but did not have access to another ventilator when they needed timely support. They stopped breathing and needed someone to squeeze an oxygen ball to maintain their breathing rhythm to provide oxygen to the brain, but there were not enough staff on duty to perform this function. Everything was happening at once as staff members rushed around day and night, feeling suffocated.

Persistently haunted

Facing with an unprecedented situation, even the most experienced, skilful doctors can feel lost.

Dr Trinh Van Hai, Head of the Emergency & Accident Department of FV Hospital, said that doctors faced many situations when they had to assess a patient’s likelihood of survival, deciding whether to focus on saving people with a higher chance of pulling through, instead of trying to save a patient with a lower possibility of being successfully treated and then risking losing both. With every decision, the patients who passed away became an obsession for doctors.

Receiving emergency Covid-19 patients, Doctor Trinh Van Hai, Head of the A&E Department of FV Hospital,  felt helpless as a doctor.

In many cases, patients arriving at the hospital had to wait in the ambulance. When a doctor arrived, often the patient was no longer breathing. “That face still haunts me and my colleagues. These people come to me in need of medical help and support, but I was unable to provide it in that situation,” says Dr Hai.

FV Hospital’s A&E Department supports emergency situations during the vaccination campaign in Ho Chi Minh City.

Like Dr Hai, in many cases, Dr Nguyen Thi Lam Giang, Head of FV’s Anaesthesiology Department, also found it difficult to decide which patient to take to the intensive care unit (ICU) first. “It was an agony that I will never forget,” she recalls.

As Medical Director, Dr Do Trong Khanh never had a good night’s sleep during the peak months of the pandemic. Like many other colleagues and medical staff at FV, Dr Khanh chose to stay at the hospital, spending all of his time fighting the pandemic with his teammates. When Dr Khanh’s shift was over, before he could rest on his folding chair, the ringing of a phone hurriedly pulled him back to work: a difficult situation requiring urgent consultation, an overload in the emergency reports system, a call for help from a patient’s family.

“Armed with a list of dozens of field hospitals, the whole team was dedicated to calling day and night to transfer patients as quickly as possible. But upper-level hospitals were also overloaded and could not accept any more patients. I was shocked and felt terribly sad. It was daunting and disheartening,” Ms. Nguyen Thi Ly, Head of the Medical Office of FV Hospital, recalls.

During the pandemic, the medical staff of FV Hospital had to make difficult decisions. 

In that context, based on their expertise and knowledge, the medical team at FV had to be decisive in discharging patients who could be cared for at home to make room for more severe cases. The goal was to save as many people as possible. Quickly, FV’s white-coated warriors gradually adapted to new treatment protocols for this novel disease. When more and more patients were discharged from the hospital, the care teams began to feel more and more that they could beat Covid-19.

FV Hospital’s photo exhibition “Memorable moments during Covid-19 at FV Hospital” opened on December 8 to honour the dedication of the FV teams who overcame every difficulty together. FV staff members were steadfast through the pandemic, bravely dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to the community.

The exhibition at the hospital campus includes intense moments captured by the lens of French photographer Pier Laurenza, who was also a Covid-19 patient at FV. After receiving a second dose of the vaccine, Pier asked to stay in the hospital, silently recording unprecedented moments in almost twenty years of FV’s history. This documentary work also reflects the hardest times of the pandemic in Vietnam and the world.