Once Upon a PPE… We All Have a Part to Play

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1:30am Wednesday 30 March 2022, By: Dr Salote Vaai-Siaosi  I have a love-hate relationship with the PPE we have to wear, especially the long waterproof gown and hazy face shield. They are excellent in their purpose of course – I know how they protect me from droplets and fluids, and decrease my chances of getting Covid myself. For example, I was performing a RAT test and a lady sneezed over my arm and I saw droplets on my face shield – I was a little grossed out but also truly grateful. However, in this Samoan weather, these PPE can be quite challenging to stay in for hours at a time.

My clinic has aircon, and when I step back inside after running a RAT test outside in the parking lot, I doff (remove PPE) carefully in the back and then enjoy the cool air for a minute before I have to don (put on PPE) again. Sweat is dripping everywhere and it feels uncomfortable. Still, I think of my colleagues out in the sun and tents, standing for hours to cater to the country and I think to myself – hey it could be worse.

Dr Salote Vaai Siaosi outside “Health in Her Hands” Clinic at Vailoa. 📷 SGN

I think of my nursing colleagues who spend weeks on end in Isolation Wards decked out in full PPE most of the time, and then my 3pm knockoff time doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Samoa’s frontline Healthcare workers in PPE at Drive-Thru testing and vaccination sites. Photos: MOH.

It’s only been three weeks now since returning to work and re-opening the Clinic, but what a long three weeks it has been in private practice. We have rent to pay and life has to go on. Besides, I really cannot stay home. I just cannot. And like other colleagues I think to myself, if there was ever a time to put the medical training to good use – it is now.

Still – this gown that reaches my ankles, grabs my wrists and almost swallows my neck – makes it hard to look forward to donning PPE again tommorrow.

I remember when I tested my first positive case, I was rushing past the testing stool after only 2 minutes and my eyes widened to see the second line appear. “Oh no” – I thought – here we go. Then came the second, the third the fourth. Each test makes me more cautious, more meticulous in the careful art of removing the soiled gown, gloves, mask and face shield after use. (Thank you NEOC and MOH btw for the supplies).

And another change I have to get used to – it is so quiet. Patients can only enter one at a time, so apart from my instrumental music that plays in the background, there is no sound of babbling babies in the waiting room, no parents yelling at their kids for eating the crayons, no tapping of the keyboard from Reception, and none of the usual chatter and noise from Chada and Aunty La next door. My outdoor testing offers me a brief break to see and hear other people and take in the traffic rushing by.

Sigh. I miss Covid-free Samoa. I don’t have the answers to the current problems and issues with the nationwide response so far.

Many complaints are being directed to leadership but I can assure you, there is also much to be said about the individual behavior and one’s own responsibility to respond.

Even in the bombardment of information about masks and hand sanitizers, some still arrive and try to enter without a mask. A lady who was still actively positive raised her voice over the phone when I politely declined her entry while offering (for free) a prescription for her child (girlllll – please don’t).

In the evening when my husband drives us home, I watch people in masses going into shops and standing in crowds without any distance, and still yet, some without masks *gasp*.

I refuse to accept that, “this is the way our people are”, or “this is the attitude of Samoan people”. No – that is the attitude of SOME people. And attitudes are learnt behaviours, that can be changed when someone is willing.

I know the masks are uncomfortable. I know staying home for 7 days is hard. I know there are businesses with income on hold and overhead expenses to pay. These are only a few of the struggles and perhaps don’t even compare to problems others may have.

But we do what we can – and while the government is trying to sort themselves out, we must take the initiatve and sort ourselves out too.

Yes, eventually, things will move forward and we will have to go on with daily life and all it entails. But for now – we all have to be a little more patient and follow the repetitive (some may say boring) but extremely necessary information: Stay 2 metres apart. Wear a Mask. Sanitize.

Excuse the late night musings. Perhaps it is just a long-winded way for the writer to work herself up to wearing that dreadful but oh so useful gown tommorrow 🙂

Thank you to everyone everywhere doing their part. You too. Let’s rage on shall we.

Take care!

Dr Salote Vaai-Siaosi