Embattled with the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey depends on its skilled army of health care workers. The deadly virus has taken a mental toll on doctors, echoing sentiments of survivors who recount how they feared imminent death and spreading the disease to their loved ones.
The pandemic, which made its foray into Turkey in March, meanwhile, continues taking lives in the country, while authorities urge youth to be more cautious, pointing out a rising number of cases among people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Dr. Tutku Tanrıkulu Tek, who works at a hospital at Gaziantep University in the eponymous southern province, says it is difficult to remain firm in the face of the deadly disease but says she is determined to press on with the fight. Working in an emergency room, Tek, a mother of one, is among thousands of health care workers devoting their time and energy to patients despite “psychological” challenges. Tek remembers losing a patient, the father of a colleague, about three months ago and how she fought to save the 62-year-old man. “He had no symptoms at all when he tested positive and admitted to our hospital. Fifteen minutes later, he was having breathing problems,” Tek recounted to Anadolu Agency (AA) on Monday. “He was seemingly fine and was talking about himself. I also talked on the phone with his daughter, a doctor in (capital) Ankara. Just as we were arranging his hospitalization, he started having breathing difficulties and had to be intubated. One hour later, he died,” she said. “You don’t realize what happened while you are so busy with attending the patients. I just told his daughter that her father was ‘entrusted’ to me, but it could be my father who was infected. She told me, ‘No, no, may Allah protect your father.’ She must have such a beautiful heart to say this even in her time of stress,” she recounted.
“Sixty-two is not an age we can call ‘old’ This patient had no other illnesses too. I felt so desperate when I failed to save him. It could be my father in another city, in the hands of a doctor like me. We all have to entrust ourselves to each other and rely on them for survival,” she said.
Tek has worked with patients infected with the virus over the last six months and says it has changed her life. "When I leave the hospital after every shift to see my son, I worry that I have the virus and I could infect him. I am so scared. But when I return for my next shift, the fear is replaced with my wish to help the patient. We both try to protect our loved ones and help others in need,” she says. What keeps her morale high are words of thanks from patients. “I am happy when they tell me nobody else would do what I’ve done for them,” she said.
Binnaz Demir, 83, says she counted on the support of people around her while fighting the coronavirus. The elderly woman living in the northwestern province of Sakarya was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and recovered in 21 days. Demir visited a hospital when her grandson who arrived from Germany tested positive and her own test turned out positive. She was initially quarantined at home, but when her condition worsened, she was admitted to the hospital for treatment. Demir was already suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, and COVID-19 aggravated her health problems, from coughing to the loss of her sense of smell and taste and respiration.
“I wasn’t worried when I tested positive. I was more concerned about my grandson if something would happen to him. I used to see people dying of the virus every day on TV and doctors speaking about every stage of the disease. I was so scared,” she said.
Her children kept Demir’s spirits high. “They always told me I’d be fine and I was,” she says. She said she always followed the rules and never left home during the pandemic but was still infected. She urges people to adhere to rules. “They should never remove their masks. You don’t know how you’ll be infected, how you’ll die. Even as I thought it would be a reunion with my late husband at worst, I thought about my children and grandchildren and how sad they’d be if I die,” she said.
YOUTH IN DANGER
Turkey has recorded 1,578 COVID-19 cases and 53 deaths in the last 24 hours, while 1,013 more patients have recovered, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Sunday, reiterating calls for the public to heed the ministry’s advice until the end the outbreak. Some 96,842 tests were carried out in the past day, according to data shared by Koca on his Twitter account. The total death toll in the country hit 6,673, while 279,241 people have recovered since the first case was announced in the country back in March. The health minister noted that the provinces of Van, Karaman, Erzincan, Çankırı and Kayseri had seen the highest rise in daily cases in the past week. Meanwhile, Turkey’s largest metropolis Istanbul and capital Ankara, along with the provinces of Konya, Erzurum and Yozgat, had recorded the highest number of patients in intensive care units, Koca said.
Associate professor Afşin Emre Kayıpmaz says people between the age of 20 and 40 make up “40 out of each 100 cases, a significant rate.” Kayıpmaz told Ihlas News Agency (IHA) that people had a “false perception” that COVID-19 was something affecting senior citizens most and noted the rising number of younger people in intensive care across Turkey due to the virus. “When you check recent daily caseloads, you will see the majority of cases are people between the ages of 15 and 65. The infection is more common in people more active in social life,” Kayıpmaz said. He noted that Turkey exceeded 110,000 in test figures, which has allowed them to diagnose more cases.
“COVID-19 can be severe for young people as well. So, they should be more careful while they go out. They both have the risk of being infected themselves and infecting older people and people with chronic illnesses,” he said.