Responding to the pandemic at its peak: Insights from a lab technician in Hebron

Khalid* is a laboratory technician who works in a hospital in Hebron, in the southern West Bank, which has been treating COVID-19 cases. Throughout the pandemic, Khalid has been in charge of the COVID-19 testing lab. In this interview for MAP’s recent briefing paper, he describes the impact responding to the pandemic has had on his wellbeing and that of his family.

Can you describe your work during the outbreak of COVID-19?

It was a stressful time. At the hospital we used to take 19 different profile tests from COVID-19 patients, in accordance with the instructions of the World Health Organization. The peak of the pressure was from April until June [2020], when there was a drastic increase in the number of patients, therefore the number of tests dramatically increased.

At the beginning, we did not know what we were dealing with. Everyone was scared, especially my family. They put a lot of pressure on me to quit my job. They accused me of being selfish for going to work at these times and risking their lives. Especially my elderly parents and my wife.

At the start of the outbreak, I used to work long shifts, seven days a week, and return for 14 days of home quarantine. In July [2020], I used to work a 48-hour shift and then quarantine for three days. Now we work 24 hours and then quarantine for 24 hours afterwards.

How did you feel while working throughout the pandemic?

Dealing with the pressure from my family and their requests for me to quit my job was stressful. My wife and my parents told me that I was risking their lives. I was anxious about infecting them. My parents are old and with underlying medical conditions. I knew I should not see them, but they live with us in our apartment, and they need my help and support. I used to buy their groceries and check if they are doing well. I took the necessary protection measures, but still, my wife saw me as a source of infection.

I also felt lonely. In every shift they designated only one lab technician, so I worked by myself and took my lunch breaks alone. I had no one to speak or eat with for long hours – I felt isolated and alone.

The lack of PPE was another source of stress. As a lab technician, I needed a N95 mask. I received one N95 mask a week. They asked us to wash it and the storage manager wrote down our names when giving us the mask – it felt like receiving some kind of treasure or reward.”

Did you face any moments of hardship?

In May, one of my colleagues tested positive [for COVID-19] and they locked all of the medical team in the hospital and asked us to take the COVID-19 test. We waited for our results inside the hospital. We were all locked inside the department for 24 hours until the results came back. They were the longest 24 hours of my life, they were very stressful times.

Did you face any type of stigma during your work?

I remember that people preferred to greet me from a distance without shaking hands, but this was better for both of us. I also remember that my son told me that one student refused to sit next to him in the classroom, claiming that he was infectious due to his father’s work in the laboratories.

You can read MAP’s new briefing on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of healthcare workers here.

Read the briefing

*Name changed to protect identity.

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