Sat, May 03, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Doctor fights on SARS frontline


The director of Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital's emergency room -- who has been on the frontline of the war against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) since Thursday of last week when the hospital was ordered to close -- said yesterday that he will stay on his job until the last patient is gone.

Dr. Chang Yu-tai (張裕泰) has led the Hoping ER team in an uphill battle against the atypical pneumonia over the last eight days.

Although most of the patients that had contracted the disease, other patients and hospital staff having been moved from Hoping to other institutions for treatment or quarantine, Chang remained at his post to keep the ER up and running.

Describing himself as a "rank-and-file sergeant," Chang said he will leave only after the last patient is gone.

Chang, who has provided health and medical services for charity in many rural backwaters over the years, said he is used to disease, epidemics and death. The experiences have given him the stomach necessary to stay put and keep his wits about him when Hoping was cordoned off by police when the outbreak at the hospital came to light on April 24.

After Hoping was forced into quarantine, the institution turned into a "living hell," as many, patients, their attendants and the hospital staff began to lose control.

The anxiety deepened as each new SARS-related death was reported within the hospital, and when a medical staffer came down with symptoms of the contagion, the conversation most likely to be heard was: "I'd be dead meat if SARS gets me."

Chang knew better than anybody that the Hoping staff was deathly afraid of catching the disease, but he remained calm and rational, and tried hard to cheer up his colleagues.

He pointed out that as long as the medical personnel wear seamless protective outfits with surgical masks and gloves when treating the patients, they will be safe from becoming infected.

On the other hand, he added, when staff are not on duty, they should get as much rest and sleep as possible, while drinking more water than usual to flush their bodies and eating more fruit to boost their immune systems.

Meanwhile, some of the patients and staff from Hoping Hospital, the hardest-hit institution since the start of epidemic in Taiwan in mid March, will be relocated to a nursing home on Yangmingshan in Taipei's northern suburbs, city government sources said.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) instructed Dr. Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), a professor at Tzu Chi University's medical school, to take charge at the Zhi Shan Senior's Home on Yangmingshan, where more patients and staff from the SARS-affected Hoping hospital are to be quarantined.

Yeh, who was formerly head of the Bureau of National Health Insurance and director of Taipei City's Department of Health, was one of the first officials to enter the hospital to get a better understanding of the situation there after it was sealed off.

After staying at the hospital for eight consecutive days and doing his best to cheer up the confined medical staff and patients, Yeh said Friday that "the fire has been extinguished."

"Now it's time to relocate the people elsewhere," he went on.

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