NANNING: Despite wearing a mask, He Xiaoling took several deep breaths upon stepping out of the hospital building. She had longed for fresh air free from the smell of disinfectant.
He, 55, is the head cleaner in the Fourth People’s Hospital of Nanning City, a designated hospital for the treatment of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the regional capital of south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
She had stayed in the hospital from mid-February when she was assigned to the isolation ward section.
In addition to the medics fighting in the front line, cleaners like He have risked their lives on duty in hospitals since the outbreak of the epidemic, disinfecting the wards and disposing of medical waste.
Initially in charge of disinfecting ambulances, He began to feel the tension on Jan. 23. By then she had arranged the Lunar New Year holiday work schedule for the cleaners before going home.
“I had barely finished dinner when the hospital called me to return,” she recalled.
On the same day, Wuhan, the former epicenter of the outbreak in central China’s Hubei Province, was locked down with all public transport suspended, an unprecedented move to contain the epidemic.
Instructed by the medics of the infection department, He put on a protective suit, an isolation gown, goggles, gloves and shoe covers before working.
“The ambulances kept flowing in, with lights shining and sirens ringing. I will never forget that night,” she recalled. She and her colleagues handled the protective gear and towels deserted by medics one batch after another till the next early morning. Realizing the seriousness of the epidemic, He scratched the holiday schedule and called her local colleagues who had been home for the holiday to return.
“To my surprise, except those who were stranded in the closed-off villages or had the elderly and children in the family to take care of, everybody returned,” she said.