Arts, Culture & Lifestyle

What It Means To Be Alive: A tribute to Malaysia’s frontliners and essential workers

This month, we tip our hats to local frontliners and essential workers who put their lives on the line to care for others.
Reading time 9 minutes
Illustration by Yana Zainal (@yanatures)

This month, we sat down with the unsung heroes who face the Covid-19 pandemic head-on so that we don’t have to and let them share their experience, motivation and hopes for the current global situation.

From the medical front to news reporting and essential businesses, these individuals have done so much for us during these troubling times. Read what they have to say below:

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DR IZYAN RAHMATMedical Officer


Currently serving as a medical officer in the Anesthesiology Department at Sultanah Aminah Hospital Johor Bahru, Dr Izyan Rahmat plays a crucial role in and out of the operation room. Her job scope ranges from ensuring the patients undergoing an operation are in stable condition to taking care of critical patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). And with a lethal viral disease in the equation, the stakes are now higher than ever.


When did it sink in for you that the Covid-19 threat is real?

I still remember, on 7th March. My head of department called me at 3PM to tend to a patient who required oxygen support in the ICU. That patient was the second case in Malaysia. When I reached the ICU at 9PM, I could see the patient was not in a stable condition and that a high ventilator setting was required in view of poor oxygenation.


How does the Covid-19 patient treatment differ from others?

Incharged Covid-19 patients are not as easy to treat as other ICU patients. To intubate them, we need to wear a powered air-purifying respirator. Our staff nurses will help us make sure that we follow standard operating procedure (SOP). Other than that, we need to insert a central line for inotropic support and other medications.

How do you contain the virus from spreading?

We wear multiple sterile gloves with proper personal protective equipment (PPE). And unlike other ICU patients, we cannot disconnect their endotracheal tube from the ventilator circuit to avoid exposure to the virus. Also, we’ll clean ourselves after we do rounds. For a 12-hour shift, sometimes we shower up to five times, even at 2 or 3 in the morning (and the water heater does not work).


What’s the procedure like going to work these days?

All staff need to have their temperature taken at every entrance. Most departments at our hospital work alternate days to avoid contact. For ours, almost half of the operation rooms are no longer functional. Doctors who are in charge of the General ICU need to come to work as usual whereas the ones in charge of Covid-19 ICU are divided by a shift system.


How does it affect your personal life?

I started renting a new house near the hospital compound when I was designated to take care of Covid-19 ICU patients. Even though I followed the SOP, I still felt guilty staying with my family. They were so worried when I informed them about me being assigned the incharged Covid-19 patients.


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MOHAN CHINNASAMY, Broadcast Journalist


It has been nearly 10 years since Mohan Chinnasamy came on board at Radio Televisyen Malaysia. In those years, the broadcast journalist cum newscaster has had his fair share of gruelling experiences as a first responder that includes covering the disastrous flood case in the East Coast and the disappearance of MH370 flight in 2014. But getting to the frontline to deliver the latest on Covid-19 proved to be an entirely different ballgame for him.


What was your first field assignment after the Movement

Control Order (MCO) was announced? It was a press conference by Health director general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. I also went to LRT Ara Damansara to survey if commuters followed the SOP, which they did. They even overrode the recent decision made by Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, of which Rapid Rail is a subsidiary, to scrap social distancing regulation on the trains. Our people are very mindful and alert of the situation.


What has been the biggest challenge you faced on the job so far?

When I was tasked with covering the return of Malaysians from Wuhan, Iran and Italy. I went to the Air Disaster Unit, situated near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where the inbound Malaysians would be screened. Those who had fever were immediately sent to Sungai Buloh Hospital and the rest was quarantined for 14 days at a rehabilitation centre in Nilai. I did four cross coverage on this.


Why did you agree to take on the assignment?

Other reporters were scared to do it so my boss told me to go. My wife was also angry with me especially since she was pregnant. But I took it as a challenge. I followed the entire SOP that includes donning the PPE, and I received full cooperation from the Disaster Management Unit, the Fire and Rescue Department and others.


How do you keep “clean” especially with a baby on the way?

I’m not going to lie; I was really scared at first. It’s our first child and my wife is due at the end of this month. But I always take necessary precautions; I wouldn’t go home right after an assignment. I’d shower at the office, change into a new set of clothes and send the worn ones to the laundry. I’d also take turmeric baths at home—it’s an Indian belief that turmeric powder is antibacterial.


What would be the first thing you do when the world returns to normalcy?

My wife and I are planning to go to Thailand. She just loves Thailand’s tom yum, especially the ones sold in the Thai town of Betong. It’s actually just outside of our Pengkalan Hulu border.


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CHRISTINA TOH, Area General Manager


With an illustrious, three-decade experience under her belt, Christina Toh is a walking encyclopedia of the local hospitality scene. That said, her fabled capability was recently put to the test as Dorsett Grand Subang opened up its doors to house Malaysians seeking refuge amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The hotel’s area general manager shares what the experience was like and how it has changed the way things work.


How did the hotel come to be gazetted as one of the quarantine stations by the government?

It’s a combination of social responsibility and making the best of the situation in hand. Many hotels were closed during MCO but we remained opened because we had guests already staying with us. So we thought, we might as well do that (partake in the program). Of course, it also helped us to reduce our overheads and expenses. We have the livelihood of our associates and staff to think about.


Tell us about the homecoming Malaysians you hosted.

The first batch came in April and there were over 200 quarantiners. The Ministry of Health (MoH) had set up a makeshift clinic here where they conducted swab tests before the quarantiners checked in. We hosted two groups during this period and they all tested negative. On top of that, everybody was compliant to the rules and regulations.

What kind of preparation was required for the quarantine hotel program?

We received compulsory training by MoH where we were informed on the guidelines as well as the dos and don’ts. We also did a lot of sanitisation works according to the SOP, which we already had in place as a hotel operator. We just sort of intensified our routine. For example, instead of cleaning four times a day, we conducted the sanitisation process on a twohourly basis.


How did you keep a safe distance from the quarantiners?

There was no contact between the staff and those in quarantine. Even if they had found some technical faults in their rooms, we weren’t allowed to go up and fix it. MoH personnel would come over, deliver a new room key and they would have to change room on their own. And when we had to be in close proximity with them, during check-in or when the staff went up to deliver their meals, we’d be wearing a full hazmat suit.


How has Covid-19 altered the way things work at the hotel?

We realised that technology is the way forward. Online delivery business is one of the keywords and it’s catching up. As a matter of fact, we activated our delivery services during the MCO.

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