Du Liqun, head nurse in the AIDS department of Nanning No.4 People’s Hospital attends a panel discussion by delegates from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on October 19 (XINHUA)
As Du Liqun goes about her work in the Nanning No.4 People's Hospital in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, her calm manner and warm smile belie the high-risk, high-tension nature of her job. The 52-year-old, who is the head nurse of the hospital's AIDS Department, has spent 13 years of her three-decade nursing career looking after AIDS patients.
Du remembers how it was when she applied to work in the AIDS Department that was still in the preparatory stage in 2002. AIDS was a largely unknown disease at that time and dreaded. Though the hospital looked for medical workers, many nurses were reluctant to work there for fear of getting infected from the patients. So when Du, who was already a head nurse, applied, she was readily accepted.
"I was afraid when I first came in contact with the disease," she said candidly. "But when I saw how the patients suffered, I knew I had made the right choice. I have never regretted the decision."
She talked about one of the first patients who left a deep impression on her. In August 2005, the newly started AIDS Department admitted a patient with severe skin infections. The patient was covered with severe blisters, some of which had become infected and developed into ulcers, giving off a putrefying stench.
The patient's family was unable to deal with the condition, and the young nurses were too scared to approach the patient. So Du braced herself to dress the ulcers despite the malodor and the patient's groans. She kept it up, continuing with the dressing for more than 10 days until the blisters subsided and the patient was out of danger.
Du Liqun interacts with her fellow nurses at the Nanning No.4 People’s Hospital in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 18 (XINHUA)
Heeding mental trauma
While cautioning the nurses in her department to take all possible precautions against getting infected with HIV/AIDS from the patients under their care, Du also tells them to heed patients' psychological traumas.
"AIDS patients are a special group. Their psychological traumas call for more attention than their physical ones," she said.
Living under tremendous psychological pressure, some patients sometimes act irrationally, and have even been known to menace medical workers. Du teaches the young nurses how to cope with such patients. It is the nursing fraternity's duty because, as she said, "They pin their hopes on us. We can't give up on them or let them give up on themselves. If we treat them like family, caring for them and treating them with respect, they won't hurt us."
It's not mere advice. This is how Du dealt with a crisis in the hospital herself. Four years after the AIDS Department started, a young doctor, while inspecting a ward, angered a patient with a history of drug abuse.
In frenzy, the man fished out a fruit knife and held it to the doctor's neck, screaming, "How dare you treat a patient like this!"
While people fled the ward, Du went in resolutely and began talking with the man, trying to calm him down. She empathized with him, asking him what he needed and encouraging him to stick to his therapy. After more than an hour of persuasion, the patient finally put the knife down and released the petrified doctor.
"Du's attitude toward patients has influenced us a lot," said Huang Jinping, the head nurse in the hospital's Outpatient Department. "She has handled emergencies with courage, composure, sincerity and
When the AIDS Department started in 2005, there were eight nurses under Du. Today, the number has grown to 60. The team has provided care for nearly 5,000 patients who were given antiretroviral therapy.
Du Liqun examines an AIDS patient, who was receiving treatment at the Nanning No.4 People’s Hospital in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on September 18 (XINHUA)
Caring beyond wards
Du's work is not limited to nursing. After her hospital duty is over, she engages in research. She has participated in or led over five research projects and published 10 papers in well-known journals.
One of her concerns was that AIDS patients, due to their weakened immunity, are vulnerable to various infections and may need repeated intravenous infusions daily. This increases the attendant nurses' risk of catching the infection.
One of Du's research contributions has been to evolve a technique for such infusions. Her method, which she describes as deep venous indwelling needle infusion, reduces the risk for nurses administering the infusion. The method uses a set of two needles—an inner metal one enclosed in a plastic outer needle, which reduces the possibility of the patient's bodily fluid coming into contact with the medical staff giving the infusion.
From 2005, Du also started participating in programs to raise people's awareness of the danger of HIV/AIDS and inform them how to prevent and control it.
She has given talks on family care for AIDS patients organized by the Red Cross societies of Nanning and Guangxi, and her persistence resulted in free medical consultations on HIV/AIDS prevention and control being held in villages and urban communities with the participation of many young doctors and nurses from her hospital.
A local branch of the Chinese Nightingale Nursing Service Volunteer Team (CNNSVT) has also been started. Established in 2007, the CNNSVT is the first professional nursing volunteer team in China.
The volunteers regularly conduct community activities. "Previously, the volunteers were mostly nurses, but now, all medical staff members in the hospital participate," Du said with a touch of pride.
In addition to explaining to people how to prevent and control HIV/AIDS, the volunteers also teach emergency rescue measures. So far, they have held more than 150 voluntary service activities in rural areas, urban communities and schools.
Realizing the role the Internet and instant messaging can play in raising awareness, Du has initiated a group for AIDS patients, medical personnel and other related people on the instant messaging platform QQ called Loving Angel, through which patients can consult medical workers.
"Hundreds of AIDS patients are part of the group," Du said. "They communicate with one another and support one another. Some of them have also found their spouses through this platform."
Du's expertise and dedication have won her numerous honors, including the Florence Nightingale Medal awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2015. In acknowledgement of her work as a frontline medical worker, she was elected as a delegate to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing in October.
Du said the honor brought greater responsibility with it. Her aim will now be to provide better services to patients.
The author is a reporter with the China Report magazine
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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