I am the mask: Duty Day

The final part in our series showing the vital role of face masks in our response to COVID-19.

This post is part of a series. If you've not read them, you can find part one here and part two here.

Today is a very exciting day for me. I arrived a few days ago in Timergara, Pakistan, and after waiting for a while, I have finally been given an urgent assignment. We are loaded into an MSF car and taken from the central pharmacy to the hospital.

We are here!

As I enter the facility and am driven past the main gate and its many patients, I manage to get a glimpse of the triage set-up, where all patients entering the medical facility are screened for potential COVID-19 symptoms. There are a lot of people but it seems organised. 


The triage station outside MSF's hospital in Timergara

It is a sad moment as I have to say goodbye to my different colleagues who have been assigned duties in other locations.

Depending on their type, some will support our MSF watchmen who secure the gates, others will be donned by the cleaning teams who ensure that infection control protocols are implemented, while others still will be distributed among the administrative office to protect the team.

I enter the isolation ward wondering who will wear me. Will it be a doctor, nurse, cleaner or supervisor? Soon, I discover it is one of the doctors.

With a lot of experience and training, the MSF staff are expert in donning/doffing, but I can still see the tension on the faces of the medical staff when they’re getting ready to enter the COVID-19 isolation ward.

On the ward

I can hear people talking about the impact that the isolation has on the patients and their physical and mental wellbeing.  But as we head onto the ward, I can also see how the frontline health workers are impacted by this new virus. Especially the psychological impact.

Securely fitted in place, I accompany the doctor as he goes to each bed to see the patients. When he’s finished he goes to the doffing area and removes his personal protection equipment, including me. I’m dropped into a bin as he heads off for a shower.

So here I am … in a bin, waiting for the team in charge of collecting the waste. I have to wait to be processed according to the COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocols. And look, I see some of my travel buddies here with me.

Shhh, hang on, someone is coming … It’s the MSF Waste Collection team.


The MSF waste disposal team in Timergara

As I arrive at the waste management area, I see boots and face shields – pieces of personal protecton equipment that are made of more durable material than we are. These are being disinfected so they can be re-used.


PPE drying in the sun having been sanitised

FFP2 masks like me can be re-used if we are passed through a special UV disinfection unit. This is not just a standard UV light, but a dedicated high-concentration medical disinfection device. They don’t have one in the Timergara project at the moment, but I’ve heard they are getting one delivered soon. For now, I am not in a position to be re-used, and will be processed as medical waste.


The incinerator at the MSF hosptial in Timergara

The time has come for me to say goodbye, friends. But don’t be sad. I gave it all and I am glad that I got to be a part of this battle against the virus and to serve the MSF team. I am proud to have protected the person who wore me.

* While healthcare workers are up against the virus, trying to save the lives of others, they are relying on personal protection equipment (PPE) for their own safety. This series is a tribute to all the frontline workers, the doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff who are working day and night to save lives during the pandemic *

*Following a signifcaint reduction in critically ill patients, MSF at the end of Sepetember 2020 handed over its COVID-19 isolation ward in Timergara DHQ hospital to ministry of health after six months of services.