First on the scene at suspected coronavirus cases, Dubai Ambulance Service paramedic Hamda Al Hammadi is recognised by the Frontline Heroes Office for long hours in the field and sacrificing the safety of those she cares about most.
Hamda Al Hammadi is no stranger to gruelling healthcare work on the frontline of the UAE’s emergency response. The 31-year-old is an advanced paramedic and the first Emirati woman to work for Dubai’s Airwing Ambulance Unit – a job that exposes her to life or death medical emergencies.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept into the UAE, Hamda found herself confronted by a new risk as a healthcare professional – becoming exposed to the disease and endangering family members at home. For several agonising weeks, Hamda and her family battled against the effects of the coronavirus before thankfully making full recoveries. “The conflict of our job was that we desperately wanted to help others, but didn’t want to harm our families,” she said.
For Hamda, it was a childhood dream and her father’s wish to choose a medical career. After graduating from Higher Colleges of Technology – Dubai Women’s College, she answered a Dubai Ambulance Services advert for Emirati paramedics.
While many thought she would opt for an administrative role upon gaining her qualifications, Hamda defied expectation and worked as an advanced paramedic in the field, where she has served for the past 13 years. She became an inspiration to Emirati women throughout the country when she qualified to work in the air ambulance service.
“At home they knew it was my father’s dream for me to work in healthcare,” she said. “But during my studies, my father passed away. People around me tried to tell me that work in the field wasn’t for me. They said I needed more physical strength and that the work is dangerous. But I knew it was what I wanted to do and my family supported my wishes.”
As the coronavirus reached the UAE in 2020, Hamda left the air wing to return to ambulances. She was among the first group of paramedics assigned to respond to suspected cases.
“We were under pressure, working 12-hour shifts and regular overtime,” she said. “When there were critical cases and I saw a patient struggling to breathe, it felt like I was suffocating with them.”
Hamda was responsible for responding to all emergency calls regardless they were COVID-19 patients or not. Based on patients complains and injuries or illness, she decided whether they can be treated on scene if possible, or if they needed to be transported to a medical facility.
In the early stage of the pandemic, Hamda, her mother and her four brothers and sisters became infected with COVID-19. Her mother was most severely affected.
“I remember when they took my mother to the hospital; knowing that I wouldn’t be able to see her and check on her condition – I hated myself,” she said. “Those weeks were hard.
“I asked myself why I chose such a job – everyone was isolating at home and I was the only one with outside contact working in a medical field. But I have an understanding family – they supported me. Alhamdulillah, everyone made a full recovery. My mother came back home and she is fine.”
Hamda suffered moderate symptoms and was able to return to work. She described a feeling of “weakness” as her role was reversed, and she became the patient. However, the experience helped her empathise with patients upon her return to work. “I knew what they were going through and understood how it felt to have a family member taken to hospital,” she said.
Reflecting on her continuing role at the forefront of the UAE’s coronavirus response, Hamda said she feels thankful for having a job that enables her to directly help her country. The Frontline Heroes Office is working to strengthen community support and show appreciation for frontline professionals including Hamda who continue to sacrifice the wellbeing of themselves and those closest to them to keep the nation safe.
“Before, people wouldn’t pay much attention to paramedics and other medical staff, but now we’re receiving so much praise and recognition for what we do,” she said. “We know that our jobs come with an element of risk, but it means a lot to feel such positive vibes. I feel blessed to live in a country where we serve everyone, regardless of who they are. We will get through this together.”
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