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Beijing Doctors, Nurses Quarantined in Anti-SARS Effort - 2003-05-23

After weeks of caring for desperately ill SARS patients, some nurses and doctors in Beijing are getting a rest, in quarantine. They tell VOA's Jim Randle about the tense and tiring work that has sickened hundreds of their colleagues, and killed some of them.

Scores of nurses and doctors cannot go home until they have been through seven days of quarantine away from their terribly ill patients.

They are confined to a hotel north of Beijing, relaxing with badminton, chess, and conversation. Weeks of round-the-clock work mean they have earned a break, but they would rather be taking that break at home with their families.

SARS has made more than 8,000 people sick around the world and killed nearly 700 of them. Two thirds of the cases are in China, many here in Beijing.

Nurse Feng Xiaoying says the grim toll puts enormous physical and psychological pressure on medical workers.

She says she cried when two young and otherwise healthy men died while she cared for patients in the SARS ward. The 10-year nursing veteran says she has seen many patients die, but found SARS' rapid, relentless, and lethal attack hard to accept. Ms. Feng works in Ditan hospital, one of the main SARS centers in Beijing, the world's hardest hit city.

Dr. Wang Aidong, a respiratory specialist, says everybody fears SARS. But she says medical experts have a responsibility to work against this disease and most would regret missing the chance to test their skills against such a tough adversary.

She says fear is diminishing as doctors learn more about SARS and more patients in her hospital are getting better.

About one-fifth of SARS patients are medical workers and some have died after caring for patients. China's government has declared some of the dead medical workers "revolutionary martyrs," while state media call medical workers "angels in white" for their dedication and sacrifice.

While many say they appreciate the honors, their hope is that when the crisis is over, the government will continue to put resources into China's faltering health care system.

But Ms. Feng has more immediate concerns, like getting home to see her son who is not quite two years old. She has been home only a few hours in the past month and could not touch her baby for fear of spreading the virus.

For now, all she can do is sing him to sleep on her mobile phone.