Clad with his tie, shirt and a big smile, Dr. Nezar Bahabri, a voice of reason during one of the Kingdom’s toughest times, met with Arab News to tell his tale of his fight against coronavirus on two fronts. The biggest would be for his life.
For almost six months, many across the Kingdom and the region would tune in to Dr Bahabri’s social media accounts after COVID-19 made its appearance here in early March. He was the voice that calmed the crowd with sound medical advice to abide by, so they could not only protect themselves from the virus but also calm their weary nerves.
A father of three, he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and enrolled in medicine because it was his father’s wish for his son to be a doctor. He received his certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2007, followed by a fellowship program at the Royal College of Physicians of Canada in Vancouver in 2008 and later acquired his infectious disease certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2010.
“Of all different subspecialties in Internal Medicine, infectious diseases was intriguing because it’s something that happens suddenly, administering effective treatment, then people get better fast,” he explained.
Since the World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, the consultant took it upon himself to begin educating those around him just as soon as the Kingdom went under lockdown.
Stemming from his deep interest in this field, he highlighted the danger of the virus early on, warning his viewers to be vigilant and not to take the matter lightly.
“Viruses are being evaluated by how fast they spread,” he told Arab News. “Whenever you see such a virus that spreads this fast (and) hits the lungs, leading patients to be admitted into ICUs, then you know you’re dealing with a very dangerous virus.”
“The first news was clear that this virus will disseminate fast, compared to other viruses and as soon as you know that, you’ll know that people will freak out,” added Dr. Bahabri. "The fast spread of the virus prompted me to speak about it. I and everyone specializing in infectious disease knew that this would happen.”
Even while treating more than 500 patients over a span of over four months at Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, spending grueling hours in and out of the COVID-19 units, he addressed conspiracy theories and people’s fears.
“The community depends on news and social media. Infections can’t be controlled without every single person in a community to participate in helping to control it. For a physician, we depend on studies and medical literature to tell the truth. If you leave the community to delve into these theories and not tell them the truth in simple language, the infection will not be controlled,” he said.
Early in August, Saudi Arabia woke up to hear the unfortunate news that their friendly neighborhood doctor had fallen ill with the same disease that he was known to treat patients for. Looking back at the situation with tired eyes, he told Arab News that the situation was dire due to the high number of patients and no rest. “I was doing my rounds on Wednesday, seeing my patients, and they told me that I was sick. They saw it, but I continued working until Saturday until I became worse.”
He accepted the news after going through the typical phases of denial, believing that he would get better with time, only to get worse and require some time in the ICU. “I felt feelings that I never could believe I had before, but I’m a new doctor now,” he said.
A few weeks, after he was finally able to leave and recuperate at home, training and exercising his lungs back to health again.
Though he is one of thousands of healthcare workers who got the infection, Dr. Bahabri’s role in the community was and continues to be relevant and important to continue the fight against the ongoing pandemic.