On the Other Side of the Rails


The First 72 Hours at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital Fighting Against COVID-19: From the Medical Mission Diary of a Nurse

Weiying Zhang, MD,Xueyan Li, BSc,Jun Xu, BSc,Chunlong Zhong, MD, PhD,Li Xu, MM

The author of this diary, Ms Jun, is a nurse with 10 years of ICU nursing experience and a mother of 2 children living in Shanghai. With the support of her family, she was the first volunteer from Shanghai East Hospital to respond to Wuhan during the Covid-19 outbreak. We were deeply moved by her story, the unique perspective, and the context it provides around our joint experiences in China. While working in Wuhan for more than 60 days, Ms. Jun kept a diary that included special events, including nursing the first COVID-19 patient treated with ECMO, handling sudden and unexpected death, and meeting other colleagues from Shanghai to support the Wuhan Fangcang Shelter. Reflecting upon the impermanence of life, her unique experiences, and her feelings and reactions through journaling, she records these poignant memories and valuable experiences. The excerpts below are from Ms. Jun’s journal and provide insight into personal experiences while the commentary by Li and Xu explore the way in which this virus grew from an outbreak to a pandemic.

January 24, 2020, Chinese New Year’s Eve: Urgency

I set out with the first group of the Shanghai medical team, which was made up of 136 members, to support Wuhan in fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak. Less than 2 hours before that I had received the order to assemble at the airport. Many people assembled at the airport, including my husband, who was born and raised in Wuhan, a city more than 800 kilometers away from Shanghai. The city felt both strange and familiar to me. At that moment, I had no time to imagine the situation in Wuhan or think about what I would face in the coming days. Not to mention how long I would be away.

Arrived, but I am feeling so cold. Although the hotel accommodation is good, use of the heating system is forbidden. I hid in the thick bedding and told my family and colleagues in Shanghai that I was safe. They repeatedly told me to pay attention to my personal protection and to use strict infection control. I feel a little uneasy now, and suddenly begin to miss Shanghai soup dumplings.

An outbreak of novel coronavirus that began in Wuhan late last December has spread successively to other regions of China.1 The government has encouraged people to stay at home, has prevented mass gatherings, and has canceled or postponed major public events.2 In Shanghai, the city we live in, purchases of protective and disinfection products have soared, and supplies of face masks have become scarce. In addition, health care workers have begun to cancel vacation plans for the Chinese New Year holiday.

On January 23rd, China raised its national public health emergency level to Level 1—the highest of the 4-level Chinese Emergency Response System, defined as an “extremely serious incident.”3 On January 24th, the first Shanghai medical team to support Wuhan in fighting against COVID-19 was assembled from 52 hospitals and included members from the respiratory, infectious disease, hospital infection management, critical-care medicine, and specialized nursing departments.4

January 25, 2020, Lunar New Year's Day: Tension

In the morning, I received personal protection equipment (PPE) training that was very different from my previous experience. Two people helped each other to confirm the details of the PPE process. It took at least 20-30 minutes to complete the full personal protection, including dressing, and applying protective gowns, goggles, and N95 masks. Only when our own safety is ensured will more people be saved. I told myself over and over again that I would be safe.

In the afternoon, our team was assigned and began to take over the 3rd floor wards of the north building of Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital. There were 28 patients, 15 of whom needed noninvasive ventilation. Each ward accommodates 4 patients. One shift is staffed by 8 nurses and 3 physicians, with 1 nurse coordinating work outside the isolation ward, including delivering health care supplies and meals, collecting medical prescriptions, etc. The supplies here are relatively sufficient, which can basically ensure that all health care personnel complete the level III protection. However, there is a relative shortage of nurses.

Today I feel very tired. My husband told me that it might be due to the pressure. Maybe so, who knows. I would like to take a pill to help me sleep well tonight so that I can wake up tomorrow in high spirits and full of energy.

Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital is an infectious disease hospital and was used exclusively to admit COVID-19 patients during the outbreak. At the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, medical workers were repeatedly reported to have been infected. Inadequate and ineffective PPE may have led to the nosocomial transmission of COVID-19.5 In the early stages, not all of the medical staff were fully aware of isolation measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19, nor were they skilled in effectively wearing all levels of PPE such as goggles, face shields, and long-sleeved waterproof gowns. This lack of confidence in one’s professional competence is the contributing factor that made Wuhan’s medical staff feel nervous and uneasy. Our team received results from a recent qualitative study with these personnel. This study made it clear that effective training and guidance on PPE is essential before starting formal work.6 Whether it is necessary to increase the proportion of this content in clinical medicine and nursing education merits further consideration.

January 26, 2020, The second day of the year: So busy there is no time to worry

My shift today is from 8:00 to 14:00.

In the morning, I walked 10 minutes to Jinyintan Hospital with 8 colleagues. I was responsible for all the treatment, care, and daily life of the patients in ward 304.  Two patients were on high-flow oxygen and 1 was on a noninvasive ventilator and sedatives. It seemed that they could say a few words to me, but they were very weak. Their psychological stress response often varied, from excessive fear, to anxiety, to indifference. With so much protection, my hearing was noticeably reduced, and I had to get as close to them as possible.

Six hours of wearing protective clothing for the first time was a bit suffocating and terrible, and it took another 20 minutes to remove the protective clothing after work. I had stopped sweating, but my clothes were still wet. When the wind blew, I couldn't help shivering.

After she returned to Shanghai and completed 14 days in quarantine, we asked her, “Tough work?” With tears in her eyes, she replied, “Leaving my family and children to work on the front line with such high intensity was certainly very hard. But compared to a patient in pain, I am lucky to be able to eat, drink, and move. As a critical care nurse, to cherish and guard life is the value of my job.” That value brings a sense of faith and determination to nursing work.

In China, a nurse’s income is not high, while the intensity of work is considerable. The density of registered nurses in Shanghai is 3.6 per 1,000 people,7 which is a medium level in China and a medium-to-high level in the world. In this outbreak, among the medical team members supporting Wuhan, 68% were nurses, their work demonstrating Hippocrates’ spirit of fearlessness and bravery.

Evidence-based health workforce policies are essential to ensure the provision of high-quality health services and to support universal health coverage.8 We hope that the government will support further increases to the nursing workforce for public health care institutions. We also hope that the government will work to actively improve the perception and work conditions of specialized nursing. With society’s increasing support and trust for medical workers, we anticipate more and more excellent young people will be willing to join the ranks of health care workers.   


This work was supported by the following grants: Special subject of “Fighting Against Epidemic Situation of COVID-19” (Grant No. 20TJBXKY16), Tongji University College of Arts and Communication, Shanghai East Hospital Institute of Disaster Medicine. Shanghai “Medical New Star” Young Medical Talent Training Program Tongji University Affiliated East Hospital “Sunrise” Talent Training Program. Key Discipline Construction Project of Pudong Health Bureau of Shanghai (PWZxk2017-23), Top-level Clinical Discipline Project of Shanghai Pudong (PWYgf2018-05),The Outstanding Leaders Training Program of Pudong Health Bureau of Shanghai (PWR12018-07), Important Weak Subject Construction Project of Pudong Health and Family Planning Commission of Shanghai (PWZbr2017-13).



  1. Zhu N, Zhang D, Wang W, et al. A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019. N Engl J Med. 2020;382(8):727-733. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2001017


  1. Chen S, Yang J, Yang W, et al. COVID-19 control in China during mass population movements at New Year. Lancet. 2020;395(10226):764-766. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30421-9


  1. Tian H, Liu Y, Li Y, et al. An investigation of transmission control measures during the first 50 days of the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Science. 2020;368(6491):638-642. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abb6105


  1. Shanghai Municipal Health Commission. On Chinese New Year's Eve, 136 medical team members from Shanghai rushed to Wuhan! Looking forward to the safe return of the heroes. Published in Chinese. Published January 25, 2020. Accessed January 25, 2020. http://wsjkw.sh.gov.cn/xwfb/20200125/a6627953e79f42f59a1181a937b2e1d5.html


  1. Ağalar C, Engin DÖ. Protective measures for COVID-19 for healthcare providers and laboratory personnel. Turk J Med Sci. 2020;50(Suppl 1):578-584. https://doi.org/10.3906/sag-2004-132


  1. Zhou R, Xu L, Li X, et al. Experiences of Shanghai medical workers who assisted Wuhan in fighting against the COVID-19 epidemic. J Infect Dis Trav Med. 2020;4(1). https://doi.org/10.23880/jidtm-16000S1-006


  1. Shanghai Municipal Health Commission. Reply to the proposal no.0838 of the second session of the 15th Municipal People's Congress. Published in Chinese. Published November 27, 2019. Accessed November 27, 2019. http://wsjkw.sh.gov.cn/rddbjydf/20191128/0012-66411.html


  1. Pozo-Martin F, Nove A, Lopes SC, et al. Health workforce metrics pre- and post-2015: a stimulus to public policy and planning. Hum Resour Health. 2017;15(1):14. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12960-017-0190-7



Tweet this post: 


Guest Contributors

Weiying Zhang, Nursing Management Expert

Weiying Zhang, Nursing Management Expert

Director of Nursing Department, MD, RN, Nursing

Professor, Tutor of Master of Nursing Weiying Zhang has been engaged in ICU nursing management for 20 years, and presided over the management of the nursing department for more than 10 years. She played a central role in coordinating and directing nursing participation in Fighting Against the COVID-19 Epidemic. She personally escorted Jun Xu and other nurses to Wuhan, and constantly cared for and encouraged those who worked hard in a strange land. She provided direction in the preparation of this manuscript.

Li Xu, Nursing Management Expert

Li Xu, Nursing Management Expert

NICU Head nurse, MM, RN, Tutor of Master of Nursing, National Psychological Counselor of China

Li Xu drafted the preliminary version of this manuscript. She has been engaged in ICU nursing management for 10 years. During the COVID-19 outbreak, she provided valuable expertise for staff on isolation and protection in the fever clinic of the hospital. She understands the psychological dynamics of nurses who respond to Wuhan and actively encourages them to talk openly and express their inner emotions.

Jun Xu, ICU Specialist Nurse, BS, RN

Jun Xu, ICU Specialist Nurse, BS, RN

E-mail: [email protected]

Jun Xu was the original author of the diary manuscript. She is a critical care ICU specialist nurse who has been engaged in outstanding surgery care for 10 years. She arrived in Wuhan with the first wave of Shanghai's medical team to assist Wuhan on the day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Wuhan JinYinTan Hospital, where she worked, was the first infectious disease hospital to treat COVID-19 patients.

Xueyan Li, Nursing Education Expert, BS, RN

Xueyan Li, Nursing Education Expert, BS, RN

E-mail: [email protected]

Xueyan Li was mainly responsible for collation of the diary manuscripts. She has more than 10 years of experience in critical care nursing and is currently engaged in nursing education in the Department of Nursing of the hospital. Xueyan Li worked in Shanghai’s anti-COVID-19 quarantine site for 4 weeks beginning in March 2020. She accumulated valuable experience and publicly published a thesis to provide experience and reference for the subsequent anti-COVID-19 quarantine work.

How to contribute

We encourage submissions from any reader who has been touched by the healthcare system. Some contributors may be involved directly in patient care and might want to share the impact a patient, family, or colleague had on them. Others may want to write about life “on the other side of the rails” …those moments when the caregiver becomes the patient…or maybe sees healthcare from the vantage point of a family member. Inquiries can be sent to [email protected]

On the Other Side of the Rails

February 2023

Jessica Case, RN, MBA

Miscarriage During a Pandemic: Remembering to Pause Amidst the Chaos

December 2022
Touched by an Emergency Department Encounter

October 2022
Still a Nurse: An Unexpected Journey of Hope Part III

August 2022
Still a Nurse: An Unexpected Journey of Hope Part II

June 2022
Still a Nurse: An Unexpected Journey of Hope Part I

April 2022
Pediatric Resiliency in the Face of Disaster: An Interview with Jamla Rizek

February 2022
Homelessness: What’s the Emergency?

November 2021
Veterans in Your Emergency Department: Serving a Hidden Population

October 2021
Four Lessons COVID-19 Taught Me About Community Health Advocacy

August 2021
A Monumental Problem: The Silent Truth of Violence in Health Care

June 2021
Turning Fear Into Focus: My Experience at EN20X

April 2021
Leading Through Loss

March 2021
The First 72 Hours at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital Fighting Against COVID-19: From the Medical Mission Diary of a Nurse

February 2021
COVID-19: When It Hit Me, It Really Hit Home

December 2020
You are More Than Your Resume

October 2020
From the Bedside to the Capitol Building

August 2020
Have You Met My Husband?

June 2020
You Are Hereby Commanded to Appear:
What to Expect When You Are the Expert Witness

April 2020
It's Dark Outside

February 2020
Critical needs of pregnant and postpartum patients in the Emergency Department

December 2019
Leaving a Lasting Impression

January 2019
An Introduction