As infection with the new corona 19 virus approached from China, we listened and watched the complete closures of cities, countries. But, this was happening somewhere out there, in China! It didn’t touch us too much. Not more than all the disasters, tragedies, and natural disasters that happen around the world, however, we are protected from them.
Then the epidemic “skipped” to Europe. The Italian North was suddenly a place of despair. The football match was the place from which people transmitted the infection to the wider area. Also to Croatia and Slovenia. People were getting sick, dying. Cities have introduced complete quarantine. Travel to and from the city was prohibited. It was no longer possible to leave the region. Until then, such relaxed travel between EU countries became virtually banned overnight. The fundamental human right – freedom – was restricted. Freedom of movement. I find it hard to bear the limitations. Restrictions on freedom are the most difficult.
In March 2020, a journalist from Novi List from Rijeka called me to explain to her how Slovenia was preparing for the closure of the country – lockdown and she published an article https://www.novilist.hr/novosti/hrvatska/lijecnica-iz-matulja-svaki-dan- traveling-to-steady-this-I-never-experienced-life-has-almost-stood / under which we can still sign peacefully today, after two years. Life stopped. Literally! And, it has just started. Did I get scared? No, but it encouraged me to become even more careful.
On the other side, meetings were not only banned but could also be life-threatening. The most common gatherings, meetings even within the family, suddenly became a place where younger members were a threat to older family members. Disaster! The measures taken have limited movement to the most vital: going to work, to get basic groceries, to run only urgent errands,… everything else took place exclusively at home, behind closed doors. Even children were forbidden to go to the playground, to kindergarten, to school. Stay at home were messages we heard from everywhere.
For the few first weeks, I thought I could be a good choice to get over the infection and continuing to work freely. Getting infected would be no problem. More and more patients were coming. We did not know if they had a new SARS-2 infection or any other cold. Only a different clinical picture, an unusual course, “strange” results of vital functions, gave the impression that the patient had a corona. There were complications with laboratory diagnostics because there were more and more of these patients and there was simply no capacity for such a huge increase in the number of tests. I talked to colleagues that it would be nice to achieve natural immunity – after overcoming infection and then work normally. But when I monitored patients, how severe forms of the disease they had, how much they suffered at the same time, I simply DIDN’T WANT these diseases! Lack of air is something most terrifying, a feeling of helplessness and a constant struggle for every breath. In the past, I have only seen such patients in the final stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Despite oxygen replacement therapy, patients have a constant feeling of lack of “air”, every breath is strenuous, and even oxygen does not bring a feeling of relief. What we do spontaneously, unconsciously – we breathe, is their only thought. I don’t want this disease!
The face mask has become a necessary part of personal equipment. Nowhere without it. If gloves marked work with patients as protection against HIV infection, suddenly the masks marked our work with patients potentially infected with the new SARS – 2 virus. Not any mask. The ones with a higher level of protection, ffp2 or even 3. The ones used in operating theatres and we haven’t seen them on the faces of ordinary people on the road until then.
Even more! We started wearing protective overalls. The first ones we got from the warehouses were meant to work in case of an Ebola virus infection. They are recognizable from afar. Orange-red, they are plastic. We affectionately named them – Ebola outfit. We practiced the procedure of dressing and undressing, a clean and dirty zone, even wearing a protective visor, double gloves or goggles, even gas masks. Anyone who did not have an additional inscription of the name on the overalls was unrecognizable.
I wear prescription glasses. After just a few minutes, they became cloudy. It was usually preserved only for the central part of the vision. Sometimes at the end of the care, I only saw on one side, just enough so that we could still complete the intervention. Due to the lack of protective equipment, the overalls were disinfected for several months. After work, you place them on a hanger in a container, and then a colleague, in “full” gear, enters and turns on the hydrogen peroxide spray in the aerosol. And, then ventilation and reuse. Only this way it was possible to provide care to a growing number of patients in the field. For each “cold” patient, a new overall, a new mask, a new visor or goggles, a new pair of gloves… because some have already been infected, others “only” have a cold. For us, each patient was potentially infected because rapid tests had not yet been performed in the field. We were as careful as possible.
It was used to have the standard of wardrobes that you had two, one for a work uniform, the other for personal clothing. How much this would be necessary now! By following all the rules, there is still a high risk of transmitting the infection to the home environment – through clothing. So I usually undressed right in the garage after coming home and put my clothes on the terrace. In the wind, in the sun. And it worked! I didn’t “bring” the disease home.
However, discomfort began to be felt in our work. No more to the infirmary inside the Medical Center. In any condition that could mean an infection – let’s go to the container! How to assess chest tightness as part of infection or is the cause in some other medical condition? How do judge if the two are related? How to help an injured person who is potentially infected? How to help a patient with a stroke, heart attack with a co-infection? Are other family members healthy at one patient’s home visit?
The discomfort was felt in the air. Although it is not only a duty but also a desire to help the patient, the feeling of helplessness before a potential infection has caused quite a bit of discomfort, with much real fear. Fear of disease, of the unknown.
My mom is over 80, a bunch of medications. How to protect her from getting infected? Unfortunately, the only real measure was quarantine. Medieval method! The only one that is really effective. We haven’t seen each other for months.
And, nowhere people on the road, the street. Even walking in nature was more or less, if not quite forbidden, then at least undesirable. Fear settled in all the pores of society. We greeted each other from afar. No handshakes! No visits! It was a great privilege to have my own garden, terrace, walking path where there are no other people. Even children were forbidden to play outside.
The work obligation was a real blessing. Exit from the apartment was allowed. Journey to work. Possibility to leave the place of residence. At least some freedom of movement!
I remember Sunday morning, at the state border and talking to a police officer. “I didn’t think I’d be happy to have to go to work on Sunday. It’s a real privilege to be able to work, in the workplace, isn’t it? ” and, the policewoman on duty replied, “Yes, my homes were always unhappy when I went to work on holidays, Sundays. But now they almost envy me. ” More time to chat as there were no passengers, no people. We were alone. Only emergency services, systems that must always work. Suddenly a tremendous privilege to be able to work smoothly! We were even happy, also working on Sundays and on holidays.
Because of this suddenly, so to speak, privileged status, you can help others as well. You bring them e.g. medicines from one country to another. What was unthinkable until recently is becoming a reality again. The state border is closed! Only those who have not only the right but also the duty to do so pass. The international transports we have become so accustomed to being free have new and new restrictions. Nothing is simple, easy anymore! It was enabled for me. The feeling was amazing. I have a reason to move freely. I can help, I work because I have free movement.
Based on an article in Novi List, a lady called me. Damir Skansi, wife of Peter Skansi. Peter was even a world basketball champion, among other things! Generations rejoiced in their sporting successes, lived with them. He travelled the world. Now, however, he was suddenly confronted with the fact that he was not allowed to cross the state border, neither he nor members of his family, even after such an urgent matter as the need for medicines for him. And we’ve got organized! Medicines came from Ljubljana to Postojna, and then travel with me to Jurdani and he was permitted to get there, of course only with the permission of the local headquarters. Inconceivable a few months before that. I was very pleased to meet the athlete Peter’s format in person. And also his wife, Damira, who described a bunch of adventures she spent when Peter played in foreign clubs. But, the fact that they couldn’t get to the medications was new to everyone. Everything was paralyzed.
Even the children were in the same situation. Emergency medicines from Italy could not be brought in any standard way from Trieste to Rijeka, even if they were needed by a school child. A cold chain was needed to make things more complicated. And, we organized ourselves as a “human chain”. A pharmacist from Trieste brought medicines in a cooler bag to the border crossing at Kozina, they went quickly with me to Jušiče and a child’s father took them over to be in the fridge again asap. The boy was provided for again for some time. We were all happy with how successfully we organized, met, even we had never known each other before in our lives.
Neither status nor wealth “helps”. With the closure of society – lockdown, we are all suddenly “equal” – limited in movement. The only “privilege” was working in the services that ensure the functioning of the state. And, we also helped by providing people with personal care that the state failed to organize. In the end of the day that it is always a Man who makes the difference who contributes to the best of his ability to keep society functioning under the given circumstances. It’s nice to have opportunities to help out to the best of our ability. Even a stranger, a man in need, in need for help.