5 April 2020, Sunday, 3:34
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‘Lungs Fail, People Cannot Inhale’

‘Lungs Fail, People Cannot Inhale’
PHOTO: EPA

Belarusian woman told how she works with patients with the coronavirus infection in Swedish intensive care unit.

Palina moved from Belarus to Sweden in 2005 when she got married. Now she lives in Stockholm with her husband and three children, works as a nurse in the intensive care unit of one of the hospitals, writes kp.by.

The first death from the coronavirus in Sweden was recorded on March 11, now 24 people have died in the country, the total number of cases on March 23 is 1934. Since March 19, borders have been closed there, schools and universities are switching to distance learning, everyone who can works from home.

“Our hospital is the third in line to receive patients with the coronavirus,” says Palina. “The unit is designed for 10 people, now there are four patients with the coronavirus - all elderly people, but there are young people in other hospitals. We have the most difficult cases: for many, the lungs fail, they cannot breathe. Such patients are injected into an artificial coma so that medical manipulations can be performed with them. 70 percent of cases across the country are men, apparently, they find it more difficult to tolerate the infection.

- What exactly are you doing?

- We support the breathing of patients with the help of ventilators, we turn the patients on the stomach to facilitate breathing, then again on the back. Our main task is to aspirate the mucus that accumulates in the lungs of the patients, and to fulfill the doctor's prescription.

Doctors and nurses wear protective visors, face masks, aprons with long sleeves, put on two pairs of gloves.

- But now we are running out of protective equipment, we are waiting for help from other countries - they promised to deliver from China. All these things are disposable, but now they tell us to write our initials on them and use them all day, including masks. This is wrong, but you have to do so.

“Doctors work in two shifts like robots to help patients.”

Since March 23, the hospital in which Palina works has passed into a state of emergency. Doctors and nurses may have to work seven days a week. Now their shifts last 12 hours instead of the usual 8.

- Due to the fact that we are constantly working in defense, it’s hard to breathe, the masks do not have enough air. We try to replace each other every two hours so that we can escape to the toilet. We work in two shifts of 12 hours or more, there is absolutely no time to rest. Many have very sore and swollen legs. We still have days off, but a text message may often come from the coordinator that there are not enough staff. If no one can come, they call by order.

Now the intensive care has doubled the number of places for patients, but doctors are sorely lacking. The hospital has already closed the diagnostic department - the staff was sent to the intensive care.

- Now it is planned to close kindergartens, but leave space for the children of health workers: if we stay at home with the children, there will be no one to work at all. Even retirees are called to work. Doctors are very tired, they worry that they now need to work in three shifts, and not in two. When you arrive in the morning after night, you can see what the doctor has red eyes, how tired he is. But he continues to work like a robot to help patients, risking his own health.

Doctors can no longer cope if the number of patients increases.

- We are told that in mid-April - early May there will be a peak incidence and the largest influx of patients. We ask the military for help to help with the sick - they also have a medical education.

They try to support doctors in Stockholm: many restaurants and cafes deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner to the hospital for free. One taxi service offers doctors and nurses a 10% discount on travel. The city residents go to their balconies every evening at 20.00, and applaud the doctors for a minute.

Initially in Sweden, everyone who had the symptoms of COVID-19 was tested. Now tests are done only for hospitalized people or people at risk - there are not enough tests.

- Neither the medical staff nor the people who may be in contact with the sick do tests. Everyone is tested before planned surgeries.

- Are you afraid of getting sick, infecting loved ones?

- I’m not afraid for myself, I worry more about the children, my husband. I do not consider myself a kind of a hero: I knew where I was going, and what could be the consequences.

- What other measures are the authorities taking in Sweden to curb the spread of the virus?

- Buses are all free now, because you can’t get close to the driver to show a pass. Cinemas, sports centers are closed. Visits are prohibited in all hospitals and nursing homes, exceptions are only for the intensive care patients who are near death. Patients with the coronavirus, of course, cannot be visited. They talk with relatives only on the phone.