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BEATA BARWIŃSKA

a nurse with a PhD, the dean of the Faculty of Nursing at the Academy of Humanities and Economics in Łódź

I returned to work today after two weeks and found myself in the middle of a nightmare. We are completely unprepared for such a situation - neither as a medical environment nor as people. We don't know how to behave. How can you switch from a secure life to fighting an epidemic in just a few days?

Every day, my husband and I start our work with disinfecting the ambulance. I also disinfect the control room and wipe all the door handles. We go to work knowing that the next visit could be a visit to an infected person. Even though the situation has changed radically, we immediately learned that people have not changed at all. We were called to an elderly man who had collapsed. I explained to his family that we can take a senior citizen to the hospital for tests, but for epidemiological reasons, the hospital is not a good place for him now. For him, it would be safer at home. The family insisted and we took the elderly gentleman to the crowded emergency room. 

Another visit - to an infant who had vomited. It was the middle of the night, the child was completely fine, smiling at us. I explained to the parents, that in this situation, vomiting is less of a risk than our visit.

I want to scream: People! This is an epidemic! I am surprised that patients are not afraid to let me in. I could have just come back from visiting an infected patient. I could be ill myself. Humanity sometimes lacks a self-preservation instinct.

We have not yet understood that this is the end of the world as we know it. At least one where we freely greet one another with a kiss. And the end of a world where ambulances are called to check on runny-noses from a normal flu.

We live in disturbing times - I risk my life with every visit to a patient’s house and I want to know it's worth it, that I'm not going to check on baby who vomited.

We have masks and coveralls. The management do whatever they can to provide us with this equipment. Four teams were given just a number of masks. We could complain that these deficiencies in protection measures are the result of negligence. I think the world was not prepared for such a situation. It was not common to store a large number of masks, gloves or even coveralls, because they could always be ordered on a regular basis. We already had staff shortages, and now some of my colleagues are quarantined. And there is of course fear. People may refuse to get to ambulances. Or we may soon choose who the ambulance will serve and who will be left without help.

I'm 52 years old. I am where I am because I really love my job. I celebrate every shift. It gives me satisfaction. There is nothing more beautiful than when you hear from a patient: "You are an incredible human-being."

Today I am beginning to wonder what the balance is between anxiety and the level of passion for my work. The situation overwhelms me. If I could hide in my home, I would do it with the greatest joy. But I can't do it to my friends. This is why tomorrow, I’ll come to work.

KATARZYNA BĘCKOWSKA

a nurse with 12 years of experience from the hospital emergency department

When I last saw my sons and husband up close, I put their clothes on the staircase for them. For safety reasons, I was packing them in gloves. Soon, my youngest son will turn six. I won't hug him on his birthday. I am in quarantine.

I have been working in my profession for so long that I have many difficult moments behind me. I can't be afraid of the sick, because it is my work to be in contact with them. I have looked after people with HIV and TB. During almost every shift, an ambulance brings homeless people who need to be washed, shaved and deloused before the examination. That's just what I do every day. But coronavirus is a challenge for us that we have not had to face before.

We're all in a new situation. It's a bit like a war, all the more dangerous because you don't even know who you are fighting. You don't really know the enemy. Under such conditions, human thoughtlessness hurts more than ever.

A coronavirus patient came to us on foot with her friend. I have no idea how many people had contact with her on the way. The media has, for many days, been advising patients who suspect they have had an infection to not visit a regular emergency room or clinic, but to instead call services or go to an infectious disease hospital.

And these women came to a place full of people. The infected woman was Spanish, but she knows English. The poster that hangs on our door is a request in several languages ??for people who suspect that they are infected to not come inside. She entered. And at first she sat in the waiting room for quite a long time. Then, during the examination, she only said she had symptoms of tachycardia. It was only during an in-depth interview that she admitted although she had not been abroad recently, she had contact with a person who had recently returned from Vietnam. This alarmed us and put the whole ward on our feet.

The patient was immediately isolated. Not that this changed a lot. She had to then wait for about five hours to be transported to the infectious disease hospital. Later, her test was administered and sent back for evaluation.

We had to wait further for the result. It took more than a day for our ward to be informed that she was infected with coronavirus. We started counting down how many people this patient had eliminated from work. Two doctors, two nurses, a ward nurse and a paramedic - so many of us had to stop work immediately and go to quarantine.

Katarzyna BęckowskaKatarzyna Bęckowska Fot. Tomasz Stańczak / Agencja Gazeta

The patient's thoughtlessness and the lenghty waiting time exposed many people to infection. I am afraid we have many such examples in this country.

Fear? I don't think about it. I have no control over what will happen. Faith helps a lot in such situations. I have prayed during important and positive times in my life to give thanks. Now I am looking for support from God. But in addition to faith, common sense is also needed. That's why I call all my friends and make sure they don't leave the house unnecessarily, that they wash their hands thoroughly, and if they have to leave - keep at least a meter away from others.

Until recently, we all joked about the coronavirus a little - in the medical community too. Because the virus was far away, because we had unreasonable hope that it might not reach us. But now it is clear that the jokes are over. This disease has very serious consequences and it will affect thousands of people in our country. I'm not afraid that something will happen to myself. But when I found out that I had contact with an infected person, my husband and I had to make a difficult decision. I locked myself in the house. He took carer’s allowance and moved our sons to his parents. My husband is a paramedic. He was working in two places. He must also be added to the list of those eliminated from work by this one irresponsible patient. 

Recently, my husband and sons came to my window to wave at me. It was a weird feeling.

During this forced isolation I have a lot of time to think. Do I like this job? I can't imagine having any other. When I was a child, I was sick. I spent two months in the hospital, and it was a time when parents could visit children only during the weekends. 

It is not easy. Especially when a young person comes to the emergency room and I know that his life will not last long. You can't give false hope then. You can smile, grab their hand. Just be there.

AGNIESZKA DOMINIAK

a nurse for 20 years, outpatient clinic - 24/7 help

The coronavirus epidemic is not only a time of fear, but also of truth. And the truth is that we have a terrible shortage of nurses. Many have left and the remaining ones are simultaneously working in several hospitals and clinics to fill the void. This state of affairs will inevitably end during the current pandemic because we are facing a flood of thousands of infected patients, many with respiratory failure and in a very severe condition.

Many nurses will soon stop coming to work. A lot of them are already past the statutory retirement age, are tired and thus are at a high risk of becoming sick - Those that remain will not be enough. At my workplace, most women are at least 50 years old and are facing an increased health risk related to coronavirus. I am 48 years old myself, and my state of health no longer allowed me to continue my job in an ambulance. I am afraid for myself and for others.

Agnieszka DominiakAgnieszka Dominiak Fot. Tomasz Stańczak / Agencja Gazeta

We are also afraid of lies. The safety procedures mean nothing if the patients are not telling the truth. They conceal that they have come back from a place affected by the epidemic or that they had contact with an infected person. It is thoughtless behavior on their part. A patient with a broken arm came to us for surgery. However, he had returned a day earlier from France and he should be in quarantine. The borders have been closed for several days.

As a society, we learn to keep a distance and consider the safety. But we learn too slowly. And I'm afraid that if the epidemic spreads, our healthcare system will not bear it.

My sister married an Italian, she lives near Milan. I watch what is happening there. Italians made a lot of mistakes. We have now hidden at home, but how long will we be able to continue this social isolation?

In Italy, children are drawing rainbows and writing that everything will be fine. But it won't be. In Italy, people are dying - they have severe viral pneumonia, they need to be connected to a respirator. And the worst thing is that they are dying alone. Their relatives cannot be with them for epidemiological reasons. I know so well how important the presence of another person is in these last moments.

We will not be like Italy, many say. I would love to believe that. But let's remember how recently we thought that coronavirus is somewhere far away - in China - and it does not concern us.

After each call we are anxiously telling each other: "Until tomorrow,” not sure if we will really see each other. Each of us can, after all, get a call that the patient was infected and we have to quarantine. My husband is a doctor. We are slowly getting to the point where we want to have our bags packed and ready. Each of us can be taken to the hospital as a patient.

***
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

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