Alone in front of COVID-19

Uncle Janica, a man with grey hair and chapped hands, enters the gate of the Health Centre of Vadeni, Soroca. He hasn’t advanced for more than two steps when the facility’s double-glazed door barely cracks, and from behind, a megaphone-like voice resounds over the alley with violets:

– Janica, stay there, don’t come near! Two meters! Do you know the distance?

– Yes, we do, we know everything, the man mumbles, annoyed.  

– What do you want? the female doctor asks bluntly, without coming out.

– Pills!

– What kind of pills?

– Aspirin and Valerian Root. Analgin, too!

– I’m telling you right away, I’m not coming to the gate. We must respect this quarantine!

– O’ course! No problem, Elena Sergheevna.

The man remains stuck in the alley, caressed by the rays of the April sun. The doctor stands behind the door a few more seconds, watching him with frowning eyes, to make sure he respects what she asked. 

After a few moments, the door opens slowly, and Claudia, one of the two nurses, appears in the doorway. She waves at Uncle Janica to come closer and hands him the pills. The man stretches out like a string, trying to leave as much space as possible between them, and grabs the boxes. Behind Claudia, Elena Sergheevna scrutinizes him and says firmly:

– Janica, wear a mask next time, don’t you all go walking around the village like that. And keep the distance. 

– OK, ok, ok, I got it, Uncle Janica assures her, counting the medicines with his eyes, then turns on his heels and tails out of the yard. 

– If you wear glasses, then put them on. The virus also gets in the eyes, the doctor reprimands him as he’s leaving, like a mother who is seeing her child off to school and asks him to be good.  

– Good day and stay healthy! he answers over his shoulder and gets lost in the streets of the village. 

The women barricade themselves back into the building, locking the door from inside. They go back to their renovated offices and start writing in the medical records, calling the patients up to ask about their health and, not in the least, calling the pharmacies in Chisinau and the authorities in Soroca. Maybe they are lucky to hear, at the other end of the line, that masks are available, or there is a donation of medical equipment for them, too.

There is an unusually oppressive silence in the office of the family doctor Elena Verbitchi. It hasn’t been so quiet ever since she can remember. If, on February 10th, 45 people came to see her, today, April 8th, until noon, only four villagers came, and all of them after pills. „As from March, their number started to decrease significantly. People become aware,” Elena Sergheevna explains, with her hand on the receiver. She calls Victor Caraus, a man from the risk group. 

– Mr. Victor, how are you doing? Are you ok? Should I come by to see you? the doctor asks.

– No, don’t come to see me until the corona is over! Mr. Victor orders her politely. 

The announcement pleasantly surprises the doctor, leaving her stunned at the same time. 

– Ok, ok, I’m glad! the woman answers, all smiles.  

– I measure my blood pressure on my own. My brother-in-law Haralambie shouts me out by the well and, what he has to give me, he leaves at the gate in a bag i.e. medicines. I don’t touch them immediately. I let them air out for a while, the man reports. 

– Very good, good job! Elena Sergheevna praises him, with a flushed face, and hangs up.

„If everyone were like this gentleman, we’d get rid of COVID-19 faster. He has a first-degree disability. He’s an educated patient. He can measure his own blood pressure by himself. And he also measures it to the others in his neighbourhood. And if we don’t go to see him, he calls us up,” Elena Sergheevna recounts excitedly about the patient with whom she had just finished the discussion. 

Claudia, the nurse, enters the door. She informs her that „the gas gentleman has come and she should go out to the door to talk with him”. Elena Sergheevna, who is not only a family doctor, but also a manager, signs and stamps the bills. The copy that must remain with the centre is placed for half an hour in a procedure room, under the quartz lamp. „We put everything under the lamp. I also put there the money from the pharmacy,” Claudia shows the banknotes in her wallet. 

Clothes, bags, shoes, money, papers gather daily under the quartz lamp.  Even the geraniums and the forget-me-nots in the doctor’s office accidentally received an ultraviolet bath. „We burned them because we use the quartz lamp a lot. I’m afraid of skin cancer, but before that, let us get rid of COVID-19,” the manager explains, leaning over the compensated prescriptions that she is filling in busily.

 

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*

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the world, the medical workers of Vadeni, Soroca – the district where three times more people became infected than in the municipality of Chisinau, relative to the number of stable population – have not been sitting idly by. 

They have taken protection measures as they know best, guided both by the little money on the facility’s account and by all the directions of the Ministry of Health, only „to get the village off scot-free from the bane”. „We are doctors of older age, and maybe that’s why we haven’t had yet cases of illness in our village,” the women say proudly. 

And so, in the evening of March 7th, when they watched on TV the news that the first case of coronavirus infection had officially been registered in Moldova, next day, they nailed new rules in the fight against the virus as well as the citizens. 

First of all, they decided that people should no longer crowd up in the hall, as usually happens when they come for appointments, but should wait outside, keep the distance, and enter one by one. It wasn’t easy, the employees say. „They almost wanted to fight with us.” 

„When I told the people to go out and stand two meters apart, they were making such a noise… Trouble. Asking why we didn’t have space in the outpatient section?!  You should make space at home, because in the cemetery, they will put you all together and bury you without a priest and without anything,” Claudia answered to someone ‘vain as a peacock’.

They also took out chairs for the people, keeping on explaining that that was the order and they had no choice. „We must comply.” When they saw that it was not so easy to do it, the doctor came out and began to whip them with words of spirit: “Folks, don’t you really see what is happening in the world? This is for you. For you!” 

They introduced the people to the three hand washing procedures at the washbasin installed right at the entrance. „We wash our hands with antiseptic soap, then disinfectant, then alcohol.” They asked the people to use the last one also on their faces. They measured their fever, disinfecting the thermometers each time in a coffee cup half filled with alcohol.

Then they offered each one a mask. „I took the box with masks out into the hallway… They were gone immediately. One day or two, like that.  When we saw that we were running out of supplies, we ended the charity.  I told them, if they had a mask – ok, if not – good bye,” the family doctor says.  

And, if on the ordinary days, Elena Sergheevna cuddled and ‘moved them around’ through all the rooms of the centre: for measuring, taking their temperature, weighing, taking blood and urine tests, as from March, she made it clear to them to stay at home if they had nothing. At the same time, she called up the patients scheduled for hospitalization and informed them: “Inpatient services have closed, please don’t go walking the streets. Take the medicines I have prescribed for you.” 

„They no longer come now. It was harder to work the first days, but then they got used to it. People call, I write down the medications in their medical records, as I know all of them. We don’t accept them in the outpatient section. We lock the door. They tell us what they want outside,” the family doctor describes the situation. 

Measures have also been taken outside the facility. They printed some A4 sheets with information about COVID-19 and pasted them, together with the mayor, on the door of the health centre, of the town hall and on the doors of the two shops in the village, ordering everyone to respect the social distance and the hygiene measures.

„With God’s help, I hope this ends. People start to understand and stop at home. And this is the first step that should be taken: make people aware that the disease is very serious, and sitting at home, washing your hands and wearing a mask protects you from all this,” Elena Sergheevna is confident, while preparing her equipment for a few home visits. 

 

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*

Elena Sergheevna is a strong woman. She grabs two bags in one hand, a metal box in the other, filled with a disposable medical gown, masks, overshoes, caps, white pants and leaves the office. In the spacious and cold hallway, Claudia crosses her path. She rushes like a bullet to the door, where a social worker is waiting for her. 

– I want Captopril and Diroton,” the woman with flushed cheeks shyly mutters her words. 

– No way, put on your mask! The social worker who walks all over the village doesn’t wear a mask?! Claudia begins to thunder.

– I have a mask, but it’s black, the nurse smiles awkwardly, curling her hands under her voluminous breasts, without raising her eyes from the ground.  

– It may be even blue. Put on the mask and the conversation is over, Claudia scrutinizes her, fidgeting from one foot to the other. 

– If I put on my mask, do I come in? the woman asks inquisitively but her voice breaks when she catches the nurse’s prying eyes. 

– You don’t come anywhere. You stand at the door! Claudia chaps her with a general’s voice. 

– Lilea, aren’t you wearing a mask?! Where is your suit? Elena Sergheevna joins the conversation, having watched the scene from behind Claudia. 

– Where should I take a suit from? Who gave me at least a mask? the social worker wails angrily.  

– Go and buy at the House of Culture. It costs 5 lei. I’m wearing my mask in vain if you’re not wearing one. We’ve taught the old ladies to stay at home and should we teach you to wear a mask?! Claudia rhetorically asks. 

– It’s the old ladies who are sending me after pills. I want a white one [mask], too. And, after all, you die once! the swarthy woman waves her hands wearily. 

– Before I die, I’ll infect the whole village! Tell the old ladies not to fast but to eat everything and they won’t have headaches, Claudia asks her and hands her the boxes of pills. 

Elena Sergheevna waits for Lilea to leave and goes out the health centre’s door. The thick-rimmed glasses and a gauze mask cause steam sweat on her cheeks with fine wrinkles. The patient she is visiting is an old woman who lives just a stone’s throw from the medical facility. About three weeks ago, her daughter visited her and, in less than three days, turned out to have COVID-19. 

„It felt like sitting on fire. Fourteen days have passed. We think it’s all right now, the temperature is normal.  She doesn’t cough, but we are monitoring her anyway,” says the doctor with a swaying gait. 

There is no soul in the neighbourhood. Only the doctor gives life to the narrow and deserted alleys. From a distance, the woman resembles a snowdrift that has suddenly appeared in an oasis of greenery.

A white-tailed puppy greets her with a hoarse bark from behind a green gate. With her thoughts knotted in her beard, the woman walks carelessly past the animal. Until reaching the old lady, she is also respectfully greeted by a cock with a rainbow-colored tail, which guards its harem of about eight hens, and a cat tucked with its belly in the sun in the black and crumbly dust of a barren garden. 

She stops at the patient’s gate and carefully puts the bags down. She bends down heavily and pulls up her disposable white pants, which don’t seem to listen to her. When she puts on her boots, she stumbles and nearly falls down. There is nothing she could use as support. The gauze mask under which a piece of blue film is sewn falls off her nose. Sweat from her forehead rolls into small grains, getting lost in the wrinkles of the fallen cheeks.

She pulls the gown away, fitting it, and steps on it with the back of her palms. She gasps. At the end, she arranges her cap over her rich hair dyed a dark brown and white at the roots. Her face is scarlet. She breathes a sigh of relief, as if having put the final exams behind, and walks, with her side forward, through the squeaky wooden gate. A green alley runs ahead of her and stops in front of an old house. 

She calls the old woman a few times, but in vain. She rattles with her gnarled fingers on the dusty windows, which shake from the hurried knocks. She hears slippers shuffling. Elena Sergheevna opens the door and asks her to come into the hall. She measures her blood pressure. 

– I wonder how long this will last? Soroca, I understand, is closed, the old woman says, smiling playfully.

– Until this virus is gone. Are you coughing? Does anything hurt? Your blood pressure today is like a young woman’s. 120 to 80. Is the pain in your belly gone? the doctor asks with great caution.

– I’d say so. 

– I’ve brought you pills. Take them three times per day, for your blood pressure. If something’s wrong, call me. I’ll call you up anyway; the doctor lists the instructions for her. 

When parting, the old woman grabs her hand and, with tears in her eyes and pursed lips, says:

– Let me kiss your hand, for taking care of me. 

– You don’t have to,” Elena Sergheevna jumps, snatching her soft-skinned and creased hands from the old woman’s bony, wrinkled hands. And don’t leave the house or have anyone over. 

– How can I not kiss it, if you help me and come to see me… 

The doctor takes a few steps away from the old woman’s door and takes out of her bag a bottle of medicinal alcohol and a piece of gauze prepared in advance. She moistens the gauze well and wipes the stethoscope horns, then washes her hands with alcohol. She throws the utensils into the green bag and stretches from her loins. She closes her eyes for a few seconds, taking a deep, long breath. She wishes health to the old lady and slowly starts walking back to the health centre. At the gate, she rinses her hands with alcohol once more. 

The rainbow-tailed rooster sings in tandem with the church bells. With her head bowed, equipment on, and with the bags in her hand, she passes unnoticed by the white-tailed dog. The thoughts of the new virus roar in her head like a stove in the middle of winter. 

*

She is afraid of COVID-19. She is turning 70 on April 21st and is no longer at the age when she’d take her hoe after work and „was ploughing in the fields like in a fitness club”. The fact that she might get infected is ubiquitous in her mind. She realizes well that she is part of the risk group and that she is among the favourites of the ‘deadly virus’. „My blood pressure is high and my heart is sick, and virulence is high after 65.” 

Out of fear, she began to lock the gate of her household at night. She never did such a thing, not even after being left alone in the imposing house in Parcani, built by her parents. Her husband died fourteen years ago, and her only son arranged his life in Chisinau. 

„There is a case of COVID-19 in my native village. Two houses away from mine. Both the mother and the child are in Chisinau now. During the mother’s incubation period, her father died. I was afraid lest someone of those who had been to the funerals and come in contact with the infected people came and called me in for an emergency. I never used to lock my gate. Never,” the woman explains her gesture, somewhat ashamed. 

And her fear has intensified since March 17, when a state of emergency was established in the Republic of Moldova. Since then, none of the „elected by the people” has asked her if she had at least a mask and how she dealt with the danger. „I don’t really feel anyone’s care. Some indifference from those sitting up there, to us. Someone should call and at least ask us how are we doing,” she says in a muffled voice. 

Instead, the doctor says, they sent her into outbreaks empty-handed. There were two more days left until the old woman, whose daughter had tested positive for COVID-19, came out of the quarantine but the epidemiologist asked her to visit her, measure her temperature, and let him know if, God forbid, she had a fever or coughed.

Elena Sergheevna didn’t go. She found a way to compromise, without coming into contact with the octogenarian. A pathway she wished ‘those up there’ had suggested her. By telephone. 

„Nobody cares. It’s really inhuman. Hey, but what are you thinking? I’m also human. You know I’m old, but they – go and go. I found a way out of the situation, but it’s not normal for them to keep sending me. They claimed they’d give me a thousand lei more… What should I do with them? I won’t need it even for my funeral, because they won’t be able to organize it.” 

She visited the old woman only after the quarantine was over. But, first, she impertinently went to the head of the Public Health Centre in Soroca and told him that she had no equipment. „You gave me a suit – I did go, you didn’t give me a suit – I didn’t go.  And they gave me two disposable gowns. That was on March 22nd. Nobody gave me anything else.” 

As the Vadeni Health Centre is self-managed, the money coming from the 1,762 patients, on March 26th, the manager took almost 3,000 lei from the facility’s account and replenished in Chisinau. 

„If I saw that the situation was so difficult, I called my son to come and take me. The work car is broken.” When she met her son, they looked at each other for a long time. They were almost afraid to hug. „Didn’t you contact with anyone there?” With an infected person? He asked me the same: how about you, mother? You have come to fear your child and your child to fear you”. 

In the capital city, “I bought everything except masks. But I couldn’t buy much, because if an inspection came from NHIC (National Health Insurance Company) and found that I had supplies in stock for more than two months, they’d fine us,” the pensioner explains.  

They made the masks in Vadeni when realizing that neither in Chisinau they could be found, nor humanitarian aid reached the district that, at that time, had the highest number of infections among health workers – 86 of a total of 257 registered throughout the country.

They cut the film from the overshoes and hid it between two layers of gauze. The village seamstress sewed about 50 pieces for them. When they get dirty, they wash and iron them. „We’ve improvised. We have very few of the original masks, so to speak. They are made at the House of Culture, in the workshop, but we cannot take them, because they are not approved by the Ministry of Health. But we send all patients to buy.”

Ala Nemerenco, former Minister of Health, says that family doctors should have been provided with equipment from the reserve funds as far back as January. „Family doctors’ budgets are small. And everything is planned in the budget. There is no extra money there. You have nothing to cut from,” Nemerenco explains. 

As for the equipment that Elena Sergheevna purchased, Ala Nemerenco believes that these need to be more serious and adapted to the fight against the new virus. 

„Even today, the Ministry of Health has not approved a protocol or an annex to describe the standard equipping scheme. First of all, the family doctor must have the necessary number of masks. You can’t give them a surgical mask – it only offers a 50% guarantee against infection. They must wear a special gown, not a scrub one, like resuscitators. These disposable gowns can be used but they must have a more protective material and be long to the ground. They must have a cap, which can be worn all day; the suit; overshoes, to protect their shoes in which the will go home; gloves. And not one pair, but two pairs on their hands,” Nemerenco lists.

According to the former minister, family doctors would need about forty pairs of gloves a day. In addition to all the recommendations, during this period, they should wear the protective equipment from morning to evening, and not only when they have patients with fever.

„You cannot go to war with an army that is not equipped. You don’t put an army at the front so that the enemy can destroy it from the first gunshots. You want to get to Berlin with this army, so to speak. You must equip it. And give it not a bayonet, but a Kalashnikov, not a cap, but a helmet. You must equip them from the state reserves,” Nemerenco thinks.  

*

Arrived near the centre, Elena Sergheevna sends the driver after a yellow box. „Biological hazard”. She goes behind the fence to undress.  She is annoyed by the white pants, which got stuck to her legs and do not let themselves taken off. The sun hits her mercilessly right in the back of the head. She’s still shaking. The visit to the old woman moved her. 

She puts the suit in the box and orders the man to take it to the girls, to have it destroyed. She already used about five pieces of equipment last week. The stock is declining. 

Without drinking a cup of water, she sits comfortably in the front seat of the driver’s private car and they leave for Dumbraveni, a village nearly five kilometres away. From there, they will travel another four kilometres, to reach Parlita. She calculates the duration of the visits in such a way that they do not take more than two hours. Upon her return, she has to fill in records and see two patients. 

It would seem that the working days should be less busy, due to the small number of patients who come to the centre, but working remotely has proved to be much more difficult. „Before the pandemic, patients came to us, the vast majority of them, but now I have to call them up. And I worry about everyone: do they have medicine, won’t it cause a hypertensive crisis? [Previously,] I was seeing even up to 45 people, but I was successfully coming to an end with all of them. The medicine was being given, everything was being done. Now the work car is also broken and we don’t even have a place to repair it, if Soroca is closed,” the pensioner complains.

On the main road, the driver honks a few women who are cleaning the mud near the curb. All a few meters away from each other. When leaving the village, a thin old woman with a mask on her face enters the yard with a bag full of eatables. „I like it like that. At first they thought it was a joke, that’s why we have come so far. But that joke gave birth to something serious, if young people in their 30s are dying. Now there are few on the road, but they calmed down very hard,” the woman describes the beginnings. 

Until Dumbraveni, the road full of potholes crawls among the straight rows of bare trees. Elena Sergheevna looks dreamily at Soroca’s hills. She was born here, she grew up here, and she stayed here with her family, even though she was offered a seat at the Ministry of Health. She did not accept. Who would have taken care of the parents and in-laws?!

But now, when she sees the chaos created by the coronavirus pandemic, she regrets her old decision. She would be sitting in „a warm place” now, protected, and in a soft seat. But her empathetic way of being fenced her among people, saving lives even at midnight. 

„Women with children came at any hour and I was asking, ‘Why do they all come to me?! Let them also go to the other two doctors in the village. ’My husband scolded me: ‘Woman, they don’t come to see how beautiful you are. I watch you for your beauty. They come to see you because they need you. Be kind and go,” the woman recounts, her voice changed. She remembered her husband. He was a huge support in her career. „He also did what he had to do in the house, so that I could do my job.”

She met him only when she was in her fifth year at the „Nicolae Testemitanu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Chisinau. A tall and handsome man, ‘as if he were an actor’. She had also seen him in the first year, at a party, but at that time he was dating Dusea. She said to herself: look what a handsome boy she’s dating if she’s the daughter of a kolkhoz president. She did not even dream that she would marry the ‘artist’, an engineer by profession. 

Her rich hair spreads over her broad shoulders. Shoulders that have carried the burdens of life since she was a child. From the first grade, she took care of the household while her parents were at work. “Maybe that also helped me to be insistent on learning. I finished university with a red diploma,” the pensioner remembers. 

She has remained as ambitious throughout life. She didn’t give up until she won two projects for Vadeni. With the money obtained from the NHIC development fund, she built the Health Centre from scratch, which now has a triage room, a clinical laboratory, a procedure and vaccination office, a pharmacy, an oncopreventive control office, a sanitary unit and a corner for medical emergencies. She would have liked to win a third project to renew the old furniture and equipment, but hasn’t succeeded. 

„It is very difficult to win these projects. Maybe it’s easier for others to win, but not for me. I cried when they refused my first proposal. It was a great drama for me. I’m very emotional.”  

And talkative. She talks so much that she gets home in the evening with clenched jaws. „I’m used to talking a lot with the patients and getting them to listen. Many times, in the conversation with the patients, I swallow a knot as big as a fist but I try not to turn them back and not to disappoint them. I sympathize with everyone, maybe more than with myself, and try to put myself in their shoes. And I take more responsibility than I should, because the material situation is very difficult for many. Today’s people have embittered,” concludes Elena Sergheevna, looking at the hills divided into black and green colours. 

 

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*

She arranges her makeshift mask under her small eyes, surrounded by wrinkles, but sharp and agile as a squirrel’s, while the driver parks on the main street in Dumbraveni, next to a good-looking house. After a few knocks on the gate and desperate cries, a woman comes out of the house like the wind. The doctor’s cry flashed through her, holding her in place:

– Viorica, where is your mask? Please go and put on your mask! 

– Oh yes, the mask! the woman exclaims and, dazed, hits herself over the mouth, then runs into the house and returns as she was asked. 

The distance between the two women is about five meters. The doctor asks her, shouting, if she’s feeling well and if she’s taking the prescribed pills. Viorica informs her, also shouting, that she is still measuring her fever. 

The villager returned from Germany on March 14th. She had been to her son, to Dudenhofen, a city 100 kilometres from Frankfurt. Having returned to Dumbraveni, she says that she respected the quarantine exactly as the doctor had explained to her, isolating herself from her husband in another room. „I didn’t leave the yard for three, not two, weeks.” 

They part, greeting each other with their hands, like soldiers, and the doctor continues her visits through the village with less than 200 people. Because it is a hamlet, she managed to walk with the mayor and the policeman from gate to gate, asking the inhabitants to stay at home and not to struggle on the roads, and to those who have returned from abroad – to isolate themselves from the rest of the family. For the latter, she also opened epidemiological cards and monitored them by telephone, as in the case with the 80-year-old woman. 

„I go see those I know there has been no one in the family infected or the incubation period, of 18-20 days, has passed. I humanly cannot send them to the hospital. Don’t you see what’s going on there?” the doctor says and shouts out for Iulia, a Ukrainian woman over 70 years old, with high blood pressure and diabetes. 

With a brisk walk, Iulia approaches the gate, but does not open it. The discussion is a replica of the one with Viorica: if she feels well, if she takes the pills, and if she doesn’t have a fever. When parting, the Ukrainian woman complains, with tears in her eyes and her hands on her temples, covered with sour strands, that this year she would celebrate Easter alone for the first time. 

„Elena Sergheevna, they will bury us like dogs. We will all die, like flies.” With lips pursed, a gloomy look, and tense cheekbones, the old woman waits for a caress.

The doctor’s grey, bright eyes stare at her gently, while the hem of her gown flutters in the spring wind. „There was cholera and plague, many died, but also many made it. We will make it now, too. Those of us who are on better terms with God – will stay, those who aren’t – will go. What’s meant to happen, will happen.” 

A few houses over, six kindergarten children are squeaking in the spacious yard. Because of them, Elena Sergheevna lost a few kilos. On March 2, all six fell ill. A disease not encountered by the doctor before and that scared her. 

„I have never had such a cough case as in the children of Dumbraveni. I thought their lungs would break. They were lying flat out on the bed. Head to toe. I was visiting them in the morning and in the evening,” the pensioner recounts. 

When the little ones just started to recover, she heard that their father, who had gone to work in Romania, was coming home. „My hair stood on end. I had just got them rid of the cough. If he goes to be among the children, what will I do? Hey, folks, he must be quarantined!”

The man says that he respected the quarantine and slept in a small room, separate from his children. „Thank God, we had nothing and we are all healthy,” he says, smiling, swinging the little ones away from the gate. He assures the doctor that everything is fine and goes back to household chores. 

The doctor also returns to the car. She feels gloomy, oppressive thoughts at the back of her head. She is aware of the new decisions of the Ministry of Health that are to announce that light cases of COVID-19 should be treated at home, by family doctors. 

This decision doesn’t make her smile at all. She knows very well how all those who came from abroad, and not only they, respected the quarantine. „Not everyone has conditions of isolation at home. Especially in the village. People stay in one room all winter long. It hasn’t warmed up enough yet, so that one can move from the barn* (a smaller building in the household people use in summer as a kitchen but sometimes also to spend the winter as it helps reduce heating costs – translator’s note) to the house. Don’t they really see it? We will all become infected,” remarks Elena Sergheevna discouraged and they start out for Parlita. 

Of the equipment bought on March 26, she does not have much left, does not have a work car, the villages are miles away from each other, and she no longer has healthy feet, as she once did, when she’d wake up at four in the morning and come to work by foot, the 70 years are already knocking on her door, but the mighty of the country don’t really bother their head with her. Ala Bordian, the vice-president of Soroca district, called her only once to let her know that, „if we need it, to spend more gas, that we are not limited,” the doctor remembers.

„I asked to find someone young to replace me, but they said – low hopes that they would find someone who wants to go to Vadeni. So I’m going to take money from all the resources we have. We will mobilize and we will work. There is no way out. Let’s end the year and see what we do next.”

*

In Parlita, she consults a man nailed to the bed whose cared by his wife. She has rescued both from death a few times. Then she returns to Vadeni, loaded with thanks and images with happy faces. 

She reaches the centre after dusk. One more hour and she goes home. At the centre’s door, a young man asks for some pills. His wife has recently had a baby. The baby is only 10 days old, and Elena Sergheevna’s responsibilities include baby counselling. 

Tatiana, the nurse, asks her to calm down. The doctor is in doubt, because she has to do her duty to the man’s family as well. „Hey, where are you going? What if you have COVID-19? Because you don’t have clear symptoms as long as the incubation period lasts. Do you want to carry the virus over to the little one? the nurse reprimands her. 

The man, participant in the discussion, asks her not to go, because he won’t let her in anyway. The doctor then explains what they have to do and that they have to monitor the baby’s weight, measure it and, in case of fever or something else suspicious, to contact her. Even at midnight. 

Afterwards, Tatiana announces that she has one last call. A lady with fever. 

„What if it’s COVID-19 there?” the doctor asks fearfully. 

– I don’t think so. I think she said she had a toothache. She may have fever because of this. 

– God forbid I get sick! I’m afraid to go for testing. Who knows what’s in Chisinau’s hospitals. I don’t trust them. I don’t know what to do, but I think God will protect me. I haven’t harmed anyone, I have done good all my life. God can’t punish me like that. May God help us not have any cases in Vadeni.

With her hand on her chest, she dashes her eyes down from the sky and enters the Health Centre building to fill in a few records.

 

 TWO DAYS LATER, on April 10, 2020, the order of the Ministry of Health „on providing medical assistance to persons who meet the criteria for the case definition of COVID-19 infection” came into force. Under this order, family doctors will treat patients with mild forms of COVID-19 at home. 

The decision came in the context in which, at that time, the ministry reported a total of 1,438 confirmed cases, 56 recoveries and 29 deaths, and the Border Police placed April 10th as the busiest day of the week.

On the same day, the management of the Soroca District Council stated that all the necessary measures had been taken for the family doctors to be equipped and protected during this period. 

„Through the Emergency Situations Commission, we have directed 5,000 lei to the accounts of each health centre, from the reserve fund and from the donations we have. They have already received the money,” assured us Svetlana Paunescu, the vice-president of Soroca district. 

In addition to the 5,000 lei, Paunescu also says that, from the Ministry of Health, they have received a stock of masks and personal protective suits intended for family doctors, a stock that has been distributed to all health centres in the district. „So far, we have pursued a policy to supply all the centres at least a month in advance,” Svetlana Paunescu pointed out. 

It’s just that, in the case of Vadeni Health Centre, the advance supply involved: “I have been to Soroca and they gave me eight gowns and 50 masks. That’s it!”