Author and photographer: Arbnora Memeti
A cold November night. The thick fog mixed with smog makes it difficult to notice the faces of occasional passers-by in the vicinity of the Emergency Medical Service’s (EMS) building in Skopje.
Inside, the telephones are ringing continuously. Call after call. Most of them want to have a consultation, but also many need emergency help and a transfer to hospital. The dynamic is exhausting, the pressure is almost unbearable.
This is the atmosphere of one average night at Skopje’s Emergency Medical Services. This is what it has been like for almost 9 months, since the outbreak of the pandemic. Every day, every night.
In order to portray the real situation and the work conducted by the EMS, Meta News Agency spent 12 hours with the service.
The shift starts at 8 p.m. and ends at 8 a.m. Twelve hours of continuous work. There is almost no time for a break. This was a long and tiresome night.
The first cases which the employees considered for intervention and not just situations for a telephone consultations, were people sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The preparations for going to interventions are beginning. When these people are having direct contact with the disease, they must be well-protected since their knowledge and expertise are at the moment invaluable. Therefore, double protection is a must.
But, unfortunately, part of them cannot afford to do that. There is a lack of protective gear. Hazmat suits which are for one use only are being used several times, same as protective masks and face shields.
The use of the protective gear is not easy at all. Assistance from the colleagues is necessary to make sure that the team whch will go on-site will be as safe as possible. Therefore the hazmat suit which zipper is damaged has to be fixed with stapler.
As the pollution levels and the fog’s thickness rose outside, the number of calls for intervention also rose. And under such conditions, the movements across the city are hindered and the speed is slow.
Sometimes the call is arriving too late. Such was the call for a 70-year-old patient who had already died, but his relatives have called an ambulance believing he is in a coma and is still alive. The death of this patient influenced the mood of the crew of the ambulance we rode in. In the aftermath, during the night, the laughter was seldom heard.
Most of the night has already passed. Many COVID-positive patients with a worsened condition were already transferred to the nearest COVID centers in the city. But the vehicle’s speed isn’t the factor that mostly influences the speed of accommodating the patients. What slowed the whole process was the burden on the COVID centers and the slow reception of new patients. The waiting time sometimes extends to an hour.
The excruciating tempo continues throughout the night and into the morning hours. One vehicle is arriving and another one is leaving. While one crew is taking off the protective gear and is going through the disinfection process, another one is are preparing to go to another intervention.
After 12 hours of work, the people that are saving lives every day, with evident traces of tiredness on their faces, are preparing to go home and have the well deserved rest.
They say that they aren’t worried or offenden that the public often forgets about them and that they are facing insults and attacks. What they are doing is not an ordinary profession, but a calling to save human lives. They are the superheroes of today, whether someone will admit that or not.