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Interview

“Hospitals are full of wounded, soldiers and civilians. Children. Stop it, please..."

17.04.2022

Yulia (name changed) is a Ukrainian doctor, anesthesiologist and resuscitator. For two years, she has been fighting with covid-19 and now rescues people who have suffered bombing and shelling.

Attention! Shocking material is published below.

“In the hospital, no one is screaming, and no one is running around; there is always some white noise and sirens in my ears. But now, the sirens are air horns, not ambulances.

Seeing the torn bodies of those who tried to protect you is a new degree of our madness. Both they are silent, and we are silent.”

Can you tell us what your typical day looks like now?

It starts with a night, when we all wake up 2-3 times, sometimes more. Then morning comes, and I call my relatives and friends to find out - if everyone is alive and well. I walk my dog outside the house and stay inside the flat until 3 p.m., sometimes I can sleep during the day if I can't at night because of the sirens. At 3p.m. I have to go to work. I’m in the hospital until 8 a.m.

Do the sirens sound often?

For the last two days, about six times a day. I already thought it had gone downhill. But yesterday, they started bombing the city, and the sirens are now almost around the clock… It's a curse. For God's sake, you can't plan anything.

But when you live with this, you understand that it’s worse not hearing the sirens but hearing the gunshots in complete silence.

Now I will ask a possibly incorrect question if you compare the beginning of the pandemic and the current situation in Ukraine, does it feel similar? Or are they completely different things? 

At that moment, the covid-19 seemed to me like hell. But when the war started, I understood that covid-19 was only the problem of the patients and the doctors. You could go out into the world and get on with your life, abstract a little bit.

Yes, many people ignored the mask regime, then there was relaxation, and in essence, covid was the pain in the neck for the medics and the patients, who were more likely to die elderly or chronically ill.

Now, not only the life of the whole country is frozen, we are in a daze, but the patients are young guys and girls (military), families, children - and they have suffered or died from the violence. There is nothing they can do to prevent it. And we, medics, can do nothing to help, only to deal with the consequences of this violence.

In terms of feeling, of course, war is thousands and thousands of times worse.

I was such an idiot, writing "news from the battlefields" on a blog about covid and talking about this struggle as if it were a war. And then the real war kicked in - it is incomparable with anything.

I can talk a lot. I'm like a bare wire right now…

“Texts have always helped me get over burnout, injustice, joy, anger, despair. I was writing about the medicine because it took up most of my life. Now, the war takes up most of my life - it is everywhere. 

I don’t know what else to write about now. It's all faded. 

To tell you about the young guys and girls with amputated limbs, brain and spinal injuries, bullet wounds - who are protecting us, I just can't.”

Do you remember the first day of war? The first patient? 

I was on a 24-hour shift from February 23 to 24. I was sleeping in the resident’s room when I heard the sound ( At that time, I didn’t even realize what it was), and I saw the windows shaking. I calmly got up, went on my morning rounds and started my morning routine.

Then my colleague woke up and said, “the war has started”. My eyes blurred. I just went on working in silence. 

At an operational meeting (daily shift pickup/release at 8:00), our superiors said it was the war, and we were working at full capacity. And allocate work resources.

When the hostilities began in Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014, we didn’t really understand what was waiting for us; we all sacrificed ourselves, and in a month, we were exhausted and literally fell off our feet. There weren’t enough medics. 

So this time, the bosses wisely allocated forces, shift schedules etc. The last shift was let go home, including me, to sleep and be on the phone and be ready to help out in case of emergency.

I came a day later, and that’s when I saw the first soldiers. With amputated limbs, smashed heads, wounds...

I thought they would at least moan, but they were silent, not a word at all. I’m not afraid of any injuries, but the fact that they were quiet was a shock. It made my hair stand on end. Creepy.

What about the hospital supply now? Specifically, your hospital?

My hospital was well-equipped before the war ( and before the covid). Now we’ve tightened our belts a bit, but the volunteers and humanitarian aid are tremendous! All the militaries are provided with medicines and consumables. 

The only frightening problem is the upcoming shortage of narcotic drugs.

When the air-raid alarm sounds, it is impossible to evacuate resuscitation patients to the basements; bulky beds, ALV machines, and other equipment are not conducive to rapid mobilization. The staff also can't leave for 1.5-2 hours because, when you come back, you may not find anyone alive.

Now I’m trying to resolve this issue with humanitarian aid from other countries. Still, it's complicated because these drugs are prescription. Some of them need special temperature conditions for delivery, and crossing borders for such drugs is complicated by all the documentary nuances (withdrawal/registration); moreover, God forbid the drugs will fall into the wrong hands. 

Which patient is the most memorable this month? I understand that there were many, but was there a story that never faded from your memory?

I wrote about him on my blog… Armenian guy, without half a face. Unfortunately, he died. I was standing near him and thinking that he wasn't born in Ukraine, was of another nationality, was rescuing me personally so that I could go to work today. He had a mother, a fiancée, had a life.

When children die, there is no forgiveness; there isn't even a name for it in nature. When your parents die - you are an orphan; when your wife/husband dies - you are a widower. But, when your child dies, there is no name for it; it shouldn't be like that in nature. It is unnatural.

And another patent is ten years younger than me. She is a military medic, and she was saving guys on the battlefield. She’s okay, thank God, she’s stable and recovering. But at that moment, I wanted to take the bag on my shoulder and go to Bucha, Gostomel, Irpen.

“Relatives, friends, acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances call me and ask to find their son, daughter, brother, husband by photo, special signs. So many people act like “the unknown”. I walk all over the hospital and being a recent atheist, I pray that I would find him/her alive and relatively healthy, or better not to find him/her at all.”

What helps you cope with stress in these circumstances?

Honestly, nothing helps me. First, stress made my hair fall out in the wrong places (Laughing - author’s note), and then there were these air raid alarms all the time. So now the whole country has one alarm clock. 

Every time I’m scrolling the news, like in “Harry Potter”, was an episode “— What’s Ron expecting to hear? Good news?-I think he just hopes he doesn’t hear bad news.” That’s how I am.

I tried to go back to a routine, but I felt so wrong. So it didn’t work either.

Alcohol doesn’t work. However, I bought two bottles of champagne and put it off to the victory. By the way, that’s what all the doctors I know did.

When I watch Arestovich, Zelensky and Nevzorov, it relaxes me a little bit. Especially when I watch Nevzorov, there is something in it when I, Ukrainian, get calmed down by a Russian journalist.

How many wounded are coming in a day now? I mean, what is the load on the hospital, on doctors? Do you get any sleep?

Sleep is always a rarity, even on regular days. We are hardened in that regard. It varies, sometimes we have 20 patients, sometimes 50. If a humanitarian corridor is organized, there are many at the military and civilians' expense. I know the exact figure of how many armies passed through our hospital, but I can't say, it's a war secret…

The difficulty is not even in the number of people admitted but in the severity of their injuries. There can be 50 people with shrapnel wounds, fractures, and bullets in their limbs. And this is easier than five soldiers from the battlefield, in serious condition, with shrapnel in the brain, amputations, severe abdomen wounds, and significant blood loss. In the second case, much more resources are spent.

“Hospitals are full of wounded, soldiers and civilians. Children. That's all I can say. More accurately, to say it was REALLY enough to end this war."

Who communicates with relatives? As far as I understand, that's not an easy part of a doctor's job either.

It's always the doctor who communicates with the relatives. The difficulty is that military trauma is complicated to predict. Usual diagnoses, such as acute appendicitis, heart attack, stroke - here we can roughly understand how events will develop further (when calculating age, the extent of necrosis, some accompanying things, etc.). And with injuries, especially in this form, it is much more difficult to do this.

Relatives want to hear at least some hope, what the chances are, preferable in percentage, recovery time - but that, unfortunately, sometimes it’s just impossible even to guess. 

"The nurses and orderlies took the body to the morgue yesterday, where they were told, 'You’re at a bad time; relatives are coming now to identify the military bodies.” And sometimes there is nothing to identify.”

Do you have any happy stories from the last month?

I understand with my head that there is no happiness as such. Everything is on pause. The whole family is alive and relatively safe, that's enough for me.

Have you ever treated an aggressor's soldiers? Would you even be able to treat them if you had to?

Yes, there was one (the one we know about officially). Many soldiers come in as "unknown", which does not rule out the possibility of being from enemy troops. We treat everyone the same.

Quite a few people in Russia read us. Is there something you would like to say to them?

I’ve thought about it many times.

I want to say that sometimes I act as a mentor and always say that a selfish and self-righteous doctor will never be a good doctor. Medicine is apart from politics, but medicine has never been apart from war.

It is always necessary to have a bit of doubt to assess the situation adequately and be courageous to admit and correct a mistake.

Now many Russians are in an informational vacuum. They want to think that they saved someone, that they didn’t attack anyone but defended themselves, they are good - and a lot of other nonsense that I can't even remember. 

It's hard to admit to yourself that your country is the aggressor that bombs and kills people and destroys infrastructure in the form of hospitals, hospices, and orphanages.

I wish them a little bit of doubt and a great deal of courage to admit that this is war. And there is no justification for it. That one country entered the territory of another with weapons and started killing civilians. 

I hope it’s enough information to compose your material. You just wrote to me, and right now the city was suddenly attacked, with no sirens, and the house was shaking.

Scary.

By Irina Iakovleva

Quotes and photos from Yulie's personal blog were used to prepare this material.

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