"A young man, only 21 years of age, lost the battle with the coronavirus – which remains with us in the new year – on 31 December, 15 minutes before midnight. Despite all our efforts, this young man, born in 1999, who had been on a ventilator, sadly passed away. Before getting the coronavirus, he had no health conditions, but was very obese. Obesity is a major problem with Covid-19, and further study is yet to establish the reasons for that," Dr Tatjana Adžić Vukičević, Chief Physician at the Batajnica Covid hospital, said in her interview with Kurir, responding to the question about what the 2021 New Year's Eve was like at the hospital.
How many patients do you have?
"The numbers are going down a bit, but they remain at around 500. We had the most patients on 13 December – 534. Now we have 480 or 490, so there are fewer admissions, but we still get patients from across Serbia. The intensive care unit has 70 people, of whom 39 are intubated. Previously we had 87 – a bit less, but still quite high. The average age of those hospitalized is 68. We have a 23-year-old girl on a ventilator, and she is now our youngest intubated patient."
You are convinced that the virus has mutated.
"The virus infection lasts a long time and, in light of November 2019, when the first cases of a strange viral pneumonia were identified, I'm convinced that it has mutated. The third wave has the most severe clinical presentations. As I am a clinician and not a researcher, this is precisely what leads me to conclude that it has mutated."
It destroys the lungs and then moves on?
"It destroys the lungs and then moves on to the other organs and systems. It often results in thrombosis. So, when someone recovers and goes back home, Covid causes blood clotting and can lead to an acute myocardial infarction, embolism, sudden heart failure, or death. During the first wave, I spent three months with Covid-19 patients, when the Clinical Centre of Serbia's Pulmonology Clinic, where I am based, was in the Covid system. However, in the second wave, when the Pulmonology Clinic wasn't in the system, I would get the first wave patients. And sure enough, there were cases of pulmonary embolism, thrombosis in the legs, or the trunk and branches of the arteria pulmonalis, all sorts of things."
Is this related to age or anything else?
"It isn't related to age. Healthy young people, with no previous health conditions, are affected too – they develop thromboses due to the coronavirus. Recovery takes a very long time – one, two, or three months, even longer. Everyone experiences hair loss, which is due to heparin, corticosteroids, and the virus itself, as well as extreme fatigue. They are so exhausted upon release from the hospital that they are unable to take a shower."
Are there amputations necessitated by thromboses?
"We had an amputation two days ago at the Batajnica hospital, and another one the week before last. Actually, they are amputation indications – we don't perform amputations, medical centres with operating theatres do. We're talking about major blood vessel occlusion. This person is 63 or 64 years old, so not too old, and his whole right leg had to be amputated."
Do you expect a rise in the number of infections due to New Year's?
"I would like to thank the Serbian public for taking seriously the pleas from us medical workers and the Task Force members, and for adhering to the measures, both on New Year's Eve, and at New Year's 'repeat' celebrations. If all of us continue to act in this way and have the help of vaccines, we will win the coronavirus, as we have done with all the previous diseases, from typhus fever and cholera to tuberculosis."
How long do you estimate that you will live in Batajnica?
"Since we are a Covid hospital, we'll have the last batch of patients. And as long as a single patient is there, I'll be by their side. The vaccines will certainly help, but that is still a distant future to me. I might know in a month or two when I'll be going home."
'Happy New Year to my homeroom group.'
As we talked on the telephone, the doctor's 10-year-old daughter Dunja jumped in from the background: "I'd like to say hi to 4-3 – my homeroom group at the Mihailo Petrović Alas Elementary – and to my homeroom teacher, Aleksandra Kašarić, and to wish them the happiest of New Years. Mom made baked sour cabbage, cake, and cake balls for us for New Year's," Dunja, who does not want us to publish a picture of her, said as her mother added:
"This morning, 3 January, was the first time since 4 December, when the Batajnica hospital was opened, that I kissed her and cuddled with her. I'm at the hospital every day from daybreak on. Look, it's 11 a.m. and we're still in our pajamas, and Mommy is lying next to her and kissed her little feet. But, as we are talking, I'm on the other line transferring an old-timer with blood in his stool to the Zemun Medical Centre. I always have my cell phone with me, even in the toilet."
Vaccination after Christmas: She never knew she had corona
Have you had Covid-19?
"I had the antibodies, which means that I probably had Covid, but without a clinical presentation."
Does this mean that you will not take the vaccine?
"I'll be the first to roll up my sleeve and take the jab. We have obtained 500 vaccines for Batajnica and should get vaccinated after Christmas."
But why, since you have the antibodies?
"I no longer have them. They were there for three months, and then they were gone."
Since arriving in Batajnica: 'The flood hit me the hardest.'
Since you have been at the Covid hospital in Batajnica, what has been your most difficult experience?
"The flood and the recording posted to social media by that lunatic. Unfortunately, a pipe had burst. The damage wasn't serious, and the response was quick. The authorities are looking into everything and trying to identify the person who watched and filmed, with gusto, the flooding of the beautiful new hospital and the equipment bought after a great deal of effort with the money that came from the citizens of this small country. That hit me the hardest."
Jelena S. Spasić