Everyone is involved in the fight against the coronavirus – from the government, through healthcare workers, to each citizen of this country.
In nearly ten months of actively battling Covid-19, we have met many people whose selfless dedication has saved the lives of those infected. It is naturally assumed that it is the doctors and medical staff that are the heroes here. But now we would like to present to you the unsung heroes of this life-and-death fight, the people whose work has a bearing on many lives, the people exposed to the threat of the disease daily so that the infected could recover. There are thousands of such people in Serbia. This is to honour them all.
Miroslav Petrović, Zaječar – Driving saves lives
Miroslav Petrović, an ambulance driver in the town of Zaječar, undoubtedly is one of the heroes in the fight against Covid.
"We transport Covid patients, that's our job. I'm really not afraid of catching the disease, but I am afraid of infecting my family or the people that I'm in touch with," Petrović told us.
Ambulance teams picking up patients consist of a doctor, a medical technician, and a driver.
"We have maximum protection. Before we leave, we put on a protective suit, which we dispose of when we return."
However, infections do occur among the Emergency Medical Services staff.
"The patients that we pick up are mostly in a very poor condition. They are so ill they can barely speak, they are choking, so most of them are immediately put on oxygen. It's hard to watch people struggling for air, but somehow we swallow our feelings because we know that only our professionalism can help them. There were times when we transported as many as seven Covid patients in a single shift."
He pointed out that the teams are like families, that they work in stride with each other, and that everyone helps with bringing patients in or anything else that might be necessary.
"The most important thing is to get the patients to the hospital as soon as possible, to help them, and save their lives. As for ourselves, well, this was our choice, and it's our job and our life," Petrović concluded. S.B.
Marija Mijatović, Loznica – Cleaning in the red zone since July
She is the first cleaning lady at the Loznica General Hospital to enter the recently opened Covid ward in the Pulmonary Department in July. She was the first and only one to work in the following month without a single day off as at the time she did not have enough co-workers.
A Loznica resident, Marija Mijatović has since been a food attendant and cleaner in the red zone, where the severely ill patients are roomed.
"In an eight-hour shift, we spend six hours in protective coveralls. On weekends we have a 12-hour day, and then we're suited up for ten hours. We do everything in the Covid ward – distribute food, wipe, and clean. We have a half-hour break, so I grab a quick bite, have a drink of water, and use the washroom. It's not easy with the coveralls on, but you just bear it out. I'm always in the red zone, and keep myself safe by complying with all the prescribed procedures," Marija said.
When she gets home, she only goes to the store, and does not have guests over. She tries to reduce contacts as much as possible.
"Since July, I've been in a sort of self-imposed isolation because I don't want to accidentally infect anyone. I try not to put anyone in harm's way. I'm on alert and I know that that there is a chance that I fall ill, so I act as responsibly as I can." At work, she sees people in serious condition and what the virus can do.
"I want us to go back to normal life as soon as possible, to spend time with friends, visit each other, not keep away from people, and not worry whether we should shake hands with someone or not," Marija told us. T.I.
Miloš Mićić, Užice – Providing life-saving oxygen is all that matters
"Three hundred days in protective coveralls in the red zone! First shift, second shift, third shift, and repeat … We're bone-weary but we know that we must go on and that the oxygen we bring for the patients saves lives!"
Miloš Mićić, a maintenance worker in charge of medical gases at the Užice General Hospital, is one of the silent, unsung heroes of the Covid fight, alongside his unit co-workers Saša, Stanko, Miško, Boško, Nikola, Goran, Ljubiša, and Bojan. Without a day off since early March. Providing oxygen in time for those who need it the most – every day, every hour, every minute – is all that matters. The rest is unimportant.
"Always by the patients' side, with the doctors, in the red zone, wearing the protective coveralls. It's difficult to work, to carry the oxygen cylinders, with the coveralls on. Initially, there was fear. Now, we're inured to it, and we adhere to the measures. Our greatest fear is still bringing the virus into our homes," Miloš said.
The Covid wards at the Užice hospital are still full. During a single shift, as many as 70 cylinders of oxygen are used up on top of what is provided via the central oxygen provision system. All told, four tonnes of oxygen a day.
"We've seen a lot in the ten months. Deaths, desperate fighting for life, and the tremendous efforts put in by the doctors. The hardest thing is seeing young people lose the battle. The fact that there's no light at the end of the tunnel yet isn't easy either. Do we feel like heroes? Nah, we're just doing our job, and we're aware of how important it is. The one thing we do is jokingly think – if the virus eventually gets us, who's going to bring oxygen to us?" Miloš said. Z. Š.
Violeta Mladenović, Prokuplje – Boosting patient's strength with food
For ten months now, the four-strong staff of the Food Preparation and Distribution Service at the Dr Aleksa Savić General Hospital in the town of Prokuplje have been working in the Covid system.
They prepare and distribute food to patients, which directly exposes them to the threat of the virus. Their work is essential, and they say that they do it lovingly, trying to ensure that patients leave the Covid ward with a smile on their faces.
"Patients must get their food. We try to distribute it with a smile on our faces because we know how much that smile means to the patients," food attendant Vesna Stefanović, who has spent most of her working years in the Infectious Diseases Department, said. Vesna Ristić, Violeta Mladenović, and Suzana Živković also help provide the patients with three meals a day. Interestingly, none of them has had Covid-19 yet.
"Like medical workers, we are also fully protected. There is fear, of course, it's natural, but we look to the doctors and medical technicians trying to save lives around the clock as our role models in dispelling fear. If they can do it, so can we," Violeta Mladenović told us.
One day, when all of this is behind us, the time spent in extraordinary circumstances and the memory of the horrific virus will keep them together forever – they too had an important role in saving lives. B. R.
Radivoj Lagundžin, Kikinda – A political scientist volunteering to disinfect the city
Radivoj Lagundžin from Iđoš near Kikinda has the longest track record in volunteering during the coronavirus crisis. This political scientist and owner of a plant nursery joined a team of volunteers back in March, when Kikinda was one of the three biggest hotbeds of coronavirus transmission in Serbia. The team, also including farmers Milorad Šibul, Maćaš Barna, and Mirjan Golušin, was the first to respond to the call of the Municipal Emergency Response Unit, using tractors and sprayers to disinfect the streets and other public spaces during the curfew.
"I think that this was, most of all, a normal human reaction. I was ready to respond from the get-go, as I have the technical capacity as well as the willingness to help. I have the machines, and pay people to do this job from my own pocket," Radivoj said, adding that he manages to coordinate his job duties with his volunteer work.
He, his farmer colleagues, and many medical workers, police officers, firefighters, and volunteers are the recipients of the Saint Nicholas Day Charter, in recognition of everything that they have done. Interestingly, since March, disinfection activities in Kikinda and the near-by villages are carried out only by volunteers. The disinfected areas include the town square, markets, playgrounds, parking lots in front of the major stores, public institution offices, schools, and kindergartens. S. U.
Ivan Nedeljković, Niš - A sanitation worker who patients thank
Ivan Nedeljković, a sanitation worker at the Niš Medical Centre's Intensive Care Clinic, has been on the front line since the first patients infected with the coronavirus arrived in early March.
As his co-workers say – and he confirms – Ivan is not just a sanitation worker. He also helps medical staff in every situation. Fully complying with the measures, he is in charge of maintenance of the rooms considered highest risk for coronavirus spread in the south of Serbia, and yet he has not been on vacation or sick leave during the pandemic. Father of three, whose wife is a nurse at a different clinic, he said that initially there was unease and fear of the unknown, but that later he got used to it.
"I've been here since day one. I know that everything must be done to the highest professional standard. While we were based in the old Surgery Clinic building, we didn't have the central supply of oxygen, so I would bring the cylinders (each weighing 90 kilograms) into patients' rooms, which saved them. Calls from these people, who recovered and were then released, are a great recognition of the efforts that I have made. Somehow they were able to find my number. They call me often, to ask how I'm doing," Ivan said.
Due to the coronavirus, he was 'on high alert' with his family too.
"We have good working conditions here – we can shower, have a change of clothes, and disinfect ourselves. And we do it, but initially I still kept my distance with the children. They were a little bit afraid too because they saw a change in their mom and dad. It was OK later though," Ivan explained. M. S.
Majda Janković and Vesna Dodić, Vranje – A bride and bridesmaid on a 24-hour alert
Majda Janković and Vesna Dodić, bride and bridesmaid, volunteered at the outset of the pandemic, going to the front line of the fight against the dangerous virus. They administer tests and prevent the coronavirus from entering the Vranje hospital wards.
They have performed over 3,000 samplings so far.
"We're like a family here, fighting for a full nine months. We have a moral duty to help in these circumstances. You forget the fear and the risk associated with close contact with patients, and you try to make sure everything turns out for the best. Sometimes a patient sneezes or coughs during sampling," Majda explained. She and her bridesmaid are physical therapists, but have put aside their profession for the time being.
"We completed the sampling training. We've been through a lot together – working in the Covid system is a special sort of experience. We would like to say that we really appreciate how forthcoming all the medical workers, non-medical staff, and patients have been. We are always on high alert, and when we receive a call, leave immediately to test the patients who need urgent surgery or hospital treatment. We've had pregnant women among them, admitted to give birth or to receive special care," Vesna said. The two added that the manager of the Vranje Health Centre, Dr Ljiljana Antić, and the Covid system medical staff are very supportive. Dr Gordana Đorđević, head of the Gynaecology Unit in Vranje, pointed out that Majda and Vesna had been of immense help as they are available 24/7:
"They are fast and available for administering tests even at night and in bad weather!" T. S.