Turkey's army of health care workers has been fighting to protect the population from the devastating coronavirus pandemic since March. Its emergency staff responding to 112 calls for health care services have been on the frontlines of the battle, be it on the streets or from above in air ambulances. Its 38,000-strong employees across the country work tiring back-to-back shifts that allow little reprieve. The workers, who seldom complain, are asking the public to exercise more caution not to infect one another to help lighten their ever-increasing workload.
The unprecedented circumstances separated many health care workers from their families and loved ones, confining them to hospitals in case they infect others due to their heightened exposure to the virus through their work. Short breaks from long shifts are the only time they have for themselves, which are spent far from their families.
On the ground, ambulances shuttle patients to hospitals while in the air, helicopters and planes transport COVID-19 positive patients across the country.
In Istanbul, which has long been a hot spot for the virus in the country, 5,667 health care workers at the Ambulance Command and Control Center cater to the city's millions. 112’s main call center on the city’s European side fields around 400,000 calls a day, while more than 400 ambulances from 372 ambulance stations work around the clock to respond to the pandemic on top of other cases. Walking a delicate line between life and death, doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers and other staff struggle to keep more than 15 million people safe against the virus.
A 24-hour shift starts at 8 a.m. Emergency Station No. 5 in the Üsküdar district on the Asian side of the city is among the outposts actively working against the pandemic. Paramedic Betül Ocak and EMT Derya Atalar join ambulance driver Okan Duran for another day in the fray. The trio, in their late 20s and early 30s, starts the day with a visit to an elderly woman infected with COVID-19 in Üsküdar’s Ünalan neighborhood. They don head-to-toe protective suits, gloves and two masks. The white suits protect the health care workers from the virus but not from the cold morning breeze. The woman they visit can barely stand up. Atalar and Ocak check her temperature, pulse and blood pressure before deciding to take her to the hospital. They insert an IV into the woman's arm in the ambulance, while Okan contacts dispatch, who diverts the team to Sultan Abdülhamid Han Training and Research Hospital. After delivering the patient, the crew has 15 minutes to thoroughly disinfect and ventilate the ambulance, which Atalar does before discarding their suits into a medical waste bag for fresh ones.
These 15 minutes are among the rare moments during the day when the crew can take a break. Lunch and dinner are also had in those 15-minute intervals. Soon the team departs the hospital, responding to a call from another coronavirus patient at a different address – and so the cycle goes on.
Atalar says COVID-19 cases make up 95% of the calls they have responded to in the past four months. “We don’t expect appreciation but it makes up happy to be respected,” she said.
Ocak has a 5-year-old daughter and husband at home who she is terrified could become infected. Duran is also a father to a 6-year-old son who was infected with the virus in August. The boy recovered, but Okan recalls how everyone suspected that he was the source of his son's infection "but it was actually a neighbor."
After the trip to the Ünalan neighborhood, a steady stream of calls continued to come in throughout the day, sending the team everywhere from Üsküdar to other districts on the Asian side, including Beykoz, Ataşehir, Ümraniye, Maltepe and Kadıköy. The crew shuttles between patients of all ages and hospitals, barely having time to sit and rest for a moment. As midnight approaches, they receive a different type of call: a victim injured in a pressure cooker explosion. Unfortunately, even this patient had come into contact with a COVID-19 patient. Her test results have not been released yet, but it seems she too has been infected.
Turkey has been fighting a disparaging surge in COVID-19 cases recently. The country registered a record loss of 203 daily fatalities on Monday, bringing the death toll to 15,103 since the beginning of the pandemic in the country in March. The total patient count has reached 545,711, while recoveries exceeded 436,000. The country went into lockdown over the weekend to combat the surge, while a night-time curfew is also in place on weekdays.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.