In Brussels, it’s a beautiful morning to do a sinister job. Under a blue sky, we meet Nathan and Jacques, the crew of one of the city’s Red Cross ambulances.
Normally, their work is focused on variety, on a range of different challenges and problems. But now there is a dominant problem.
” Coronavirus“Said Nathan, sadly. ” Again and again. All the time. “
They warn us that a call could happen at any time. An instant later, the ambulance accelerates past us, cutting off the light traffic of a locked city.
The patient is a woman from a Brussels suburb who complains of shortness of breath. She is helped in the ambulance and explains that she works in a retirement home where no protective clothing has been delivered to her.
It is a combination of factors that put him at greatest risk of getting the virus – across Europe, several hundred people have died in retirement homes.
As she describes the lack of proper equipment, paramedics talk to her behind masks and visors.
They now wear hazardous protective suits on every call, appearing at front doors with no visible skin and eyes looking behind the glasses. The human touch has, at least for the moment, disappeared from their profession.
And yet it is still care at a time when people are anxious and scared. What I saw was patience and compassion.
As we reach the nearby hospital, she is carefully moved to a wheelchair and transferred to the hospital.
The ambulance leaves, but not to help a patient.
Instead, after each call, the vehicle and its crew must be decontaminated. They go to one of the few sites in the city (run by firefighters) where the ambulance is cleaned and the crew take off their protective clothing to put on a new one.
This ensures that they do not transmit the virus. But it is also disruptive, long and frustrating. For Nathan and Jacques, this adds to their own feeling of tiredness and anxiety.
“We are all afraid of spreading the virus to our families, and yes, I am always exhausted,” Nathan told me.
“But it’s also really tiring to have to constantly wait for our ambulances to be disinfected when we try to continue. Some of my colleagues with children are really struggling and work non-stop. “
Another patient is treated and transported to the hospital. The ambulance is again disinfected. The model never ends – call, clean the vehicle. Call, clean the vehicle. Everyday.
Belgium has been badly affected by the coronavirus – a country of 11 million people has already lost more than 1,100 people, and this number will increase. For the crews of these ambulances, the pressure will not drop anytime soon.