“I was scared for my children but not for myself.” Chief Physician of the Oleg Filatov Hospital on the COVID-19 outbreak

July 12
Healthcare

Week after week, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Moscow is going down. The restrictions imposed on the city in March have been lifted almost completely and city hospitals are returning to normal operation. Mos.ru spoke to Valery Vechorko, Chief Physician at Oleg Filatov City Hospital No. 15 and winner of the 2019 National Prize for outstanding achievement in humanitarian activity, about preventing the spread of a dangerous disease and what doctors had to go through. 

Valery Vechorko, Chief Physician at Oleg Filatov City Hospital No. 15

Question: Mr Vechorko, why do you think Moscow managed to overcome the COVID-19 fatality peak relatively quickly and is now almost done with the pandemic?

 

Valery Vechorko: This is thanks to proper actions by the city administration. I am not trying to downplay the professionalism of our doctors and nurses in any way, but if the whole process had been poorly organised their work would not help the situation.

 

From the beginning, we had clearly regulated guidelines for specific situations. City officials took timely action, imposed restrictions and repurposed hospitals for treating COVID-19.

 

Question: Which period was the most dangerous?

Valery Vechorko: Early April.

Question: How do you rate the performance of the doctors and nurses who dealt with COVID-19 in your hospital?

Valery Verochko: I would give them the highest score. They managed the workload perfectly and helped us overcome this crisis.  

It was a difficult time. The relationships in our team changed; we learned more about each other’s capabilities in a critical situation and learned who we can rely on. Many of our workers didn’t sleep at home to protect their families. The city officials arranged free hotel accommodation for doctors.

I personally decided to sleep right in the hospital instead of a hotel. It seemed more convenient to me. I spent two months like this. Unfortunately, my family still got sick with COVID-19. I have no idea where they could have gotten the infection. But everything turned out well.

Honestly, I was scared for my family, especially my kids. They still have to grow up, get an education and live a long life. Of course, I was worried about my staff, too. But not about myself.

Question: How fast did you manage to repurpose City Hospital No. 15, one of the biggest hospitals in Russia, to accept coronavirus patients?

Valery Verochko: The whole process took six or seven days. Don’t forget, we were still treating patients at the same time. We worked on all areas simultaneously. Some 700 beds needed to be connected to an oxygen supply; renovation was necessary here and there. We divided the hospital into a contaminated and a clean zone. Doctors needed the relevant training. Perhaps it is up to others to rate our work, but in my opinion, we deserve a B+.  

Question: For you personally, was this experience the hardest in your career?

Valery Verochko: I’m not usually a person who looks for shortcuts – and shortcuts usually avoid me. I’ve seen many things in my career. But I can’t say that this challenge was unbearably difficult. No. I think it would be harder for me to not have this job than to work in the most extreme conditions.

Question: Why did you decide to become a doctor?

Valery Vechorko: It was my father’s advice. My father had nothing to do with medicine, by the way. He was a construction worker. Initially, I was going to serve in the military but after the eighth grade my father suggested I become a doctor. Well, this occupation appealed to me, too. By the day, I finished the eighth grade with straight As and got accepted to a medical college without exams.

Question: Did you ever regret following your father’s advice?

Valery Verochko: Never. We live only once so the more you help other people the more you get rewarded. What is the most important thing? Health. When you help other people stay healthy, it really matters. What is there to regret?

Question: What is the most important aspect of a doctor’s job?

Valery Verochko: The most important thing is to not be afraid of the responsibility. Punctuality is also important. Of course, doctors must be humane and empathetic with people.

Question: Why did you take to Facebook during the pandemic?

Valery Verochko: I knew that the more people knew about this problem the more cases of this disease we could prevent. I filmed the intensive care unit for the same purpose, to show what it’s like being there. People needed to understand that they might be strong and well today but end up in intensive care literally two days later. In other words, I did it on purpose, to raise awareness. I wanted people to know and understand what could happen if they act irresponsibly.

Question: What would you recommend Muscovites do now that the risks seem to be lower but not quite gone?

Valery Vechorko: It is not time to relax yet. Of course, we are recording significantly fewer cases but that doesn’t mean we can forget about all the precautions. Keep social distancing and wearing masks – it’s that simple.

Question: You received an award for your work in 2019. Did this come as a surprise?

Valery Vechorko: Absolutely. I didn’t expect anything like that. I simply did my job and never cared about any award.

Question: Recently, your contribution was appreciated in a less formal way. Graffiti artists painted your portrait. What did you think?

Valery Vechorko: That was a complete surprise too. Somebody sent me a photo of it. Then I went to find this graffiti and took a picture next to it. It was especially nice to feel ordinary people’s gratitude and love. It means a lot to me. I will definitely keep this photo and show it to my grandchildren.  

Source: mos.ru

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