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Four rooms Muscovites infected with coronavirus describe life under hospitalization

Source: Meduza
Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

According to data released on March 24, Russia has confirmed 495 cases of coronavirus, mostly in Moscow. People in the capital who test positive for COVID-19 and those who are suspected of having contracted the disease are sent to a medical center in Moscow’s Kommunarka community. On social media, patients at this hospital have praised the living conditions, writing about comfortable beds and delicious meals served five times a day. Many have also complained, however, about shortages of needed medications, long waits for test results, and doctors who won’t answer their questions. On March 24, Vladimir Putin visited the medical center in Kommunarka to observe the situation. Before the president’s arrival, Meduza spoke to four patients hospitalized at the facility.

Vitaly Mironov

My wife and I were in Barcelona in early March. I have no idea where I was infected. We visited a lot of crowded places. It was still quiet back then — nobody was in masks and everything was open.

I didn’t have any symptoms at first. We flew into Moscow on March 10. Nobody checked us at the airport. Everything was like a normal day: We walked off the plane and drove home. Everything was fine at first. I worked on the 11th and on the 12th I got a text message saying that Spain had been added to the list of countries that require self-isolation, after visiting. So that’s what I did.

By the evening of the 12th, I started getting body aches and pains. By the time I went to bed, I realized I was getting sick. I ran a fever overnight. On the 13th, we called the doctors and they came to us and collected samples. On the 15th, they notified me that I’d tested positive and they took me to the hospital. My wife stayed at home under quarantine. 

In all this time, my condition didn’t change: my temperature averaged 37.5 degrees Celsius [99.5 degrees Fahrenheit], I had a stuffy nose, and I felt weak. For the first week at the hospital, I wasn’t treated. For three or four days, they gave me some ordinary drops for my nose. On the seventh day, the doctors brought me an antiviral drug and told me to swallow 10 capsules. I refused and asked them to explain what the drug was. On Monday, March 23, my doctor came to me and asked if I’d refused to take the drug and why. I told him I wouldn’t swallow anything until they all explained. They told me that it was a drug typically used against hepatitis that could cause side effects. They also said it could affect my virility. [My wife and I] are planning to have kids, so I told them that I wasn’t going to take it. The doctor said that was fine since I wasn’t in critical condition.

I’m feeling great now and my temperature has been falling for the past few days. The conditions here at the hospital are also quite nice: it’s clean, the staff are friendly and attentive, the food is good, and everything is free. I feel lucky to have ended up exactly here. I can’t leave my room, but there’s a chatroom for the patients, who have the same conditions (except some of them are two to a room). 

I’ll be in the hospital until at least the end of March. I have to do two more coronavirus tests and the second will be on March 29. If everything is good, then they’ll discharge me.

Personally, I think people are overreacting to coronavirus. It’s not that scary. Even if someone catches it, then it will probably go away easily enough. Most patients in the hospital have just mild symptoms. There are some who went into the ICU, but they’re doing fine now, too. 

Victoria Rubkevich

From March 6 to 10, I was at Courchevel [a ski resort in the French Alps]. A day before I came back, I had pain when breathing, below [the chest], a slight cough, and phlegm. We flew [to Moscow] from Geneva. In Switzerland then, there was no quarantine zone, so there was no inspection on the plane or when we exited. We weren’t notified of anything or put under quarantine. It was everyone’s responsibility to decide for themselves. If you thought you needed quarantine, then stay home. 

When I got home, I steamed my face and took some fever medicine. I didn’t have a temperature then, but I was feeling like I might. Still, it wasn’t unbearable or anything. On the third and fourth days, I started feeling fatigued and drowsy. I was no longer coughing anything up or coughing at all by then. I decided to air out my apartment. My home is on high ground in the open, and it instantly gets very cold when you open the windows. I was suddenly overcome with chest congestion. I inhaled and it was like one lung wasn’t fully breathing. It felt like air wasn’t even getting inside. 

I called the hotline and an ambulance came. The paramedics listened to me and said I probably had pneumonia and they needed to do a scan. They also took samples to test for coronavirus (swaps from the throat and nose) and they wanted to hospitalize me, but I refused because I felt okay. Then they placed me under an official quarantine, photographing me and my passport.

I couldn’t leave my home, but I needed to be scanned because pneumonia is no joke. The next day, an ambulance brought me a doctor from a clinic. He told me that this is a dangerous virus that might not manifest at all until it completely destroys a person’s lungs in a day or two. My breathing problems might be the first sign and I urgently needed to go to the hospital, he said. So they hospitalized me on March 17 [at the medical center in Kommunarka].

At the hospital, they immediately took swabs to test for coronavirus, plus four or five vials of blood and urine. They put me in a room with another two young women. One of them had pneumonia, like me. Starting on the 18th, they started injecting us with antibiotics three times a day. There was nothing wrong with the third girl. She’d come back from the U.S. and called the paramedics after she spiked a temperature. They hospitalized her. When she asked for a pill to help with her headache, they brought her glycine

The hospital doesn’t really have any concomitant medicines; they give you a huge dose of antibiotics, but not [any antifungal drugs]. They say, “Sorry. Please ask a relative to bring it.” Periodically, they run out of something: one day it’s masks and the next it’s catheters. Three times a day, we need injections of antibiotics in our veins and already twice they’ve run out of available catheters. Not all the doctors here are very good at injections. I won’t say they’re bad exactly. Ninety-five percent are fine, but the other five percent — their hands shake.

On the third day, they took more swabs for coronavirus testing and another vial of blood. The whole week, doctors came by and said they were still waiting on the results. We got them yesterday [on March 23] — the results for two tests at once. They didn’t show us the results directly, they only told us verbally. In general, the doctors hide everything. They’re apparently instructed not to share any information. We’re all in separate rooms now and we don’t go out into the hallways. Meaning, we don’t talk to the other patients and we don’t know who’s in the hospital. The doctors are also always changing — they come from other clinics and work in shifts.

I had a pretty weird thing happen with my tests. One day, the doctors started asking me about anyone with whom I’d been in contact, where I’d been, and who brought me home from the airport. They didn’t ask the other patients in my ward about this. Later I found out that they called my friends and the taxi service and told them that they’d “come into contact.” One of my friends had already been brought to the hospital before me. The taxi service wrote to me and said that my driver has also been hospitalized. At the same time, the attending physician assured me that I was definitely healthy. Maybe [the doctors] were just afraid of panicking the other patients in my ward — they’d all tested negative and were discharged last night. The virus doesn’t jump from bed to bed,” the doctors said.

Two days after these questions, they moved me to a separate ward but said again that everything was fine with me. Yesterday, the attending doctor came by and told me that my tests were negative, they’d do a CT scan on me, and I’d be released if everything was okay. I was thrilled. An hour later, though, he said that the sample they’d taken at my home tested positive. Since I have pneumonia, the doctors will also consider me positive. Now I need to undergo antiviral therapy for eight days and then retake the coronavirus test. Because “you can’t be too careful.” Next, the department chief stopped by. He was sure that I’d already started taking the antivirals. In theory, they should have started administering them a whole five days ago, when the doctors first learned about my positive test. But all week long it was only the antibiotics prescribed by an orthopedic doctor.

I didn’t want to start the therapy without another scan of my lungs, so I signed a refusal. They did the CT scan today. I’m feeling okay now. It comes and goes. I don’t feel any tension in my lungs, but occasionally it’s like something creeps in. If something shows up on the scan, I’m leaning toward doing the antiviral therapy. As the doctors say, the virus remains in the body for 28 days, not 14. It can stay in the body and manifest, for example, a week later. It’s not clear what I should do. They sent my positive test to “Vektor” for confirmation. That will take a week or so. It might be that I’ll start the antiviral therapy now and in six days [the coronavirus] won’t be confirmed and I will have put myself through it for nothing. Or maybe it will be confirmed and I’ve already lost time.

Patient #3

I came back from Berlin on March 8. None [of the doctors] boarded the plane, and there were no thermal scanners. There was nothing. On orders from the ground services at Domodedovo airport, we exited the plane from the rear. Then they boarded us into buses and took us to the terminal’s service entrance, where we were immediately brought to the border guards’ zone. Beyond, next to the baggage claim, there was a zone with doctors. I watched people walk over there as they measured their temperatures and said, “You’re fine. Keep moving.” This procedure wasn’t mandatory and most people just grabbed their bags and left. Although at the time, as far as I remember, Germany was already listed as one of the countries heavily affected [by coronavirus].

I was under home quarantine. Because I’m interested in the state of my own health, every day I measured my temperature two or three times, watching to make sure that everything was okay. I didn’t have any [COVID-19] symptoms, but overnight between March 11 and 12, I started feeling very bad. I started getting pains around my heart. Around 11 at night, I called an ambulance, using my private medical insurance, not the publicly funded service. The doctor who came to my home stabilized what was happening to my heart and they brought me to the hospital, where they stopped an attack twice more. 

The attending cardiologist examined me and made a preliminary conclusion. The general practitioner on duty who’d been with me the whole time took my temperature [again]. It was 37.6 or 37.5 [degrees Celsius — 99.7 or 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit]. This alarmed him and he tried two more thermometers, which showed the same thing. This is why they enacted their safety protocols. They explained to me the risk of my being there: many of their patients there are elderly. As a result, [the doctors] called another ambulance and a special team arrived to bring me to Kommunarka.

At the time, I thought everything was being done in my interests because I felt so bad. But I overheard a strange exchange between the [clinic’s] general practitioner on duty and someone from the special team. The GP asked if they had any equipment to monitor my condition, focusing on my heart. The reaction suggested that the answer was no. 

They brought me to Kommunarka by six in the morning. They did all the main tests: swabs and blood samples. They also did an EKG. Afterward, they escorted me to the ward. The rooms could accommodate two patients, each getting a separate shower. My room had two beds, but I’ve been alone the whole time. It’s pretty comfortable here. There’s even a wardrobe, a bedside table, and a comfortable desk you can bring to the bed to work on a laptop. They feed you five times a day and I’ve got no complaints in that department, either.

The first few days, I was having awful pains around my heart, but nobody helped me or diagnosed me with anything. Once a cardiologist came to see me. He listened to my chest and said I was doing well. On the second day, they did another EKG. I started to panic because I was really feeling awful. I called the [city’s] Health Department and went on a hunger strike. The doctors came to me immediately and spoke to me in a pretty weird way, asking what I wanted and then answering for me, saying that I wanted attention. I explained that I wanted them to cure me of whatever ails me. At the [first] clinic, everything was specially outlined: what they’d given me and in what order. I thought this information would be useful and I turned it over to the staff [at Kommunarka] when I was admitted. But nobody used this information and I had to repeat my story every time. When I started sounding the alarm like this, they finally transferred me to the ICU — to a buffer zone where they’re now bringing patients still waiting for assignments or space to free up. Once I got there, they immediately found out what was wrong with my heart, they stopped it with a drip-feed, and prescribed pills. Since then, I’ve slowly been returning to normal.

Doctors outside the “Novomoskovsky” medical center in the Kommunarka community on March 13, 2020
Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

The patients' main complaint here is that getting anything from the doctors is like pulling teeth. A couple of times, I even considered locking a doctor in the room with me until he told me everything. In the morning, they come running to us while making their rounds and ask quickly about our conditions. At the same time, they don’t bother to tell us what’s going on or what our test results are. The doctors vary, of course. I’m only describing my case. The first few days, I was in an information vacuum, but I wouldn't stand for it and I created a group on Telegram where all the patients started talking. Because it’s important that we know what’s happening. Each department has its own doctor on duty and it’s a new one practically every time. And each time you get a little bit of information from him.

We’re forbidden to leave — otherwise, the terms of our stay immediately reset, they told us. People who test positive [for coronavirus] are kept separate. But as far as I know, there are some positive cases on my floor. Maybe they just haven’t been transferred yet. They say it’s dangerous to be in the hallway. When they sent me to the ICU, they gave me a suit, glasses, a mask, and all that. But now, from what the orderlies tell me, the situation has changed. Before, everyone went around in the same clothes as doctors, wearing respirators and special gowns. Now they’re cutting back a little bit and the orderlies wear gauze gowns, masks, and caps.

On the third or fourth day, I started digging to find out the criteria for discharge. But nobody could give me a straight answer until two days ago (after I complained again to the Health Department) when I was visited by none other than [chief physician Denis] Protsenko. From what I understand, patients can be discharged at a doctor’s discretion after two negative tests.

The first [coronavirus] test is performed when you’re admitted. After three days, they do another one. On day 10, they test a third time. I had to force them to take a third sample from me because everyone completely forgot about it. Nobody is showed their test results; they don’t even bring you the document. It’s also impossible to look at your chart. This was one of my demands: share with me whatever they’re recording, whatever test results, and so on. They get the results by telephone or some other means (a couple of doctors said it was over the phone). If someone tests positive [for coronavirus], the doctors rush over pretty quickly and start trying to find out everyone who may have come into contact with the patient. If the result is negative, they wait for the official document, which takes an unreasonably long time — enough to make several round trips to “Vektor” [in Novosibirsk]. The paperwork for my second test which was conducted on my third day [March 14] only arrived yesterday [on March 22]. And it’s not just my situation. Today, they brought me a voluntary discharge form and a notice that I will need to stay at home (not stepping outside even to go to the pharmacy or store) until the results of my third test are known. But it’s not written anywhere where I’d find out about that.

Patient #4

I was studying abroad. I was in London, where I flew to Stuttgart. In London, I saw the panic [caused by coronavirus]. I went into a store and there was neither toilet paper nor soap. 

Getting [back] to Moscow was quite an adventure. Initially, I had a ticket with Aeroflot from Stuttgart, but the flight was canceled. Then I bought tickets with Finnair through Helsinki, but the flight from Helsinki to Moscow was also canceled. At some point, I couldn’t find anything and I decided I’d go to Finland and make my way to Moscow somehow. So I bought a ticket on an Aeroflot flight — my third itinerary of the day. I didn’t spend my last kopeck or anything, but still it was all insanely expensive. 

I returned to Moscow on March 17. I landed at Sheremetyevo, where they tested me and I completed a form and gave them my information. Then I went into self-isolation. I didn’t meet with anyone or have contact with anyone. At the time, I had a cold that in ordinary times I wouldn’t have noticed at all. It was nothing serious at the time.

On Sunday, I got a phone call. They said they were calling from an ambulance and that I needed to open the door for them. But they spoke so fast that at first I was scared it was some kind of scam and not really the paramedics. Also, they’d come not to my address, which I’d entered in the form, but to the address where my mother is registered. Together with my mom, we realized that it was a real ambulance and they’d come for me. A paramedic in a special protective suit came inside. He was very polite and calm. He “listened” to me, measured my temperature, and said that they were taking me to the hospital because I’d tested positive [for coronavirus]. When I found out that the test was positive, I thought, “Well, okay.” I packed my things and we drove off.

When we got to the hospital, they took swabs again and blood and urine samples. They did a CT scan. My first night in the hospital wasn’t great. My temperature got up to 38.5 degrees Celsius [101.3 degrees Fahrenheit], I was coughing a lot, and so on. Yesterday, I saw a doctor who prescribed some treatments. They said I’ve got pneumonia in addition to the corona. As far as I understand, most of the people they’re treating now have pneumonia symptoms. I’ve been prescribed antibiotics. I’m feeling better now. My temperature is about 37 degrees Celsius [99.68 degrees Fahrenheit]. But I feel incredibly weak. I can barely sit upright. 

I’m in a room with two beds, but I’m alone. Generally speaking, you can see that the hospital is new. Everything is as clean, comfortable, and pretty as possible. The food is also not bad. And there’s a system for getting packages from friends and relatives. 

The situation here is very calm. Medical professionals are professionals with strong mental fortitude. Everything I’ve heard from them so far is that there’s no need to panic and that this virus is perfectly common. It’s just new and the world has to adapt to it.

I’m feeling pretty calm, too. My grandmother and grandfather are losing their minds, of course, but my parents aren’t panicking. What’s most important to them is that I get treated. I don’t see the point in panicking. I support awareness.

Transcribed by Kristina Safonova and Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Kevin Rothrock