“I Got My Family Sick – All for $74 A Month” – Ukrainian Doctor With Coronavirus On Healing, Motivation, and Risk
1 May, 2020

Olena Havryliuk contracted the coronavirus disease at work during one of her shifts. She’s a surgeon proctologist in the regional hospital in the town of Monastyrsk, in the Ternopil region. She was with a nurse who was the hospital’s first coronavirus patient.

Then Olena’s parents also started showing coronavirus symptoms. She’s currently at home in self-isolation with them. During an interview on April 22, Olena told us that she is still waiting on the results for her second coronavirus test. She was hoping for a negative result to allow her to return to work – but unfortunately, her test came back positive.

Olena, how did you get sick and when did your symptoms appear?

I was working a shift when our first patient got sick. She was taken to emergency on March 18, and I was working there on March 19. That patient was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 22 or 23.

I had contact with her on March 19, and on March 22, and on March 24 I was already presenting symptoms – heightened fever of 37 celsius, headaches, and general weakness. And a dry cough.

Then we, medical workers, were told that we have to take [coronavirus] tests on March 25. I took my test on the 26th, and on the 27th they told me it was positive.

The first patient was a nurse from the admitting department, she’s the first contact with everyone who comes in. Considering that we didn’t have any PPE (personal protective gear – ed.), she was also the first one sick. And all of that lacked PPE – as well.

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Why didn’t you have any PPE? There wasn’t enough at all back then, or people thought that the virus wasn’t serious?

We were asking if we would have PPE and who would give it to us a week before [all of this]. The hospital wasn’t equipped, and there wasn’t any available, while gloves and normal masks were not the kind of PPE that we needed to have.

There wasn’t anything ready. We were morally prepared – we have a lot of migrant workers in our region, and they came for the holidays. But we didn’t have any PPE.

Not even normal masks?

There weren’t any. I bought my own, and then they gave one or two pairs of gloves. Agree that this isn’t protection. There were over 10 of us in the beginning that were infected: junior nurses, nurses, and doctors.

Were the nurses immediately diagnosed with COVID-19?

According to the protocol, they should have been checked for flu. She was found with Type A flu, which turned into the complication of bacterial-viral pneumonia. And they treated her as a patient with the flu, so there wasn’t confirmation that she had COVID. When the clinic started to fill up, visiting regional consultant-specialists decided to give her the test.

Врач Елена Гаврилюк (в центре) с коллегами в районной больнице города Монастыриска

Doctor Olena Havryliuk (center), with her colleagues at the district hospital in the town of Monastyrsk. Photo: provided to hromadske

When did you learn about your positive test, where did you turn to and how did you start treatment?

From March 25, I practically already hadn’t turned to anyone. A lot of our family doctors fell ill. The symptoms have moderately grown, there weren’t any critical moments. I was objective enough, understood everything normally, and started treatment myself. I was just at self-isolation at home, and everything passed calmly enough. I didn’t even take anything to fight down my temperature. Once it rose to 38.

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Even from March 20, myself and my family were taking antiviral medications for prevention. We all understood that there could be infected people, and that it’s possible that that patient had coronavirus.

So you were mostly calm with the disease?

I was calm because panic doesn’t let you critically analyze a situation. Things can be a lot easier if you keep your calm.

How are you now? Still running a fever?

Thanks, everything is okay. I had symptoms for maybe a week. By my own subjective measures, I was already healthy around Easter.

What about your relatives? Did you isolate from each other or did you recover together?

We all recovered together. My mother and my father both fell sick. We’re all at home. 

After all the communication, information from other countries, how many lethal cases they’ve had and how they’ve fought with the ailment – this escalated the situation. But everyone saw that I was calm, which means everything is alright. Panic only hinders. 

Were your parents tested?

My father was tested, and he had a positive result. When we got sick, only then did they start bringing tests, and you couldn’t just test everyone. People who had been in contact with others – yes, but for the first round were people who had symptoms. 

First, my parents didn’t have symptoms. I couldn’t isolate myself, close myself in another room – it was a little relative. Of course, [I used] individual towels and dishes, disinfection of all the surfaces, there was a full house disinfection, but we spoke anyway.

My father presented symptoms on March 28, and then we did a test – and it was positive. He had a fever of 38.5-38.7 – and at that point, we beat it back.

My mother had the disease with moderate difficulty, because she had a temperature going up to 39, and signs of an intoxication syndrome. We liquidated all of that, and I set up an IV.

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Then, when the symptoms diminished, we did an x-ray. There were some remains of bronchitis, but not pneumonia. Now everything is good. My parents are generally rather athletic people, they don’t have any severe concomitant pathologies, and they try to spend their time actively, which is why their immune systems managed to deal with these situations, and everything passed rather neatly.

How do neighbors, acquaintances, and your hospital colleagues react to your COVID-19 diagnosis? You went for an x-ray, were you wearing PPE? How did people you were in contact with react?

We only went out for that x-ray, otherwise we didn’t go anywhere the whole time. My husband went to buy groceries, also in PPE – gloves and a mask. We didn’t go.

I can understand people that worry about not getting sick. But everything has healthy limits. You need to know the method of transmission. My neighbors are great, and the doctors – they unconditionally offered their support, and we spoke between our gardens without masks – at a far distance.

We had to have an x-ray. We wore everything that we had to, and considered every nuance to limit contact.

Everyone’s worried, concerned, and no one can predict how the disease can progress with somebody. And young people die, and the elderly. But everything should be objective. In our region, everyone took everything normally, everyone’s reasonable.

Olena, do you believe our quarantine measures are effective, or not?

The measures are effective, I think. If we would start massively heading outside, a lot of people could get infected. And there are a large group of people now that transmitted this disease with asymptomatically and without confirmation. I think the numbers are actually a bit higher. These people still went out for walks, they had contact with others. But if we didn’t have any quarantine measures, then we would have more patients, and we already had a lot of sick people. And where can patients be held, how can they be “dripped” if each of them needs an IV up to three times? That’s 60 IVs, how can a single nurse manage that? She would need to be asked if she had time to even drink water and how she’d feel.

That’s why I think everything is okay. We don’t have that kind of patient flow. On the other hand, people who are now unemployed: what can they live on and feed their families? That’s the second question: how to help them.

Елена спокойно отнеслась к болезни, потому что паника, по ее мнению, не позволяет критически оценивать ситуацию

Olena kept a calm head about her disease, because panic, in her opinion, doesn’t allow for a critical analysis of the situation. Photo: presented to hromadske

What do doctors lack now? What sort of support: Material, morale? PPE?

We have PPE now. We have respirators and PPE of the level that’s needed. Now everything is okay with equipment, volunteers helped out a lot with this, and donators, and entrepreneurs.

I’m not worried, I’ve already gone through this sickness. I want to talk about nurses and junior nurses – these people are currently at risk. They work in areas where the virus is heavily concentrated in, and they’re surrounded by COVID-19 patients. They were promised bonuses, but they didn’t receive them as of Easter. Will they receive them at all – well, we want to believe.

I know situations where elderly [nurses] (as they’re particularly at risk) said: “We’re not going,” and younger ones went instead. They need to be thanked for that. No one quit, a lot are sick, but everyone’s in a good mood. I want for their work to be paid. Imagine for yourself to spend an entire day in that protective overall, your skin can’t breathe, and everything is just soaked. I speak to them, and ask whether they’d eaten, drunk enough, and how they’ve equipped themselves with the basic necessities.

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As for my motivation – this is a judgement of work. There’s a lot of responsibility. Everyone in their profession talks about responsibility, but a person’s life is the most valuable thing. Your health can reflect a lot of internal worries, emotions, constant thoughts about your patients.

Another moment: I got sick and brought it home to my close ones and relatives. Which means there’s a need to think about and to set priorities, if you’re ready to risk the life of your parents for $74, you see?

What would you refer to your patients, in that case?

I would very much like for us to work in symbiosis with our patients. We’re always on the patient’s side, but we also need their help – for them to want to get better, because a lot of the time, patients just don’t want to complete their treatment. We’re doing everything we can, and we’ll gradually beat this disease.

/ Interview by Anna Tokhmachi, translated by Romeo Kokriatski

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