There are three physiotherapists at my house – me, my husband and my son, who works in the Medical University Hospital “Banacha” just like me. My husband is employed at the Private Healthcare Institute which was closed as soon as COVID appeared in Poland. However, after some time they decided to reopen it and admit only the patients who require immediate medical intervention. In order to make sure that everyone is feeling safe at the clinic, the director asked all staff members to test for coronavirus. In a relatively large team of physiotherapists, my husband – the healthiest of all employees – came out positive. He was informed by Sanepid that he must be in quarantine for a month.
Lidia Koktysz – Master of physiotherapy sciences. She works at the Department of Rehabilitation at WUM Central Clinical Hospital. Lecturer at the Department of Physiotherapy at WUM. Vice-President of the Polish Trade Union “Physiotherapy”.
When I received a phone call from my husband, my son and I immediately got tested at work. Fortunately, it was not a problem in our hospital. Despite negative results, Sanepid decided that we needed to be in quarantine for two weeks. During those two weeks, we had swabs taken two more times but our whole family received negative results: me, my son, two of our 90-year-old parents who live with us, as well as… my husband! Me and my son wanted to go back to work immediately. We started calling Sanepid but it was a real nightmare, no one picked up the phone. So, when the two weeks passed and I still could not get them on the phone, I decided to go there in order to collect documents which we needed in order to start working again. I also wanted to clarify the situation with my son – at first, somebody marked his results as positive, although all of his results were negative from the very beginning. We wanted to make sure if this mistake was already corrected. When I got there, it turned out that another two mistakes were made. I was informed that the first swab that was obtained from us at home was invalid, since it was taken too early – we should have waited longer after my husband’s test came out positive. Moreover, our quarantine should last three weeks instead of two, since we live with a “positive” person. Somebody was supposed to call us on this matter but he or she did not. And besides, my coming to Sanepid is illegal…
All these sanitary procedures, the inability to reach them on the phone, the chaos, terrible mess – all these things are so burdensome, that you start feeling completely helpless. Only now have we finally encountered a helpful office worker who gave us her phone number so that we can contact her. She promised us to take a closer look at our case because she understands that we work in healthcare services and our help is needed. Me and my son are going to be tested one more time and if the results are negative – she will try to cut at least a few days off of our quarantine. Then we will only have to go through hospital safety procedures and we will be ready to work with patients.
Apart from that, my husband needs to contact the physician who diagnosed him with COVID-19 and ask for earlier reinstatement based on negative test results. The final decision must be confirmed by Sanepid. I hope that they will issue a positive decision regarding all of us. It would not make any sense to let me and my son go back to work while we continue to live with my husband who is still in quarantine.
My husband’s quarantine is of course unquestionable to us, since his result was positive. But we do have some doubts about this first test – we suspect that an error might have occurred. My doubts have not aroused from the fact that he still feels well and does not present any symptoms, since we are aware that coronavirus infection can be asymptomatic and still pose a threat to other people. I am only concerned about the fact that he did not really have a chance to catch the virus. He received his results in a time when his contact with patients was already very limited, since the clinic was closed and patients have been resigning from physiotherapy visits for weeks because they feared infection. Of course another possibility is that he might have caught the virus somewhere outside of work. Assuming that this is the case, why the tests results of all other members of our household, including our 90-year-old parents who feel perfectly well, came out negative? And other swabs that were taken from my husband were also negative? When quarantine ends, he will get a test for coronavirus antibodies to check whether he was truly infected, just out of curiosity.
How can I sit and do nothing?
We were all a little dazed during the first two days of quarantine. I began cleaning the house thoroughly, which is something I could never find enough time for. Anyway, it is not something that takes three weeks. I worked online for some time but we have had some trouble with internet connection lately. I try to fill my time by talking to friends and family. My son focused on his scientific work and rehabilitating grandparents in order to prevent their physical condition from deterioration, as they already experience some difficulties with joints and muscles. He and my husband both exercise a lot at home, they do it with impressive regularity. Our family and friends help us do the shopping. We are truly being very subordinate and patiently sit in our locked house, just like prisoners. Five people camping in a small apartment. All of us temperamental, unable to idly sit at home and do nothing, having lived in a rush all our lives. We start to get a little mad sometimes, snarl at each other. Of the three of us, my husband is the best at coping with this situation. Me and my son are more alike. But well, there is no other option, we need to grit our teeth and survive. We manage, after all.
Thankfully, everyone who is in quarantine, regardless of the reasons and their test results, have the right to receive 100% of their salary. There are no problems with payments in the hospital where me and my son work but my husband still has not received his salary. I am employed at only one facility so I have not lost any money yet, but my husband and son conduct their own business activities, so they’re down in terms of finances. Clients started cancelling visits already at the beginning of March and my husband’s clinic stopped admitting patients at all. While their patients now start calling and asking for visits because they cannot stand the pain in their back anymore, we have three skilled physiotherapists who could help them but are currently busy sitting around at home.
Wards will only keep closing
I work at the department of physical therapy in the hospital but I also teach students at the Medical University of Warsaw. As the virus was spreading, they first cancelled all our classes with students, then closed the outpatient clinic and transferred our team to other wards, so that we could help other physiotherapists. I first worked on gastroenterology but they quickly closed it due to COVID-19 and transferred me to the internal diseases ward. It is not true that when they close a ward, everyone who worked there is infected. Fortunately, it is usually just a few people. Wards close and reopen every moment and the staff rotates between these wards. I think we are unable to prevent further infections, it is impossible to completely shield ourselves from the virus. We need to make peace with this, carefully follow safety procedures to protect ourselves and our patients, but we also need to try and get back to normal functioning at the same time. The system must keep working.
Just before publication of this article, Mrs. Lidia’s family was released from quarantine. Safe and sound, everyone is glad to finally be able to get back to work. “We really missed this freedom but my son said something the other day, which really touched my heart: “Mum, it is only thanks to the family that we were able to survive this challenging time”” – recalls Lidia Koktysz.