After completing more than 100 online consultations in one week, Odessa doctor Yana Kocherzhynska Halis (27) says she feels that she has no choice but to stay, because peoples’ suffering is extensive.
Yana Kocherzhynska Halis. (Photo: Private)
The Ukrainian doctor is in a hurry. One patient after another appears on the computer screen in front of her. She often works 10-12 hours every day. Some write messages to her, others send pictures of wounds, rashes or injuries.
However, she sets aside time for a video call with us for 30 minutes. She wants the world to understand what their daily lives are like.
«I am staying in Odessa. It is medium safe here. But many people have left the city. My country is at war, I need to stay here and help,» says Halis.
She is trained as both a nurse and a doctor. She usually works as a general practitioner at a private medical clinic, where they are around 20-25 health professionals. But several of her colleagues left Odessa when the war began, thus it became one of many clinics that had to close their doors.
All kinds of ailments, diseases and worries
She then joined the initiative Health Tech Without Borders as a volunteer clinician. Every day she logs on to the telehealth platform Doctor Online, where she meets new patients. 60 percent are women.
The port city of Odessa is the third largest city in Ukraine and has about 1 million inhabitants. Normally, many large and small hospitals are on standby in the city. But the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding has put many of the health services out of operation.
«Some of the patients I get in touch with are staying in hotspots in other areas of Ukraine. They live in bomb shelters and basements. Naturally, they are very distressed. It is a great strain on their health, mentally and physically. Many have lost their loved ones, it is almost unbearable.»
She explains that for example, one elderly woman could not move on her own. She had insomnia and panic attacks, as well as respiratory illness. Her family was abroad. The most vulnerable are typically left behind in the war zones.
«One man I talked to was in his 20ies, he had not slept in one month and had lost 8 kilos. He had panic attacks and depression. Cases like that I can’t help. They need psychological help and all I can do is suggest a mental health hotline they can call.»
People who make contact can have acute illnesses such as chest pain, breathing problems and rashes but also various non-communicable diseases and chronic conditions such as cancer, lung disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
«Antibiotics, antidepressants and other medications – it’s something I can prescribe. But pharmacies are lacking many drugs now. Making a diagnosis is demanding. I have to ask the patient several questions about the condition and pain. Most of the time I can't get blood tests – and we don’t want people to travel to a hospital if it’s dangerous.»
People suffer from hypothermia and urinary tract infections after sitting in cold basements without power or heating. In bomb shelters they can’t always get enough water or fluids to drink. Digestive pains are quite common, as people don't have access to a toilet for long periods of time.
The little things
How to manage to live, to work, in such circumstances?
In a crisis that is going on for months, she says trying to do normal things is what keeps her going.
«Even though we sometimes feel scared, my husband and I are young and we can help people. My family lives near us in Odessa. I have another sister who lives in a safe area with her family. It’s a good thing. We try to do normal things every day: working, cooking dinner, talk with our family.»
To be helpful, to be of benefit to other people carries her through the days.
She constantly prays that the war must end. But even when the disaster is over, she believes that the health problems will linger.
«This war has brought suffering to many, and it will continue to cause health problems for a long time, many years. Therefore, I say: if you are a doctor or psychologist, sign up as a volunteer if you can.»