58-year-old ambulance driver Đặng Tri Thông volunteers to take hundreds of COVID-19 patients in HCM City and Quảng Bình Province. — Photo courtesy of Đặng Tri Thông
HCM CITY — In early September, Đặng Tri Thông, a 58-year-old ambulance driver in the central province of Quảng Bình, shared on his Facebook page: “Myself and my son have officially become members of a team in charge of transporting COVID-19 suspected cases and patients. Anyone in need of help can call me.”
That is the first task that Thông and his 24-year-old son took on when they returned to their hometown after a month voluntarily driving ambulances in HCM City’s COVID hotspots.
Over the past two months, Thông has taken hundreds of patients in his ambulance to medical facilities in HCM City and Quảng Bình Province. Even when he had not been vaccinated in early July, he said he did not worry but felt happy because “I can save the lives of many people.”
In July, upon knowing that a lot of patients in HCM City needed support, Thông and his son Đặng Minh Trí drove their ambulance more than 1,300km from Quảng Bình to HCM City to help.
After a day and a night, they arrived in the city and started their work which was to transport COVID patients under the management of District 10’s clinical centre.
At that time, both Thông and his son had not received any vaccine dose.
Đặng Tri Thông (left) and his son Đăng Minh Trí with their ambulance. — Photo courtesy of Đặng Tri Thông
When receiving any call from District 10’s clinical centre, Thông was ready to drive the ambulance to pick up patients. When he was free from duty, he volunteered to transport other patients in need that he knew on social media or who called him for help.
His daily shift started from early morning and did not end until the calls from patients and their relatives stopped. At that time, HCM City was recording 3,000-4,000 cases per day.
Thông’s son, Đặng Minh Trí, said: "For any job with a high risk of infection, my father will do it for me. He transported patients and I transported medical staff.”
Phan Thị Thu Thủy, deputy chief of office of District 10 People’s Council and People’s Committee, said Thông was the oldest medical volunteer in the district. He and his son are the only volunteers from another province.
Thông told jokes with other volunteers that drivers in the pandemic are all like Formula One racers and dress as astronauts. When the race starts, the starting point and the destination are different but the same thing is they all use speed to save patients.
“I had a lunch break and a dinner break for a few minutes and then jumped back in the car. Working through the night was very normal.”
“Wearing the protective suits all day long is not comfortable but at least the weather in HCM City is not as severe as my hometown Quảng Bình so I did not feel too stuffy.”
Thông used tape to seal the connecting points between his wrists and gloves, pants and socks, shirt zip and mask - the positions that easily expose his protective suit to the air to ensure no virus can enter his body.
Sealing tape on COVID protective suits to avoid infection. — Photo courtesy of Đặng Tri Thông
One of the memories that he can never forget was a long trip driving through a rainy night. He carried a baby who died of another disease, not COVID-19, from a medical facility in HCM City back to his hometown. Due to social distancing restrictions, the baby’s family could not find any means of transport back home.
“The baby’s family could not even buy a coffin. Luckily a volunteer team in HCM City donated a coffin to take the baby’s body back home.
“Even when we arrived in Long An, there was no one from his family waiting. I had to park my car by a river. His grandmother took a boat to receive him on the river.”
Finding routes in HCM City during social distancing is such a challenge for drivers who are not familiar with the city’s streets like Thông.
“It is impossible to follow Google Maps because many routes have been blocked. Not many people who I asked for direction on the way were ready to help because they all stayed away from us for fear of infection.
“There were times that I had to ask patients sitting in my car to show me the way. They drew maps on paper and put the paper on the car seat. I saw the maps from a distance without touching the paper,” he said.
“One day when I woke up I found two neighbours had died of COVID-19 or a receptionist at the hotel where he stayed tested positive.
“We contacted F0 cases every day and could not know which group of infection I was classified in.
“There were patients who I met and transported to the hospital some days earlier. Next time I visited the hospital, I came to know that they lost their relatives or they themselves did not survive.”
“That’s when I found how fragile our fate is.”
Đặng Minh Trí takes a rapid COVID test for his father. — Photo courtesy of Đặng Tri Thông
Driving all day long to take patients to healthcare facilities, he did not relax when he was free at night.
He spent time doing charity work.
Thông often collected rice and vegetables from meals of medical workers to donate to homeless people and those who do not have stoves to cook in HCM City.
The leftover food was cooked for doctors and nurses at healthcare facilities. For many reasons, they did not eat because they were too busy or some of them went home to have meals with families.
Thông and Trí his son also bought food for people in quarantine areas. On the first days only two of them did the charity work by themselves, then students from Thái Bình Province’s Medical University who were working voluntarily in the city helped out.
After 30 days driving the ambulance in HCM City, Thông heard the news that the pandemic had returned to his hometown Quảng Bình.
Immediately he asked for permission to return to help his hometown fight the pandemic.
After testing negative and being in quarantine, Thông and his son started his job as two out of four ambulance drivers transporting COVID patients in Quảng Bình.
Thông received two doses of vaccine when he was working in HCM City.
He said he wanted to return because “I am a son of Quảng Bình. I promised in HCM City that I would be back home when HCM City is free of COVID. But now my hometown needs my help.
“I only think I have an ambulance and I can offer help. There are many people out there who need my support.” — VNS