Volunteer's medicine lifeline for thousands in Shanghai village
Yuan Wei is the lifeline that about 8,000 residents rely on in Hangnan Village, in Minhang District's Meilong Town. Since mid-March, the resurgence of COVID-19 has taken hold in Shanghai, a city in strict lockdown for more than three weeks.
Yuan, 38, dressed in a hazmat suit, helps his fellow villagers get prescribed drugs from half-closed hospitals, buy medicine in drugstores that have reopened and get to hospitals for routine treatments.
"I haven't been home for weeks, and my 5-year-old daughter told me on the phone she would grow up soon if I don't show up anymore," Yuan said with a bitter smile.
He spends most of his days responding to calls for help from people who feel sick – physically and mentally – residents who require hemodialysis, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, pregnant women who need regular antenatal checks, and those with ailments like asthma, bone fractures and mental illness.
Due to the current stay-at-home mandate, people cannot go to hospitals by themselves. In an emergency, they must call ambulances. But due to the high number of emergency calls amid the lockdown, the arrival time varies amid ambulance staff's soaring workload and limited resources to some extent.
Working as a bridge between patients and doctors, Yuan forwards residents' medical needs to professionals, tries every possible way to get the medication they need and helps arrange special vehicles to transfer patients in a "closed-loop" way.
"I'm up to my neck every day with many calls, messages and even fights with residents who don't understand my work," he said.
One day recently, he retrieved prescriptions for 128 people. Each time he sets off to hospitals and drugstores, he carries a large bag full of medical insurance cards on the back.
One resident contracted an infection after having surgery on her ribs. In a moment of desperation, she called Yuan for help, who drove all around the city to find gauze, anti-inflammatories and hydrogen peroxide for her.
"She was upset because I didn't get all the things she needed. Some medical supplies simply weren't available," he said. "She dumped her anxiety and anger on me, and I took it because I totally empathized with her."
Another group Yuan cares for are residents with kidney problems who require weekly hemodialysis treatments. No easy task during lockdown.
"If they don't get regular hemodialysis, they become extremely frail, swell up and even cough up blood," he said.
Yuan keeps track of each of their treatment cycle in a notebook. Every three to five days he arranges transportation to take them to COVID-free blood dialysis facilities.
The dialysis rooms are currently in short supply, because once a room is contaminated with the virus it is shut down for several days to be disinfected.
Things are getting better for Yuan, because he now feels more comfortable handling different kinds of situations. However, he still sleeps only three to four hours a day with his clothes on in the office.
"The good news is that I've lost 5 kilos already, one of my New Year's resolutions," he said with a smile.