The angels in disguise: Ordinary souls who make life easier for us

Wang Yong
A Shanghai media outlet's hotline service is proving popular among elderly people in lockdown.
Wang Yong

A hotline service in Shanghai became a lifeline yesterday for a 66-year-old cancer patient by ensuring timely delivery of medicines.

The elderly woman, surnamed Sun, who lives in a residential community in the Pudong New Area and battling colorectal cancer, was in urgent need of herbal medicines but was unable to make the trip to her hospital in Puxi. The Pudong New Area is under a four-day lockdown as Shanghai battles to deal with the current round of COVID-19 outbreak.

Puxi will go under lockdown for four days from April 1. That means Sun would be without medicines for nearly 10 days. In fact, she had not taken any medications since March 19, when her neighborhood was placed under lockdown.

So her husband, surnamed Xia, dialed 962555 for help. It is a hotline run by Xinmin Evening News, a major local media outlet. The receiver of the call wasted no time contacting Xia's neighborhood committee and briefed them about Sun's situation.

By 2:18pm yesterday, the neighborhood committee said it had solicited help from the local disease prevention center and police bureau, and eventually Xia was able to get into Puxi through a special route with the help of police. By 4pm, Xia called the hotline again to confirm that he had got the medicines.

The hospital in Puxi at first assigned a courier company in Minhang District to deliver the boiled herbal concoctions to Sun, but the company had to suspend its service also because of the temporary lockdown. So the concoctions had to be fetched at the hospital.

Nearly 500 calls

Sun is not the only beneficiary of the hotline service. According to a report in Xinmin Evening News, the hotline had received 500 similar emergency calls in close to 90 hours.

A close look at the cases makes it clear that many of those who called for help are elderly patients with mobility challenges.

For example, 73-year-old Dong, who also lives in Pudong, suffers from kidney problems and requires hemodialysis three times a week. He last went through hemodialysis on March 24. He was booking for the next round of treatment when Pudong was shut down from March 28 to April 1.

Lack of timely treatment led to the swelling of his legs and difficulties in moving around. Finally, the hotline informed Dong's neighborhood committee as well as relevant administrators. In the end, a hospital offered help, provided Dong was able to submit a negative result of the nucleic acid test taken within 48 hours.

The hotline is one example of help offered by citizens who are in a concerted effort to combat COVID-19 beyond the "confinement" to a staggered lockdown ― first in Pudong and then in Puxi. By the time this article was being written, I learned from my colleagues that many of them had answered the call of their respective neighborhood committees to take care of the elders and those who need emergency medical treatment.

Angles in disguise

However, the spirit of mutual help is not restricted to seniors alone.

At 5am on March 17, Li Chunqiao, a janitor, went to a neighborhood in Yangpu District to work as usual. A security guard told her that the neighborhood would be locked down that day and suggested she "think twice." If she entered the neighborhood, she would likely be "locked in" as well.

After discussing with her company, she decided to enter the neighborhood to keep the only public toilet open as usual. It is a very old compound and the residents of two buildings have no private restrooms.

The lockdown lasted five days. She slept in a chair in a narrow space for five days and four nights. It rained hard one night, and she said she felt lonely, especially after she turned off her mobile phone.

Thanks to her diligent work, residents and volunteers had no problem answering the call of nature. A warm-hearted resident delivered freshly cooked meals to her every day during the lockdown. Her company, meanwhile, had sent sufficient protective suits and daily necessities like quilts to help her tide over temporary difficulties.

Every ordinary soul can be a hero who makes life easier for others. The janitor in her protective suit, and those anonymous receivers of emergency phone calls, are angels in disguise, just like dabai ― doctors, nurses and volunteers in white protective suits ― who do their best to ensure our lives are safe.

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