Volunteer ambulance driver joins HCMC frontline workers

By Diep Phan   July 18, 2021 | 03:12 pm GMT+7
Volunteer ambulance driver joins HCMC frontline workers
Nguyen Tri (far right) and other members of the support group Nhat Tam. Photo courtesy of Tri.
Nguyen Tri had helped out others in difficulty before, but this risked exposure to a deadly virus, worried family members warned. Tri had no second thoughts, though.

As soon as he heard about the need for people to drive ambulances to transfer Covid-19 patients or suspects to medical facilities, Tri put his hand up. He has since transported hundreds of patients to hospitals, and continues to provide yeoman service amidst the pandemic.

Late last month, he got a call from the Nhat Tam support group, asking if he could take some newly confirmed Covid-19 cases to the hospital. Tri accepted immediately and quickly drove his motorbike from his house in District 8 to where the ambulance was parked in District 2. He quickly put on his protective gear, sprayed the disinfectant and headed out to a house in District 7.

After stopping in front of a house on Huynh Tan Phat Street, Tri was surprised on seeing that the person heading to the ambulance was an elderly woman, holding a newborn in her arms.

A medical staff accompanying him told Tri: "The baby's parents had tested positive for Covid-19 and have already been quarantined. Today the 8-day-old baby has also tested positive, so the grandmother is taking the baby to the mother." Tri didn't know what to say. He tried to close the door as gently as possible, fearing the loud noise would wake the baby up.

"I have transported hundreds of infected patients to the hospital, but this baby is the one that shook me the most."

A grandmother carries an eight-day-old baby to the ambulance taking them to a quarantine facility, June 24, 2021. Video courtesy of Tri.

Tri drove to the Trung Vuong Hospital in District 10, where the baby’s mother was being treated. The driving distance was a little more than 10 km, but unlike other trips, he did not dare accelerate and speed up to transfer the patient. He drove as slowly as he could and opted not to turn on the siren.

"I have heard that infected people have to go through a very difficult and painful period. How can this tiny, fragile baby handle it?" The thought made his heart beat faster, though he was yet to start a family of his own.

Tri is a professional driver who mostly lends his services to tourist firms. He is also someone who helps out others whenever he can. Last year, when there was a drought in the Mekong Delta, he and a group of friends collected fresh water from Saigon and drove a tanker to aid relatives in the provinces of Tien Giang and Ben Tre.

In early May, when a Covid-19 outbreak happened in the northern province of Bac Giang, he was about to apply and volunteer there, but the pandemic’s resurgence in Saigon changed his mind. He thought his services could be used by the city.

On learning that the Nhat Tam support group was operating a fleet of "zero dong" emergency vehicles to transport infected patients to quarantine camps, but lacked a driver, Tri volunteered immediately.

"Since my regular job has been suspended, I can't provide support by donating money. But I have a healthy body and driving experience. So I have to help when the community needs me," Tri said, adding that he had to ignore his family's warnings about the risk of exposure.

After joining the team of drivers, Tri often takes on the afternoon and evening shifts. When there is a new confirmed case that needs to be hospitalized or isolated, local health officials will contact the support group representative to coordinate the ambulance and driver to pick up.

Tran Thanh Long, leader of support group Nhat Tam, said that when the pandemic first broke out, the team used two ambulances to transport Covid-19 patients to quarantine camps. After about two months, the number of ambulances has increased to 11, including one they have borrowed. The group has helped transport 95 percent of infected cases on request by the local health department.

"In addition to driving the ambulance, we also cook thousands of meals which the drivers are also responsible for delivering to blockaded areas every day. Currently, though there are more than 30 drivers, we are still calling for more volunteers to reduce the workload for everyone," Long said.

Although he doesn't have time to follow the news regularly, seeing the number of trips increasing every day, Tri understands that the current Covid-19 fight has become very stressful. There have been days he has driven the ambulance continuously, picking up about 60 newly confirmed patients.

"Hopefully everyone will be aware and follow all preventive guidelines. If a person is infected, it will affect a lot of people."

When Tri arrived at the hospital with the 8-day-old baby, he was instructed to stay back in the vehicle to limit the risk of exposure. At that moment, the sleeping baby woke up hungry and cried loudly in the grandmother's arms. Tri watched helplessly, praying that everything would be okay for the baby and its parents.

After an hour of waiting for the hospital to complete the necessary documents, when the grandma and the baby had gone inside, Tri started the ambulance and headed out.

"I didn't know what to do at that moment to help them. I've never felt so helpless. Although my mood was down and I was tired, I received a call from the support group, giving me the address of the next pick up. I took a deep breath and told myself to keep trying harder."

Tri and his team transport a mother, a first generation infection; and two kids and a crying baby (source of transmission cases) on June 27, 2021. Video courtesy of Tri.

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