It was 4 Pm, a bright Afternoon on Via Roma, San Remo’s main road, and Dr. Maurizio Piombo, with his White protective gear, was leaving a house of a patient with corona suspected symptoms – when it hit him.
“I was standing there in the empty street, frozen with the memories of being here just a year ago when we all arrived with the Milano – San Remo race convoy. Thousands lined the streets, excited to welcome the first group of riders fighting it out to the finish line… “
But now it felt like it was a scene taken from another planet, and the 60 years doctor was busy, rushing to the line of patients waiting in a makeshift auditorium not far away. That’s where he and other colleagues were checking those people around the clock to determine if their symptoms were severe enough to justify corona testing, Hospitalizations, or back home to isolation.
It is the 20 hours workday now for Dr. Piombo and his colleagues who in “Normal’ times are working as Israel Start-Up nation team doctors, overseeing the riders, accompanying them to races, and treating their injuries. “I miss it,” admits Dr. Piombo. “I am longing for the day we will be all be able to get back to it.”
More than 1000 km to the north, In the Belgian town of Waregem, Dr. Dag Van Elslande is awaiting in a small room at the local sports arena. The room, usually the local basketball team’s dressing room, is now used to check people who arrive with suspected is coronavirus symptoms. First, they wait in the arena where chairs are spread in an orderly way, 3 meters apart. It’s a bizarre scene, but what is not extremely strange these days? After checking the Symptoms, Dr. Dag will make his call: Back home or to the “Corona transport” – a special ambulance – taking you to the local hospital ward.
It’s all very methodic. Very organized. Although Belgium has seen a spark in Corona cases, it’s a far cry from the tragic mayhem outbreak in Italy, but the risks are taken by the medical teams in the “Corona war trenches” are the same. “We all are very well aware of the dangers we are facing, “says Dr. Dag who volunteered to do this job and never hesitated for a second. “when the team races have been put to a halt, and we all went home, I could not stay home and do nothing, “he says. “I wanted to be useful in any way I can. It is my first duty as a doctor.”
He tries to deal with the risk by going into the self-protection protocol – in detail: First you bath, then it is half an hour of putting on the protective gear. At the end of a 4 hours shift – the whole process of taking it off repeats itself. At home, he takes Vitamins and adheres to a healthy diet to reduce the chance of getting sick.
Dr. Piombo admits that he lives with constant fear. In Italy, hundreds of doctors and medical staff have contracted the virus. “I live with this fear,” he says. “But I don’t let it control me. When at work, I don’t let myself think about it”.
He firmly believes that Italy will soon see the start of the decline. “Luckily, here in San Remo, we were not hit like Bergamo. “We are now testing more and more people, and with the lockdown, we see the first indication that we are over the peak. I am fearful, though, that other countries will now face what we went through in the worst of days”.
Nobody sees the end of this yet, but the longing to get the racing season back is burning. For Dr. Dag, being a cycling team doctor is a way of life. It is his 30th (!!!) season as a cycling team doctor and his first in Israel Start-Up Nation. He spent the whole Australian racing block with the team – almost six weeks in a row away from his family. When Ben Hermans crashed heavily, Dr. Dag was there, supervising the whole process from the Hospital in Adelaide and taking care of every detail until ben finally reached the operation table in Germany. He loves his job. Even now, he still makes sure to call “his” riders, talking to them, monitoring their weight, and making sure they follow even a strict eating regimen. “It’s tough to keep your weight down under lockdown and away from racing. I try to remind them how important it is to be ready to go when we get the chance to renew the season and that they will get fewer opportunities to prove themselves “.
All our other team Doctors are now the soldiers of the Corona Wars. Our French Doctor Cyril Bartimaeus moved to emergency room shifts in Grenoble university hospital and ISN’s head doctor Ortwin Schafer was so busy that he could not even find a few mins to talk to us. Sorry “ I had 650 Patients last week, “ he wrote us. “ We are working 24 h think it’s everywhere: This virus kills!”
Our Belgian Rider Ben Hermans has voiced his admiration: ” I have been calling doctors who work in my local hospital, and one of them was coughing badly, himself infected with the virus just because he was helping others. This is when you realize how much our team Doctors and their colleagues are ready to sacrifice”.
Our Doctors out there:
Dr. Ortwin Schafer in Germany
Dr. Cyril Bartimaeus in France
Dr. Dag Van Elslande in Belgium
Dr. Maurizio Piombo In Italy