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‘Hangover after Satan’s ball’: RT speaks to Russian doctor whose ‘life-changing’ experience in Covid wards translated into art

Ruslan Mellin had to do a two-week-long shift on the Covid frontline in September. Being a maxillofacial surgeon and an arts school graduate, he wasn’t used to dealing with such emergencies, but when Covid came he – like many other doctors – had to retrain and go into the ‘red zone’. Ruslan says he was overwhelmed with emotions.

He started drawing all he was seeing, and called the series ‘My Sick Reality’.

©  RT Documentary - услуги фрилансеров от 500 руб.

Ruslan captured images of the elderly and sick patients from care homes who were brought to his hospital with severe cases of Covid.

I felt sorry for them – they seemed so ill-cared for, so helpless. They had nothing but a packet of incontinence pads and the desire to recover.

The surgeon described one elderly ICU patient, who had lost his legs due to diabetes, who Ruslan thought was going to die. However, two weeks later the patient recovered and was discharged.

©  RT Documentary

I was so surprised to see that he’d recovered. He was going back to his care home. I was glad and wanted to tell him, but he didn’t hear me. He may have been deaf.

Ruslan says the situation in the Covid ‘red zone’ left even most experienced doctors confused and bewildered. However, others were unruffled. He tells a story of a friend he’d met through work, who contracted Covid-19 and ended up in their hospital as a patient. 

©  RT Documentary

Now having recovered, he’s raring to go back onto the Covid ward again: “I saw him in the hospital cafeteria… He seemed very positive and keen to keep going.

Ruslan says he didn’t think that anything could surprise him after the first shift.

He was an attending doctor and had to deal with a lot of death. The stream of patients was relentless. Minutes after one patient was transferred to ICU, another would take his bed. Ruslan said it felt like it would never end.
But his second shift – on the ICU – made him rethink his attitude to life entirely.

I even gave it a name. We called it Satan’s ball. But what I saw in the ICU was like a hangover after Satan’s ball. That’s how it was.

He says his last day at the ICU left him terrified.

I was, as they say, at the end of my tether. I’d sent two patients to the ICU. They were severe patients, hopeless cases. That day I went to the ICU and it scared the hell out of me. What I saw there made me draw this picture. A depiction of despair where you walk across the room with no doors or windows, and as you cross it, death is sniffing around you.”

© RT Documentary

However, despite the obvious harrowing experience, Ruslan was able to find positive moments during that difficult time. He says he made strong new friendships with doctors he hadn’t known before, and watched them saving lives every day while managing to remain kind and caring.

Watch Ruslan’s stories about patients and doctors dealing with the deadly virus here:

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© 2020, paradox. All rights reserved.

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