The Sligo paramedic in Saudi Arabia transporting Covid-19 patients

Coronavirus: 'I’d love to come home to Ireland and help in healthcare, but I'm needed here'

Paramedic Tony Crocock and his wife Tereza Crocock, a physiotherapist from the Czech Republic.

Paramedic Tony Crocock and his wife Tereza Crocock, a physiotherapist from the Czech Republic.

 

Tony Crocock is originally from Sligo and now lives in Jeddah on the shore of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia where he works as a paramedic. The latest figures shows there are 5,639 confirmed coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia and 73 people have died. The country has a population of about 33 million. 

When did you leave Ireland and where do you live now?
I first left Ireland at the end of 2001 after 13 years in the Irish Defence Forces to pursue a career as a paramedic firefighter in the US before returning to Ireland in early 2014. Given the lack of opportunity in my field at home I moved to Saudi Arabia to work as a paramedic for one of the biggest hospitals in the Jeddah, where I’m currently employed.

Why did you become a paramedic?
When I worked as a medic within the Irish Defence Forces while on overseas missions with the United Nations,  I always got satisfaction from helping others  After I retired from the military I felt being a paramedic was my calling. I didn’t see it as work and today I still feel the same way. I get paid to do what I love and help others. 

What is happening in Saudi Arabia with Covid-19?
I believe the government, and the ministry of health, have done a good job in the fight against the coronavirus. Initially, there was a 24-hour curfew in three of the major cities, including Jeddah, with all other cities placed on curfew from 3pm until 4am. Currently multiple cities have been placed on 24-hour curfew, including Jeddah where I live. People are only allowed to go for groceries for essential items in the immediate area of your residence between the hours of 6am and 3pm. Essential workers must have a valid curfew letter to be able to commute from home to work, and must not deviate from the route or face a 10,000 Saudi Arabian Riyals (€2,430) fine. The curfew is unlikely to be lifted for the next two weeks.  

The king has released €2.2billion to pay part of the wages of private sector workers to deter companies from laying off staff. In my opinion they've done a good job to try flatten the curve of the virus. 

I’m one of the lucky ones, I get to go to work, most of the non-essential staff are working from the confines of their homes

This week Gulf News reported that Saudi authorities are attempting to contain an outbreak of coronavirus in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, where crowded areas have accelerated its spread.The total number of coronavirus cases reported in Mecca, home to two million people, reached 1,050 on Monday compared to 1,422 in the capital of Riyadh, a city more than three times its size. Mecca has a large number of undocumented immigrants and cramped housing for migrant workers. “Shielding Mecca from a pandemic that’s overwhelmed countries like Italy and the United States is crucial for Saudi Arabia because of the city’s significance to the world’s Muslims,” Gulf News stated.

Has Covid-19 affected you?
It hasn’t affected me in a professional manner, but socially my wife and I are unable to meet up with our friends due to the curfew and the ban on social gatherings. Our usual weekends of scuba diving in the Red Sea or camping trips in the desert no longer happen. The occasional weekend away has also being placed on the back burner, but hopefully this will all pass.

How is Covid-19 affecting the people in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabian people are very social and the current situation has really impacted how they greet each other. People usually greet each other by shaking hands or kissing each other on the cheeks. You can see the desire to greet people in the traditional way, but the fear of spreading the virus is obvious. Family gatherings have also stopped. Cinemas have been shut down as well as one of the region’s favourite pastimes has had to stop,which is smoking shisha in cafes.

Would you like to return to Ireland to work as a paramedic?
While I would love to come home to Ireland and help our healthcare system, Saudi Arabia has been my home for the past six years and given the possible mass increase in cases here, I feel that I’m needed here. But my decision to stay comes with some mixed emotions.

Tony and Tereza Crocock in happier days under the sea in Saudi Arabia
Tony and Tereza Crocock in happier days under the sea in Saudi Arabia

My family, apart from my wife who is a Czech citizen and also works in the healthcare system here, all live in Ireland. My mother is in the high risk category in that she is immune-compromised and is over the age of 70, which plays on my mind the whole time. I know that my mother loves the company of her children and grandchildren who she hasn’t been able to see, and this has to be hard for her.

We're supplied with all the Protective Personal Equipment that you would require, so I don’t feel at risk

One of my sisters lives in the same street as my mother, just three doors away, would call in to her normally. But my sister is dealing with the public on a daily basis as she works in the essential retail business so I've advised her not to visit as the risk is too high. So while I work here transporting Covid-19 patients, I don’t worry about my own safety, but about my mother’s and all our families back home.

What is your day like now?
My typical day consists of getting up at 5.45am to start my 12-hour shift on the ambulance. This is from 7am to 7pm with a variety of calls coming in, including the transportation of Covid-19 patients. The only thing that has changed since coronavirus is the amount of Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) paramedics wear. We were wearing gloves, and sometimes a gown and goggles, to now wearing a full suit with a N95 mask for known or suspected Covid 19 calls. We're always wearing gloves, mask, gown and face shield fo ever other call. We're supplied with all the PPE needed so I don’t feel at risk when transporting these type of patients. At the end of the shift I shower and change my clothes to ensure that I’m not bringing anything home. And then I go home to my wife to decompress. But I’m one of the lucky ones that I get to go to work while most of the non-essential staff are working from the confines of their homes. Also I’m not new to this. I was here during the Mers outbreak when I arrived in 2014 where the situation was similar. Saudi Arabia was very prepared for this Covid-19 outbreak.  

Is everyone eligible for treatment for Covid-19 if they need it?
The king of Saudi Arabia has also ordered free treatment of any patient with coronavirus, so complete treatment will be covered for all patients including anyone who is illegal here.

What is the food situation there?
Grocery stores are stocked as normal as the government has ensured that delivery truck drivers are exempt from the curfew to ensuring a plentiful supply of groceries. There has been no crazy mass buying as was seen in other countries, which is a relief.

Does being Irish count there at the moment?
I guess it doesn’t matter where your from at the moment as the virus doesn’t discriminate, it effects us all, but luckily where I’m employed due to my extensive experience within my field I am a valuable asset to the hospital. It's more about what I know than where I’m from.

How are the public coping during the outbreak?
Social media is a big part of mental health at the moment and some of the people have begun to sign up for online classes. My wife, who is a qualified Zumba instructor, has started to do free online classes for the hospital employees to encourage movement and exercise while they are on lockdown at home. This has got a great response and brings a kind of togetherness for everyone involved.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland now?
Wow what don’t I miss? I guess my family number one and then there is the beautiful green grass and the walks in the country air I used to enjoy. I know a lot of people will think I’m crazy, but the rain and the smell in the air after a downpour. And what I wouldn’t give for a pint of Guinness in the local, but I guess everyone is in the same boat now.

If you would like to share your experience of how Covid-19 is affecting you there, email Irish Times Abroad at abroad@irishtimes.com

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