Medical escort at work during the Corona pandemic

While nations globally closed down in March like falling dominoes, medical escort Charlotte Bach Grønlund, a trained nurse, went to Cairo to help repatriate a Danish woman with a fractured femur.

Charlotte Bach Grønlund is a nurse, a midwife, and a sonographer. Usually, she scans pregnant women at Hillerød hospital. But once or twice every month, Charlotte Bach Grønlund packs her suitcase and flies to a destination somewhere in the world where a citizen of one of the Nordic countries has fallen seriously ill or has been so severely injured that it is necessary to have the patient repatriated for further treatment.

The last time Charlotte Bach Grønlund took off, it was because of a woman who took and unfortunate fall and broke her femur while holidaying in Hurghada, Egypt. There was nothing unusual about it, but it was still going to be a journey unlike the usual. Almost at the same time that Charlotte Bach Grønlund was getting ready to go to Egypt, the Nordic governments announced a number of travel restrictions due to the Corona pandemic. Travelling abroad was discouraged and Nordic citizens on vacation and staying abroad were encouraged to return home.

- Those were the days when more and more countries closed their borders, airlines were cancelling flights, and extra security was being put in place to avoid the spread of the infection. I had a conversation with my general manager at Hillerød Hospital to find out if they were in agreement with me leaving. Fortunately, they were, says Charlotte Bach Grønlund.

With hand sanitizer and rubber gloves
With plenty of hand sanitizer and disposable gloves in her luggage, Charlotte Bach Grønlund arrived in Cairo late in the night on Friday 13 March. The patient, meanwhile, had been transferred from the resort of Hughada to a Cairo hospital. The plan was for Charlotte to visit the woman with the fractured femur during the Saturday to talk about the repatriation and the course of the illness. Often, such a conversation has a calming effect on the patient:

- This is usually the first time the patient has a face-to-face conversation with a healthcare professional who speaks their language. Many people feel very insecure about being hospitalised in a foreign country where they can’t communicate with the staff, says Charlotte Bach Grønlund.

This time, Charlotte Bach Grønlund was unable to visit the patient at the Cairo hospital. It was decided that she should stay in her hotel room to avoid being exposed to infection while traveling by taxi in Cairo. Therefore, she only met the patient at the departure from the airport during the night between Saturday and Sunday.

A rare sight: Copenhagen Airport is cpletely deserted. (Private Photo)

Had no idea of the shutdown
- It turned out that neither the patient nor her husband had brought smartphones or computers on their holiday. Therefore, they didn’t know how the situation with the Corona virus had developed while they were on holiday. They were somewhat surprised to hear that they were going home to a partially shut-down Denmark, says Charlotte Bach Grønlund.

The first part of the journey from Egypt to Frankfurt went smoothly. However, at the airport in Frankfurt, where they were to change planes, their departure was cancelled and they had an unintended wait of four hours in the airport's transit area, where there is a health clinic.

Thus, it was late Sunday morning when Charlotte Bach Grønlund, the patient and her spouse arrived at Kastrup Airport. When a medical escort has picked up a patient abroad, the assignment does not end when the aircraft lands in Denmark. The patient must be escorted to the hospital in Denmark where he or she belongs. This Sunday in March, the patient had to go to Odense University Hospital.

- There was some uncertainty about the restrictions in relation to the Corona. At Odense University Hospital, they were unsure as to how they were to receive a patient who came from Egypt and who had not been tested for COVID-19. However, she was finally admitted in the usual way, says Charlotte Bach Grønlund.

Charlotte Bach Grønlund herself had no concerns about completing a medical escort journey in the midst of the Corona pandemic. However, her friends have asked her why on earth she would expose herself to the risk of traveling.

- If I hadn't gone away, how long would the patient and her husband have been at the Cairo hospital, where they could neither talk to the staff about the femur nor about the Corona virus? I would’ve also said yes to the trip if there was a patient with COVID-19. I feel confident that SOS International could arrange it in a manner that was safe for both patient and staff.

Challenging repatriation
Shortly after returning home, Charlotte Bach Grønlund was offered a new trip as a medical escort. A patient who had undergone cancer surgery had to be helped home from Dubai. However, that trip was cancelled as the circumstances relating to the Corona meant that it became increasingly difficult for SOS International to arrange repatriation in the usual way.

Air traffic came to a standstill and when there were any departures, patients were required to be tested negative for Corona virus if they were to travel. Since the end of March, SOS International has arranged very few repatriations.

So far, Charlotte Bach Grønlund and her colleagues in SOS International's network of medical escorts have been more or less forced to take a break. However, Charlotte Bach Grønlund is ready when she is needed once more:

- I really like the job as a medical escort. You get into incredibly close contact with the patients and the patients are usually very grateful for any help I can provide. And it makes a nice change from everyday life, says Charlotte Bach Grønlund.

Charlotte Bach Grønlund:

  • Qualified as a nurse in 1991
  • Qualified as a midwife in 2000
  • Qualified as a sonographer in 2016
  • Has worked as a medical escort since 2000
  • Usually works as a midwife and sonographer at Hillerød Hospital
  • Private life: 54 years old, has two grown children

Charlotte Bach Grønlund (the redhead on the left) during a previous trip when she accompanied a woman who had given birth in Italy. (Private photo)

Facts: Medical escorts

In 2019, SOS International handled approximately 1,800 cases in which SOS International's doctors and nurses assisted in repatriating sick and/or injured Nordic travellers. This corresponds to 34 cases a week. Most cases arise during the high seasons: The summer holidays, skiing holidays and the winter holidays.

In addition to carrying out repatriations with its own medical escorts, SOS International also arranges air ambulance assistance with its own medical staff. 

SOS International has 200 doctors and nurses in its network.

Top-five destinations with medical escorts:
1. Spain
2. Thailand
3. Italy
4. Greece
5. Turkey









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Are you travelling and in need of acute assistance?

Contact SOS International's alarm centre on +45 7010 5050.

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