“My daughter recently gave birth to my first grandchild. I haven’t even met my grandchild. I have seen him through Skype. But, it is really hard for me not to be able to touch him, to kiss him,” Maria Michailidou tells Greek Reporter.
Maria Michailidou is a cleaner at Sotiria Hospital, one of the Athens referral hospitals treating only coronavirus patients. Along with doctors, nurses and other medical staff, hospital cleaners are also soldiers on the frontline in the uneven battle against Covid-19.
Yet they are the unsung heroes of the battle. Doctors and other medical staff get the applause from people on the balconies and continuous praise in the media — but the cleaners seem to be forgotten.
“All cleaners are on the front line of the coronavirus emergency in the hospitals, fighting side-by-side with nurses and doctors,” Michailidou explains.
Michailidou’s main job is to clean and sterilize doctors and nurses clothing. “This is my main job, but due to the emergency, I am also helping colleagues in sterilizing floors, doors and all other common areas in the hospital,” she says.
“We follow all instructions to the letter. We are giving more than 100 percent. We cleaners understand these are extraordinary times and we have joined forces in the common effort to stop the spread,” she adds with justifiable pride.
Every day we hear on the news about the number of doctors and nurses who have been infected by Covid-19; but rarely is this true about cleaners and other hospital staff who become ill or test positive for Covid-19.
As if they are not working in the most hazardous areas. As if they are not on continuous quarantine. As if they are invisible.
“Cleaners, like everybody else, are scared in case they contract the virus. That’s why they take maximum precautions. But as far as I am concerned, whatever is due to happen, will happen. I can’t do anything more,” Michailidou relates.
Like all the rest of us, the Sotiria Hospital worker is eagerly waiting the day when the coronavirus is defeated and life will return to normal again. “My life has changed. I take extra precautions when I go home… I hope the virus goes away and I get the opportunity to hold him (my grandson) in my arms as soon as possible.”
Maria Michailidou is among the thousands of hospital cleaners around the world who do not get the recognition they deserve for the horrifying risks and tremendous efforts their job entails in these times of the pandemic crisis.
On top of that, hospital cleaners belong to the lowest-paid categories of workers. Greek hospital cleaners earn a little more than minimum wage, regardless of the serious health risks they face daily. The pay they get for their hazardous work is definitely not enough to compensate for the risks they take daily.
Furthermore, many of the cleaners employed in public hospitals are not state employees but contract workers who work for limited periods of time, hoping that their contacts will continue to be renewed. They are the least fortunate workers of all because their earnings are below minimum wage, plus they face the uncertainty of their employment status.
“We get 561 euros a month for six hours of work per day. The contract is for about 400 euros per month plus 150 euros as a hazardous work allowance”, an Evangelismos Hospital cleaner who preferred to remain anonymous told the website Documentonews. She said that this is her second yearly contract but the company she works for is not guaranteeing that she will continue to work next year.
The woman said that the coronavirus pandemic conditions require a lot more cleaning and the six-hour shifts are not long enough to complete their daily duties. At the same time, she said, their employers do not even provide the essential protective equipment.
“We come into contact with patients and I belong to the vulnerable groups. We have to beg the hospital to give us masks and gloves. Many women buy their own masks. We are the bottom step of the ladder. We can get infected at any moment,” the woman said.
But despite all the odds, hospital cleaners continue to fight the coronavirus alongside the doctors, the nurses, the paramedics and the administration staff. They are the ones who keep hospitals disinfected and clean, thus curbing the spread of the virus and making the work of doctors and nurses easier.
And although they never seem to receive the applause they deserve, their contributions are invaluable.