We learn to listen beyond the sirens of the ambulance, Op-Ed by Ala Tocarciuc

„The pandemic doesn't end tomorrow or in a month from now, and it will not end in a year. To fight it on the long distances, will require a lot of health, including mental health. And I think maybe it's time to disconnect some sirens? ...”

I've never heard as many sounds of ambulance sirens as this year. Moreover, this summer I learned to listen and distinguish the signals of ambulance sirens from other sirens. Ambulances sound longer and louder, and firefighters come with a shorter, louder sound.

Doppler effect

You may have already noticed that the sound of the ambulance becomes more frequent and louder when the car approaches. This change is a demonstration of a physical process, which is called the Doppler effect. In fact, I don't intend to write about physics. Beyond the sound of the siren of an ambulance and the patient in it with the medical team, many more important things are hidden.

I live near MoldExpo and every day I hear hundreds of ambulance sirens bringing patients to the COVID-19 Center. Lately several of my neighbors and friends complain about this continuous noise pollution.

People feel terrified, with despair and fear, that COVID-19 is getting closer and closer. Is even every patient in such a serious condition that we are virtually all exposed to the daily Doppler effect, since early in the morning and until late at night? Do people in town probably hear it every day like we do?

Anxiety in anxious times

A recent review of medical research articles for the British journal Lancet on the psychological impact of outbreaks of the disease on people has clearly determined that quarantine can trigger depression, irritability, insomnia, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, confusion and anger.

For people isolated in quarantine, ambulance sirens can also become intolerable. In fact, all high-frequency emergency signals of sound are meant to generate fear and anxiety in nearby people and they succeed.

For most people, noise levels of over 70 decibels cause physiological changes, constriction of blood flow to the extremities and increase it in the brain area.

Ambulance sirens amplify the impact of the pandemic on mental health and contribute to the aggravation of many chronic diseases.

The rules and logic of sirens

According to the requirements of the Ministry of Health's order on the activity of emergency healthcare services in the Republic of Moldova, ambulances go to requests with the inclusion of light and sound signals. This was mainly due to the fact that ambulances have difficulties in traffic and need the help of sirens to streamline traffic.

I do not know if we have regulation regarding the level of sirens, and the number of admitted decibels, and possibly an applied schedule, but even if we admit that these rules exist, then for sure, they were written in peacetime, and did not take into account the pandemic.

Logic tells us that it would be necessary to review somehow the conditions of the application of sound and light signals during a pandemic, if we want to diminish their impact on the mental health of the population.

What can we expect?

I tried to imagine what it would be like, when we have a thousand cases per day, what noise of sirens will cover Chisinau, and what will people do under the influence of that noise? And what do the poor doctors, who work 24 hours in an ambulance that wheezes nonstop? The associations with the movies about the Leningrad blockade, and the departure of people underground, was the only thing that had come to me at the time- which meant an eminent danger to life. Are we in the similar situation now?

It is clear, that behind a siren often is a man's life. In a pandemic, behind many sirens are many human lives. And in the circumference of the Doppler effect there are even tens of thousands of other lives, which are not yet sick with COVID-19, but can be affected by other diseases, and their cause will be a simple ambulance siren.

The time has come to listen to the sirens and perhaps try to understand more deeply what lies behind them.

The pandemic doesn't end tomorrow or in a month from now, and it will not end in a year. To fight it on the long distances, will require a lot of health, including mental health. And I think maybe it's time to disconnect some sirens?

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