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‘A tale of two sisters’

‘A tale of two sisters’


archive: Christine Neuhold

Life and work in the shadow of COVID 19

Two sisters that come from very different fields, shed light on how Covid 19 has changed their work and lives. Christine Neuhold is professor  EU Democratic Governance at Maastricht University (FaSoS) and lives in Brussels, where she directs UM Campus Brussels. Stephanie Neuhold is Head Doctor in charge of the Intensive Care Unit of Infectious and Tropical diseases of the Kaiser-Franz-Jozef Hospital in Vienna, and as such working in the ‘Covid 19 intensive care unit’. This tale of two sisters comes in form of email messages between Vienna and Brussels.

From: Neuhold, Stephanie

Subject: Spent my day burden sharing

Good evening big sis, is all well in Brussels? 

Today, I again spent 12 hours at work, despite the fact that I work part-time and am on maternity leave. But now is not the time to sit on the side-lines. I have studied and worked all my life for this. My main task consists of trying to make sure that we do not overstretch our capacities. There is a constant influx of new patients with the virus. The normal ward is already bursting out of its seams. Due to people’s health sometimes deteriorating quickly, we have to be prepared for referrals to our Intensive Care Unit at any time.  So I try to create alliances with other hospitals to take on some of our patients. This works the best at middle management level. But what is mind-boggling to me is that some hospitals are trying to be ‘COVID-19 free’. How can you try to isolate your hospital from this disease in the middle of this health crisis?

We were however well prepared at my hospital and (still) have everything we need. Luckily we do not encounter the scenarios that we have to choose whom we save. We seem to already in ‘be the future’, so ahead of the game, compared to other hospitals (who seem to be stuck in the ‘dark ages’).

Big hug,



From: Neuhold, Christine

Subject: Reminds me of the EU (Member States)

Good morning, liebe kleine Schwester,

All good here. What you are encountering, reminds me a bit of what the EU is facing. Member States are trying to make sure that their citizens are safe and get good treatment. That is very understandable. You want the same for your patients. You need to redistribute patients as otherwise your system would collapse. But instead some want to shield ‘their house’ from the virus.

And here the EU comes in: Member States are trying to do the same. Borders are going up both internally and externally to try to keep the virus in check. I understand, although diseases do not need a passport to travel…

But that aside, what this crisis shows once again just like in the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, is that when the EU seems not to be able to cope it, is not because there is too much but ‘too little EU’. Health is a shared competence between the EU and its members. So the ‘EU’ is not fully in charge. As you know all too well as a doctor, Southern Member States such as Italy and Spain are especially hard hit. Member States are now trying to work towards a joint debt instrument to provide help to ‘coronavirus-hit’ countries. But at least for now, member states disagree on the conditions under which these loans can be made. All I can say for today is that solidarity is more important than ever. I will see whether we can go shopping for the old lady living across from us who is alone with her dog.

66.000 kisses, Christine


From: Neuhold, Christine

Subject: Life has changed so much in so little time

Good afternoon, little sis, It is me again. Isn’t it amazing how life has changed in so little time? Some months ago, a majority of us had not heard of Corona and thought it was beer… But by now, even those not working in the medical profession like you, seem to know all the members of the Corona family. The same is true about all these online tools. Less than a month ago I was only skyping or using WhatsApp with my colleagues, if at all. Now we suddenly zoom all the time or meet each other via an online tool called discord in a cafe. We have job talks online. Sometimes 8 talks a day. This week we had a discussion on how to do Problem Based Learning online. More than 40 people joined. It is nice to see everyone and each other’s kitchens or living rooms… Not everyone has figured out that one can change the setting of zoom to have a background that shows swaying palm trees or even outer space. Biggest hug, I can give,



From: Neuhold, Stephanie

Subject: Tell me about it…

Good night, dear sister,

If you think your life has changed, you should join me at work. I only work every second day because of my part-time job but I always have the feeling that six months have gone by since last time I was there. Not only do we have many more patients, but it is also in the nature of this new virus that the health status of some patients deteriorates very quickly. And it seems that every week we come up with a new strategy of how to ventilate our patients.

Take care and many, many kisses,



From: Neuhold, Christine

Subject: What are you still allowed to do?

Good morning, my dearest,

How is it in Vienna? How are you coping? Working in the Netherlands and living in Belgium, it is very much apparent that there is no uniform approach how to deal with this crisis, even in Member States that are so close to each other. Not more than two people are allowed to be in a car here in Brussels for example, whereas for my friends in Maastricht this seems not to be an issue, they go with the whole family. On the up-side we can sit on park benches again (alone) which is wonderful with this spring weather. Was not possible last week.


From: Neuhold, Stephanie

Subject: Hanging in there

Good evening, big sis,

We will have to wear facemasks as of this week when food shopping. Let us see how that works out. It is not a bad idea, that way you are less likely to infect another person in case that you already have the virus but are still without symptoms. But where will all these masks come from?

I try to hang in there. As you know we are staying in the country house in Lower Austria where the children can run wild. Last week Tyler, my eight year old even went swimming, after having done some of his homework, which I had to cobble together from around 60 WhatsApp messages from the school. The baby is taking her first steps in the grass. Little pleasures rule!

Big hugs, without bugs…




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