- Inma Gil Rosendo
- BBC World News
What happened to Belén Montoro on the last day she went to work last week was, in her own words, “quite unfortunate.”
He explains it like this: “When patients in intensive care need respiratory support they have a small tube that is in the windpipe and comes out through their mouth, and it is connected through longer tubes with the ventilator.
Unfortunately that tube was opened, because sometimes we have to move patients … And then the secretions of that patient with COVID-19 fell into my eye. “
Belén was wearing her Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, but that did not prevent direct contact.
“The discharge entered me from the side at a time when I was quite overwhelmed.”
After a brief pause, as if hearing his own story still shocked him, he says optimistically, “But hey, I haven’t had symptoms and I already had covid in the first wave, so it should be all right. ”
Before March 2019 we would have introduced Belén as an intensive care nurse.
Now, this 31-year-old Spanish is also a heroine or “national heroe“which is what they call those who face the coronavirus in the front line of battle in the British public health service, NHS for its acronym in English, which is facing its worst crisis since the beginning of the pandemic.
On January 7, they registered 1.162 deaths linked to the coronavirus, one of the highest daily figures since April.
And there are more covid patients entering hospitals now than at the highest peak of the first wave.
Official figures also recorded more of 52,000 new infections in the last 24 hours and the pandemic already accumulates more than 78.500 muertOs in the United Kingdom.
Belén spoke with BBC Mundo by videoconference when she was at home spending 10 days in isolation due to that accident in the University College London Hospital (UCLH), the renowned and busy central London hospital where he works and has experienced both waves of the pandemic.
“Physically I feel fine. Mentally I find myself a little tired, but like the rest of the nurses, I guess. “
This accumulated fatigue is something that many health workers in the United Kingdom refer to these days in the middle of the second wave of infections, which came driven by a new strain coronavirus much more contagious, which led the authorities to decree the second national blockade in early January.
“If we really can’t deal with the situation now, What are we going to do in two weeks? The truth is that it worries me, it worries me a lot, “says Belén, who tries to think positively.
Still, “the memories of the first wave come and sometimes they catch me a little, they make me have a hard time,” he admits.
Like helping someone put on protective gear to enter the intensive care room to say goodbye to a loved one.
“They were shaking… just like me… because it’s a very tough situation.”
“It seems that now I am much more aware of what we lived in the first wave.”
But they are not just memories, it is happening again.
“Worse than the first wave”
Belén says that in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of her hospital they are already working beyond their capacities and have had to improvise two more care rooms.
He does not have concrete data but estimates that around 80% of all patients in his unit have covid-19, many from other London hospitals that were overwhelmed.
“I feel that we are already in a very, very bad time. Now the numbers of infected are very high, which means that in a week or two that will be reflected in the ICU. ”
“In the ICU, patients are very unstable and need a lot of care. Under normal conditions we take care of patients individually, from 1 to 1, and right now we are taking care of 1 to 2 or 1 to 4, that is to say a nurse with 4 patients very unstable. And of course, that’s not safe. ”
“We are working in a way that creates uncertainty, a lot of anxiety, stress … If those numbers keep increasing I don’t know what will happen, but I’m very scared.”
Still, Belén says that she has all the necessary protective equipment to carry out her job and that her employers offer them mental health and well-being sessions, as well as psychological support from specialists.
“Is comforting know that this help is available, “he says.
He also just received, like members of his ICU team, the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
But of course, the daily emotional pressure is unstoppable.
“Most ICU patients are in an induced coma when the situation is very critical. But we also have patients who are awake. And they suffer a lot, because most have a ventilation that is not invasive but that hurts a lot in the face. “.
“And these patients agonize a lot and … I think people don’t realize it, but we as nurses also suffer a lot seeing them in this stressful and agonizing situation. Seeing them cry like that and knowing that you can’t do much for them is enough demolition Man sometimes”.
“Although we are more prepared in terms of protocols, in terms of equipment, in terms of guidelines to deal with this second wave, I think that our mood, fatigue and mental health are much worse. And obviously that is a fundamental pillar to be able to carry it out. ”
During the last year Belén also had to treat several of her own companions and is excited to remember how they battled the disease.
“I have a group of colleagues who are my support, my family, my sisters … and we share the same feelings … sometimes we can’t take it anymore.”
“Of all this year the most beautiful thing that I keep is with that friendship and that love that I have created with my colleagues.
I think no one can imagine how difficult work can be… And when your colleagues see you badly or see that you can’t take it anymore and someone comes from behind and rescues you…
I’m not going to have anything to thank for what my teammates have done for me, it has been very nice. “
“Of the patients I keep words that will always touch my heart,” he says, holding back tears. “And also from relatives.”
As she reviews how the last ten months were, Belén alternates endless emotions, sometimes making her smile and other times being briefly silent or emotional.
With his Andalusian grace, he jokes that during this year the nurses have also developed “a special ability not to pee for 12 hours”, to avoid having to change protective equipment in their long shifts, during which in times of crisis hardly they take a break.
“We hold on, we are warriors.”
Positive, but the bad weighs
Belén, who arrived in the United Kingdom from Jaén in 2015, has a few words for those who still do not take the threat of the coronavirus seriously.
“This is really happening.”
“It hurts me that there are people who do not believe it because I live it every day, and there are people who will never be able to tell it. Out of respect for them and us, please … what else do you need to see to know that this is passing and see that you have to respect some rules for this to end? “.
Taking stock, he says that he tries “to bring out the positive, because we have helped many people. But it is true that the bad weighs”.
In three days his isolation will end and if he does not test positive for covid-19 he will return to the battlefield on Sunday. I ask him how he feels about that return.
“If I’m honest I feel a little anxious, because lately it’s been a bit difficult for me to see what it’s day after day … and it seems that the end never comes …
But I think these days of isolation also help me a bit to rest mentally. So I hope that when Saturday comes I will find myself stronger. “
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.