From the first infections to the “new normal” and vaccination, doctors and nurses from the Emergency Department, Intensive Care (ICU), internists and Intermediate Respiratory Care (UCIR) from several Spanish hospitals tell us in first person everything they have experienced and felt throughout this difficult pandemic year.
A year has passed but it seems that the echo of the applause still resounds. Twelve months ago, every afternoon, at eight o’clock, thousands of citizens leaned out of their windows and balconies to applaud the toilets. It was a gesture of acclaim, recognition and gratitude towards those who were fighting face to face against a virus that had locked us all at home, deprived us of kisses, hugs and lives.
This symbol of confinement began on March 14, 2020. That was the day that the state of alarm entered into force in Spain to face the expansion of Covid-19. At that time the tragic counter of infected and deceased already marked 5,773 cases and 136 deaths.
The eight o’clock appointment became an emotional daily event, where greetings were also exchanged with the neighbors, some saucepan sounded and danced to the rhythm of the song “Resistiré.” With the passing of the weeks and the relaxation of the measures, the applause ceased, but unfortunately the accountant and the work in the front line of doctors, nurses, assistants, orderlies… it has not stopped for a moment since then. Three waves later, with a mandatory mask, safety distances, mobility limitations, closures and curfews, in Spain more than 72,000 people have died and more than 3.2 million have been infected. And the number continues to rise.
From the “epidemic” to the “pandemic”
“We never imagined the magnitude of the disaster that awaited us. We could never think of the casualties that we were going to count, the saturation that we were going to have to face in the hospitals, the suffering of our patients and their families, the fear they were going to suffer, the loneliness they were going to suffer and the confusion of all for something unknown that was hitting us squarely “, explains Dr. María de la Mota, Territorial Director of Emergencies of the private hospitals of Quirónsalud in Madrid, looking back.
It may seem that an ER doctor has seen everything, but without a doubt the arrival of Covid-19 has marked a before and after in the life of this professional and practically all of her colleagues. The doctor remembers how “Uncertainty, healthcare pressure and fear of the unknown” they marked those early days in their area. “There was fear due to the difficulty of keeping the team’s spirits up, alarm due to the lack of protective material and casualties among the staff and, also, anguish in the event of having to decide which patients could be treated and which ones could not”, remember de la Mota.
And continues: “Hospitals full of suspicious cases, surgeries that were canceled due to lack of space, plants for COVID patients that were increasing, lists of positive PCRs on the rise … There was good coordination between all the hospitals that the group has in Madrid, we had to establish COVID circuits to keep cancer patients safe, deliveries, emergency surgeries … In the emergency department, the area that we were isolating for COVID patients increased until it covered almost all the available space “.
Indeed, faced with such a care burden, hospitals had to “Reorganize from top to bottom”, as Ángel Charte González, Head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Universitari Dexeus in Barcelona, points out. In his service they had to “Create new teams, reorganize the internal pit system, triage and isolations, and above all make well-differentiated circuits. The coordination between the emergency department, the ward and the ICU had to be excellent. Extra personnel had to be hired, equipment and daily shifts reworked, essential protection material was efficiently administered (when we were short of supplies at the state and global level), meetings were held practically every hour … In the consultations, everything was transferred to telematics and assistance was given Covid and not Covid to all patients who needed it “
A personal and work challenge
For all health workers, such as Dr. Sarah Heili, pulmonologist responsible for the Intermediate Respiratory Care Unit -UCIR- of the Jiménez Díaz Foundation in Madrid, this has meant “A great challenge, also exciting, at the management, healthcare and analytical level”. In a pandemic in which the common denominator is severe acute respiratory failure, UCIRs have been key to “Contain admissions to ICUs and prevent their early collapse and, furthermore, early release the ICUs of medium-long stay patients to separate them from the ventilator in a safe environment, with excellent results”, clarifies. The hardest “It has been looking at death so closely”, aim, but also “The feeling of loneliness, that of patients, that of families and our own”, underlines the specialist of this Madrid hospital, which has recently become the first hospital in the world to receive the EFQM Global Award, the most prestigious international award for Excellence in Management.
To these sentiments adds Miguel Delgado Costa, Head of ICU of the Quirónsalud Torrevieja hospital, the “Frustration and helplessness” not having weapons with which to face the disease, but also “Pride and satisfaction” before him “I work side by side” Y “The advancement of medical science to the point of offering a light at the end of the tunnel”.
“We are not heroes, the heroes are the patients and their families. They are the ones who suffer, the ones who have experienced the worst part of all this “, says the ER doctor, María de la Mota, but there is no doubt that this health emergency has been a challenge, both personally and at work, for all of them. “We are tired, physically and mentally, we need to go back to our old lives, we need to return to tranquility and stop living in fear and away from the world. At the work level it has been an organizational and technological change, we have had to adapt to the consequences of COVID and apply it in all fields. It has taught us a lot, about the nature of the disease, how it affects and how it is treated, but it has also taught us a lot to value, to believe and have faith, to strive and to be united “, says Dr. Ángel Charte in this regard.
Measures against loneliness
“This battle has made us stronger”, says Elisa Ramos, Critical and Emergency Supervisor Nurse at Hospital Quirónsalud Málaga. “One of the things that I would highlight the most about our team is the ability they have to adapt to change, face stressful situations and demonstrate their strength”, he says, while accompanying these words with an example: “I have seen colleagues try to get a smile from a patient, after having dried the tears for having lost another”.
Because Nursing is precisely that, “Help, support, reassure and take care of the patient”, says Laura Gorris, supervisor nurse of Emergencies and Critics of the Hospital Quirónsalud Valencia, something very difficult in a disease marked by loneliness and isolation. Undoubtedly, all the interviewees carry the numbers of those who have not overcome the disease and have done it alone, but the health service also points out the positive or rewarding part of “Those patients who have succeeded, those you have seen leave the hospital after hard days of admission” and that star in the other counter, that of cured patients.
Liability and vaccinations
At this moment in which it seems that the epidemiological curve is bending and the third wave begins to subside, all the professionals interviewed ask for responsibility, good sense and security. “People have to be aware that it is better to follow the protocols dictated by epidemiologists on confinement than to see your parents get sick and put their lives at risk. If the rules are not met there will be a fourth wave and this, I want to think, that only mass vaccination will stop it “, underlines Miguel Delgado, intensive care physician.
As indicated by the ER doctor, María de la Mota, “It is very important to get vaccinated for personal protection and for social protection, it is a responsibility that we have towards others. The results will not be seen in the short term, but they will be seen. We are close to ending this hell that has been with us for a year “.
To find out in detail what this pandemic year has meant for these six professionals and, by extension, for the health workers who work tirelessly in our hospitals, we share their interviews in full.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.