Spain: patient’s testimony from the trenches of COVID-19

Testimonial of Enrique Jimenez, who was successfully treated for coronavirus in Txagorritxu (Vitoria-Gasteiz) hospital. He says, “health workers shouldn't have to work like this.”

Read the original in Spanish

I'm Enrique, a 52-year-old worker. My wife and I caught COVID-19 at the end of February. When we tested positive, we were told to stay at home and self-medicate in order to recover from the illness and not infect others. So that’s what we did. As I have bronchitis and couldn't stop coughing, I was admitted to the Txagorritxu hospital.

They sent me to the second floor. Upon entering the wing, the warden opened the door and I was impressed to see how he was dressed in protective gear. I arrived at the room that I was assigned, 238 A. A nurse came in to take my temperature and bloods, saw that my oxygen was low and gave me a top-up. When she was done she told me to call if I needed anything but to make sure that it was something that required attention, because everytime that they enter they have to dress in single-use clothes which they have to take off and throw away into a special bin before they leave. They use wet wipes to clean the goggles, take off one glove and leave one on to wipe with hand sanitiser. They have to repeat this process with every room that has a coronavirus case in it.

They run from one room to another, without breaks. They make the most of all resources. Sometimes, when auxiliary nurses came in to make the beds, they urged us to take our own temperatures and to undress and dress ourselves (which was difficult), because nurses were with other sick people. They have treated us with much care, I never imagined such dedication, such level of attention to the sick, risking their lives and the lives of their families. I especially remember a nurse whose name was Pedro, and was known as “the Cuban”. One time he came in to check our temperature and oxygen levels and give us our antibiotic tablet, and my roommate had not taken his pill. With care but also firmness he took the pills and said: “But you still haven’t taken your medication?” He took the pills and one by one put them in his mouth and gave him water to drink and made him take them. Not everyone would do that.

The four or five nurses who looked after me were all magnificent. The doctor who treated me, Esther, caught my attention because of her dedication. They don't care about anything else but the health of the patient, forgetting the power of contagion that this virus has. This week I heard three family members crying, many people are dying, I myself thought that I could not leave the hospital because I have a problem with my bronchial tubes and I am also hypertensive. Seeing the speeding up of the healthcare workers made me think that this was a movie, it was a bad dream. I hoped that the next day everything would be fine… but that was not the reality and I was very afraid.

hospital bed pixabayNurses urged us to take our own temperatures, because they were with other sick people / Image: pixabay

The nurses wear two pairs of gloves, with the sweat caused by the plastic making their hands bloody. The goggles they wear sometimes fog up and they can't see the thermometer readings well, and the whole part of their face where the goggles are placed is red. They ran out of disposable suits, they even put on plastic aprons because they ran out of PPE (personal protective equipment). I was wondering, if they don't take care of those who take care of us, what will happen? I heard a person crying and a nurse, very sad, told me that she was very sorry "to see how there are sick people who are dying alone, there are times when we don't have time to call the family and they can't see them anymore". Another nurse told me that she could not visit her grandmother because she could infect her. I have no words of thanks, anything I say will fall short. This is not right, that's what I don't understand. If they take care of us, why are they left without the protective equipment, with glasses that fog up? We have to take care of them, it is not right for them to work like this, with a serious risk of contagion. If they fall, we all fall. When the doctor Esther told me: “Between today and tomorrow I'll discharge you”, I didn't believe it, I told her I loved her, and with tears in my eyes I ran to get dressed, I wanted to go home to see my wife and children because I thought I wouldn't see them anymore, it was like living in a horror movie. As I was leaving the hospital I thanked all the health staff I met and on the street I took a deep breath and was grateful that I was finally out.

I am very grateful to the public health service and all its workers. It has saved my life; and it has saved many like me. It is a social conquest that we have to defend. That is why I do not understand why, year after year, funding for the public health service is being cut by billions of euros.

Now that I am at home, I am reflecting and informing myself. I read that the Autonomous Communities have been cutting back on health spending since 2009, with Catalonia and Madrid being the communities with the lowest health spending per capita. In the Basque Country, according to figures from the ELA trade union, GDP would have to rise by 2.1 percent to bring us up to the European average in health. The Basque government would have to spend €1832.7 million more to be at the European average. I am indignant after seeing the dedication and the risks taken by the Basque public health workers, that almost one out of every two health workers (40 percent) is in a precarious situation. We all learn in the hard school of life that we must defend public health, look after those who look after us and radically combat cuts and the privatisation of health.