‘I am an orphan’

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Just outside Txagorritxu hospital, in the Basque Country, a woman stands in the parking lot. She is inconsolable. This is where the patients who have been infected with the Coronavirus are being treated, and this was where the virus first broke out just a few weeks ago. Ambulances speed in as the funeral hearses drive out with the latest fatalities.

The woman has lost both her parents, within days of each other. Her father has just passed away, another victim of the dreaded disease. He contracted the illness while visiting his wife who was recovered in hospital due to a heart problem. She died on the 3rd of March.

The woman refuses to leave the parking lot, as from here she will be able to see the hearse which will carry her father away. She was not beside him when he died. She is hoping to say her last farewell. She has been orphaned in a couple of weeks.

This hospital, in Vitoria found in the province of Álava (northern Spain), is the main hub where CoVid-19 patients are being treated. Around half of the 550 cases in the region are being cared for here, 28 of them requiring intensive care.

This is a scene of desolation. Fear, fatigue and pain pervade the emergency area, emotions which can be witnessed on the faces of all those present. They cannot even find respite in the chapel, as this is also being used as a temporary ward.

The Txagorritxu hospital has a total of 470 beds, and more than half of these are taken up by Coronavirus patients. The staff, all in full protective gear, are witnessing double digit increases in the number of patients admitted and are concerned about the rise in the number of people requiring ventilators.

In order to cope with the influx, the hospital is working with a network of other health centres and private clinics, transferring patients to hospitals in nearby villages such as Quirón, or public health facilities such as the Eibar hospital. However, they are still increasing the number of beds wherever this is possible. “It’s a desperate situation,” explained a doctor on Thursday. “We have a colleague, a porter, who has been on a respirator for 11 days.” Her condition is not improving.

This was the epicentre of the outbreak of the virus in Ávala. Health workers on the front line were infected once the virus started spreading, and many were forced to go into quarantine. The shortage of staff is being eased through the solidarity of other health care professionals who are working longer hours despite the dwindling protective material and resources.

“The physical effort is huge, and in addition there is the emotional effort of seeing colleagues who go and hide so they can cry and then come back to work, as well as the fear, which we are dealing with as best we can,” say medical sources.

CoVid-19 is a solitary illness. Once diagnosed, people are taken into isolation in order to try and mitigate the spread of the virus. Families and friends are not allowed to visit them in their wards. Their only companions are the health professionals.

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