They are a raison d’être for hospital workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic: patients who survive severe cases of the disease.
Despite an alarming death toll that hit a new record in Spain on Tuesday, the number of patients who recover from COVID-19 far outnumbers the casualties. More than 16,000 people have already been discharged from the nation’s hospitals.
"I had very bad moments, because I had that feeling of not being able to breathe," said one such patient, Graciela Alonso. "Thanks to all the support from the staff, how they looked after me and the treatment I was given, it’s been better than it would have been alone at home."
Cases like hers send an encouraging message to patients and carers alike : you can beat COVID-19.
"It's really a titanic task, a tough fight on endless shifts," said Javier Quiroga, a doctor with Madrid’s emergency services.
"But we are in high spirits and working hard, because we feel rewarded by the applause that fills the whole service when we see a patient leave. That's the best of rewards."
Back to the frontline
After Italy, Spain is the second country hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday, it recorded 849 new COVID-19 deaths, its highest number since the start of the pandemic. So far, Spain has recorded more than 94,000 confirmed cases and 8,189 fatalities.
At least one in seven of those infected are health care workers. Many of them lack proper protective gear. But some have now recovered and are willing to go back to the frontline — and they can better understand the emotions their patients go through.
"It's like being run over by a rammer. Everything aches. Your muscles ache. Your joints ache," said Federico Gutiérrez, Chief of Cardiology at La Paz Hospital and himself a COVID-19 survivor.
"I had to spend a week in hospital, but I am in very high spirits, and I really have a physical craving to help my patients and my colleagues," he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a paradox in Europe, where some of the world’s most renowned health systems are proving ill-equipped to handle a pandemic.
Italy, Spain and France usually act as donors funding outbreak responses in poorer countries, but now they’re on the receiving end of emergency aid.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the NGO specialised in humanitarian crises abroad, is carrying out new operations in Spain to help relieve the country’s overstretched health care system.
MSF has built two field hospitals in Madrid to help intensive care units cope with the influx of new COVID-19 patients.
"We will be reactive and we will be offering opportunities for expansion to hospitals on the brink to collapse, to alleviate the burden on intensive care units and as the situation develops, leave them the opportunity to fully manage the facilities," said Paula Farias, MSF Coordinator in Madrid.