After two months in the intensive care unit of a beachside Barcelona hospital, Francisco "Paco" Espana breathed took in the fresh air and view of the Mediterranean.
His memory of the last months is blurry — after contracting COVID-19 he spent much of his time hooked up to tubes or sedated.
“In my case, I suddenly woke up surrounded by walls, covered in blankets and wondering what I was doing here,” he said from his bed, which had been wheeled out of Hospital del Mar to the beachfront by medical staff.
Doctors are monitoring how short trips outside affect the recovery of coronavirus patients who have endured an extended period of time in intensive care.
For Espana, the trip certainly seems to have improved his mood.
“Now that I am starting to be aware of my reality, some nights I feel very bad. Very overwhelmed. Not being able to go outside. Now I am allowed to take this little stroll outside. If next, they would allow me to have a beer at the hospital's cafeteria, that would be enough for me,” he said.
Health workers report anecdotal evidence that the short trips to the beach from the doors of the hospital are having the desired effect.
“We can clearly see a boost in the mood of the patients,” said Andrea Escanuela, an intensive care unit nurse.
“We are talking about patients who haven't seen daylight for a long time. And suddenly they go outside, see the light and feel the air. Everything is different. Their mood changes a lot. They feel more calm and joyful.”
The study, explained Dr Judith Marín, is part of a programme to "humanise" intensive care units, which the group had been experimenting with for two years before the coronavirus pandemic hit Spain.
The strict isolation protocols that had to be adopted since mid-March undid months of effort to bring ICU patients closer to their relatives and connect those working in the units with the rest of the hospital, the doctor said.
The programme was restarted in early June, and the team now wants to start logging progress to quantify if the therapy aids in the mid- and long-term recovery of COVID-19 patients.