Doctors in Spain have been so traumatised by their experiences trying to deal with the pandemic that they have considered suicide, medical staff have said.
As they struggle to cope with the second highest death rate in the world after Italy, health workers in Spain have complained about a lack of hospital beds, insufficient protective equipment and a lack of testing kits. With health service staff accounting for about 14% of all infections in Spain, doctors and nurses on the front line spoke out about the emotional impact of dealing with the outbreak.
"You have the impression that you are working on the set of a war film. Some of my colleagues have been so traumatised by what is going on that they have considered suicide and have had to be treated by psychiatrists at this hospital," Ana Gimenez, a doctor in intensive care, said.
"When you see patients gasping for air as if they were fish out of water, it has an emotional effect on you. When this is over, there are many doctors who will need to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder."
Dr Gimenez (55) has been a doctor for 30 years and was working as a GP when the outbreak started, after which she volunteered to work in the intensive care unit of the Hospital Infanta Leonor in Madrid. The hospital is normally equipped for 270 patients but presently has over 600.
"We have had to stop all other types of treatment. We have a children's ward which normally has seven beds but there are currently 34 people there, some sitting on seats for days at a time," she said.
"You have to deal with patients who have been on seats for days and they start arguing that they should be allowed to have a bed. It is difficult to deal with."
Dr Gimenez said it is obvious that the death toll which the government releases at sombre daily briefings does not correspond to reality. She said this is because it is based only on patients who have been submitted for PCR (antigen) tests, whereas she believes many more people have died without being tested.
At Ifema, a vast exhibition centre on the outskirts of Madrid which has been converted into a hospital with over 1,000 beds, the medical director Antonio Zapatero asked doctors to dance past beds to raise the spirits of patients. "We have seen about 40% of our patients sent home and only lost five patients so far.
"We try to keep the spirits up by clapping whenever patients are sent home," he said.
Spain's left-wing government imposed a state of emergency on March 14 which is not expected to be lifted until the end of April. The rate of new infections and deaths will determine when and how the government decides to relax its lockdown.
However, the tally of deaths on which the government will base its decisions is mistaken, said Fernando Rodriguez Artalejo, a professor of preventive medicine at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
"It is likely that many people who died had pre-existing medical conditions so they may have died when they had contracted coronavirus but it was actually the cause of death," he said.
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