Spain

Doctors of body and soul give their lives for others before Covid-19

Along with more institutional actions of the Church, such as thousands of parish Caritas volunteers, chaplains or nuns who devote themselves to the care of the sick and vulnerable, thousands of doctors and nurses, truck drivers or mothers, also give their lives in service.

Rafael Miner-May 14, 2020-Reading time: 7 minutes
Nurse with personal protective equipment.

They are strong, courageous stories of values and virtues. People who are giving their best, even their lives, in these weeks. They are women and men who, in the fulfillment of their duty, of their professional vocation, offer a valuable example to the whole country. The majority of Spanish society recognizes the efforts of health professionals -doctors, nurses, assistants and, in general, people related to the health sector-, and applauds tirelessly from windows and balconies at 8 pm. 

Because of this proximity to the sick, more than 33,000 healthcare professionals have been infected with the coronavirus in Spain since the pandemic began, according to data available at the time of writing. Of these, at least 26 doctors had died by April 20, according to official sources. 

In recent days Palabra has spoken with numerous professionals, most of them women, and has collected their testimonies, full of courage and faith. For example, Margarita Díez de los Ríos, resident physician at the Virgen de la Salud public hospital in Toledo (in Castilla-La Mancha, one of the communities hardest hit by the virus); Dr. Marta Castro, from the Geriatrics Department of the University Hospital of Getafe (Madrid); the nurse Mónica Sanz, from the ICU of the Fundación Jiménez Díaz; the truck driver Rubén Casasola, and others, from whom we have gathered some of their impressions.

When asked if they feel fear, anxiety or a lot of worry these weeks, their answer substantially coincides with what Margarita, the young doctor from Madrid working in Toledo, whose grandfather was a military doctor, says: "We haven't had time to feel fear or anxiety, at least in my case, or to think too much. We have moved forward. It is true that all of us, because I have been talking about it with my colleagues, were worried about the issue of the family, which has given us a lot of fear. Many doctors are trying to spend as little time at home as possible, trying to isolate themselves as much as possible".

"I work in the ER, too, apart from the floor." Margarita adds, "And I think it is very important to establish a channel of communication of trust from the very beginning, to give good news and to give bad news. That's when you realize that you really have to have a vocation, because giving good news is easier, but when giving bad news a lot is at stake, and you think about a lot of things". "The hardest thing." he adds, "is to give the news to the family that the patient is very, very serious, and that many times they can't get through. Giving them the news and telling them that they have to go home, that's hard."

One-day battles and family treatment

Marta, who is in contact with the group most affected by Covid-19, the elderly, confesses: "The fear I try to manage with more knowledge about the virus and its routes of contagion and I follow all the recommendations strictly (when our equipment allows us to do so, of course); the anxiety has gradually subsided as I have started to fight one-day battles: on the way to the Hospital, every morning, I think only of the positive things I am going to do that day; the worry about knowing that I can infect my family is still there every minute and that is why I live isolated in my room since all this started." He then adds: "I haven't kissed or hugged my husband and children since March 6, when I started having confirmed Covid patients. I haven't seen my parents since February."

In an attempt to convey hope and strength in the ICU, Monica points out that "In the end, the key to our profession, even under normal conditions, is that we treat patients as if they were our own parents, grandmothers, siblings or aunts. The thought that governs our work is to think how we would want a relative in the same situation to be treated; that leads us to carry out optimal care for each one. We are aware that we are the only faces that see, or rather the only eyes for the EPI. [full protection equipment] [full protection equipment] [full protection equipment that we have to carry, and that makes us stand up, hold their hand and smile with our eyes to make them feel accompanied".

Relying on faith

Word has also asked them if they have faith, and if trust in God helps them in these circumstances. "I am a believer and I think it does help a lot to be a Christian and to be educated." Margarita replies. "Both in what we have talked about positive situations, when it seems very easy and everything goes smoothly, and in the negative and sad situations, where it helps a lot.

Marta addsI rely on my faith, I don't ask myself too many questions about the whys and simply put myself in the place of the sick person, for example I think of them as my father or my mother, and I take care of them as I would like them to be taken care of". "My parents are believers and they pray for me.", he adds, "and I assure them that I do everything I can to protect myself. They are proud of me, I was raised to serve others. And my husband is my main support, he brings me the peace I sometimes need and he is the one who is discovering for me how God is directing our lives when I don't see it so clearly".

Monica's case has a peculiarity: "When I was in third grade, a sister of mine was involved in a car accident from which she barely escaped with her life. I am a believer and I firmly believe that it was a miracle of God, but it was also in his hand to put in our way some magnificent health professionals, who worked at 200 % to save her life. At that moment I understood that I wanted to dedicate myself to helping as they helped my family; that in my life I wanted to dedicate myself to making people feel as we felt at that moment: supported, understood and surrounded by the best healthcare team, both professionally and personally.".

In the truck

How do carriers and truckers do these days, to have strength in the midst of uncertainty and nerves? Rubén Casasola answers: "Thinking about the family and their well-being." "The hardest thing is that in the truck there is a lot of time to think and it can make you anxious. It is always hard to be away from the family and even more so at this time.". The most stimulating thing is "To think that the people I see in the supermarket lines need us. And that many of them look at you with gratitude".. This married father of two children is devoted to "our patron saint St. Christopher", and emphasizes that "there are people who are helping us to make our work less hard, such as the Guardia Civil and some restaurants that have decided to be open so that we truckers can take a coffee."

Chaplains, high risk

Another high-risk group in recent weeks has been that of chaplains, doctors of the soul, and often also of the body. Among the diocesan priests and religious with a pastoral assignment who have attended to the sick at the request of the patients or their families in hospitals, the following had died up to two weeks ago "around 70 in pastoral care tasks for Covid patients".Luis Argüello, auxiliary bishop of Valladolid and secretary general of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. The prelate added that "many others" elderly have died in nursing homes or homes of nuns. 

Bishop Argüello did not specify more data, but the trickle is continuous. At the time of going to press, two more priests had died in Navarra, bringing to nine the number of priests dead in the diocese of Pamplona-Tudela, the second diocese most affected by Covid-19. Almost at the same time, Europa Press reported that Madrid is the most affected, with a total of 100 priests infected of varying severity, of whom 28 have died in the diocese since March 11. The archdiocese raised the figure to 130 on the 23rd, and offered some profiles of the deceased. 

Cardinal Osoro has expressed his "deep sorrow" and appreciation for their "absolute dedication" on the sites "where the presence of Christ is necessary". At the same time, far from being discouraged, the archbishopric reported the implementation of a chaplaincy service in medicalized hotels. The president of the EEC, Cardinal Omella, responded to Efe: "Unfortunately, there are already a number of priests and religious men and women who have died from this virus. This pandemic is reminding us of the importance of protecting our elderly. I congratulate the health care workers and nursing home caregivers who provide such a great service to our elderly. Thank you to the families who care for their elderly. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Pope Francis has prayed on several occasions for "the doctors, nurses and priests involved in the care of the sick of Covid-19", and has described his behavior as "an example of heroism" (March 24). On Holy Thursday, during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, he pointed out that "in Italy, almost 60 priests [more than 100 at the time of writing]They died caring for the sick, in hospitals, alongside doctors and nurses: they are the saints next door".. Almost simultaneously, in an interview granted to several media outlets, including The Tablet y ABChe stressed to "The saints next door in this difficult time. They are heroes! Doctors, nuns, priests, workers who carry out their duties to make society function. How many doctors and nurses have died! How many priests, how many nuns have died! Serving.

Lessons from the sick

The chaplain of the Fundación Jiménez Díaz in Madrid, José Ignacio Martínez Picazo, has been attending to the hospital's patients for 19 years. "with a lady of faith, who knows that he who has God lacks nothing. God alone is enough. Olga, help me to congratulate these good people for Easter". And Olga says: "Happy Easter Sunday. And always thinking of the Lord, everything will go well for us. I am grateful that Father José Ignacio came today. For me that is very nice.".

"We are privileged because we are at home, doing what the government tells us to do." Olga adds, "But the sacrifice of all the health workers working and exposing their lives, that is priceless. They give their lives at the cost of theirs". 

Juan Jolín, chaplain of the hospital set up at IFEMA to deal with the avalanche of infected people, was interviewed by Telecincoand this is how they told it on their website: "In the IFEMA miracle hospital there is a religious service, and 'Ya es mediodía' was able to talk to its chaplain, Juan Jolín. He told us about his work and that of his team: 'Listening with affection'. This group of priests goes to the hospital in several shifts because they cannot be there all the time. One of the experiences that has touched him most is that it is the patients themselves who give him lessons: they tell you what worries them, their families, the situation they are going through, the future..., Father Juan said"..

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