Intubating a critically ill patient within 30 seconds, with impeccable precision. Taking samples from possible positive cases who are very scared when they come to the laboratory and must be reassured. Doing shifts clad in layers of clothing, gloves, and protective equipment that make it impossible to drink water or go to the bathroom. Self-isolating themselves from their own families, even going to the lengths of avoiding kisses from their children. Going to a hospital every day, precisely the place that nobody wants to set foot in because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
These are all moments which have, in recent months, been experienced by workers at TecSalud, the Tecnológico de Monterrey health system, who are in the front line for treating patients with Covid-19.
They could have said “no”, but they decided to step up to the plate like many other medical staff in Mexico and around the world. Here are some of their stories:
Rosa María Tapia / Cleaner in Covid-19 Areas
55 years old. Lives alone.
I get up at 4:00 in the morning, take the bus, and arrive in the city center. There, I board the transportation that takes us to the hospital, where I start the day at 7:00 a.m.
My job is to clean the operating theaters. It takes me two and a half hours because I have to clean the walls, furniture, surgical equipment, hallways, showers, and other areas. I live alone, and the worst thing that can happen is not being able to see your family.
The last time I saw my son, his wife, and my granddaughter, was in March. My granddaughter’s four years old and she asks me, “Tita, when are you going to leave work and come play at my house?” What do you say to a girl that age? Sometimes, you’re lost for words.
Luis Alberto Barrientos / Critical Medicine Specialist and Anesthesiologist
41 years old. Lives with his wife and two daughters.
I work with the patients with the most serious conditions in intensive care. They’re the ones you think about 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Intubating a patient requires both good training and experience. It’s the procedure with the highest risk, and the most likely to be contagious. You must do it very quickly because these are patients who are seriously ill. You have to do it in under a minute, and with great precision.
For me, the most difficult part of the Covid-19 pandemic is having reduced contact with my daughters without this affecting them emotionally. If they hug me, I hug them back, but I try to avoid touching them as a precaution. Of course, I’m scared, but this is what I do. I like doing it, and I want to do it.
Gerardo Saucedo / Laboratory Worker
19 years old. Lives with his parents.
My job is to take samples from patients who are admitted with suspected cases of COVID-19. Many times, they’re scared when they come in. They’re nervous and think that the test hurts. I have to reassure them, tell them that everything’s going to be fine, and get them to calm down, because it could hurt them if they’re not calm.
When all this began, I was scared because I didn’t know what we were dealing with. However, I was the first person to say that I wanted to work with the patients. I’ve always wanted to be on the front line, and I will continue to do it.
I live with my parents, but I’m isolated on the top floor of my house. I go downstairs for lunch or dinner and socialize a little, but the day-to-day life I live is upstairs. My family encourages me and they’re very impressed by what I do. I’m always thinking about returning home to see them again.
Damaris Cardona / Emergency Nurse
28 years old. Temporarily living with a colleague.
When I was at home, my family didn’t want me to leave, but I live with high-risk groups. My mother is diabetic and has high blood pressure, and I have a lot of nieces and nephews. For their safety, I couldn’t continue living there. Now I’m less worried.
I really enjoy what I do, and I take all the precautions necessary. Due to the training, I did a lot of shifts at the San José hospital in the beginning, including night shifts. Sometimes, I slept in the car because I had to go back to work two or three hours later. As well as being a nurse, I’m also studying Administrative Computing at Tecmilenio University. Sometimes, I have to stay up really late and don’t have time to eat.
Wearing the protective gear isn’t easy. The goggles are tight fitting. If they’re too tight, they cause headaches and neck pain. It isn’t easy, and sometimes I become really despondent. God willing, this will be over soon.
It’s something that we’ll never forget. Particularly when a patient dies in our care, or when we feel doubly tired as a result of having to give CPR whilst wearing all that equipment. There are so many mixed feelings.
Carolina Castillo / Internal Medicine Specialist
34 years old. Lives with a friend.
Our work is very rewarding because we have a real impact on people’s lives. They’re not only sick, scared, and stressed, but they’re also isolated, and we have to be there for them.
A highlight of the pandemic was when we discharged a patient who spent 29 days in intensive care and another nine days on the ward. He went from being on death’s door to returning home. It’s a miracle: one that you think won’t happen.
At first, it was all very overwhelming. On our shift, we wear protective tape, two pairs of gloves and boots, an overall and a gown, a special face mask, tight goggles, and other pieces of protective equipment. When you put on all the equipment and start walking in it, it’s like being in an oven. What’s more, we cannot eat or drink, and we can’t touch our faces even if our goggles are steamed up.
When people are discharged and return home to their families, you realize that all the effort and tiredness have been worth it.
Juany Peña / Cleaner in Emergency Areas
53 years old. Lives with her husband and son
Our job is to take care of people. When patients arrive, they need to know that everything in the hospital has been disinfected. We have to be very thorough in our work, take care of the place, and always give the best of ourselves.
We’re not as important as the doctors and the nurses, but we still do our bit and do our best. My main motivation for being here is that I’d like to know that if one of my relatives got sick, other people would do what I do to help. Whether I know them or not, they’re people, they’re human beings.
A difficult moment at the beginning was when I felt rejected by some people in the hospital. They kept away from me because they thought that I might have the virus. That was at the beginning of the pandemic, and I’ve gotten over it now.
Miguel Ángel Cárdenas / Intensive Care Nurse
32 years old. Lives in a hotel with colleagues.
I’m responsible for the hygiene and comfort of the patients. It is a strenuous job because it goes from wiping mouths and general cleaning to bathing, supplying medicine, and constant surveillance.
Before starting each day, we must prepare ourselves both physically and psychologically. Once you have the protective suit on, you cannot go to the bathroom and some colleagues have had distended bladders from resisting the urge to go. That causes a lot of pain, and there have even been some urinary infections.
We’re seeing the reality of the pandemic. It hasn’t been invented by the government, as is often said on social networks. This experience is our ethical and professional duty. It’s difficult to do and it’s hard work. It motivates me to know that I am doing something so that we can get back to our normal daily lives.