An evangelical doctor working in Spain with Covid-19 patients shares his experience. “I am not a hero, I know I can get the virus and die. But I am sure that whatever happens, the Lord is with me”.
The first line of battle against the pandemic that devastates the world takes place in hospitals.
Miguel Torralba is an internist at the University Hospital of the Spanish city of Guadalajara. He was among the first doctors to be in preventive quarantine, at the beginning of March, after being in contact with a person infected by coronavirus.
When Torralba returned to his job, everything had dramatically changed at the hospital: protection protocols, cancellation of consultations, and a whole reorientation of the health services to face the epidemic.
In the midst of this situation, Torralba talked to Spanish news website Protestante Digital, about how his faith in God has helped him to serve others and has given him strength in the face of difficult circumstances.
Question. These weeks have been very difficult. How are you experiencing it?
Answer. We had the first Covid-19 patient in early March. After being in contact with him, I had to confine for fifteen days. Then, we were not even aware of the seriousness of the situation and we did not use protection.
Q. When you returned to the hospital, what did you find?
A. Several striking thing. Many smaller diseases seemed to have 'disappeared', which made us think that we the population often make a certain abuse of the sanitary means.
On the other hand, we do see that this has overwhelmed us, it has been impressive. I have never experienced anything like this. I am an internist doctor, so that treating these situations is my specialty. But we have never experienced an epidemic of this magnitude, it has been incredible.
Q. What are the changes you faced in the work dynamics?
A. First, caring for the patients in isolation is a new experience for us. Consultations disappeared, surgeries were cancelled because we are all seeing patients in their rooms.
All the doctors who do not see patients (dermatologists, oncologists, etc.) came to help those who were more directly specialised in patients with Covid-19.
Everything else disappeared and we only care for patients who are isolated, alone, some with oxygen. Since they are alone, they need you to spend more time with them.
There is a strange atmosphere in the hospital, because there are only doctors and staff. You go to the cafeteria and it is almost empty. There are moments that it seems like a ghost hospital.
Q. Some helath centres in Spain collapsed in the last weeks. What happened in your hospital?
A. From March 20 to 30 we were on the verge of collapse, but several things have happened since April. On the one hand, we have begun to treat patients better because we have more information about the virus. We have started using anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and other kinds of drugs.
At first we only tried to attack the virus, but we have been learning to handle it better. This is like a race against time to know how to treat this disease. We still do not know how to treat it well, because there are no clinical trials that tell us what the exact treatment should be.
Since April, the arrival of new patients has decreased and more patients have been discharged. We now have around 15 patients in the ICU. In total we have had over 300 patients, about 160 of them are with Covid-19. We are not in a normal situation yet, but everything has improved compared to last month.
Q. Have you had a shortage of protection materials?
A. We have been pretty well stocked. It is true that we have had to recycle materials more than we used to, using the masks or the gowns more times than we should. If there were not an epidemic of this magnitude, we might have discarded them more regularly.
But this is my case, perhaps in other departments or in other places they have had more severe problems. My experience is that we have had protection.
Q. How do you manage the return home, the contact with your family?
A. I was one of the first to be in isolation, and the truth is that you live it with some fear, because you come home and think that you may have the virus and could infect your loved ones.
I have a wife and two daughters, and when you come home you have to go to an isolated room, use a single bathroom. For the first time in my life I experience a real social distancing. On the other hand, you receive love, through video calls for example.
Once you return to the hospital, I see the patients with coronavirus, and I am really aware that we are an essential part in their care. But at the same time, I see colleagues who are very ill, some even in the ICU. I ask the Lord to protect me from this, and I have a constant worry that I may fall as well. It is a complicated situation.
Q. Have you been able to keep contact with the people of your church?
A. Yes, I have always felt the warmth of my brothers and sisters. I know there are people praying for me. There are people in our church who have been sick, and three who have relatives who have died from the virus, so we are aware of the drama that is going on.
In our church we have had Zoom meetings (video calls), the preaching and the services are posted on YouTube. So I continue to have contact with the church. I send a small devotional on WhatsApp and receive very caring responses.
In isolation, there is a warmth and a virtual hug that gives us strength. Of course, when we see each other by video conference, we just want to cry, because we can't see each other in person, greet and give hugs...
Q. You said that you had never been experienced something like this in the hospital. Do you think that now people are more aware of the need to change our life perspective?
A. Doctors usually see painful situations, huge dramas. We have created a kind of shield, so that it does not affect us and we do not collapse before the miseries of life. But this epidemic has touched many people.
When you see colleagues who are affected, the response is stronger. There are colleagues who have been outraged against the government, against the lack of means.
But there is also a feeling of perceiving the vulnerability and fragility of the human being. I have seen colleagues crying, collapsing. I have had the opportunity to talk about the gospel, spiritual things with them. Sensitivity is on edge and that makes it easier to talk about spiritual things.
Q. On a personal level, how does your faith in God help you?
A. I have gone through several phases. There are moments of uncertainty and you seek comfort in the Psalms. I am not a hero, I know I can get the virus and die. But as a Christian I am sure that whatever happens the Lord is with me, so I live all this with some calm, with security.
It has also been a time to read more, to reflect. We live in such a rush. That this time has been good to think about the things that really matter.
As Christians, many look at us to see how we behave. I think people will remember this time. It is the moment to be true Christians, to help, to offer our help to the neighbors, to live a more authentic Christianity.
And of course, I have had moments of uncertainty, but the Lord helps in this process. We have to hold on to God to help this world.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
A. Research is very important, to continue investigating to know how to treat this disease. In the hospital one of my jobs has to do with research. Clinical trials must be done, understanding that we must resolve these questions while caring for those who are suffering.