TOLUCA – When Alberto entered the hospital eight days ago with difficulty breathing, a voice resounded in the speakers: “Ruta COVID-19”. This is how the main public medical center in the State of Mexico alerts its staff of the arrival of a new patient and the start of a race against time to save his life.

The EFE Agency accesses the interior of the Adolfo López Mateos Medical Center in the city of Toluca, one hour from the Mexican capital, when the country is crossing the peak of the pandemic, with about 31,522 patients and just over 3,160 deaths, according to the authorities.

Just a month and a half ago, the corridors and waiting rooms of this high-specialty hospital, which covers 2.4 million people in the center of the country, looked crowded.

But since it was declared a hospital for COVID-19 care, accesses were restricted and security measures were tightened. No one can wander around the medical center anytime.

AN OCCUPATION OUT OF THE NORMAL

Do not be fooled by this tense calm. The reality that exists in the rooms on the three floors where people with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are treated is very different.

Various hospitals in Mexico City are full, even when authorities say there are empty beds.

“The admission of patients is a high flow, especially at this peak, where the admission is too much for the normal population that we evaluate daily,” explains the director of the center, José Rogel Romero, in his office on the fifth floor of the building.

Despite this, the hospital has so far not been overwhelmed. The center has an occupation of 55%, below the average of the 69 hospitals in the Mexico City metropolitan area, the most affected area in the country.

Unlike other hospitals, intensive care ventilators and medical supplies have not been in short supply here. But the situation could be complicated if the population does not comply with the quarantine, warns the director.

“I cannot say the quantity, but the sum (of patients) is high. An unusual quantity”, he adds.

To get an idea, during the interview, the speaker “Ruta COVID-19” sounds several times. At least six new patients have arrived.

EVERY PATIENT IS CONSIDERED COVID-19

This loudspeaker has been a key tool in the rapid reconversion that the center had to make to attend to patients with the new pneumonia, along with a marked path on the ground that all patients must follow.

The cremation ovens in the Mexican capital are at the limit of their capacity when the country has not yet reached the peak of contagions and deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.

When someone with symptoms (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath) comes to the emergency room, they pass a first filter in an outdoor tent where it is determined whether it is a mild case, which will have to be isolated at home, or is a serious case.

Seriously ill patients are already cared for in the building by specialized personnel who carry out, among other studies, a CT scan to catalog the type of hospitalization. This is when the famous speaker sounds. “Everyone must clear the area and the patient enters,” says the director.

Some are intubated because they need assisted breathing, while others receive various medications. There is no specific treatment.

At the same time, medical personnel wearing masks and sealed suits disinfect the areas where the sick have passed. It also loads hermetic boxes with COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are sent to a laboratory that delivers the results 8 to 24 hours later.

Although Mexico is the OECD country with the fewest tests, in this hospital they assure that they test all patients, even mild ones.

“Every patient who has a fever, cough, and sneezes is COVID-19 until proven otherwise,” says the director.

At least twenty people broke into an Ecatepec hospital to find out information about the health of their relatives admitted by COVID-19.

Even the deceased who did not have a timely diagnosis are considered COVID-19 and the authorities recommend cremating them as soon as possible.

INFORM FAMILY MEMBERS, A DELICATE PROCESS

Last week, a group of people burst into a hospital in Ecatepec, also in the State of Mexico, to demand information about the health status of their relatives.

Complaints about not knowing anything about his loved ones multiplied in many hospitals in the country, which forced the authorities to install information tents at the doors of hospital centers.

The one from Toluca already has his tent, where he informs relatives of patients on a morning shift, another in the afternoon and another at night, although there is also the telephone option.

However, that does not mitigate the anguished face of the relatives, who for security reasons cannot visit the sick.

It should be borne in mind that patients who access the emergency department can only have one companion. That is why some family members last saw their patient through the hospital gate.

It would be one of the measures to avoid hospital saturation at the request of anticipated infections.

Since the Ecatepec incident, several National Guard soldiers have been deployed to the Toluca hospital to strengthen security, although the management assures that there have been no incidents with patients or attacks on medical personnel.

Upon leaving the hospital, Alejandra, a nutrition department worker, confirms that “the situation is under control” and that there have been no attacks on medical personnel, but there have been discriminatory acts on the street.

“Once, two trucks (buses) did not want to take me. That is why I have to come with normal clothes,” she says before taking off her robe.

DISCHARGE IS NOT THE END OF THE PROCESS

Although they are discharged for a notable improvement in their lungs, many patients must follow a treatment at home with supplemental oxygen tanks and extreme social distancing.

Alberto, protagonist of the beginning of this chronicle, leaves the hospital weakened and at a slow pace, with his face covered and a portable oxygen tank that helps him breathe.

Perla, the family member who accompanies him, says that Alberto “has evolved very slowly”, but it seems that he has overcome the coronavirus. She then helps him climb into the back of his car, where he has spread out a blanket to avoid some kind of contagion.

Paramedics confirmed that she had coronavirus symptoms and took her to a hospital. Everything was captured on camera.

A few meters away, Ángel waits impatiently for his aunt Nancy to leave the hospital, which he entered four days ago and where, he says, was well attended.

They told him by phone that his aunt would be discharged today, but he does not know when, so he has been waiting at the door for the first time next to an oxygen tank that he has purchased on his own at a cost of $ 250.

Free hospitalization in this center, but not supplemental oxygen, although for Ángel that is of least importance now.

“You worry because you are family. It is nice to know that you are fine and that you are going to go out,” he explains with a smile that can be seen beyond the mask.

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