'My daughter asks me if I'm going to die'

Cristina, in a photo  posted on her blog.
Cristina, in a photo posted on her blog. / SUR
  • A doctor in the Intensive Care Unit has started a blog to describe the emotional chaos these difficult days cause among medical staff

She has worked in intensive care for 16 years but has never seen anything like this. Cristina Salazar, 41, a doctor at the Virgen de la Victoria university hospital in Malaga, felt the need to share her experience with other in a blog, in the little free time she has between work, family and coordinating charity donations. She began on 14 March, when the state of alarm was announced. At the hospital a new protocol had been drawn up and it wasn't easy to get used to. "It took us ages to put our protective equipment on," she says."The mask is so tight that when I take it off, it still feels as if I'm wearing it. With our suits on, we don't even recognise each other".

The impossibility of physical contact, the distance between people imposed by the illness, makes her feel very emotional. "I can't get used to updating a relative and not holding their hand. You see patients crying on their own, not able to see their loved ones because they are infected. I think how many are going to die alone, and say to myself, "We have to be their new family. If someone dies on my watch, I'm going to hold their hand," she wrote in her first entry on the blog.

The obligatory change of habits due to coronavirus also caused problems at home. From the first day, she had to tell her daughters and husband not to touch her. "Am I a bad mother and wife for not letting them get close?" she asks.

Due to the stress, Cristina is taking medication to help her sleep. Many medical staff are using anxiolytics for the same reason after difficult days at work, between the desolation of the most extreme cases and the hope generated by those who recover and go home. "I know that many people's lives depend on us, and that is why I get up and go to the hospital every day," she says.

Back home, fear of the virus has hit hard. "I see physical rejection in my daughter. She tells me not to touch her pens or books and asks me if I'm going to die if I keep going to the hospital. I tell her no, I'm not, but a lot of people will die if I don't go". Music helps to clear her mind for a while, and Cristina admits to a particular fondness for Michael Jackson and Man in the Mirror.

At the hospital, with 24-hour shifts, they have decided to eat in the ICU to reduce possible contagion. This is the heart of any hospital, especially now. Cristina says she has never felt more proud of her team, who are working all hours in an uncomfortable and hostile environment in alien suits. One colleague has stopped drinking water, because he doesn't want to leave the unit any more than necessary. Another jokes about making a hole in his mask so he doesn't have to take it off to eat. Although Cristina tries to keep her sense of humour and optimism, it doesn't always work. "I get overcome with fear sometimes. We have patients who have been intubed for a long time and they are still testing positive".

One young patient amazes her because she is so calm. "She knows exactly what is happening to her. I can't understand how she maintains her composure," she says. She explains every step the team will take to put the catheter into place.

"I don't get upset easily," she says, "but with this case I have to keep swallowing because I have such a lump in my throat." She says goodnight to the young girl. "I want nothing more than to see that she's still here tomorrow."