My name is Maria Clara C., I am a gastroenterologist, Mexican by birth but I have lived in Spain for more than 20 years. These are not simple days in my hospital, not because of work, because now I am doing what I like the most: endoscopies. But because of the drama experienced by patients who, even without having COVID-19, suffer the consequences of the pandemic.
Damage is sometimes more lethal than the coronavirus itself. And I want to take advantage of this medium to tell not about me, but about my patients, how this situation has been for them.
Today I am on duty in the digestive bleeding unit. I evaluate a 36-year-old girl, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer at another hospital, in January of this year. So far, she has received no treatment. She complains of severe abdominal pain, tiredness, and difficulty eating food. I hospitalized her and she is now studying to see how far her illness has progressed in these five months without treatment. Will it be too late? Hopefully not.
In the afternoon I have seen another patient. To my surprise, it was a seven-month-old baby. She has a rare liver disease and the only solution for her to survive is liver transplantation. Unfortunately, and with good reason, the transplant program is blocked by the pandemic. The family is desperate and has gone to various media outlets to tell their story and fight for their son. It is a humble family that understands that it is impossible to transplant someone in the circumstances that concern us, although they do not lose hope that their baby receives the appropriate treatment.
This day, the baby has suffered digestive bleeding related to her illness. We have contained it endoscopically, for now.
Is it fair for people to suffer this? Is it valid that our hands are tied since all the efforts of our health are focused on this pandemic? How long will we wait to be able to treat other serious illnesses other than COVID-19? Ethical questions that still have no answer.
Nor should we forget the collateral damage caused by this pandemic to doctors and health personnel. Soldiers entrenched in COVID-19 rooms between death, pain, and illness, afraid of catching and infecting their families. Or older doctors, who have been sent home and feel mutilated for not being able to help and who in turn are afraid of becoming infected. They live between anxiety, depression, and constant stress.
The pandemic has thousands of faces, thousands of stories. Let’s not forget people who suffer collateral damage. People who need specialized and especially timely treatment for cancer, chronic diseases, rare diseases. Let us remember these people, recognizing that: “A leader can be both successful and succumbing, but never one who abandons combat.”