BARCELONA – After almost two months sedated and hooked up to IV lines in the hospital’s intensive care unit, Francisco España took a moment to fill his battered lungs with the fresh air from Barcelona’s beach.
Lying on a stretcher on the promenade and escorted by a doctor and three nurses who were monitoring his vital signs at all times, Spain briefly closed his eyes and absorbed as much sunlight as he could. “It has been one of the best days I can remember,” he said.
A medical team from Hospital del Mar is studying whether short trips to the beach, just across the street, can help COVID-19 patients after long and sometimes traumatic stays in the ICU.
Dr. Judith Marín explained that it is part of a program to “humanize” the ICUs, with which the group had been experimenting for two years before the coronavirus reached Spain.
The strict isolation protocols that have had to be adopted since mid-March thwarted months of efforts to integrate ICU patients with professionals from the rest of the hospital, explained the doctor.
In April, the center operated with several additional ICU wards and expanded its normal capacity, from 18 intensive care patients to 67.
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“This is an important blow, with what implies the lack of resources, emotional blows, of having to restrict all this that we had advanced so much precisely in the field of humanization, suddenly everything goes backwards”, said Marín. “The families that had been here 24 hours suddenly go home, they cannot come to see the patients. We have to report by phone, we have to deliver bad news by phone. We cannot let patients say goodbye to their families. “
Since restarting the program in early June, doctors said even spending 10 minutes on the beach seems to improve patients’ well-being. The team wants to delve into these signs and see if the departures can help in the medium and long-term recovery of COVID-19 patients.
Spain began to slow down its contagion curve with a strict three-month quarantine that ended on June 21. But the country is now leading the new wave of infections in Europe, with a rebound that has brought the total cases to almost half a million. At least 29,400 people have died in Spain.
“I think it is important … to keep in mind that aspect of the emotional well-being of patients,” said Marín. “And the sooner we start it, and if it can be done in the ICU, the better.”
For Spain, who works in a local market and is passionate about music, the memories of his 52 days in intensive care are “hazy.”
“They say that I have overcome a very fat thing, and, well, I realize that I must feel very happy for what I have overcome”, Spain, Paco for friends, while runners and walkers watched as the stretcher passed under the palm trees on the promenade on the shores of the Mediterranean.
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“The Paco we fired was very ill, he couldn’t even speak, he couldn’t breathe, he practically drowned,” said Xavi Matute, an old friend who was with Spain when an ambulance took him to the hospital.
Hooch came back on Friday to greet his friend. The warm reunion was followed by a quick recap of everything the sick man had missed, including the latest sports news: Real Madrid’s victory in the Spanish League and the Barcelona debacle, first with an embarrassing 8-2 defeat that He left them out of the Champions League and then a still unsolved drama about the future of their main star, Leo Messi.
For Spain, 60, the excursion to the beach was a good sign. “Now this little walk, then to see if they authorize me to have a simple beer at the bar and with that I have enough,” he joked before returning to the ICU.