MADRID — Before the outbreak in Spain began, the only people who went in and out of the small hospital where Alfonso Molina Moreno works as a nurse were visitors, staffers, and cleaning crews. Patients come to Hospital La Fuenfria for long-term, palliative care and Moreno, who has worked as a nurse for 16 years, found a sense of purpose in bringing them care and company at the end of their lives.
Now, he and his colleagues worry that they’re doing harm. A few days before we spoke, patients at the facility started testing positive for COVID-19. “We don’t know where it came from,” Moreno said. “We don’t know whether we, the staff, brought it here. We don’t know whether it was due to the patients’ visitors. We don’t know the source.”
The hospital has cut off all visits. Staffers now take exhaustive precautions when working with patients who have tested positive—putting on protective equipment they dispose of in contaminated rooms and washing their hands on both sides of the door.
But there’s still a degree of uncertainty. When we spoke, Morena hadn’t been tested, and Spain’s health ministry says health workers currently make up nearly 14-percent of positive cases. Now, as the country scrambles to contain the virus it’s ordered 640,000 test kits from China and Korea in an effort to screen health workers and the most vulnerable. The hope is that this will help identify people who need to self-isolate.
Morena isn’t just thinking of the patients he’s now caring for. He’s worried about how long the virus was in the hospital. After a patient with cervical cancer died, a post-mortem X-ray showed her lungs had advanced, bilateral pneumonia. “It could have been coronavirus, right? She wasn’t tested,” he said. “And it’s like, oh my God, to what extent—let’s see, this needs a pinch of salt but—what if it was me? That’s it. So I can’t hide it, because you really don’t know. Even with all the security measures in place, you still don’t know.”
Like everyone working despite an outbreak, Morena worries about infecting his loved ones. “I told this to my colleagues, and we have this kind of sharing moment. We’re all going through this bad phase, this suffering.” But he isn’t thinking about quitting. “I really find myself fortunate to be able to work because I have the chance to go and feel useful,” he says. He’s even volunteered to take on more shifts. “The healthcare providers, at this moment, we have to be there no matter what. Because if it is not us, who will it be then? There is no one else.”