Far from home, volunteer docs filling in at overwhelmed Mexico City hospitals

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Jan 3 (efe-epa).- They decided to spend the Christmas and New Year’s holidays far from their homes and families because the battle is not over. Hundreds of doctors from all over Mexico have volunteered to come to Mexico City to lend their support to their colleagues in the capital’s overflowing hospitals.

“On Dec. 17, we got a glimpse of a critical situation in medical care in Mexico City because of the lack of personnel in hospitals there,” Dr. Edgar Jesus Zitle, who came to the capital from the northern state of Sonora, told EFE on Sunday.

In light of the dire and worsening situation, authorities asked for help from medical personnel in hospitals elsewhere in the country and 42 healthcare workers “raised their hands” and came 1,600 km (1,000 mi.) during the Christmas season to help out.

In all, 606 doctors and nurses from the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) have been working in Mexico City hospitals since the end of December, and the migration has been dubbed Operation Chapultepec, in memory of the congregation of different factions of Mexican revolutionary troops in the capital in 1914.

This time it is not the famous war leaders Emiliano Zapata or Pancho Villa, but rather medical personnel who are helping Mexico City weather its biggest crisis since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with hospital occupancy rates at 90 percent, a situation that has forced the local government to shut down all non-essential economic activity to try and limit the spread of the virus.

Residents of the Mexican capital have experienced almost a quarter of the country’s 1.44 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and have suffered about 20 percent of the 126,851 deaths.

General practitioners, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nursing personnel and other specialized workers have been shared around among the 90 hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.

They have not come into a simple situation. “Obviously there are many people showing signs of not only physical but also emotional exhaustion,” Dr. Zitle said, and all the while he and his team have been keeping an eye on the situation back at their homes so that, if there is a spike in cases there, they could quickly return.

The Mexican doctors, however, last week began to see a light at the end of the tunnel in the pandemic, which has – moreover – taken the lives of some 1,700 healthcare workers.

On Dec. 24, the vaccination campaign was launched in Mexico City, although just a few thousand doses were available, and healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients were prioritized, including some members of Operation Chapultepec.

Among the medical personnel who were vaccinated was Lidia Estela Carrillo, the deputy head of nursing at a hospital in Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua state on the border with the US, who in June was “on the point of dying” from Covid-19 and who now has thrown herself into the fray to help her colleagues in capital hospitals.

“We had the same experience in Ciudad Juarez, but thank God we overcame it and came (to Mexico City) to fight for Mexico and for our comrades who have fallen to this disease,” she told EFE regarding her temporary relocation to the capital.

After getting her shot, she said she felt a “very powerful relaxation,” adding that she felt “safer” to “fight the virus with more confidence,” although she warned the public that they still cannot “let down their guard.”

The vaccinations are controversial, since doctors at some hospitals have complained that the first to be immunized have been the heads of the medical centers, ahead of the front line workers who are actually dealing with patients.

“As directors, we will move to another level. For the moment, we’re vaccinating the workers,” Dr. Enrique Leobardo Ureña, the top IMSS official in the southern state of Chiapas who is heading a team of 65 doctors from that state who came to the capital, told EFE.

The reality in Chiapas, on Mexico’s southern border, is very different from that in Mexico City, since it’s one of the few regions that has been given a “green” health rating, meaning that the risk of coronavirus infection is low.

Chiapas medical and nursing personnel have come to the capital for a 28-day stint, but that could be extended by another month if things don’t improve. However, at present, they are “in good spirits” and “very ready to contribute.”

Even when they had to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in a hotel, if they were off-shift, or on call in a hospital.

“It’s a period that evokes a lot of nostalgia and family unity, but we in the IMSS are like a family and we’re celebrating like this, with our working family, with whom we’re spending more than eight hours a day,” Dr. Ureña said.

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