Somber reality sets in at Uruguayan ICUs amid surge in cases, deaths

By Federico Anfitti

Montevideo, Apr 15 (EFE).- The deafening silence, the isolation, the loneliness and the tireless struggle to avoid losing another patient. That has been the harsh reality in recent weeks for intensive care workers at hospitals across Uruguay.

That small South American country is not what it once was.

Seen earlier in the pandemic as a rare – and almost miraculous – success story, daily confirmed cases now are growing there by the thousands, daily Covid-19 deaths are piling up by the dozens and intensive care units, including the one at the Casmu private hospital that Efe visited in Montevideo, are on the verge of collapse.

Authorities say the health care system starts reaching the saturation point when ICU bed occupancy climbs to 85 percent. However, other signs of severe strain are apparent in the interminable work days and the tension and stress suffered by health care employees.

ICU teams face daunting challenges during pandemic, observing the strictest of Covid-19 protocols while staring death in the face alongside patients fighting for their next breath.

Entering the ICU at the Casmu implies first dressing from head to toe – with the help of two colleagues – in protective gear: shoes, pants, shirt, tunic, gloves, face protection and head cover, all of them disposable.

The protocols, fatigue and moments of despair are real, yet the health workers also laugh and joke while on camera and smiles are visible underneath their face masks.

“Water! I want water!” shouts one woman who is lying on an ICU bed and connected to a respirator.

Other patients around her are asleep, sedated, intubated and in some cases lying face down as part of a strategy to improve their oxygen flow and hopefully facilitate a miraculous recovery.

The death rate is 80 percent in these more severe cases, which make up the majority of arriving Covid-19 patients. A few other patients are still awake and, although they are connected to a respirator, able to read or simply keep their eyes open.

“It’s much more difficult to provide news to families of intubated patients than to (families of) those who are awake,” said the president of the Uruguayan Society of Intensive Care Medicine (SUMI), Julio Pontet, who accompanied Efe on the tour of the ICU.

Uruguay has reported 152,089 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic (31,055 of which are active) and 1,646 deaths attributed to Covid-19.

The tragedy is particularly apparent at hospitals, where the SUMI says that 727 of the country’s 957 ICU beds (76 percent) are currently in use, with Covid-19 patients accounting for 53.8 percent of those occupants.

At the Casmu facility in this capital, death stalks the hallways and strikes with terrifying force, seeking out its victims one by one while front-line health care workers try to keep it at bay – the new, grim state of affairs in a country that had once avoided the worst of the pandemic. EFE


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