The number of intensive care beds available in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) is at the centre of the news agenda, given the exponential rise in cases of Covid-19. In Buenos Aires City, the hospital treating many of these patients is the Hospital De Infecciosas Francisco Javier Muñiz, a well-known hospital in Parque Patricios.
The intensive care unit of the Hospital Muñiz, as it's more commonly known, is made up of six units: three common rooms and three individual rooms for patients with highly contagious diseases – such as Covid-19 or Tuberculosis. In total, the ICU sector counts on 57 doctors working in shifts.
As of Tuesday, June 23, 29 of the 54 beds were occupied by people who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“It’s been around 60 percent for the last 15 days,” says Dr Eleonora Cunto, the head of the ICU, referencing occupancy rates.
She explains that the cases have increased substantially, going from 20 percent positive Covid-19 cases in the intensive care unit to 60 percent. Cunto also says that she expects these numbers to grow.
Cunto’s work as an infectologist and pulmonologist in the era of coronavirus is arduous. Her day begins at 7am every morning and includes 10 hours of meetings with doctors, nurses, and chiefs of other units. Up until a few weeks ago, she was also seeing in-patients through a glass barrier.
Now, the urgency of her job is constant, and the intensity of work in her department has been intensified due to the pandemic.
The medical professional counts the “stages” of health in her patients with the passing months: “In March, people were fine and calm, even if they tested positive. Only mild cases were admitted and they just wanted to go home more than anything else,” she explains. “Now, many are on ventilators or even in induced comas.”
The symptoms of exhaustion and stress are noted among professionals when they are faced with a disease as unpredictable as Covid-19.Doctors, nurses and cleaning staff have had to attend lectures and courses on cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation and airway, among others.
“We are constantly on guard. It’s a disease that wears you out, and the critical cases are particularly demanding,” Cunta says.
Hospital staff are also suffering from Covid-19. So far, Muñiz has seen one doctor and several nurses infected with the disease.
“They are irreplaceable workers. First because of the obvious emotional toll, but also because of the professional one. Everyone always talks about fans and ventilators, but a ventilator needs someone to plug it in and control it,” she explains.
However, the 61-year-old doctor clarifies that there is no fear among the professionals in the hospital.
“In intensive care, we see collaboration and compromise. I don’t see fear. If there is fear, we try to reduce it carefully. For example, we use a full suit of personal protective equipment,” she says.
She continues: “You can’t work if you’re scared. The majority of us understand what’s happening and what we need to do. That removes fear. When one understands his enemy, he understands how to defend himself.”