“A hero does a selfless act, he sacrifices himself consciously. My husband was never aware that he could lose his life.” The one who speaks is the widow of Manolo Garrido, a doctor who died during his service in the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the protagonists of Vocation, the documentary with which the Illustrious College of Doctors of Madrid (Icomem) pays tribute to the fallen toilets in the Community. “They sell us that they have been heroes so that we shut up and be happy. And not at all. Manolo has been a victim of lack of protection,” says Cristina, his wife, in front of the camera. It is one of the 15 testimonies that make up this choral portrait directed by Polo Menárguez and that was presented this Thursday in Icomem headquarters to remember the consequences of a virus that still continues to leave victims.
The title of the film, according to its author, serves to remember that “a whole system cannot be trusted with heroism or love for the profession of our sanitarians.” “It is not a foolish and reckless vocation, it is human, and therefore it is vulnerable and sensitive. You can lose it,” thinks Menárguez, the son of two retired doctors who volunteered to help in the crisis. After watching the documentary, his mother confessed that he would not appear a second time. “They have been exhausted and are afraid of a second wave,” acknowledges the director, who has been in contact with relatives and colleagues of the victims for months.
Despite the fact that his loss was very recent, everyone accepted Polo’s invitation to chat. “I promised maximum respect and that it was going to be a tone of pure tribute,” he explains. Daughters and sons, spouses and colleagues remember, some tearfully, that what united all of them with medicine was the relationship with the patient. “For him they were never numbers, it was not the one in room 4 bed 2”, says the wife of a family doctor. Despite all this, they reject the label of hero and heroine as much as the surviving health workers themselves: “Calling them martyrs or heroes exempts the responsibility of the system. They should not have lost their lives to help others,” summarizes another of the daughters.
“The great Spanish mistake was to minimize what was coming to us,” explains Santiago, who was also on the front line until COVID-19 had him intubated with the UCI for three weeks. “A good professional must put his personal effort to the highest level, but never at the cost of his own life,” he thinks now. A reflection that many toilets have come to after verifying, many in their own meats, the real risks of their work: “No one should lose their life because they are helping others,” replies another of the family members.
The vice president of the College and infectologist at the Gregorio Marañón Hospital, Belén Padilla, contracted the coronavirus in early March and knows both sides of the trench well. For this reason, she becomes “sick” when she attends to the carelessness with which society makes the same mistakes that caused the first great wave of infections. “We are tired, we don’t like the word heroes at all,” he admits. “The applause has comforted us, but what are the politicians doing to prevent Public Health from falling apart? We do not see the reinforcements they promised us. We need vacations because a warm autumn is coming that could be as hard as what we have lived “, predicts Padilla.
Phase 2: Psychologically help toilets
One of Belén Padilla’s friends and colleagues is represented in Vocation through the voice of his wife. Alberto Tejedor, a nephrologist at the Gregorio Marañón Hospital, died of the coronavirus while his own colleagues tried to save his life. For Padilla, the psychological and emotional cost of that loss is the worst of the pandemic. “You lose objectivity. It is linking the failure of medicine to personal impotence,” he admits. Also the consequent thought that will not stop accompanying her: “Alberto could have been me”.
“Now that the crude phase of the disease has passed, we realize that we are very touched psychologically. There are colleagues who have had to go to a psychiatrist because the depressions have exploded,” says Padilla. “It has been a very cruel disease where the patients have been alone with us. It is very hard to live and to digest,” he recalls, that as soon as he recovered from COVID-19 he returned to the Marañón and, in him. “The halls were empty, without atmosphere. There were people verbalizing for the first time in decades of their profession that they would want to leave, even though they obviously didn’t,” he describes.
In their hospital they have created psychological support groups moderated by psychiatrists and fellow professionals in which they share for the first time and out loud some of the hardest things they have seen these three months. However, they feel abandoned at the institutional level by the hospital’s political and management authorities. “We are very labile. At the very least we give a bad answer or we start crying. We would need much more pampering at this level,” she replies.
Polo Menárguez confirmed this during the interviews: “They are not being cared for. There is a residents strike next week, how is it possible? That those who have launched themselves into the lions as beasts have to go on strike for only a few weeks later, “he reflects. Furthermore, they have barely recovered from post-traumatic shock and the threat of flare-ups is already looming over them. “Everything turns inside you when you see the images on television or certain people on the street. They have not realized what this has been and what it can be again. I thought we were going to come out more supportive of this, but no “, resigns the vice president of Icomem. Both she and Padilla trust that Vocation not only serve to remember the memory of the fallen, but to appeal to the responsibility of society: “We must not make more martyrs of this tragedy.”