In Chile, a hospital gives families of COVID-19 patients a rare opportunity to say goodbye

SANTIAGO – Her hand dressed in a blue latex glove, her face masked by a perspex shield, the woman lovingly caressed her father’s gray curls, cradled her head and pressed her mouth as close to her cheek as she could.

Doctors in the Chilean capital of Santiago struggled for weeks to save 76-year-old Don Jaime from the clutches of the coronavirus pandemic, but last week they acknowledged they would lose the battle and invited his family to the hospital to say goodbye.

Around the world, the need to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus in hospitals has risen above providing patients with the comfort of being with their families at the end of their lives.

One of the greatest cruelties of a disease that has killed almost half a million people worldwide is that many have died alone, fortunately digitally saying goodbye via tablet or phone.

However, the medical chiefs of the clinical hospital of the University of Chile in Santiago decided to allow family visits and, whenever possible, create a space for a final farewell.

Visitors are screened for coronavirus and receive the same protective gear used by physicians, before being guided to the sealed glass rooms where COVID-19 patients are housed. Until now, the ICU of the hospital has avoided any case of contagion among its staff.

“We have always been a unit that strongly advocates not only for our patients but also for their families and we have continued to press for their presence in patients’ beds,” said Carlos Romero, head of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

Latin America is now the epicenter of the pandemic and Chile is one of the most affected nations, with several thousand daily cases and confirmed deaths close to 5,000.

Dr. Romero’s hospital is located in the impoverished Independencia neighborhood, which has one of the highest case and mortality rates in Santiago.

Despite converting wards and reinforcing critical care beds from 50 to 140 since the virus attack in March, hospital doctors warn that if the number of patients continues to rise, they will not be able to treat them.

Dr. Romero’s expertise is scarce in Chile, and he is just one of six who oversee the care of all the most critical patients at his hospital.

However, every day at noon he calls the patients’ families to update them, he told Reuters during a recent visit.

“We want to know that we have done everything possible to save a patient and if that is no longer possible, we stay by their side when the end comes, we make sure that they are not in pain, are calm, that their family is aware of and If possible, spend some time with them, if only for a moment, “he said.

Don Jaime has already passed away.

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