As It Happens

'We have nothing,' says Spanish ER doctor on front lines of COVID-19 crisis

Dr. Ana Giménez has a dire warning for Canadian health-care professionals: Get ready for the worst. 

Dr. Ana Giménez says hospitals are out of critical supplies and people are dying unnecessarily

Spanish health-care workers dealing with the coronavirus crisis hug each other as they are cheered on by people outside La Fe hospital in Valencia on Friday. (Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)


Dr. Ana Giménez has a dire warning for Canadian health-care professionals: Get ready for the worst. 

Spain extended its coronavirus lockdown on Thursday and said it was fighting a massive shortage of medical supplies to contain the rapidly increasing death toll. 

A further 655 people died overnight, pushing Spain's toll to 4,089, second only to Italy.

Giménez is an emergency room doctor at Infanta Leonor Hospital in Madrid, and she says they've run out of critical supplies including masks, gowns, beds and even medicine. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

I know you're just about to start your night shift. What are you expecting tonight?  

Not sure because every day is different.

What I know is that my emergency service is absolutely different than it used to be because now it's a corona emergency service. About 95 per cent of everything we see is corona. 

And can you cope with that, Dr. Giménez? Is your emergency service able to deal with those numbers of people coming? 

We try to. We are adapting our service, too.

Before last night ... I was in front of a pediatrician room that usually [has] in between five and seven baby cribs. And then last night, [it had] between 25 and 27 armchair recliners with adults.

Every single square, every single room is different. 

And do you have the supplies and the equipment that you need in order to help those people and to save those lives? 

The problem is that we don't have enough nothing. We don't have enough nothing. We don't have enough beds. We don't have enough critical beds. We don't have enough individual protection equipment. We don't have enough treatments, medical treatments.

Everything is changing, and we don't have enough nothing. Nothing.

Ana Gimenez is an emergency room doctor in Madrid. She says the country's health-care system is being 'absolutely destroyed.' (Submitted by Ana Gimenez)

And you have the equipment you need to protect yourself from all these COVID-19 cases?

No, no, no, no.

We have to take a lot of care with the patients. I mean, if I am receiving patients, and when I have four, then I put equipment [on] in order to explore them, because it's not possible to change the equipment in between each patient.

When I arrived, they gave me a P3 mask and they told me, "This is for the week." And this mask is supposed to be used for just some hours.

Everything is this way. For example, my colleagues in another big hospital in Madrid called [Hospital General Universitario] Gregorio Marañón told me [in] the last 96 hours they do not have waterproof coats.

That is what we are living. So we are in something different that we are used to. This is not the emergency service I know. This is not the medicine I know. This is something different. This is surviving medicine, but for everyone — for us, for the patients. 

And, you know, the worst thing is that we are not able to work as we know how. We don't have materials. We don't have medicines. We have nothing. And so that's the worst thing for our psychological health.

Front-line workers carry a patient on a stretcher as they arrive at the Severo Ochoa hospital in Leganes on Thursday. (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

We've been hearing stories from doctors in Italy who have had to make terrible choices about who gets ventilators, who is taken off ventilators. Are you at that point now in Spain and in your hospitals where you have to make those kinds of choices?

Yes. That is not my job, because I'm not at the critical room. I am at the emergency door. But I have received today some messages — absolutely, absolutely terrible.

For example, let me see one, they say: "Today, they decided that they don't have a machine for a 52 [year-old] woman."

This is in a hospital in Madrid, not in mine. Remember that we are just in the second week of the pandemic here in Spain and we are just absolutely [overrun].

So somebody else has to make those decisions?  

Yes, the critical services. They are doing it right now.

[In] the last week, we have noticed ... that they are not sending ambulances to all elderly people. ... So just because you are old, you are not going to have an ambulance to take you to the hospital and to give you more intensive medicine. 

Spain has a fantastic health system. Our fantastic health system was overloaded. And now is absolutely destroyed.- Dr. Ana Giménez, Infata Leonor Hospital 

And so you're saying that they're allowing the old people to die? 

Yes, they are. [And] we are just in the second week. So it has been an absolutely lack of organization and absolutely lack of view. Everything was happening in Italy, and we were just singing. We were just singing.

Spain has a fantastic health system. Our fantastic health system was overloaded. And now is absolutely destroyed.

I hope that in a couple of days, maybe one week, things change and we [start] to receive a lot of things we need.

But every day, every day it's costing lives.

A military police officer patrols outside the Severo Ochoa hospital on Thursday. (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

We have so many doctors and health practitioners here in Canada who are anticipating that they're going to have a crisis or possibly a crisis. What can you tell them? How can you help encourage Canadian doctors?

What I want to say is: Be aware. I know that Canadian health service has also a problem of overload like [the] Spanish [one] has. And they have to ask right now about buying everything they are going to need.

They are supposed to be prepared and raising the number of beds, raising the points of critical services, buying a lot waterproof coats, masks, gloves in order to protect their workers. Because that's really a real terrible problem right now here in Madrid. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Kate Cornick with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.