In the Móstoles health center where Raquel Collados works, they already used masks in February 2020. “Tacitly, they invited us from the management not to use them so as not to scare the population,” she recalls. That was the weather. You do not forget on March 6: a nurse from the ICU of the municipal hospital entered. “He closed the door and crying out crying told me: ‘He is going to kill us.”
It had been infected. She thought, “It’s here.” Until then the coronavirus was a distant thing from China, which then approached Italy, but it remained distant. “We did not have information from above, but we already knew that Madrid had to be closed. We had a surreal protocol.
You asked patients with respiratory symptoms if they came from Wuhan, Italy or Torrejón, or had they been in contact with someone there. If they said yes, you dressed in PPE [protective gear] and everything. But you saw people with the same symptoms who had not left their neighborhood ”. Then the parameters were changed and hundreds of cases came to light.
That week everyone’s life changed suddenly. In a neighborhood in the center of Madrid, a Chinese employee worked in José’s bakery who in the second week of February announced that she would no longer go. “He said that if there was a case there, they fumigated the entire building,” he says, recalling that then they thought the employee was exaggerating.
He could not believe that he left work, but then he remembered a lot a phrase he said to him when he said goodbye: “This is not a flu, it is something else. With the state of alarm they asked whether to open or not. They were afraid, their 96-year-old father lived with them.
One of those days, José went to the supermarket next door to buy some strawberries for a cake and was stunned: “There was a horrible, strange atmosphere, of competitiveness, of everyone against everyone, half empty shelves and races to get things.”
Then he decided: “We cannot leave the neighborhood hanging.” Through an acquaintance, he got four masks that he had from his work and they put them on. Nor does he remember how long they were with them. In those days it was not even clear if the masks – at that time very rare – were good or not, nor how they should be used.
Welcome to a new day to day
In the same neighborhood, in the pharmacy where Carmen works, people took their medicines four at a time. “It was not known if at some point the pharmacies would also close, there was a lot of fear.” Stocks of masks, hydroalcoholic gel, gloves are over, of thermometers. The army or the police sometimes passed through the deserted street.
“They said there were many robberies,” adds the pharmacist. By closing everything, the thieves had nowhere to steal, they all went to what was open. Carmen remembers everyone very scared, not knowing what to do. One of the slogans was not to go to a hospital because they were saturated and you could be infected.
And if you were very bad, the recommendation was to call a phone that no one picked up. They were not tested. Only a famous person tweeted from time to time saying that he had done it and that it was fine.
The day before the shops closed, they were very angry at a local store: “If people don’t start to die, they will have to give many explanations of why they force us to close, this is the end,” exclaimed a shopkeeper. Now he does not remember saying it, but the neighbors heard it. You don’t have to take it into account.
It seemed incredible to everyone that the city stopped: how it was going to live. About what. In Carballo, a historic shoe store in central Madrid, the owner told his dependents, Pedro, 52, and Emilio, 61, to go home. They put a paper in the window, so that the sun would not spoil the merchandise, since they did not know when they would be able to return.
They returned in another season and the window had to be changed suddenly from winter to spring. Upon leaving, Pedro improvised a poster: “Much courage, Madrileños de Madrid, Madrilenians who due to circumstances have come from other places and Madrilenians who come to visit our city ”. And in capital letters he added: “WE ARE GOING TO COME OUT OF THIS.”
“We were essential,” recalls Antonio, 43, a municipal street sweeper. He was one of those workers, called essentials, who continued with his mission. “The empty city was very impressive. I am always used to seeing people, because I am on the afternoon shift. It was very hard.
The most exciting thing happened at eight o’clock: people applauded you when you passed with the cart ”. He came and went from his house, in Torrejón, by public transport, among fearful and silent people, all those who continued working.
In many businesses today there are people who were not there then, because they did something else, their lives changed. Sergio Palazuelos, 42, recalls at the counter of a pharmacy: “I lived in Indonesia, on the island of Flores. He had a diving company and they closed the country, tourism stopped.
I returned to Spain, and since I am a pharmacist, I looked for work ”. There they immediately asked for a PCR to fly, in the company, at the airport. When he returned to Spain they did not ask him for anything. “It struck me that they were much better organized there than in Europe.”
Alejandro, 26, says: “I worked in a day center for the elderly in Coslada. I thought I would come back the following week, but I never came back ”. Now he works in a gym. And he adds: “I was also about to start my internship to finish my studies, a higher degree in sports. I went to the training center, I met the colleagues, but it was on a Thursday or Friday and I never came back.
Suddenly I was left without work, without studies and at home. That first week was a shockof reality: life was not going to be the same ”. Alejandro remembers the time of eight in the afternoon: “It was shocking to see how an entire street came out onto the terrace, a moment of feeling that we were all united, that I had never seen.
You saw the neighbor in the room across the street and that you had something in common. Something was moving inside you, it was something strange and beautiful at the same time.
The applause was for the doctors. A doctor who worked in Madrid left the ICU at five in the morning to take the air after 21 hours in a row on her feet, wearing a protective suit. She leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, exhausted from deciding who could have a respirator and who couldn’t . “Are you okay?” Asked a voice. It was the chief of anesthesia. I wanted to tell you something, you seemed embarrassed:
– How old is the triage today?
– Today we are in 60 years, more or less. There are no respirators for everyone, we try to bring forward those who have the best possibilities, you know.
He was left thinking, head lowered: “I think I got it. Well, I know I got it. And I wanted, you know… ”. He was 62 years old. At that moment the pager rang, he turned to leave and looked at her with a smile. “Easy Angel,” she said. “Go home and rest. If we come to that, we sure have a respirator for you. We need you to stop this. It has only just begun ”.
It had only just begun. The two returned to the ICU. She worked 56 days in a row. They saved a lot of people. They are both alive today.