On February 7 last year, the Balearic government issued a statement which said that the health ministry had activated the coronavirus protocol because four people had had contact with a confirmed case. This was a UK resident who lives in Marratxi. He had been admitted to Son Espases on February 7.
Confirming coronavirus cases was a slow procedure. Samples had to be sent to Madrid. Two weeks later, Son Espases received rapid kits for detection, but samples still needed to be sent for confirmation. It was March before this system was changed.
The head of intensive care at Son Espases, Julio Velasco, says that it was the end of February when the hospital's intensive care unit first started to admit Covid patients. "We saw what was happening at other hospitals. It was catastrophic. I don't have the adjectives. We knew that it would come. The transmission was easy and rapid, and this didn't help us to prepare."
The declaration of the state of alarm on March 14, three days after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, came just in time for there to be control in the hospitals. Nevertheless, things were very difficult. Velasco recalls that seven to eight patients were being admitted at the same time. "We had to change the ICU strategy and open more beds. The admissions were doubling."
Initially, personnel weren't protected adequately, which led to contagion among frontline health workers. A crisis committee was set up at Son Espases. This met daily, logistics and reorganisation of wards among the necessities. Javier Murillas, the head of internal medicine, says that there was the need to find treatments, even though there was no evidence as to their efficacy. Some patients being admitted were in a relatively normal condition; within 24 hours they had developed double pneumonia. It was trial and error, with only the likes of anti-inflammatories to use. Remdesivir proved to be something of a landmark.
Murillas remembers the time of the lockdown as having been a professional challenge of "incredible magnitude". There was constant adaptation to a new illness which was "terrible for society".
In the summer, by when the state of alarm was over and transmission was very low, services at the hospital were able to recoup. There was a massive supply of equipment and materials ahead of what was expected in the autumn. Antonio Oliver, head of microbiology, says that there were more trained personnel to operate shifts in order to, for instance, carry out PCR tests. A robot was being used to help process the samples. From being able to perform 300 PCRs a day, the hospital was now able to do some 4,000; last month, the average was up to 5,000.
Oliver explains that they were now prepared for what might come, and when there was growth in cases in August, "we were able to respond".
The hope for doctors at Son Espases lies with the vaccine. But there are still unknowns. "The majority of patients recover without problem, but the effects on those who are admitted for prolonged periods allied to psychological disorder is the greatest challenge," concludes Dr. Murillas.