By Anthony Esposito
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The 56-year old Mexican woman suffering the effects of COVID-19 slipped in and out of consciousness as paramedics loaded her on and off an ambulance in a frantic search for a hospital bed in Mexico City’s overflowing medical centers.
It is an increasingly familiar scene in Mexico City and the neighboring State of Mexico, an urban metropolis home to over 20 million residents, as surging COVID-19 cases and deaths push hospitals and healthcare workers to the brink.
In Mexico City, 89% of general hospital beds and 84% of hospital beds with ventilators are now filled, while the same is true for 82% of general hospital beds and 79% of beds with ventilators in the State of Mexico, according to official data.
Healthcare workers say those figures are deceptive, and the grim reality is that finding an available hospital bed for those in desperate need has often seemed like an impossible feat.
“The whole system is completely saturated. There’s no room in the public or private hospitals now,” said paramedic Daniel Reyes, decked from head to toe in protective gear, including eye goggles and a thick face mask.
Reyes was waiting in an ambulance outside a central Mexico City hospital after doctors rejected his patient, the 56-year old woman whose name was withheld for privacy reasons, because there were no available intensive care beds.
She received oxygen inside the hospital while her nephew, Victor Luqueño, scrambled on the phone with the insurer and family members to try to find another hospital with available beds.
Doctors at the hospital said “they couldn’t take care of her because if she got a little worse she would need intensive care and they are already full at this hospital,” said a worried Luqueño, who already lost his grandmother to COVID-19 in December.
Mexico saw one of its biggest daily rises in coronavirus cases on Wednesday as gatherings during the holiday season likely fueled contagion. For three days this week, there were over 1,000 recorded deaths.
Mexico has reported to date nearly 1.5 million known cases and over 131,000 deaths, the fourth highest death toll worldwide.
After two hours, Luqueño found his aunt another medical center in the metropolitan area.
Stretched out on a gurney and wrapped in a plastic bubble-like lung giving her oxygen, she was loaded back onto the ambulance and taken to the hospital, where after a few checks made by the security guards she was admitted.
She was lucky to have found a bed, and so close by.
Sometimes to find a bed for a patient, paramedics have traveled to Queretaro state or as far as Monterrey in the state of Nuevo Leon, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) away, said Reyes.
That means on bad days an ambulance and its crew can only attend to one patient, limiting the availability of desperately needed ambulances, which prior to the pandemic could attend to up to eight people daily.
“We’ve been like this for three weeks now,” said Reyes.
Reyes said sometimes, after a fruitless day’s searching for a bed, they have eventually had no choice but to take the patient home.
“The problem there is finding oxygen,” he said.
Reporting by Anthony Esposito, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien for Reuters