Venezuelans brave COVID wing to bathe, feed sick loved ones

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Leaning against a hospital wall for balance, Elena Suazo wiggled each foot into blue protective pants. Then she slipped her arms into a surgical gown and snapped on white rubber gloves, finally ready to enter the COVID-19 wing.

Suazo is not a nurse. She is a cafeteria worker at a kindergarten in Venezuela’s capital.

But she is also a loving daughter; her 76-year-old father, sick with the virus, waited inside. And in this ruined country, the only way to ensure that he received the care he needed was to do it herself — regardless of the dangers to her own health.

“You do everything you can in the name of love,” said Suazo, 47. “If that person is your blood relative, you don’t even hesitate.”

Hospitals across the once wealthy South American nation lack enough doctors and nurses to confront the coronavirus pandemic. As thousands of trained health care workers emigrated in recent years, some hospital wings have closed. Others keep operating, but with high caseloads.

The shortage leaves families rushing to fill the void at facilities that treat the poor, like José Gregorio Hernández Hospital, which sits in the middle of a sweeping Caracas barrio. They feed patients, bathe them and change their bedsheets — tasks normally done by trained medical professionals.

Relatives of elderly and weak patients are allowed short visits up to three times daily and are responsible for providing their own protective clothing.

Suazo finished dressing at a table near the COVID-19 entrance and looked over to a security guard. He gave her a nod of approval. Suazo tucked her bags of hot chicken soup, fresh bedsheets and cleaning supplies under her arm and ducked past the heavy sliding gate.

“I take care of him quickly, changing his clothes, feeding him, and then I leave,” Suazo said. “You can’t stay inside there long.”


This kind of thing has long been common in poor nations, places like South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo in sub-Saharan Africa, health experts say. But it’s only now come to Venezuela, which was once a wealthy nation, sitting atop the world’s largest oil reserves.

Critics blame 20 years of a socialist revolution launched by the late President Hugo Chávez for destroying oil production, leading to an unrelenting economic crisis. A recent round of financial sanctions exacted by Washington against President Nicolás Maduro has made life even harder.

In recent years, an estimated 5 million Venezuelans have fled the nation of 30 million. Among them are roughly 33,000 doctors — 30% of Venezuela’s physicians, according to Dr. Douglas León Natera, president of the Federation of Venezuelan Doctors.

Care is augmented by nearly 2,000 specialists sent by socialist ally Cuba to help battle the pandemic, and by several thousand less-skilled Cuban doctors who already were here. But it’s not enough.

At least 6,000 nurses also abandoned Venezuela, said Ana Rosario Contreras, president of the Caracas Nurses College, citing a 2018 survey by the organization. The number has only

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Avoid the sprain and strain while caring for your loved ones

Avoid the sprain and strain while caring for your loved ones

PR Newswire

ROSEMONT, Ill., Oct. 26, 2020

Orthopaedic surgeons share lifting techniques for home caregivers

ROSEMONT, Ill., Oct. 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — November is Family Caregiver Month and although caring for a loved one can be a very rewarding job, it also can be cause for physical and mental strain.

(PRNewsfoto/American Academy of Orthopaedic)
(PRNewsfoto/American Academy of Orthopaedic)

“Properly lifting your loved one is important to avoid back, neck and shoulder strains and injuries,” explains Charla Fischer, MD, FAAOS orthopaedic spine surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). “Pulling a person into a seated position in bed is a common activity that may cause muscle strain, as well as transferring a person from a bed to a wheelchair and leaning over a person for extended periods of time. Understand your risk of injury, so you can avoid getting hurt, and use proper lifting techniques to help prevent these injuries.”

According to the National Alliance for Family Care, family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care1. Whether assisting with daily living activities or more demanding medical and nursing tasks, Dr. Fischer stresses the importance of using proper lifting techniques to help keep bones and joints healthy.

To avoid injury when helping a person move to a wheelchair from laying down in bed, first, put the chair close to the bed and ensure the wheels are locked. Place one arm under the person’s legs and your other arm under their back. Move the person’s legs over the edge of the bed while pivoting their body and keep a strong stance with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees bent and your back in a natural straight position.

“Never lift more than you can handle,” added Dr. Fischer. “Do not twist when lifting to avoid back strain. Face the person and hold them close to you, lean back and shift your weight or pivot direction if necessary. Take your time and don’t rush. Lifting belts can help for these types of movements.”

Many communities and local hospitals provide training to help caregivers properly care for a family member at home. AAOS offers resources on patient education through and its Prevent Injuries America!® campaign, and the AAOS recommends the following lifting techniques for home caregivers:

  • Keep your head and neck in proper alignment with your spine; your head, neck, and back should be as straight as possible.

  • Maintain the natural curve of your spine; bend with your hips and knees, rather than from your back.

  • Avoid twisting your body when carrying a person.

  • Always keep the person who is being moved close to your body.

  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart to maintain your balance.

  • Use the muscles in your legs to lift and/or pull.

For more lifting techniques for home caregivers, visit To schedule an interview with an AAOS orthopaedic expert, email [email protected]

About the AAOS
With more than 39,000 members, the 

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Hundreds of COVID Survivors and Their Loved Ones Send Open Letter to Trump

courtesy Rosie Davis Mary Castro (left) and Rosie Davis

Rosie Davis remembers first growing worried about her mother in March, as cases of a mysterious new virus spread through the United States — slowly, at first, and then faster and faster and faster.

Davis’ mom, Mary Castro, was then living in a nursing home in Dallas. Long-term care facilities like Castro’s had become troubling sites of outbreaks in the emerging novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Castro — a former nurse who put herself through school while working graveyard shifts at a hospital and raising her kids as a single mom — was at increased risk.

Her health had begun to decline in recent years. Still, she remained alert and curious, always attentive during visits with her daughter, who made the 10-minute trip every day.

By the time coronavirus cases were confirmed around Dallas in March, Castro’s nursing home went into a complete lockdown. Davis, a 44-year-old aesthetician, continued visiting her mother but they were now separated by a glass window.

When Davis arrived on Mother’s Day, in May, she says she immediately noticed “something was really wrong” with Castro.

“She was not very alert. We had to tap on the window to get her attention. She couldn’t hold her own gift,” Davis says. “That was a big red flag for me.”

“At this time, there was still no mask mandate in Dallas County,” Davis says of her mom. “She had a mask on but it was just looped around her earlobes, not covering her mouth or nose.” 

Davis says she asked the nursing home, where there had been prior coronavirus cases, to examine her mom. But her pleas were unsuccessful. Eventually, she took it upon herself to call 911.

An ambulance arrived, and Davis said goodbye. The memory still makes her emotional.

“The last image I have of my mom was her being lifted into the back of an ambulance,” she tells PEOPLE.

Castro did not die quickly, but she did die alone.

Davis called multiple times each day that Castro was hospitalized. By May 16, a nurse said her mom was alert enough to speak on the phone. 

“It was a breath of fresh air to hear her voice … She said, ‘Have the restrictions been lifted yet? I’m really tired and I don’t want to be in here anymore,’ ” Davis says. “And I told her, ‘I’m so sorry that I can’t be with you.’ “

“I believe she knew she was going to die,” Davis says now. “She told me, ‘I just want you to know I love you. I’m very proud of you and you’ve been the best daughter to me.’ Her last words to me were, ‘When you get to heaven, we’re going to look for each other.’ “

RELATED: Trump Says He Won’t Wear a Face Mask in Public Despite Federal Health Officials’ Recommendation

courtesy Rosie Davis Mary Castro (center, behind glass) at her Dallas nursing home

The coronavirus killed her the next

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From losing loved ones to volunteering for a vaccine

Anil Hebbar
Anil Hebbar runs a company making medical devices in Mumbai

In September, a close friend of Anil Hebbar died of Covid-19 in India’s western city of Mumbai after being ferried around three hospitals over five days.

Mr Hebbar, who runs a medical equipment firm, had visited his 62-year-old friend, a well-known social worker, in the intensive care unit, hours before his life ended.

The social worker was not the only friend Mr Hebbar lost during the pandemic. Since March, 10 people he knew well have succumbed to the virus in Mumbai, which quickly emerged as a hotspot. The city has reported more than 230,000 cases so far.

“It was all very overwhelming. I felt this had to stop. That’s one reason I decided to volunteer for the Covid-19 vaccine trial,” Mr Hebbar, 56, told me.

Earlier this month, he signed himself up for the clinical trials for a vaccine being developed by pharmaceuticals group AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

The vaccine is made from a virus which is a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees. It has been genetically changed so that it is impossible to grow in humans, according to Dr Tania Thomas of the Oxford Vaccine Group. It is also one of the most promising Covid-19 vaccines among some 180 being tested around the world. None has yet completed clinical trials.

syringe with vaccine
Some 1,600 volunteers are receiving the Oxford vaccine in India

Mr Hebbar is among the more than 20,000 volunteers who have signed up for this trial in the UK, Brazil, South Africa and India. In India, he has joined 1,600 volunteers who are receiving doses at 15 centres across the country. With more than seven million reported infections, India has the second highest caseload worldwide after the US.

The trials will find out whether the vaccine induces good immune responses and whether it causes any unacceptable side effects. Adult participants will be randomised to receive one or two doses of either the vaccine or a licensed vaccine that will be used as a “control” for comparison.

It was not easy for Mr Hebbar to convince his family to join what is essentially an altruistic – and potentially risky – trial.

His wife, a professor of development studies at a leading social sciences school, was not pleased about it, he says. His 11-year-old daughter quizzed him on what a vaccine trial meant. Reports about the brief suspension of trials after two volunteers fell sick in UK stoked the family’s anxieties.

But not Mr Hebbar’s. “I didn’t worry at all. I have faith in science,” he says.

In early October, he called up a hospital in Mumbai which was conducting the second and third phases of the trials. He was told that 55 people had volunteered for the six-month trial, but finding the remaining 45 in a planned 100-volunteer trial at the hospital was “becoming difficult”.

A health worker collects a nasal swab sample of an employee of Justdial call centre, to conduct a Rapid Antigen test for COVID-19, at the Justdial head office in Mumbai, India, 09 October 2020.
Mumbai has been one of India’s worst-hit cities

Next morning, he drove to the hospital where

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