Update 3rd April. Paul has contacted me again, and then good news is that he tested negative for Covid 19. He has a problem with his pancreas. He has been moved into a normal ward in the hospital and is expected to be there for a week undergoing treatment. Scroll down to see Paul’s personal update in the Post Script.

Original Article

Reader Paul Kelly is a businessman who lives in Costa Teguise. He was taken ill over the weekend and is currently in the main hospital in Arrecife waiting for the results of tests to see if he has Covid 19. He has written about his experience to provide some insight into the process he has been through and also to give some reassurance to readers that things are under control in the health system on the island. Above all, he wants to reiterate the importance of staying at home as much as possible.

We’ll update this as soon as we know the results of the testing he has been through. Over to Paul:

Covid 19 is a long way from an April Fool’s joke

Having arrived in an isolation room in an isolation ward on what we might think is our little isolated rock in the Atlantic for April Fool’s day my observations on how things actually work might offer some confidence on how well our medical and associated staff are supporting us here in Lanzarote.

My story begins last Sunday at 2am when I woke with a bad chest pain that I thought was a severe bout of heartburn but which I never really suffer from. However this soon descended into the Billy Connolly land of non-stop technicolour yawning until about 6am.

With continuing pain through Sunday I eventually did what I always try not to do, search the internet for “medical” answers and with the current crisis the first search engine port of call was “Covid 19 vomiting” and yes, there it was, a 5% symptom. But I had only ventured out of the house twice in the previous fortnight to excellently run queues, sanitation and crowd control at the supermarket so I was pretty skeptical that was the cause.

We spent the next two days going through all the current understandable protocols to try and see a doctor in our local Centro Salud. These basically consisted of always helpful but various referred triage telephone numbers and eventually by Wednesday morning we had reached a point where we were given permission to go to Emergency.

While this might seem frustrating, at the back of my mind were stories from my father, as I grew up, of him treating the many hundreds of TB patients in the Peamount Sanitorium on the outskirts of Dublin in the late 40’s and his use of the term pandemic when 10,000+ died in Ireland in a very short time. Our medical and ancillary service heroes, globally, are under the most enormous pressure so they have to put admission protocols in place to ensure they are not snowed under. So if you end up going through the triage process try and cut some slack!

Driven by my wife we pitched up at the Doctor Jose Molina Orosa Hospital Emergency Department about noon and its appearance was quite different to normal. The main car park was tented with a triage tent at the entrance where one was met by a doctor and nurse who wanted not only to know one’s symptoms but interestingly asked the question about who had actually given us permission to attend the emergency department. I think – and rightly so – one might well be turned away unless one was visibly an emergency case and just turned up with mild symptoms and returned to the “system”. Its not the place to “drop in” at the moment.

After a temperature check we were directed to the tent across in the car park, in effect the waiting room, where chairs were set up one in each alternate parking bay to provide social distancing and there were maybe 20 people waiting. After a while three things became obvious. Firstly, only one patient at a time was being allowed inside the hospital, who was called from a list by a porter, who had to climb up and down the 15 or so entrance stairs with each patient. By the time this is all over he should be amongst the fittest men on the island. Secondly, 20 people was an “enormous’ queue at one a time And thirdly, after about two hours, I realised there was a potential business opportunity for the health service, after the crisis, to sell the chairs provided to McDonalds or Burger King to keep their customers moving through their restaurants!!

So first visit up, chest X-ray, and back to the tent. Maybe two hours later another visit for bloods and urine. For some reason quite a few of the attendees made 3 or 4 visits up the stairs and nearly all were dispatched home with prescriptions but as the sun was setting about 8.30 the porter eventually came to the last two waiting. He didn’t have a prescription but a small piece of paper and came to Tamara, she being the Spanish speaker, and asked her for her phone number as I was being admitted for observation as my initial bloods were not satisfactory.

So a socially distanced perfunctory goodbye and up the stairs to isolation. Up to now it was basically masks and PPE gowns but the porter knocks on a ward door, it opens automatically, he beckons me inside and in perfect English, as the doors were closing, says “good luck”. Probably not the most heartening au revoir I have ever received!

So now the tests begin. But first after being settled into my isolation room, a masked doctor comes and talks to me in perfect English from the door, asks my symptoms etc all over again and then says she will “go change” to come back and examine me. Maybe 15 minutes later Doctor Spacewoman and Nurse Spacewoman and Nurse Spaceman arrive and one now realises, as if one hadn’t before, that this is serious. The standard catheter was fine, the large blood sample from the wrist for Covid 19 testing was painful but from there over the next hour a deeply impressive series of tests, electrocardiograph, blood pressure etc followed all at 11pm onwards and I settle down about 12.30 to get some sleep. But no at about 2.30 am the Space cavalry arrive with a wheelchair which they disinfect and say CT Scan….but it’s the middle of the night. I knew it was coming but had expected it would be the next day….CT personnel don’t work 24/7? But this is a pandemic. And our heroes are not clock watching.

Today a new Space doctor on a new shift. “I know from the notes generally what the history is but I would like to hear them myself” So I turn on the record player but to be fair he then sets out a detailed time line. “We usually get back yesterday’s Covid 19 tests from Las Palmas about 17.00 the following day but yours may not have made the flight last night and a second sample goes to Madrid that takes another 24 hours for results” When you read about the numbers and pressure on the system on the Peninsula, and the enormous testing issues in most other developed countries this level of service is frankly spectacular. Another major Ultrasound test this evening, that was delayed from this morning. But some reassurance if you have had one of those highly claustrophobic CT or Ultrasound scans before, we have in Lanzarote a very open and in no way scary scanner.

From the non-specific Covid 19 tests my heroes here currently think I am probably clear. We should know for sure tomorrow. But what everyone needs to know is that the medical care, support and technological backup on our island is world class. There is no shortage of equipment, PPE and above all no shortage of absolute dedication from “our heroes”

And it is up to you to keep it that way.

Stay at home.

Stay up to date with Coronavirus numbers in Lanzarote

Post Script

Paul got the all-clear for Covid 19, to the relief of his family and many friends, and he wrote this post script for us:

It was a relief across the extended family platform last evening to get the news that my Covid19 tests had returned negative. But in a positive twist to the story the superb personal medical MOT I have received during the last few days eventually uncovered the cause of the exceptional technicolour yawning performance of last Saturday night. The unlock was the Ultrasound I had yesterday which is conducted also by the airy and non-claustrophobic CT scanner. This indicated a somewhat serious but treatable condition possibly much earlier than might have been the case. So, I maybe have a bizarre reason to be thankful for C19.

The delivery of the good news was amusing. I have to say the level of English communication right throughout my stay has been most impressive (yes, I know my Spanish should be better after 9 years here) and breeds confidence that one knows what’s going on and it was also regular and open. But the actual message I got was that yes, the tests were negative and I would be transferred ASAP to the next floor “to be with the normal people”. Or maybe there was a message in that for me!

It led me to ponder that over the last few days I had been expertly looked after by many but not a single face to remember. The always masked and often additionally “spacesuited” heroes left one with a sort of dystopian impression of the period and the pleasant welcome back to seeing faces again. Saying thank you or gracias to a sea of masks as I left the isolation unit just didn’t seem adequate. But there was also tremendous relief in being able to remove mine. How do so many across the world live permanently behind them?

I would never dream of giving myself 100% marks as an eco-warrior but I do try to do my bit particularly with plastic. I also fully understand that the current crisis demands the highest level of protection for medical personnel but I personally produced I reckon 3 full (plastic) sacks of plastic in my 5 days in isolation. How you might ask. Well the PPE protocol is that when a nurse or doctor visit you they must don a white plastic full body apron and then a wrap around blue dressing gown style overall and of course the requisite surgical gloves. What I didn’t expect was as they backed away from you, they then went to the large bin in the room and stripped and deposited everything in it before they left. So maybe over the course of the 5 days 30 or 40 PPE outfits plus the maybe 10 catheter cables, (too many!) plastic syringes and then the doubly wrapped individual tablets and medications. Yes, I do understand we can’t go back to the gleaming stainless-steel instrument steriliser which was really just a square electric kettle that was in my father’s surgery but there is a problem here.

Yesterday someone opined on FB how the world might change after C19 as air travel did after 9/11. An effort must be made to come up with a different solution to the problem of cross contamination. Multiply my 3 sacks by the numbers in hospital globally by goodness knows how many days and it’s not a pretty picture and that is only the excess generated by C19. I am not trying to preach or point fingers at this critical time in all our lives but we must get some good out of all this. Solving the huge medical plastic waste issue would be a welcome benefit.

When I made my first visit to the hospital here in Arrecife back in 2011 I was more than pleasantly surprised to find a free GobCan WiFi signal available. I have a suspicion that we still have the same 2011 infrastructure delivering WiFi but WiFi technology has moved on and the hospital has an inherent problem with the metal shuttered windows throughout the building being a first-class impediment to the successful distribution of a quality WiFi signal. Having a background in telecoms from another life I am pretty certain that a bank of 2020 repeaters through the building would probably drastically improve coverage and quality. I bring this up as almost everybody, even the Golden generation like me, now communicate by smart phone and it’s how I’ve been able to get these words out. Like it or not that will only become more prevalent going forward and I certainly know the value of it over the last few days in keeping in touch with family.

So where am I going with this? Well after this C19 crisis GobCan or the health authorities will have enough on their plate getting their critical medical supply budgets back in kilter to be worried about WiFi signal quality. But every one of us on the island will most likely be in the hospital at some time in the future and will need to communicate which can be almost impossible if you are in the wrong area. I would like to try when I get out of here in a week or so to see if we could set up a crowd funding page that at say 10 euros donation by even 15,000 people should be enough to upgrade the system and if its more we can find out in advance.

My home WiFi network, for obvious reasons to frighten potential hackers away, has always been called CatchaVirus. In the future we could maybe sign on here in the hospital to the “C19 Heroes” network, a small tribute to their selfless work.

On that note I will sign off “over and inside”
Get the message?
Stay at home!

PS A very special thank you to the many hundreds of good wishes from my previous article.

Ed: We’ll donate to the fund, Paul. Get it set up once you’re home and we’ll pledge and also publicise it.