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Battered by 1st wave, Madrid hospital staff stretched by 2nd

TORREJÓN DE ARDOZ, Spain (AP) — With speed and determination, nurses, doctors and caretakers move in and out of glassed rooms with beds hooked up to tubes, cables and monitors. The cadence of beeps serves as a soundtrack to their workday, underpinned by a constant chatter of voices at half pitch and the snapping of rubber gloves as they’re removed by staff ending their shifts.

It’s another day at the intensive care ward at the Torrejón de Ardoz University Hospital, on the outskirts of the European capital that has so far seen the worst of the second wave of the pandemic. Still, hospital staff count themselves lucky: Despite having had to add nine intensive care beds to the usual 16, the hospital hasn’t had to postpone treatment for any other patients.

Many others in the region have.

Hospitals and their workers have been stretched to their limits again in Madrid, where the surging number of COVID-19 patients in September forced an expansion of critical care beds into gymnasiums and surgery rooms. But as the number of incoming patients started to ease last week, health professionals are dismayed at what they see as official acceptance of a situation that is far from normal.

“It can’t be that we fall into a dynamic of a virus wave followed by a lockdown, and then the next wave in winter and lockdown again in winter,” said Carlos Velayos, an intensivist who has seen a slight decrease in new patients with coronavirus-related symptoms arriving at his Fuenlabrada hospital, also in suburban Madrid.

At the peak of the first wave, ICU wards were given over to haste, desperation and even cluelessness about what to do. Now, a well-oiled machinery saves some lives and loses others to COVID-19, but without the doomsday atmosphere of March and April.

“It’s no longer like being in a war zone field hospital,” said Velayos. “But the reality is that we are working way over our normal capacity. This is a situation that is absolutely exceptional and that we shouldn’t have reached under any scenario.”

As many professionals are still coming to terms with the emotional impact of the first wave, they are now struggling to understand why Spain has not prepared better for new outbreaks of a virus that has left more than 825,000 infected in the country and at least 32,000 deaths.

Treatment has improved, although the time that COVID-19 patients spend under intensive care can still stretch for weeks or even months, taking up desperately-needed hospital resources, said Dr. María José García Navarro, medical director of the Torrejón de Ardoz University Hospital, where 49 patients are now being treated, 35 in normal beds and 14 in ICUs.

“We have learned to quickly identify the symptoms and what treatment to apply, which are the drugs that are useful and which aren’t, even if that narrowed down our options,” García Navarro said. Corticosteroids that were experimented with at the onset of the pandemic have now discarded on behalf of Remdesivir, the