The daily terrors: Improvising in a makeshift ICU in Spain

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Healthcare workers assist a COVID-19 patient at a library that was turned into an intensive care unit (ICU) at Germans Trias i Pujol hospital in Badalona, Barcelona province, Spain, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

BADALONA – The tension is palpable. There is no non-essential talking. An orchestra of medical monitors marks the tempo with an endless series of soft, distinct beeps.

Never have so many people been inside the library of the Germans Trias i Pujol hospital in northeastern Spain. But the health care workers in improvised protective gear aren’t consulting medical books. Instead, they’re treating patients in critical condition suffering from pneumonia caused by the coronavirus.

From the outside, this makeshift intensive-care unit in Badalona, near Barcelona, looks nothing like a library. The bookshelves have been removed to make room for up to 20 hospital beds, breathing machines and an array of medical equipment after the longstanding ICU and other areas of the hospital flooded with COVID-19 patients.

With the scarcity of full-body protective suits across Spain, doctors and nurses are employing what they can find, reusing masks, layering oversized surgical gowns with plastic aprons and running through an infinite number of latex gloves.

Like scuba divers, they apply a small dose of detergent to their goggles just before stepping into the sweltering, virus-laden room in the hopes of mitigating the inevitable fogging of their eye protection caused by their own breathing.

They’ll be at it for hours, racing from patient to patient, sweating under all the layers.

A team of Associated Press journalists enters the room to document the work, but their presence is barely noticed. Health workers remain focused on their essential tasks -- monitoring vitals, administering medication, manipulating the tubes and cords connecting the patients to a plethora of machines.

Most patients are intubated and hooked up to ventilators. About half have been flipped onto their stomachs to ease pressure on their lungs and help their breathing. Nurses acknowledge that this is not a hopeful sign.