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Separated by an ocean, Father fighting for his life; West Haven resident shares family's COVID-19 nightmare

The first thing which came to Begoña’s mind when her Dad was diagnosed was that he was going to die

By Begoña Sevilla

You don’t realize at first that one of the worst things you will handle when you make the hard decision to move to another country will be living away from your family.  It is hard, but even harder when a pandemic blows up the world and our lives, and you can’t do anything but beg to God to keep your family safe.

Urbano Sevilla with daughter Begoña in their hometown of Basauri, Spain

My dad needs oxygen most of the time because of pulmonary insufficiency, and since my mom passing away in 2017 – it got much worse. I was aware that if he would get infected (with COVID-19), it could be lethal for him. Almost 80 years old, with problems in his lungs, high blood pressure, and a former smoker, I needed to protect him.

Carmen Fernandez (Begoña’s mother), Begoña and Dad celebrating Christmas 2017

To be honest, I did not pay much attention when China started providing information about coronavirus. I thought that it was something very local and nothing would happen in Spain or here in the United States. But, by the end of February, I really started feeling nervous and concerned regarding the COVID-19 and how it could affect my dad. It seemed like the virus was hitting China strongly and no one could do anything to stop it. It was spreading out like gunpowder. 

In Spain, my sister told me that people were going about their normal life while infected people and death were increasing in China. It was unprecedented, and China did not know how to cope with the emergency situation.

I started warning my sister to keep away from people, to wash her hands with soap for twenty seconds at least, to disinfect surfaces, to skip greetings and talking closely with people, and to reduce exposure to other people and stay confined. All the things that China and Italy were already doing.

In Latin cultures we are very accustomed to hugging, kissing, and being very close to people we are talking to. Sincerely, I had no clue about the virus, but I did believe that it was important to take extreme precautions, while I did the same with my family and me here in the United States.

Curiously, China reported the first cases back in December 2019, in Wuhan City, capital of Hubei province, in central China when a group of people was reported having unknown pneumonia. The rest of the world (including Europe and the USA) turned a blind eye and continued with their busy lives. Shouldn’t it have been our business?

The first thing which came to my mind when my dad was diagnosed was he was going to die.

When my sister called emergency services that afternoon in mid-March, around six people, between nurses and doctors, came to my dad’s home.  My dad could not breathe, and he had been having a high temperature. My sister was giving me updates every five minutes. I was attached to my cellphone more than ever. I needed the information. I needed to know that my dad was okay. My sister said to me, “It seems like they want to take him to the hospital”.  The doctors and nurses covered their bodies with full protective gear.  They were wearing masks and gloves to prevent getting infected. My sister described it to me as if she was looking at astronauts from NASA.

They finally decided to bring my dad to the hospital due to his problems with breathing and the high level of infections in the area where he lives. Once he arrived at the hospital, visits were not allowed. He got tested. The results were positive. The first thing which came to my mind when my dad was diagnosed was he was going to die.

I was very anguished the first three to four days he was hospitalized. I couldn’t sleep, and my head was a rollercoaster. It was almost impossible to stay calm when you see how the coronavirus outbreak was worsening so quickly in Spain. My sister was able to follow up with Dad’s doctor every day. I wanted to know what the doctor had to say each morning.  All I wanted to hear was the word: stable.

Public Health System

My dad was very lucky because he got tested despite the lack of tests in Spain. He was in good hands even though the hospitals were running out of ventilators and beds. We really didn’t have much information regarding how they were treating him.

Last Friday (April 3), my dad felt much better. He started sitting up after being in bed all this time. My sister says he fought so bravely, and he is slowly getting better but still fighting.  He was transferred to another center where infected people who are getting better are recovering. We are so happy.  We know that he did his best to survive.

The situation in the capital, Madrid, was not as good as in the Basque Country at that time. People were sitting (and dying) while waiting to be treated in the hospital’s waiting room and in the hallways. Doctors were having to reuse protective gear and begging the politicians to provide them with more personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks and tests. On top of that, doctors had to choose whom to save. A very desperate situation.

This Spanish hospital overflows with patients suffering from COVID-19


I do believe in angels because my friend Aitor from Spain gave me a hand and put me in contact with his friend Maria, a nurse who works at the hospital where my father was hospitalized.  She was very helpful to me.  She supported me and encouraged me to keep fighting and to be positive. I was very sad because I couldn’t do anything, I felt my hands tied here at home in West Haven. Maria was able to introduce me to my Dad’s nurse, Nekane. It was amazing! Nekane knew my father for a very long time. She was my voice and my face to my father during these crucial weeks at the hospital. I sent loving messages to Nekane and she shared them with my father. The first time, my father got a little bit shocked. I guess he could not believe how I managed to contact his nurse while living in the U.S.

Nurse Nekane

I do believe in miracles. Nekane was really a gift for me; she was kind and kept my hopes up that I would see my father out of danger.  I am very grateful to her and everybody who helped my father. Kudos for all of them!

“All together we will get over it”
Healthcare workers at the Galdakao Hospital in Bizkaia, Spain fighting COVID-19, send encouraging messages to the public to be positive and persistent.

Spain, a Guide for Us

It’s been five weeks since my husband and I stopped doing activities and socializing. It was one of the most important recommendations my friends gave us from Spain. They all knew that the pandemic would come to the U.S. sooner or later and we needed to get ready for that moment.

Tracking Spain helped us to digest and handle this situation. We took it seriously, especially since the first messages we received from our friends saying they were losing members of their families. We couldn’t believe how strong the virus was hitting.

I would say that the Trump administration was a little bit slow in making decisions to protect the citizens here. I do understand that the virus did not affect the country in the same way, but it was essential to be making fast decisions to protect lives.

It Was Too Late for Spain

A nurse in the emergency room at Basurto Hospital, Bilbao, Spain

Cinta Moro works for the public health system in Seville, Spain. She believes the lack of planning doomed Spain from the beginning. “With tests, we would’ve stopped a lot of the problems we have now,” she said to Vox.

It was a slow response from the Government and most Spaniards (this is my opinion based on my conversations with my friends) that did not take it seriously even though their neighbor Italy was struggling.

To make matters worse, the Spanish government authorized the International Women’s Demonstration on March 8th, despite the coronavirus concerns, and Prime Minister Sánchez refused to stop large gatherings like soccer matches and political rallies.

It was March 14 (extended until April 27) when the Spanish government finally declared a state of alarm, shutting down the whole country. That meant that everyone had to stay home and just essential workers could work at that time. Spaniards were only allowed to go to the supermarket, walk their dog, go to the pharmacy, get medical treatment, or take care of an older or sick person.

The decision was painful but needed. The situation was getting worse. The number of deaths was rising dramatically. Right now, as of April 6, there are 135,000 people infected and 13,000 people died.

On March 5, Italy, Spain, and France reported declines in daily coronavirus death tolls. Their governments said that they plan to keep the national lockdowns and social distancing rules with no deadline according to Business Insider.

Please, Take it Seriously now!

Begoña speaking with friends from the U.S., Germany and Spain

In my West Haven neighborhood, parks and the boardwalk are closed. However, people are in the streets with no masks and it’s hard to say that they’re keeping the six feet distance recommendation. After waiting for so long, sunny and warm days arrived.” I think that these people are not being responsible considering that the week of April 6 was the “hardest week” [of the Pandemic]”, according to President Trump.

In addition, I just saw in the news that the nicer weather invited New Yorkers to go out even though the authorities recommend staying home in order to slow the spread of the virus. It seems to me that pedestrians help the spread of COVID-19 because they prefer to take the risk and walk through the long and beautiful avenues in Central Park while people are dying. The contrast is evident: pedestrians are sharing Central Park with the temporary hospitals and morgues right there. Unbelievable!

It is a fact that they ignore the “stay-safe, stay-home” recommendations and the dangerous pandemic. Moreover, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed on April 7 that 5,489 people have died from coronavirus and there are 138,836 positive cases in the state. New Yorkers just don’t get it.

These are just two simple examples to illustrate how people are facing these unprecedented times in a day that the U.S. reported almost 400,000 infections and about 12,300 deaths. “There will be many deaths,” said Trump, anticipating the country entering into a “period that will be appalling.”

Begoña with her pup, Canela

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