With her doctors standing by, cheering, 93-year-old Alye Gunduz has been discharged from an Istanbul hospital after recovering from the novel coronavirus following 10 days of treatment.
Her recovery from the disease that kills a disproportionate number of elderly patients offered some hope to health workers at Istanbul’s Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty Hospital as they battle the outbreak, which is threatening to hit Turkey hard.
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“It is promising because patients at this age and with chronic diseases are most of the time unable to recover because they are at highest risk from COVID-19,” chief physician Zekayi Kutlubay told AFP news agency.
“A 93-year-old woman walking out of intensive care sound and safe is inspiring for us as well as for other coronavirus patients at her age.”
Suffering from hypertension, Gunduz, a farmer from Turkey’s southeastern city of Batman, was taken to hospital on March 31 complaining of a high fever and stomachache. She was discharged on Friday.
“I wish a speedy recovery to everyone,” she said as she was helped by her grandson.
Turkey has registered more than 47,000 COVID-19 cases – putting it among the 10 most-infected countries in the world. It has recorded over a thousand deaths, and the disease is spreading fast.
Facing a growing number of cases each day, Turkish health workers have been working day and night to treat patients.
One doctor has died, and more than 600 health workers have been infected so far.
“Everyone is working arduously as if they are at war,” Nuri Aydin, rector of Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty of Istanbul University, told AFP at the hospital.
“The ambience here is like it’s not a workplace but rather a battlefield.”
Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city of about 15 million people, has emerged as the country’s virus epicentre with more than 60 percent of the nationwide cases.
The Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty has responded rapidly since the outbreak began in mid-March, turning its operating theatres into intensive care units and creating special COVID-19 sections – separating general patients from those infected with the coronavirus.
The physicians are currently treating 210 patients with 30 others in intensive care. One building has been allocated to treat only medical workers.
Some of the health workers isolate themselves from their families, staying in dorms or hotels to avoid spreading the disease to their loved ones.
“It’s hard to put into words. They are making a superhuman effort,” Aydin said.
“There is no price to the service provided by health workers. They serve the humanity.”
Furkan Kurt, a 28-year-old physician associate, has been living in a rented flat, away from his parents, for four weeks.
“We are taking all the protective measures, but it is not guaranteed that we will not get infected,” he said.
“The only hope we have is the beautiful days we will see. Being hopeful: there is nothing else we can do.”
After being diagnosed with COVID-19, some patients panic, unprepared for the news and fearful of what it means.
“When they first hear the diagnosis, patients are naturally panicking. We advise them that this is nothing to fear. With healthy nutrition and morale as well as heeding isolation rules, it can be overcome,” said head nurse Merve Pirecioglu.
Omer Faruk Bilici, 34, a practitioner at another hospital who caught the coronavirus, was discharged from Cerrahpasa after 20 days of treatment, including in intensive care.
“I know what it’s like to be shut in a six-square-metre (65 square-foot) room,” he told AFP.
“This scared my other colleagues who are at risk like me. I’ve seen nobody’s face for 20 days.”
Bilici hopes to resume his duties as soon as his quarantine period at home is over.
“I cannot wait for returning to the field,” he said.
At Cerrahpasa, more than 70 health workers are infected with coronavirus.
“We have forgotten about ourselves, we are working day and night for the recovery of our patients,” said Associate Professor Ilker Inanc Balkan.
“With each recovered patient, we are more motivated.”
Despite the pressure they are under, colleagues of chief physician Kutlubay threw him a surprise 50th birthday party, while respecting social distancing rules.
Without blowing out the candles on the cake, Kutlubay, wearing a face mask, said: “Let it be like this now, but I hope it will change next year.”