Participation in the ‘O Brasile Conta Comigo’ health-care project of the Ministry of Health of Brazil.

By Fr. Marcelo Valentim de Oliveira, a Camillian religious and medical doctor

Granja Viana, Cotia (San Paolo), 8 October 2020

The Ministry of Health of Brazil, faced with the reality of the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus, invited all health-care workers to take part in the ‘Brazil Relies upon me’ programme. We answered a questionnaire that in the end gave health-care professionals the possibility of voluntarily putting themselves forward as candidates for caring for patients with the coronavirus in other regions of the country. As a Camillian religious, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to exercise our charism of mercy towards the sick with these people. I discussed this initiative with the Provincial Superior, Fr. Antonio Mendes, and his council who readily agreed with my decision.

Various contacts were established with the national Ministry of Health from the beginning of the pandemic onwards and they took practical shape on 1 July when I received the confirmation that together with other medical doctors I had been selected to work in the region of Boa Vista-Roraima. All the costs for my journey, stay, food and transport were to be paid for out of public resources.

On 3 July I arrived in Boa Vista-Roraima to work at the ‘Hospital de Campanha’ (editor’s note: field hospital) to care for patients with Covid-19. The hospital had the capacity to care for up to 200 patients. Various bodies joined the medical team: the Ministry of Health, Doctors without Frontiers, the UN, the humanitarian association Humanitar, the Brazilian armed forces, and young doctors who had qualified in Venezuela and Cuba. In addition to the medical team, the hospital also had a large multidisciplinary team: nurses, nursing auxiliaries and technicians, nutritionists, physiotherapists, chaplains and social workers.

A week after reaching Boa Vista, I was informed that my father Aldeny de Oliveira had been infected by Covid19 and had died on 27 July 2020. At the time, because of the distance and my commitment in Boa Vista, it was not possible for me to be present to accompany him during his medical treatment, at the moment of his death or at his burial.  I understood that I would have to honour my father by implementing my commitments to my work and service involving care for sick people who were going through the same situation that my father had gone though. 

I worked for three months at the Hospital de Campanha in the sectors of screening (triage) and the transfer/transport of patients to and from the infirmary by day and by night. The patients that I tried to help came from Boa Vista and from the neighbouring region, as well as refugees from Venezuela and indigenous people. Many elderly people after a long period in their homes were admitted to the hospital because they had been infected by Covid19.

The patients came to the hospital with major respiratory difficulties and had the acute form of this illness. These patients were immediately sent to have their condition determined and then to the intensive therapy department. The patients who met the criteria to be admitted to the department were accompanied by a multidisciplinary team. When these sick people manifested difficulties in dealing in a suitable way with the administration of oxygen, they were given a CPAC ‘helmet’ as a respiratory aid within a plastic tent known as a ‘Capsula Vanessa’ which was placed using an EPA filter. This technique kept the patients in a comfortable and stable condition and avoided them being transferred into intensive care and the need for a mechanical respiratory system.

Many young and old patients, with or without pathologies, died very quickly, but the overwhelming majority recovered and returned to their homes. The discharges were always celebrated as a great ‘victory’. The patients who had recovered left the hospital through a garden always accompanied by a member of the team who had accompanied them during their stay in the hospital: they went down a corridor made up of health-care professionals who applauded them and shouted out their names; the patients rang a bell and were welcomed with hugs and posters by their families and friends. The day they were discharged was truly a great celebration!

On 27 September I finished my work at the field hospital and returned to San Paolo. I then left on 10 October for a new mission in Macapá, as had been decided by the council of the Province.

The field hospital is finishing its activities: it is currently being dismantled and continued its admissions for patients until 30 September. Now it will continue to deal with patients who have already been admitted until they are cured and discharged.

As a Camillian religious I sought to provide care by ‘putting more heart in my hands’, together with other health-care professionals who tirelessly offered the best of their humanity and expertise to alleviate the pain and the suffering of people who were sick. These colleagues revealed in their daily lives the presence of God who led them and supported them in their compassion and strengthened them in their carrying out of their mission. It was an honour to be a part of this health-care team which was so engaged in seeking to achieve the good of others.

The experience of caring for others in the context of the pandemic made possible a great human, professional and spiritual growth in me as a medical doctor; it made me a better person. I am grateful to God and to the Camillian Province of Brazil for this opportunity to work with these brothers and sisters of mine.

Granja Viana, Cotia (San Paolo), 8 October 2020