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Day of the Dead altars are filled with doctors in Mexico

Tiny skeleton in blue cap and mask has hand on patient on gurney. Next to it is a sugar skull almost as big as the ‘little medical death’ and behind it, the photo of the honoree: a 64-year-old man, with glasses and white hair who smiles at the camera. Below, a sign with his name: Dr. José Luis Linares.

Linares is one of the more than 1,700 health professionals killed by COVID-19 in Mexico and who were honored by the government, which decreed three days of national mourning that conclude on Monday, Day of the Dead.

His death may be included in that registry but he did not correspond to the compensation that the government grants to health professionals who die from the coronavirus while trying to save the lives of others. This support is only for those who work in COVID centers, says the widow María del Rosario Martínez, also a doctor.

Linares treated patients privately in a slum in the south of Mexico City at 30 pesos a consultation (a dollar and a half) that, sometimes, he did not charge, says Martínez. The doctor has no doubt that her husband was infected in that office where he received people with very low resources who did not take care of themselves.

The doctor had his lungs damaged because in the 2009 epidemic he was infected with Influenza A. Martínez assures, however, that “it was not due to carelessness.”

“I told him, ‘Luis, don’t go to work anymore,’ but he said to myself, ‘So who is going to see those poor people?

Authorities asked doctors at risk to stay home, but Linares resisted.

“It was always the same to help, help, help,” says Martínez in front of his traditional altar of the Day of the Dead that this year, in addition to flowers, food and confetti, he had numerous ‘dead’ going through consultation, operating or giving injections like many others offerings throughout a country that, in September, according to Amnesty International’s count, was the nation where the most health professionals had died, ahead of the United States or Brazil.

The doctor, who was also infected with COVID-19, raised the altar in the room next to the apartment room where this couple consulted at any time of the day, although Linares supplemented the income with the other job. Now, although recovered, Martínez only cares for the sick virtually.

Working privately, it was the laboratories that provided them with equipment, medicine and training, and both had taken extreme precautions from May, when they saw that the infections were multiplying.

Linares died on May 25, hospitalized and already diagnosed with COVID-19, one of the peak moments of the epidemic in Mexico City. The day before, Martínez started with symptoms. When she learned of her husband’s death, she collapsed and when she regained consciousness and saw that her only son and her sister hug her, she only managed to yell at them “don’t touch me, don’t touch me”.

He was at the peak of contagion.

Six days later, this 59-year-old woman believed she died on a pilgrimage from one hospital to another until she found a place that was not saturated. “I was deteriorating very quickly (…) I had bleeding.”

Five months later, she feels recovered and at peace, although official support did not reach her and she still has not gotten used to the absence of Linares, the man with whom she shared 36 years of marriage and whom she met as a child when she sold gum at the door. from a cinema to contribute to the income of a family of nine children who lived in a house with a tin roof and dirt floors.

Linares encouraged her to study medicine and asked her father for books to give to her. Part of her ashes are in a community in Tlaxcala, a small state next to the capital, where Martínez did her social service as a doctor and that the couple frequented whenever she could.

“I feel strange”, he admits almost through tears. “But I owe myself to the patients and they are going to help me get ahead.

The only change he foresees is to set a schedule for the office to work fewer hours.

“I am afraid because you do not know how much immunity you will have, how long it will work,” he explains. “The disease is very hard, very cruel (…) in all parts of the world we are going to have a very sad story to tell.”

Mexico already has more than 924,000 confirmed infected and 91,700 deaths, although authorities said that deaths attributable to the coronavirus are close to 140,000, according to a study of excess mortality during the pandemic released this month.

“We are not the exception,” Martinez sentence. “It is a virus that has arrived, which may have come to stay and has caused a lot of damage in several families.”

On the eve of the Day of the Dead, November 2, find reasons to smile.

“According to traditions and beliefs (tonight) he is going to come here, accompanying us and he is going to be happy that I am thinking about him at this moment,” he says.