Santiago de Chile (AFP)

Her vital signs are on the verge of dying out, but her hand is still being held, her favorite music echoes through the room, and when possible, a loved one stands by her side, despite the Covid-19, in this room specially fitted out in a Chilean public hospital.

"Each person has a family behind. And each person, we try to know them during the time available to us," Natalia Ojeda, doctor specializing in palliative care at Barros Luco hospital in Santiago, told AFP.

This establishment has been on the front line in the face of the pandemic which has killed more than 9,000 people in Chile and more than 340,000 people infected, out of 18 million inhabitants.

The new coronavirus has changed the way Natalia Ojeda and her colleague Moyra Lopez work, who are used to terminally ill patients, usually suffering from cancer.

"Before the pandemic, we were used to the patient dying, but at home, surrounded by his family. These deaths are very different from those linked to Covid-19", explains Dr Lopez.

Some 60 people have died in the unit mounted within the hospital. More than half were accompanied by relatives or left after a final video call.

The doctor's favorite tool is a tablet that allows him to broadcast messages like "thank you daddy for everything, go and have a rest", or "my darling papi, listen to that song you love so much".

The windows of this room let in a soft natural light. It was hastily fitted out during the pandemic. According to the two doctors, it is the deaths of isolated patients in China or in Europe that have pushed the management of the hospital to put in place the protocols and the personnel specialized in the end of life.

"The last week of June was the peak, our room was always full," recalls Mrs. Ojeda, 37, who tearfully describes her experience. "Each death is unique and is experienced in a different way".

- "The gratitude" -

"Before we started, we were afraid for different reasons, to be faced with death, to be infected," said Ms. Lopez, 44, married and mother of three children.

"But the most wonderful thing, what has protected us (mentally) is the recognition," she says. "The very positive feedback from loved ones, those who were able to come and those who felt that their patient had left alone," said Dr Lopez.

Visitors must follow a strict protocol, covering themselves from head to toe with protective gear.

Moyra Lopez brings a message from her son to Don Manuel's ear. "These are words of thanks and encouragement to leave in peace," she explains, while advising to avoid stressing the patient in this last step with phrases like "fight, you can do it. ".

His vital signs are about to go out, but at some point in the audio message, as Dr. Lopez shakes his hand, while keeping his gloves on, "Don Manuel" nods and makes a noise. .

"There are always reactions, including in patients in a deeper state of coma: they breathe faster, their pulse quickens, they move. This confirms to us day after day that hearing is the last sense that you lose before you die, ”she said.

Two weeks ago, they recall, Enrique Boudon, a 94-year-old patient who was dying from pneumonia caused by the coronavirus did not seem willing to leave, although his 10 children had already bid him farewell.

"So we called his granddaughter who told us that he had been a trumpeter with the Chile Philharmonic and that he liked jazz. We looked on the shelf and put Miles Davis near him. his ear. Automatically he moved his hands, as if he was conducting an orchestra. It was very moving. About two hours later, he passed away, "recalls Ms. Lopez.

© 2020 AFP