‘What it feels like to be alone in Madrid far from my family and have suspected coronavirus’

'What it feels like to be alone in Madrid far from my family and have suspected coronavirus'
Dan Littauer with his cat. Photo: D. Littauer
Dan Littauer, 50, a German-Israeli who has made his home in Madrid, lives alone with his cat. And he fears he has the coronavirus.

This is his story: 

“I’ve been isolating myself now for 6 days after some friends told me they had symptoms. Then just hours after Spain announced a state of alert and a lockdown, I started to noticed the same symptoms in myself. .

At first it was a rasping cough and a headache. Then I developed a fever.  I  wonder if I could have caught covid-19 when the Women’s Day march happened, and I had to cross the Gran Via. As much as I am a leftie feminist, I think allowing the march was not wise given the circumstances. 

On Monday night I woke  in the middle of the night in a sweat; my temperature was 38.9C and I had a pain in my chest. I should explain here that I am an asthmatic so I worried that might put me in the high risk category.

I called Madrid's COVID-19 helpline (900 102 112) and they told me someone would call me back ASAP. 

Several hours pass  but no one called me back.

In the morning I decide to call my GP at the centro de salud. Despite explaining that I am asthmatic, have a high temperature and feel out of breath, my GP is dismissive. I imagine that she, like all medical staff on the frontline of this crisis, is inundated in cases. 

 “Oh yes, that's the virus,” she states matter of fact. 

I ask what the next step is, expecting to be told to report somewhere for a test in order to make sure. “I'm sure,” she insisted. “But we can't test you so you should isolate and take paracetamol. I'll put in on your tarjeta santiaria.”

And that's that. I'm told to stay at home, take paracetamol and if it gets really bad, call the emergency number (112).”

Later during the day I ran out of paracetamol, I'm also low on food.  

Luckily my friend Jose volunteers to leave his house and get me some then drops it off at my door. My local pharmacist heard I was ill so she calls me on my mobile.

“Hey Dan, are you ok? What are your symptoms?” I tell her and she pauses: “That doesn’t sound good, did you speak with your GP?” 

I explain about the GPs advice and she seems shocked.  “What about the hotline? Did they call you back? Do you want me to call them?”  

I told her that’s ok and I’ll wait, but I feel reassured at how lovely and caring people can be in a time of crisis. 

Being an foreigner/expat/immigrant (whatever label you chose) and living alone without a family here in Spain, can have it challenges at the best of times. But when you are quarantined as a suspected case of COVID-19, it's very lonely. And frightening. 

But my friends, even though I cannot meet them now, have been amazing in their support and love, so I count myself lucky.

My big worry to be honest is since I live alone with my little cat, what would happen to her if my condition worsened and I had to be hospitalized. Thankfully, a friend has volunteered to come and get her and care for her in case I do. 

I heard that the helpline can take 72-hours to get a response, which makes me nervous as my symptoms are worsening.

So I asked another useful resource, a facebook group called Madrid Expats, and was overwhelmed with support from strangers. They urged to keep trying the helpline. 

It took me over an hour to get to be attended on the helpline, but a lovely lady attended eventually and said: “OK, I think you should speak to a specialist now and not wait, please hold on I’ll connect you.” Then the call dropped.

When I called back, they had no record of the previous call and a rather irate operator said: “well, this is the second time you call just be patient and we will get back to you.”

“But what about the symptoms and my high risk group?” I insist. “I’ve got that noted, now please wait for us to call you back, vale?” and she put the phone down. 

Pretty frustrating, so I decide to ride it out and if I feel worse then I promise myself I will call the emergency number…”

We'll check back in with Dan and keep our readers posted. 


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