Mariela’s cell phone rang at dawn. She slept at her house in Moreno and did not hear him. The missed call was recorded at 2:41 am on Friday, June 4, in a WhatsApp chat. Before the call, in that same chat, messages that Mariela had written the day before and her friend Mary had not responded.
“Hello Mari, how are you?”, “When are you coming back?”, He had asked her. “Mariii”, he had written to her again later, lengthening the i as a form of insistence. They were harmless messages of concern and doubt that, between the time Mariela went to sleep and woke up, they mutated to what happened next: Mariela grabbed her cell phone, saw the missed call and wrote “Hello, good morning!” “How are you?”; and they responded “Good morning. I am Mary’s sister. My sister passed away.”
“I read and called right away. I said, ‘Who’s talking?’ ‘Mari?’. I didn’t fall for it. I thought Mari was going to take care of me and when I heard what her sister told me I was seized by a crying fit“Mariela says by phone, from her home. It is the night of June 7 and she talks sitting up in bed, in the room she shares with her husband. Outside, in other environments, are her children.
Three days have passed since she found out that her friend and colleague at the Santojanni Hospital had died, but in the newspapers and on television what she learned before, before other friends, before other hospital colleagues, today is news and impacts: Mary Jhanet Castellón Medina -not María Castelló or María Castellón, as she is renamed in most of the media- had 34 years, was a nurse, had received the two doses from the Sputnik V vaccine and died of coronavirus.
On November 21 the day of the nurse is celebrated in Argentina. To celebrate, they went out to eat after the service.
Mariela spent the whole day meeting her friend’s face on the news channels. He looked and thought what Mary would say if she could see herself, so embarrassing she was. Mary, Mariela, and another friend and partner, Maria, had built a friendship in the worst health crisis of the last century. All three had entered the Santojanni Hospital in July, as a reinforcement for the care of patients with Covid. They were what inside hospitals and clinics is known as franks: they worked on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. They started their tasks at 12 noon and finished at midnight the next day.
All three worked in the Yellow Room, with Covid patients with moderate symptoms, with Covid patients who had left intensive care and were in recovery and with extremely serious patients who, at times of greatest saturation of the system, could not be treated in therapy, due to lack of beds . Yellow Room is also called the WhatsApp group that the three shared and where Mary was the administrator.
“Several of us went into the hospital. But the work is very hard and many left. Of our litter, we three remained and we established ourselves a lot. The year was difficult. We spent the winter, the spring, the holidays and the summer, until she – she says for Mary – went on leave. “
Like many nurses who must add multiple jobs to reach a salary that allows them to cover their basic expenses, Mary had another job during the summer and to her tasks at the Hospital she added passive guards during the week. On one of the trips from his home in Villa Madero to Santojanni, fell when getting off the bus and fractured his forearm. The license that ART had given him expired on June 6. Two days before, he died.
Mary Jhanet Castellón Medina had studied at the Cecilia Grierson School of Nursing. In the midst of the pandemic, she had completed her degree at the UBA and had yet to present her thesis to receive her degree
“We felt bad. Bad, bad, bad,” Mariela repeats. Not even with my family do I share those 12 hours as with my colleagues“. Between Mary and her there was a ritual:” At the beginning of the shift, I would say ‘Mari, put your music on’ “. And Mary would sit behind the nursing desk and connect her cell phone to the socket to have a battery.” In volume under were songs by Camilo, reggaeton, … What is the name of that girl with straight hair and big lips? -He pauses and thinks- Nathy Peluso! It is – he says in the present – a very nice moment “.
Thus, every noon, Mary, Mariela and María prepared the medication to administer to the patients to the rhythm of the songs most listened to on Spotify. They did it in low volume, without disturbing. For them it was an exercise of will, a life drive, in a context that often only offers death.
On Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 June, the first weekend of service with dead Mary, there was no music. Barely Maria and Mariela were able to support each other while they attended to the patients in the ward. On Sunday a psychologist from the hospital went to talk to the two of them. “I told the psychologist ‘I can’t believe I’m gone’. I don’t know if people can understand the blow: it’s like having a partner, a friend, with whom you spend many hours and overnight go dead. It’s very strong. “
And she continues: “I already missed her a lot. I asked her how long until her return. I sent her audios and she received them and called me right away. I said: ‘Why don’t you send me audio?’. She told me no He liked to listen to himself and I answered him ‘but I’m the one who has to listen to you, not you’ -on the line Mariela laughs and in seconds she turns off- But now it’s different, I’m going through a duel. “
In that duel, questions that did not exist before and, being in constant exposure to the disease, return fears that vaccination had calmed. “We all get vaccinated and we know that we can still get it. But this was deadly, very fast. It is worrying. We work in the nest of the Covid “.
Mary had had coronavirus in the past year and had passed the infection without complications. In February he received the first dose of Sputnik V and in April he completed the vaccination schedule. His second experience with the Covid was fulminating: on Wednesday, June 2, he was tested in the Febrile Emergency Unit of Santojanni and two days later he died in intensive care at the Julio Méndez sanatorium, which belongs to the social work of municipal workers of the City of Buenos Aires.
“He was young. He worked like a mule along with us. He would say to her: ‘Mari, come to help me’ and at the touch he would dress with personal protection elements and go in. Sometimes in some patients it is difficult to put a line or a catheter or a nasogastric tube. Besides that you are with the team and it is even more difficult. But that’s where she came in and helped me, or she helped Maria, or I did the same for them. We didn’t do it because some of them were less than her. another, but as a way of helping each other. “
Mariela has been on the phone for almost two hours remembering her friend. The silence that existed during the conversation is interrupted and in the background noises of a moving house are heard. It’s half past nine at night. Maybe it’s time to cut the call. Before saying goodbye, Mariela says that she will ask Maria if she wants to talk. It also says that during the day the Santojanni psychologist He had sent her a message to ask her how she was doing and that she had replied that she was fine but that she thought a lot about Mary.
“I lie down and think about her. I fall asleep thinking about her. I think about her all the time. I can’t believe it yet,” he says and says goodbye. And after a few minutes, through WhatsApp, he shares Maria’s contact.
“Hold on together”
“I have been a dialysis nurse for 20 years. Last year I felt the need to join to work at Covid. Even my husband asked me why. Nursing pay is bad. It was a risk but I felt the need and I did it, and I stuck with Mary, “says Maria, by phone from her home in Merlo.
María had entered the Santojanni Hospital on July 10, 2020 and Mary Jhanet Castellón Medina a day before. The late entry, for only 24 hours, forced María to cancel the nickname with which everyone calls her: Mari.
Mary, and many in the hospital asked her, she was called that in her identity document, and that record gave her more authority to be called by name, then Maria began to be for everyone, just plain.
At the hospital Mary, Maria and Mariela were a trio, with almost the same names. “I learned a lot from her. Because of my dialysis specialty I had become unaccustomed to ward tasks and she was there to help me, to explain how to make a bed, how to bathe and change a patient, whatever. She was super meticulous with patients. Very kind, “says Maria.
There is an image that appears to him: Mary arriving first in the room and disinfecting the desk, the folders and the work items with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. For many in the hospital she was exaggerated and even obsessive in her care. But Mary ignored and sanitized.
“Fifteen days ago I saw her because she came to the service. I greeted her and she told me that there was little left for her return. I saw her well, happy, wanting to start again. I even told her: ‘Take advantage and rest’ Because she was very hard-working “.
At times, Maria doesn’t know how she will differentiate Mary’s previous absence from work and the current state of affairs. “I have an anger,” he says. “It is not an anger towards someone, but with life. I think how unfair, super unfair! We in the hospital we see many injustices. A few days ago, I treated a 40-year-old woman with Covid who had been hospitalized after her son, also with Covid, died at home. We see these injustices – he adds as if trying to explain that he knows them – but Mary will no longer be there to tell us, when leaving the room, the stories of our patients and hold together “.
María believes that the three of them were able to support themselves at work, unlike other of her colleagues who resigned shortly after entering, because they formed a team. In months they built a link that during the week they fed through WhatsApp. Mary, born in Bolivia, made them know about the foods of her country: the Bolivian empanada or the carbonara. She also challenged them: “There was a time when we were on a diet,” says Maria. “We supported each other during the week and on Saturday we weighed ourselves. She – because of Mary – had always lost more.”
“Now it is very hard. This weekend was terrible. With Mariela we were very bad because, in the spaces that the three of us shared, she is missing “.
This Monday, while on the channels, on the radios and on the portals, the news of the death began to be replicated, María went to the hospital and at the door she met Mary’s father. “I hugged him. I know I don’t have to but that’s what came out of me. The man was devastated. I tried to tell him how much Mary loved his family, I tried to convey to him how she always spoke to us about her parents, her brothers and of her nephews. I told her that she was a hard worker, a good person, empathic with patients, educated. The truth is, one person left … -María loses herself for a few seconds inside her head and then continues- One is not prepared to this, that your partner with whom you share so much, with whom you help another not to die, no longer be for this virus. It’s awful”.