“When I got coronavirus, I just thought that’s it, I’ve got no chance.”
In Spain alone, more than 19,000 people have died from coronavirus since 13 February, a figure second only to Italy.
But by Thursday, 74,797 other patients across the country have since recovered from COVID-19, many with pre-existing health conditions.
Richard, 56, is a British citizen who lives in Madrid with his wife and young daughter. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019 and has been living with a reduced immune response during chemotherapy.
After developing a high temperature on 16th March, he tested positive for COVID-19 eight days later.
But has since recovered and was confirmed negative on 8 April after just two weeks.
“I just think of myself as so lucky,” Richard told Euronews “I’m delighted!”
“If you look at the statistics, most people who have what I have don’t make it, and to fight off the virus as well, it’s almost too good to believe.”
“When I look at the reporting of the number of people dying, I just think how am I so lucky that I’ve manage to survive it?”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that persons with pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or cancer, appear to develop serious illness from COVID-19.
“The thing that amazes me is how I got it, I think that’s the learning that I’ve shared with all my friends.”
Richard told Euronews had not left the house for two months before testing positive. Spain declared a state of emergency over coronavirus on 15 March and imposed national quarantine restrictions.
“It’s, of course, difficult with children, but we’ve just been completely honest with my daughter, and they were of course very worried as well.”
“I have older children in London, and that was harder for me to manage because they weren’t here and able to see me.”
“But we have a WhatsApp group called ‘Dad’s Health Update’ so I can keep in touch with them.”
A positive mindset really helps
Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is by far the worst affected region in the country, accounting for approximately 28% of all confirmed cases and 36% of COVID-19 deaths.
Richard told Euronews his overwhelming feeling was one of mourning for those people who had lost their lives to coronavirus.
“The real sadness of this illness is that there are hundreds of people dying every day, alone in a hospital bed with just a nurses’ hand to hold,” said Richard.
“The personal loss for families that have to say goodbye at the hospital entrance and don’t know if they’re ever going to see them again, that must be horrific.”
Richard says he has thought about death before.
Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in Europe for men and women combined, according to the WHO.
Before chemotherapy, cancer patients’ blood and cell immunity levels are tested every week.
“I’m always touch-and-go, the oncologist jokes and says ‘we’re just about good enough’, so I had in my head that my immune system is just about OK. Then when I got coronavirus, I just thought that’s it, I’ve got no chance.”
“When I’m lying in bed with a temperature, it just brings all those thoughts forward and I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to have all my children with me, and when was the last time I saw them, and that I’m not going to see any of the grandchildren.”
“But I’ve learned with cancer to think you can beat it and think positively all the time. I’m not saying you can believe your way out of cancer, but a positive mindset really helps.”
Losing the sense of smell and taste and ‘fantastic’ healthcare support
Richard told Euronews that his first flu-symptom of a high temperature didn’t initially appear for several days after he caught the virus.
The Spanish Health `Ministry has advised citizens to self-isolate if they have symptoms, and call the emergency services if they feel shortness of breath. Otherwise, the advice is to contact the health centre by telephone.
“I called the number and their advice was ‘stay at home’ and then my wife called my cancer team, and they were obviously very worried as well, so they brought me in for the test”.
“They spoke about giving me chloroquine, but in the end, they didn’t because actually I was doing so well!”
“I got rid of my temperature with just paracetamol, I didn’t have any shortness of breath, and afterwards I just had a week of feeling really tired.”
A number of European countries have begun clinical trials to treat COVID-19, including tests on the antimalarial drug, chloroquine.
“The really curious thing was completely losing my sense of smell and taste,” says Richard.
“I’ve never had that in my life where, genuinely, you really can’t smell anything or taste anything. I wasn’t blocked up so I could talk, but that lasted for around a week, and of course, all the joys of eating went away.”
“I’m just thinking how lucky I am, I’m extremely lucky, health-wise.”
Doctors within Madrid’s emergency service have told Euronews that the task facing them during the pandemic is “titanic”.
Meanwhile, the non-governmental organisation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), have built two field hospitals in Spain’s capital to help intensive care units cope with the influx of new patients.
Since 2003, Spain has used technology to allow citizens and medical professionals to access information about a patient’s medical record from the national health system (SNS).
Richard says that a support network within Spanish healthcare significantly aided in his recovery.
“It made me feel more comfortable being so well looked after, I really can’t think of the right words to say, they have been fantastic, absolutely fantastic.”
“They use technology so well here in the health system, so my cancer team immediately know about it, my local GP knows immediately about it and I think that made the family feel better.”
“The fact that you have the health system supporting you so well, despite the number of cases they have here, that made us feel as comfortable as we could.”
For advice on what to do if you start to develop coronavirus symptoms, you can follow advice from the World Health Organization here.