Greek nurse turns home into makeshift ICU to care for family with COVID-19

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When Gabriel Tachtatzoglou’s wife, both her parents and her brother tested positive for COVID-19 he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Tachtatzoglou had to quarantine and could not go to work once his relatives tested positive for the virus. But as a critical care nurse, he decided to put his ICU experience to use by looking after them himself.

That decision, his family says, probably saved their lives.

“If we had gone to the hospital, I don’t know where we would have ended up,” Polychoni Stergiou, the nurse’s 64-year-old mother-in-law, told the Associated Press. “That didn’t happen, thanks to my son-in-law.”

In this Saturday, December 12, 2020 photo, Gabriel Tachtatzoglou poses at his home in Agios Athanassios, outside Thessaloniki city, northern Greece. Photo: AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos.

Tachtatzoglou set up a makeshift ICU in the downstairs apartment of his family’s two-story home in the village of Agios Athanasios, located about 30 kilometers from the city of Thessaloniki. He rented, borrowed and modified the monitors, oxygen delivery machines and other equipment his loved ones might need.

READ MORE: Army field hospital set up in Thessaloniki as Greece’s COVID deaths hit record high.

“I’ve been working in the intensive care ward for 20 years, and I didn’t want to put my in-laws through the psychological strain of separation. Plus, there was already a lot of pressure on the health service,” Tachtatzoglou told the AP in an interview.

Tachtatzoglou says he remained in daily contact with doctors at Papageorgiou Hospital, the overwhelmed facility where he works, while caring for his sick family members, and that he would have hospitalised any of the four if they needed to be intubated.

“I looked after them up until the point where it would pose no danger,” he said. “At all times, I was ready to move them to the hospital if needed.”

Greece, which has a population of 10.7 million, spent the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic with some of the lowest infection rates in Europe. As cold weather set in, the number of confirmed cases and virus-related deaths began doubling.

READ MORE: Greeks to spend Christmas in lockdown after restrictions extended until January 7.

With ICU wards in Thessaloniki pushed to capacity, COVID-19 patients deemed too sick to a wait for a bed were taken to hospitals in other parts of Greece. Meanwhile, the situation for Tachtatzoglou’s family deteriorated as his wife and in-laws fell ill in alarming succession.

In this Saturday, December 12, 2020 photo, Gabriel Tachtatzoglou poses at his home in Agios Athanassios, outside Thessaloniki city, northern Greece. Photo: AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos.

Tachtatzoglou said he agonised constantly over whether to transfer his relatives to hospitals in Thessaloniki, knowing it would mean they would not be able to see each other and might get moved to a hospitals farther away.

“We were reduced to tears. There were times when I was desperate, and I was really afraid I would lose them,” the nurse said.

They all pulled through, although Tachtatzoglou eventually became infected with the virus himself.

“I took precautions when I treated them, but I didn’t have the personal protection gear you find in hospitals,” he said. “That’s probably how I got sick.”

Source: Costas Kantouris / AP News.

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