BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Even before the new coronavirus hit, Argentina's health care workers were struggling, most of them often working more than 12 hours a day at multiple jobs to make ends meet amid the country's overheated inflation.
The pandemic has meant even tougher times on the job, providing medical care for the gravely ill and also giving what comfort they can to patients dying of COVID-19 while cut off by quarantine from saying goodbye to family and friends.
Some still go home at night to their families, after taking precautions. Others, fearing for loved ones, have moved into hotels. Some have sent their children to stay with relatives.
Dr. Matías Norte, a surgeon who specializes in cancer cases but is also helping treat COVID-19 cases at the three hospitals where he works, sometimes has to drive an hour to get home to the apartment he shares with his wife, Silvina Cáceres Monié, in the capital. A kiss and embrace must wait until he showers.
"When I come in, it's such a great joy that you forget everything. You're happy to get home," Norte says.
Andrea Cortes, a nurse, also goes home to be with her partner, Ariel, but they have not kissed or embraced in nearly four months. She hasn't seen her 27-year-old daughter for nearly that long.
Cortes, who puts in an average of 17 hours a day at two hospitals in Buenos Aires, worries constantly about bringing the virus home.
"That fear and doubt make me hold this distance with the family until it's all over because I love them and I have to take care of them," she says.
Doctors, nurses and other health workers account for 7% of the more than 130,000 confirmed infections reported by Argentina's government.
Juan José Comas began working as a volunteer when the pandemic began. He tested positive for the coronavirus with a blood exam and negative with a swab test, meaning that while he had the virus in the past, he no longer did. He never showed any symptoms.
He got his medical degree last year but still must do training before taking his resident's examination, for which he has now gotten a crash course in treating patients.
Comas has been sharing a hotel room with three doctors he didn't know since moving out of his parent's home in April to protect them. "I went a couple of times to see them behind the gate," he said.
A doctor who shares the room with Comas tested positive and all four had to stay in the hotel in quarantine for 10 days.
It has been three months since nurse Marcela Brancati last saw her 9-year-old daughter, Agostina. She only gets to watch her daughter through photos sent on WhatsApp by her mother, who is caring for the girl.
"We've never been apart so long. It's very difficult," Brancati says. "Sometimes she calls me crying. She can't stand it and she wants to go back (home)."