'Close to dying': Mexican lives upended by pandemic

·3 min read

From the sudden loss of loved ones to brushes with death, a struggle to save others and fears for the future -- the pandemic has touched Mexicans in many ways.

As the country's official death toll from the virus soared past 50,000 -- the world's third-highest -- AFP spoke to several people whose lives have been transformed by the crisis.

Here are their stories:

- 'Until we got sick...' - 

Jose Perez, a 40-year-old baker, went from disbelief to mourning. 

"We thought it didn't exist or that they were exaggerating, until we got sick and my two sisters died," he said.

"It was very hard. I don't know what happened to them," said Perez, who lives in Mexico City's hard-hit Iztapalapa district.

"Two of my daughters had mild symptoms and my mother had stronger ones, but she held on and she's 65 years old."

After his 48-year-old sister Guadalupe died in a public hospital in the area, among the capital's poorest, they decided to face the disease at home.

"That hospital is garbage. Even if you don't have the virus, you just die when you enter."

- 'Very close to dying' -

Mario Landetta, a 60-year-old gynecologist, spent three weeks in hospital because of the virus.

When he regained consciousness, at first he did not know where he was and found himself face down and intubated. He was delirious for 48 hours.

"I started to have feelings of paranoia. I thought I'd been kidnapped," he said. "I felt the tube in my windpipe. I wanted to pull it out."

A week after leaving hospital, he still struggled to move and needed oxygen.

"I was very close to dying, but I'm here," Landetta said.

He is not afraid to go back to work at the hospital.

"Life goes on. You can't bury your head in the sand like an ostrich."

- 'Someone has to see the sick' -

His brother Alberto Landetta, a 53-year-old doctor, now always keeps a mask, face shield and gloves nearby.

"They tell me when a patient with symptoms of COVID-19 is coming and send them to a special area. Only I enter and I'm ready in seconds," he said.

Even though he smoked and was overweight, he decided to see patients with symptoms of the virus in his family's clinic in a badly hit district of the capital.

"There are medical centers in the area that say 'Patients with respiratory problems are not accepted'. Someone has to see them!

"This clinic is more than 50 years old. People trust you. We have to repay them," he said.

Three of his regular patients died and, faced with the possibility of catching the virus himself, he decided to change his ways.

"I stopped smoking and lost 12 kilos (26 pounds)."

- 'Dropped out of school' -

Daniel Sanchez and his mother used to sell tacos in the street until hawking was banned in their neighborhood.

With money scarce, the 22-year-old had to withdraw from university.

"My future is uncertain. I was studying to get a good job, now I don't see how," he said in a broken voice.

At least 10.4 million people are jobless in Mexico's informal economy.

"I dropped out of college. They didn't give me any discount and it was a lot of money for online classes," Sanchez said.

Instead of tacos he now tries to sell food supplements to people he knows from the gym.

"Because of the pandemic, people who are overweight are worried and now exercise at home."


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