Turkey hospital sees hope as 93-year-old virus patient discharged

ISTANBUL, April 11, 2020 (AFP) - Cheered by her doctors, 93-year-old Alye Gunduz was discharged from an Istanbul hospital after recovering from the novel coronavirus following 10 days of treatment.

Her recovery from the disease that is killing chiefly the old offered some hope to health workers at Istanbul's Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty hospital as they battle the outbreak, which risks hitting Turkey hard.

"It is promising because patients at this age and with chronic diseases are most of the time unable to recover because they are at highest risk from COVID-19," chief physician Zekayi Kutlubay told AFP.

"A 93-year-old woman walking out of intensive care sound and safe is inspiring for us as well as for other coronavirus patients at her age."

Suffering from hypertension, Gunduz, a farmer from Turkey's southeastern city of Batman, was taken to hospital on March 31 with complaints of a high fever and stomachache. She was discharged on Friday.

"I wish a speedy recovery to everyone," the elderly woman said as she was helped by her grandson.

Turkey has registered more than 47,000 COVID-19 cases -- ranking it among the 10 most infected countries in the world. It has recorded over a thousand deaths and the disease is spreading fast.

'Battlefield'

Facing a growing number of cases each day, Turkish health workers have been working day and night to treat patients.

One doctor has died and more than 600 health workers have been infected so far.

"Everyone is working arduously as if they are at war," Nuri Aydin, rector of Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty of Istanbul University, told AFP at the hospital.

"The ambiance here is like it's not a workplace but rather a battlefield."

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city of about 15 million people, has emerged as the country's virus epicenter with more than 60 percent of the nationwide cases.

The Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty has responded fast since the outbreak in mid-March, turning its operating theatres into intensive care units and creating special COVID-19 sections -- separating ordinary patients from others infected with the deadly disease.

The physicians are currently treating 210 patients with 30 others in intensive care. One building has been allocated to treat only medical workers.

Staying 'hopeful'

Isolated from their own families, some of the health workers stay in dorms or hotels to avoid spreading the disease to their loved ones.

"It's hard to put into words. They are making a superhuman effort," Aydin said.

"There is no price to the service provided by health workers. They serve the humanity."

Furkan Kurt, a 28-year-old physician associate, has been away from his parents for four weeks while he lives in a rented flat.

"We are taking all the protective measures but it is not guaranteed that we will not get infected," he said.

"The only hope we have is the beautiful days we will see. Being hopeful: there is nothing else we can do."

After being diagnosed with COVID-19, some patients are caught unprepared without their mobile phones or other personal belongings.

"On Saturday (when) I was on duty we received a patient at the emergency service. He didn't have anything, neither slippers nor pyjamas. We addressed their needs and give our mobiles if needed," said head nurse Merve Pirecioglu.

"When they first hear the diagnosis, patients are naturally panicking. We advise them that this is nothing to fear. With healthy nutrition and morale as well as heeding isolation rules, it can be overcome."

'More motivated'

Omer Faruk Bilici, 34, a practitioner at another hospital, who caught the coronavirus, was discharged from Cerrahpasa after 20 days of treatment including in intensive care.

"I know what it's like to be shut in a six-square-metre (65-square-feet) room," he told AFP.

"This scared my other colleagues who are at risk like me. I've seen nobody's face for 20 days."

Bilici hopes to resume his duties as soon as his quarantine period at home is over.

"I cannot wait for returning to the field," he said.

At Cerrahpasa, more than 70 health workers are infected with coronavirus.

"We have forgotten about ourselves, we are working day and night for the recovery of our patients," said associate professor Ilker Inanc Balkan.

"With each recovered patient, we are more motivated."

Despite the pressure they are under, colleagues of chief physician Kutlubay threw him a surprise 50th birthday party, while respecting social distancing rules.

Without blowing out the candles on the cake, Kutlubay, wearing a face mask, said: "Let it be like this now but I hope it will change next year."