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Reflections of a meetings professionals turned medical volunteer

Ana Carrazon, congress sales and logistics expert at IFEMA Feria de Madrid shares her experience as a volunteer at the temporary IFEMA Hospital.

I remember being at IFEMA on Saturday 21 March, the day we started receiving patients into Hall 5, while the installation of oxygen tubing and other cabling continued at breakneck speed in Halls 7 & 9.

Ana Carrazon

I remember looking at all those beds thinking, ‘these poor people coming here, into these inhospitable exhibition halls, filled with uncertainty, quite possibly to die’. I admit I left the venue that day with a heavy heart.

But in all the days since then that I have returned to the venue, that heaviness has not reappeared and has instead been replaced with optimism and hope because, for all the medical struggle of the patients, the sense of community and collaboration that exists at IFEMA is excellent and truly unique.

The donations of food, beverages and snacks have made it possible to feed, free of charge, all medical, essential and other personnel working at the venue. For many staying at hotels in order to distance from family and roommates, or working double shifts, it also meant they could take food home every day for dinner.

Magazine and book donations made it possible to open a small library to keep patients, and personnel entertained – an initiative that has been granted an annual award from the Madrid Editors Association. IFEMA arranged for alternating music channels to play throughout the venue to make the hours pass more comfortably and quickly. The national anthem and ‘Resistiré’, a pop-song that has become an unofficial anthem to lift Spaniard’s spirits, plays every day at 8pm while we applaud hospital and medical personnel.

An initiative to print drawings received online, mostly from children, decorates the walls and corridors of the venue, bringing colour and artwork into the venue and connecting us to all those people staying at home. Literature, music and painting, proves the importance of the arts in lifting our spirits and enriching our lives, during the most trying of times.

The library at IFEMA Hospital.

Most significantly, in addition to the daily applause to medical personnel that takes place across Spain at 8pm, every patient that is discharged from the IFEMA Hospital also receives a send-off with applause both from the medical personnel and from IFEMA volunteers that accompany them to their waiting families or transportation.

Each discharge is a victory, each a reaffirmation of life and hope.

To date, the IFEMA Hospital has admitted almost 3,800 hundred patients, with 85 per cent of those already released. But most poignantly, only 15 patients have passed at this emergency infrastructure, put in place to give local hospitals the air and space they needed to save the lives of those people they no longer had the capacity to help.

A hospital that would not have been possible without the continued collaboration of medical personnel, of course, but also politicians and IFEMA planners, engineers, military, firefighters, electricians, IT technicians, plumbers, welders, builders, furniture suppliers, paramedics, food suppliers, cleaning and logistical companies, and, yes, volunteers.

A cross-section of professionals, thrown together by strange circumstances, who have given time, expertise and heart to make this a place where people come to heal and for the opportunity to return to their lives; to survive and thrive.

In comparison with the national death statistics, those of the IFEMA Hospital feel about as close to a miracle as we could have hoped for.

And so in the end, for me, the balance of this experience is overwhelmingly positive, and accompanying light through the very dark tunnel we are all traversing. Something I would never have wanted to experience, hope to never repeat, but which I know we all will carry with us on the other side.