She painted her nails, backcombed her hair and pulled her fur coat over her lace blouse: Milagro (miracle, in Spanish) Fernandez, 98, goes to the theater this morning after being vaccinated. She arrives in the lobby to applause: the staff at her retirement home wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Milagro had the Covid last spring.
The little lady heads for the exit, boards a mini-bus with three other residents: Antonio Alonso, 87, Concha Martinez, 90, and José Tellez, 92, who mischievously launches at the director of the ‘Thank you for the tour!’ On the way to Gran Via avenue, the “Madrid Broadway”.
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One year of confinement
“Are we going to eat somewhere after?” Asks José in the van, too excited by this first outing. A year since they had not left their retirement home. A year without seeing Madrid and its crowded avenues.
Laura Egea, the director, would have liked to accompany her four residents, she who is “almost even more excited than them”. The first wave ravaged the establishment. Discreetly, the thirty-something wiped away a few tears at the mention of the “tens”, among the 180 residents, who did not survive. “A mourning” still unfinished and untold memories.
Half of deaths in retirement homes
In early December, a Spanish government report estimated that between 47% and 50% of deaths in the first wave of the epidemic took place in nursing homes. The country has officially recorded more than 68,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
In the mini-bus, comments are rife. One shows her former hairdressing salon, another is not stingy with restaurant recommendations, a third shows the driver the way, “Take a left, it will be better”, we sing.
In front of the famous EDP Gran Via theater, dozens of other mini-buses are parked. Slowly, carefully, gray heads descend from it. In the hall of the performance hall, dozens of walkers. We slide the canes under the seats.
The theater invited 150 vaccinated residents from seven Madrid establishments and 50 nursing staff (also vaccinated) to the one-man show of actor Santi Rodriguez.
But the real show is not on stage. The press, which came in large numbers, gathered to immortalize these new Covid vaccinees. These elderly people suddenly embody the future, and the hope of a return to normal life, even if seats of separation, masks and barrier gestures remain in order.
“It’s been so long”
Conchita looks around the room: “I missed seeing so many people. It’s good to see this union, there are many of us”. All smiles, Milagro sits down in his red velvet armchair.
The show can begin. Half an hour of jokes and bursts of laughter brighten up this February morning, more than a year after the start of the pandemic.
At the exit, if Antonio grumbles in front of the queues for the toilets, Milagro’s eyes sparkle: “It’s been so long for me … but little by little, we’ll be able to enjoy everything again”, she said, before to be silent, overwhelmed by emotion.
Clotilde Frias, the host of the retirement home, the only authorized companion, thinks she is “the most moved of the five”: “The strongest thing was to be able to go out … After a year and ten days, it was time , no ?”
In addition to the vaccine, they received “this dose of vitality, envy, incredible optimism”, she adds, convinced that this exit was only the beginning: “we will be able to start going out again, to do what they like: go out, eat, have fun! “
To date, 1.2 million people have been vaccinated in Spain, since the start of a campaign that started by residents and workers of nursing homes.
For its part, Galicia decided on February 24 to penalize vaccine recalcitrant with a fine, ranging from € 1,000 to € 60,000.