Spanish doctors hope beach trips can help ICU virus patients

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Francisco Espaa, 60, is surrounded by members of his medical team as he looks at the Mediterranean sea from a promenade next to the "Hospital del Mar" in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. A hospital in Barcelona is studying how short trips to the beach may help COVID-19 patients recover from long and traumatic intensive hospital care. The study is part of a program to humanize ICUs. Since re-starting it in early June, the researchers have anecdotally noticed that even ten minutes in front of the blue sea waters can improve a patients emotional attitude. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

BARCELONA – After nearly two months of being sedated and connected to IV lines in a hospital's intensive care unit, Francisco Espana took a moment to fill his ailing lungs with fresh air at a Barcelona beachfront.

Lying on a hospital bed at the beach promenade and surrounded by a doctor and three nurses who constantly monitored his vital signs, Espana briefly closed his eyes and absorbed as much sunshine as possible.

“It’s one of the best days I remember," he said.

A medical team at the Hospital del Mar — the Hospital of the Seas — is seeing if short trips to the beach just across the street can help COVID-19 patients after long and sometimes traumatic ICU stays.

Dr. Judith Marín says it is part of a program to “humanize” ICUs that the group had been experimenting with for two years before the coronavirus hit Spain.

The strict isolation protocols that have had to be adopted since mid-March undid months of efforts to integrate ICU patients with professionals in the rest of the hospital, the doctor said.

In April, the hospital was operating several additional ICU wards and expanded its normal capacity of 18 patients to 67.

“It was a big blow, coping with scarce resources and with a big emotional toll among the medical workers. We had to roll back all this great work that we had been doing in the field of therapeutic care," Marín said. “We were suddenly reverting to the old habits of keeping relatives away from their loved ones. And it's really hard to convey bad news over a phone call.”