By Susana Vera

MADRID (Reuters) – With air kisses and palms clasped, elderly patients in Madrid greet medics who come to check them at home during the coronavirus pandemic despite the risks involved.

“I don’t know if it’s right to say it but I’ve had little fear,” primary care nurse Ana Arenal told Reuters after she and a doctor did the rounds in a taxi with plentiful gear to protect both themselves and their patients.

The people they attend are usually virus-free and require regular injections, blood pressure or other checks. The medics wear masks, visors and gloves in most cases, but have full protective equipment for some patients with symptoms.

“In order to avoid the risk to patients (from going out), we’ve done a lot of daily home visits. We saw a lot of gratitude in them,” added Arenal alongside doctor Carlos Balsalobre Sanchez as they visited middle-class apartments often adorned with figures of Catholic saints.

“If we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of them. That’s one of the things they say a lot,” said Balsalobre Sanchez, with an old-school leather doctor’s bag.

But it is not all kisses and gratitude for the home care crews. Many have painful memories from the epidemic that has killed more than 27,000 Spaniards.

“Seeing in our diaries the little red dot next to a name … that during the pandemic meant the death of our patients, has been quite hard,” recalled Arenal.

Balsalobre Sanchez’s most poignant moment was seeing an elderly couple embrace for the last time before the wife was taken to a hospital, where she later died.

Another nurse, Maria Jesus Santamaria, who has been doing phone check-ups and visits, recalled an elderly woman saying “goodbye” by phone and asking her to take care of her husband.

“Many people have overcome the illness, thank God, but you take that with you,” Santamaria said.

But her 75-year-old patient Manuel Sanz Calderon said, after taking his injections, the nurse never shows anything but cheeriness: “She is loving, kind and I can’t say more about her.”

Santamaria blushes when medics like her are lauded.

“Heroes have been all of us, those who have stayed at home, us doing our job,” she said.

(This story changes dateline to Madrid)

(Aditional reporting by Guillermo Martinez and Paola Luelmo, Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)