To Inhabit the
Since the pandemic began in Chile more than 57,000 people have died from complications associated with Covid-19. A statistic that includes those patients who died with a positive PCR test, and also those who were suspected of having been infected with the virus, but they died without a confirmed diagnosis, and they were not even treated at a health center.
These numbers, however, do not really talk about the lives that were lost, about the worlds that the victims of this plague inhabited, about the passions that moved their daily routines, about unsolved conflicts, about truncated loves, about things that they stopped doing, the intimate spaces that they inhabited, anyway, those objects and immaterial memories that today are part of this pandemic memory. Worlds that inevitably keep moving on: an orphan son, a beach house, sea waves hitting the rocks, heartbroken friends, a video of a lonely funeral on Facebook, black and white photographs, video calls of people dying, farewells behind glass in an intensive care room, elders (men and women) honoring their friends from the asylum, the audio of a muffled voice, a bicycle that is still traveling the asphalt, an amphora in the living room awaiting a wake, the memory of a naked woman in a coffin, a house that accumulates dust and loneliness in 360 degrees.
These are those universes, reconstructed through 28 stories of victims and relatives, that configure this documentary project as a kind of museum of tragedy, that seeks to tell the lives of those who are no longer here.
What they were and what remained: the memory of the dead from Covid.
¨Our dream was always to have a house on the beach. In 2018, we bought this house in Los Molles. Since we worked in Santiago, and Pedro was a public official at Fosis and I was a teacher at Saint George’s School, we came every weekend. We project it as the joy of life. The last summer that we were here was in 2020. With the kids we came in January and Pedro then came in February. We had a really good time. Pedro loved parties, karaoke, barbecuing and being with his children. We came back at the end of that month, and the following weekend, we returned to the beach. This was our last trip.
I remember that one day, I found him leaning on our room´s balcony, looking across to the house in front that had been abandoned for many years. ¨It makes me so sad that it´s alone¨ he said. ¨Let’s make a promise. If something happens to one of us someday, we´re never going to let our house die¨. I was the one who always spoke about death, because I thought I would die first. He was uncomfortable with this topic, so I was surprised that he would propose this. ¨Ok, I promise you, but don’t speak nonsense¨ I replied.
Upon arriving to Santiago, the first thing I had were meetings with parents from school, and the following week, the students started class.I felt very tired during those days. I remember there were rumors that some workers were ill, among them my boss, but nobody would tell us what he had. On Friday, March 13th, I began to feel unwell, with a strong headache and fever. I went home and on my way out I saw the Health Assistant Secretary, Paula Daza, and Minister of Education, Raúl Figueroa entering the school. That day they closed the school and announced a Covid-19 outbreak, the first in an educational establishment. Pedro accompanied me to get a PCR test, and it came out positive. Saint George´s is a school for wealthy people, who travel abroad a lot, and I think the virus came from there.
I asked him to keep fighting, giving the fight, but he couldn´t. That same week Pedro passed away. The night before when he was agonizing, my son dreamed of him: he arrived from the clinic, hugged the three of us, and left.
The next day, Pedro and one of my sons started having symptoms. They were weak and feverish. We were like that all week, until Saturday, March 21st, the same day we were married for 23 years, Pedro went to the clinic. They did x-rays and discovered he had pneumonia so they hospitalized him. The next day I was also hospitalized. We were in the same hallway but in different rooms. Since my symptoms improved, I was soon discharged, but Pedro wasn´t getting better. That week they transferred him to the Intensive Care Unit. He called to let us know and that was the last time we spoke. They intubated him and from then, the news was horrific.
Pedro was always seriously ill, they would tell us he would die at any moment, until one day, my brother-in-law, who was receiving the medical reports, went to pick me up. They had told him that I had to say goodbye. I saw him through the glass, face down, and I spoke with him mentally. I asked him to keep fighting, giving the fight, but he couldn´t. That same week Pedro passed away. The night before when he was agonizing, my son dreamed of him: he arrived from the clinic, hugged the three of us, and left.
Then came another pain, that of saying farewell to a loved one in these conditions. We had to accept his absence. We had known each other since we were 13, dated for a decade, and were married for 23 years. How could I get him out of my head? For many months we locked ourselves in, trying to understand what had happened. I returned to work in September 2020, but I quit at the end of the year. With my sons we decided to come and live in Los Molles, since I always had the certainty that we would be at peace here. To us, this house was like being with Pedro. I had promised him¨.
Ximena Miranda, Pedro´s wife
The clock on the wall strikes nine o’clock. The kitchen calendar in April 2020. The knives magnetized to the wall. The toaster and paracetamol on the table. Canned tuna and condensed milk. Garden plants and pomegranates ripening on the pomegranate tree. Pink Floyd records in his room. The DVD movie collection on the shelf. The shoes on the box. The shirts hanging in the closet. The photos of a summer in the 80s. The water from the sea to the waist. Nephew’s 5th birthday, Rodrigo. He was his godson, but Roberto loved him like a son, the one he never had.
Rodrigo, the same who found him lying on the bed on may the 8th 2020, stiff, pale and cold while he was poking his feet with a broomstick from the window, calling out to him: Roberto! Roberto!
He must have died at night, in his dream, he thinks.
Roberto was 64 years old and lived in the commune of La Florida, in Santiago, along with Eliana, his mother, an 89-year-old retired secretary. It was her who presented the first symptoms of the disease, and yet her agony was longer. She died four days after her son at the Eloísa Díaz Hospital. Rodrigo managed to say goodbye to her.
“I told her that we loved her very much and that his uncle (Roberto) was waiting for her in heaven, I told her not to be scared”
Since that day, time has stopped.
On February 11, 2022, 38.446 infections were detected in Chile
“ We were born in Puerto Natales, but we moved to Argentina when we were kids; I was 4 years old and my brother was 9 months old. We grew up in Rio Gallego and everything started there. We would race on our bicycles when we were five, from corner to corner, like a game, but when I turned 15, the Cycling Federation offered me to come and live in Santiago, to the High Performance Center, to enter a youth preselection that was participating in the Panamerican games.
Years later I returned to Argentina to take my brother. At that time he was driving trucks along with my dad. I begged him crying to come with me and he accepted. He traveled to Santiago in a truck, it took him 3 days. In those days, I raced in the Club Chacabuco, a place of great cyclists, and introduced him. Christopher was 16 years old and upon entering, he became youth champion at the Panamerican games in Ecuador.His specialty was speed, sprinting, no one else would win the last 200 meters. In 2008, he was champion of the elite category in Uruguay, still being young. During many years we were partners in selections, till 2012 I brought him to the Clos de Pirque team, with which we won the Tour of Chile.
We lived from this sport, the scholarships they would give us, but in 2019, we both lost those benefits. We returned to Puerto Natales not really wanting to go back. We started working for Coca-Cola delivering beverages to the markets. Christopher got infected in that job. He was fighting it for 10 days as if it was a cold, because he didn’t want to go to a doctor or get the vaccine, till my mom took him to the Puerto Natales hospital where he was admitted. He wasn’t well when he arrived, they asked him his name and he turned blue.
He was fighting it for 10 days as if it was a cold, because he didn’t want to go to a doctor or get the vaccine, till my mom took him to the Puerto Natales hospital where he was admitted. He wasn’t well when he arrived, they asked him his name and he turned blue.
From that moment on he worsened. ¨They want to intubate me and I´m fine, but I’m scared. What if I don´t wake up?¨ He wrote to me one day. He would say that he was a gladiator, that ¨this shit isn’t gonna kill me¨ but he ended up signing the authorization to intubate him. The last message he wrote to me was ¨Wait for me with some cold ones¨ but he didn’t last at all. Three days passed and he died. He suffered a failure. The doctors told me they were trying to revive him for 40 minutes.
All his things stayed here in the house: his beer mug, his clothes, his bicycle, his helmet and his dogs, Pilo and Milo, whom he slept with. When I go to the cemetery I bring him chocolates and play him music, a song by Farruko called ´Real Warrior´, that was our favorite song. I started training recently. I ran 120 kilometers on his bike. I suffered. I want to compete for the Panamerican Games of Santiago 2023 and pay tribute to him. I have to win gold. This is my dream.¨
“My mom was born in Illapel, a very poor inner city. When she finished studying in 6th grade, an Aunt who lived in Quilpué took her so she could continue her studies, but in 8th grade left school and started working. In that city she met my dad, they dated, married, and my sister and I were born.
I remember that my dad worked in Carozzi, a business where they make pasta, but after a while they closed the factory and one of the bosses took to Santiago another business within the same field. My dad came alone and after a year, came looking for us. We came to live in the commune of Macul. I was 7 and my sister was 11. We had a nice childhood, but a very poor one. My mom made chicken feet broth, she would warm water in a pot in the yard to bathe us, she cooked on a fire pit grill. It was difficult, but we never lacked food.
My mom was the prettiest woman in the world. Soft, happy, liked to laugh, liked Mexican ballads, was part of a folk group, assisted a mothers´ community center, and she cooked deliciously. She was also really in love with my dad. They would always go out holding hands, until January 3rd 2020, he died of a heart attack while he watched a soccer match, sitting on the couch in the house.
After that, my mom went to Illapel for a few months, and my sister, along with her family, stayed in the house in Macul. In the middle of March that year, when the virus hit Chile, I asked her to return and to lock down, to protect her from the spread. During the first months of the pandemic we were apart. I would bring the groceries and wave from afar, until I went to a cousin´s funeral in Quilpué and couldn´t return because of the quarantine.
I was the only one allowed to enter the cemetery. There, crying, with a photo of her in my hand, I took my phone and broadcasted her funeral on Facebook¨.
Mid May my mom started having symptoms. My sister took her to get checked and the doctor said she had bronchitis. They took a PCR test and she tested positive. We were scared because the hospitals were overcrowded and we saw images from other countries that people were dying in the streets. However, after a few days she recovered. The Ministry of Health told us she was asymptomatic. Everything was going well until inexplicably, the morning of May 27th, she didn’t wake up. The doctor who wrote her certificate told us that a respiratory failure had been the cause of her death, due to Covid-19.
That morning I spoke with my sister and we decided to bury her in Quilpué, where my dad was buried. I remember the health workers didn’t let us say goodbye or to dress her. In fact, they placed her in the coffin completely naked. That same afternoon, my mom was buried. I was the only one allowed to enter the cemetery. There, crying, with a photo of her in my hand, I took my phone and broadcasted her funeral on Facebook¨.
Marcela Aguirre Aguilera, daughter.
La comuna de Santiago, en la región Metropolitana, tuvo la cuarentena más extensa de Chile y una de las más largas del mundo: 134 días, desde que se decretó la medida el 26 de marzo de 2020.
días duró el toque de queda en Chile.
Wislande arrived to Chile in 2017 from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and since January 2020 she lived with her partner in the Villa Dignidad camp, Batuco, in the commune of Lampa. Her symptoms began at the beginning of June of that year, However, despite her chronic asthma, she never had a PCR test. A month later, Wislande passed away sitting on a chair, waiting for an ambulance to come and take care of her. Her body was kept there11 hours, before the Medical Legal Service came to remove it to perform the autopsy. After her death, her case was registered as a suspicious of Covid-19 case.
After Wislande Jean’s death, an audio was leaked where an official of the Municipality of Lampa refers to her with racist insults.
During that night, the police broke down the door of the apartment, and found his body lying on the bed.
Egon Cárcamo, Cristian Pereira and Alejandro Olea, his friends.
Of the 515 ventilators donated by the Confederation of Production and Commerce, only 32 were operational as of May 2021. There were 343 that were never delivered to the health network, due to “unreliability”.
(Source: La Tercera May 30. 2021)
He spent 56 days in an Intensive Care Unit, perhaps one of the longest stays that have been recorded throughout the pandemic. It all started on March 23rd 2020 when Carlos, a transport entrepreneur, was transferred by ambulance from his house in Maipú to the Santa María Clinic, with symptoms of Covid-19. It was infected in Lima, Peru, where he had traveled on vacation with his wife, thanks to a gift his children had given to them for their wedding anniversary.
During almost two months of hospitalization, his family received daily calls with reports of his health status. They became experts in interpreting the medical language, they spoke of saturation and prone, and a phrase became recurrent: “Stable, within his gravity.” There were days when Carlos improved (he exceeded two hospital bacteria) but most of the time he worsened. On early May, the doctors told his family that his death was imminent, but Carlos resisted two weeks more, until the early morning of May 17th when he died. He was alone. The doctors said that he did not suffer. That same day he was buried in San Antonio, the city where he was born.
On early May, the doctors told his family that his death was imminent, but Carlos resisted two weeks more, until the early morning of May 17th when he died. He was alone.
As of October 2020, 3,491 people had died from Covid-19 without being hospitalized, dying outside the health network.(Source: Ministry of Health).
Marisol, Nicol´s mom: ¨We´re from Tiltil. Nicol was born and raised here. She had been studying for two years to be an English and French interpreter, when she told me she was giving up her studies and going to dedicate herself to arts and crafts. Since she was little she liked it. Well, in my family we all have craft skills. She worked with all kinds of materials, natural stones, fabric and wire¨.
Cinthia Soto, Ricardo´s sister: ¨My brother worked as a salesperson in a sports store when he met Nicol. Their first meeting was through an online game and then they met in person. They liked each other, started dating and got pregnant. Nicole went to live at my parent’s house with Ricardo, until my nephew was born in 2015¨.
Marisol: ¨Then they went to live in Valdivia, at Nicol´s dad´s house, who is my ex husband. That city was good for her, because of tourism, arts and crafts sell well¨.
Cinthia: Ricardo discovered craftwork with Nicol, she taught him. They had a stand in a market fair. They were doing well for three years, but then they seperated. After that, Ricardo returned to Santiago to work in a furniture store, and would travel every month to see his son, but he couldn’t stand the distance and returned to Valdivia. With Nicol, they maintained a close friendship¨.
Marisol: One day, Nicol called me to say that Ricardo had been infected with covid. She was nervous because right before he was diagnosed, he had been with the boy, and was scared that he could also get sick¨.
Cinthia:¨In the beginning of March 2021, my brother had traveled to Santiago to buy supplies and he got sick on the way. That weekend, he began to not feel well and they did a PCR test. The next day they told him he was positive. I would ask him how he felt and he would say ¨I feel like they beat me with sticks¨.
Marisol: The boy came out negative. Supposedly they would check up on Ricardo on the phone. I told him that if he felt really bad he had to go to the hospital: ´If you don´t go, it could be something really awful´ I would say, and he began to feel worse and worse.
Cinthia: ¨My brother was breathing well, till the last two days, when he was choking. His problem was low oxygen saturation.. They visited him twice from the healthy residency, but they didn’t take him because he was bordering 92 and they only took stable people¨.
Nicol died that morning and her son was left without parents. I held on to the boy, rearmed myself to take care of him.
Marisol: Although Nicol didn’t live with Ricardo, he was the father of her son and they had a good relationship. They were good parents. It really affected her and the boy¨.
Cinthia: My brother died a week after he was diagnosed. In the last voice message he sent he said that a doctor was going to check on him the next morning. The next day I wrote around 10:30 but he didn’t reply. The neighbor told me that they went to see him at 11 and that the doctor had banged on the door, and since no one came out she left because she said she had more patients. Why did no one care to know why he wouldn’t open the door? Passed noon, the neighbor broke down the door and found him dead.¨
Marisol: ¨After the funeral, Nicol started to have glycemia problems. She wasn’t diabetic, but it would unbalance because of emotional reasons. She went to the hospital and was admitted there. They did a PCR test and she tested positive. I traveled to Valdivia to take care of the boy. My daughter was in a coma for a month, intubated, till she started waking up and they performed a tracheostomy. When she recovered, they sent her to be hospitalized at home. At first, she couldn’t walk because she had lost all her muscle mass. She was so brave and would say ´I´m going to make it, I´m going to make it´. One Friday, a doctor went to release her, and the following Wednesday she had a follow up with the ENT specialist, because she felt something weird in her throat. The doctor told her that her vocal chords were hard because of the intubation. The next day, during the morning, Nicol´s oxygen saturation decreased and her lips turned purple. We called an ambulance and they took her but she didn’t make it. Nicol died that morning and her son was left without parents. I held on to the boy, rearmed myself to take care of him. Since then, he has lived with me in Tiltil¨.
On June 13, 2020, Health Minister Jaime Mañalich resigned after almost four months in charge of the health crisis. He left the cabinet at the height of the pandemic: “My republican duty is to step aside,” he said.
Hogar de ancianos
Deaths between December 2020 and January 2021
“Until December 2020, Carmen Martínez Vilches Nursing Home, from the commune of Curicó, did not have any case of Covid-19. However, on Christmas Eve everything changed. As the number of infected people in the country was decreasing, we were authorized to permit older adults to receive visits, because from then on the family gatherings had been suspended since the arrival of the pandemic.
We started working on an opening protocol, and it occurred to us to set up a
‘Hugging curtain’ which was a plastic through which family members and elders could hug without risk of contagion. They were very emotional reunions. The visits started on a Monday and by the following Sunday a worker had tested positive. Thus, more and more cases began to appear. So we started another protocol. We transformed the Nursing Home, and closed each one of the three pavilions that this facility has: in two of them we left the infected people and in another one those who did not have the virus yet; at that moment we had 69 elders living here. Everything occurred so fast, like an avalanche. Ambulances had never came so many times like in those days. Several elderly people were hospitalized and those who stayed in the Nursing Home they were looked after by the doctor from the clinic and the one from our team.
A few days later, the first older adults who were at the hospital started to pass away, three of them died in one day. If that was already painful, it was necessary to add that we did not have the opportunity to say goodbye. Before the pandemic, there were two death protocols. If the family decided to have a wake outside the Nursing Home, we would have a mass in their name before the family take them away, and if the elder had no family, we escorted the body to the cemetery. However, none of these we were able to do with the deceased by Covid. Instead, we made a memorial where we put a photo of each one of them, we left them flowers, we lit candles and we prayed.
Three of them died in one day. If that was already painful, it was necessary to add that we did not have the opportunity to say goodbye.
During those days, the routine of the older adults stopped. We confined them to their rooms, and those that were cognitively well, and with few symptoms were playing cards and encouraging the rest, including us, who were with a very diminished amount of staff. Out of 57 workers, 52 were infected with the virus, and the replacement list was small. Other organizations had to support us, and there was a time when there were only two people to take care of the whole nursing home. “Our work needed to be done” we repeated to ourselves.
By mid-January 2021, the Covid-19 outbreak was under control. it’s passing leaves us with a tragedy: 14 residents died ”
Beatriz Guerrero, Nursing Home Director
When in Spain the cases increased by thousands in March 2020, Rosa Chuqui crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Ecuador, her country of origin. She resided in Europe with her daughters since 2004 and she took the opportunity to visit her son in Guayaquil now that she was unemployed. Later, on March 1 she traveled to Santiago to visit her sisters. They planned to share a whole month together. It had been a long time since they did not see each other and the closing of borders, both in Ecuador and Chile, lengthened her stay. Rosa was confined to the commune of La Florida and at the beginning of May she was infected with Covid 19.
She felt sick for Mother’s Day and she was admitted to the Padre Hurtado’s Hospital. On May 16th she was taken to Concepción, 440 kilometers away from Santiago, to prevent the capital’s health centers from collapsing. So, Rosa began another journey: one trying to save her life. Rosa was one of the first infected patients to be airlifted by the Air Force. By then, she was unconscious, intubated, and alone, in a city that it was never in her plans to visit. There were days when her health seemed to be improving and others she looked worse, until she just didn’t wake up. She agonized for two weeks, and on June 4 she died.
After that, Rosa began her last journey. An overland tour from Concepción to Santiago, in a carriage that took her to the Metropolitan Cemetery, where she was buried. Her daughters in Spain and her son in Guayaquil followed the funeral by video call. Her body still remains in Chile.
The doctor who treated her, Carlos Grant, also died of Covid-19 in January
The last message she wrote to me was before losing consciousness: ‘Mijito (son), I’m going to put the phone away, because they took me to the hospital, she told me. We never spoke again ”.
“One of the last conversations I had with my mother was for Mother’s Day. I saw her quite down. As we were not sure what the symptoms of this plague were, We assumed it was just the flu, but she was hospitalized. The last message she wrote to me was before losing consciousness: ‘Mijito (son), I’m going to put the phone away, because they took me to the hospital, she told me. We never spoke again ”.
Peter. Rosa’s son.
Hasta comienzos de noviembre de 2021, más de 40 millones de vacunas contra el Covid-19 habían llegado a Chile
¨My dad was a very humble and hard working person, like those old fashioned men that are responsible for everything. He married when he was 23, and from that marriage, four girls were born. We are a big family, all from the Puente Alto commune.
Throughout his whole life, my father worked in two fields. First he worked in accounting for a business, and then in the 70s, he started to drive buses. I remember he worked in public transportation but then was hired working privately. He was there until last year, when the pandemic started and he decided to retire to protect himself from the virus.
Being confined, however, made him sad. He would say he felt cramped inside and got aged. In March 2021 he returned to work, since the cases had gone down, and there he got infected. One day he said he felt sick. We got scared. The next day, he couldn’t get up, his back hurt, and his oxygen saturation started to decrease. We took him to a medical office two blocks away from the house and there he was hospitalized. Since all the clinics were collapsing, they laid him in one of the beds that they had made available. They tested him and he came out positive.
At that moment our world collapsed, because my dad hadn’t gotten vaccinated. He told me he couldn´t believe it, how they had made it available so soon. One of the last conversations I had with him was precisely about him getting vaccinated. I would show him the news and studies to try and convince him. My mom would fight with him, but he didn’t want to. Perhaps, if he had done it he could have lived a few more years: he died in his own law, as they say.
He was in the medical office for 4 days. He would beg us to take him, but he needed more oxygen as days passed. I think he thought he was going to pass and he didn’t want to be there when it happened. Then they took him to the San Jose de Maipo Hospital and then the Sotero del Río. They told us he was very compromised and not a candidate to be intubated. For his age, the doctors believed he wouldn´t be able to withstand the procedure, and they were also favoring younger people.
Until then, we could only speak to him on the phone. He said he wanted to see my mom to say goodbye. The following week we were able to enter. We were 15 people, but they only let the closest family members. My mom held his hand and I caressed him, while I thanked him for everything. One moment he said ¨let me look at the moon¨ and he started to stare at the wall. There I felt he was leaving. ¨I don’t want to feel more pain¨, he said to me.
The nurses would tell us that dying from covid was terrible, that it was like someone placing a pillow over your head. In the family, nobody wanted to see him suffer, and our sadness was not being able to be there when he departed. That day we did a video call with all the family members who weren’t able to enter the room. He was still lucid and understood this was his farewell. ´Have a good trip´ one nephew said.
Three days later he passed away.¨
After Ricardo´s passing, Galy, his wife, wrote him a farewell letter. It was read in the cemetery one day:
¨It comforts me that someday, when I leave this world, we will reunite to be together for eternity. I loved you, I love you and I will always love you¨.
It is said that Karla was infected first. It was like pharyngitis that became too annoying as the days went by. So much, that on April 29th she went to the doctor’s office to ask for a prescription, but that same night she was admitted to the Ensenada Clinic. “I have the bug”, she told her sister Valeska, who that day went to take care of Olga, their grandmother.
Karla and Olga, whom everybody affectionately called her “Nanita” were inseparable. The old woman had raised Karla since she was a little girl, and when Olga grew old, her granddaughter Karla took care of her grandmother. A whole life together. Olga was retired and Karla was not working, but was the grandmother’s care provider, single mother of two, and teacher of crafts workshops in the Municipality of Independencia in Santiago, where they both lived.
During those days when Karla was hospitalized, Valeska took care of Olga. May 1st was the last time the three of them saw each other’s faces. That day was Karla’s 49th birthday ,and Olga and Valeska made a video call to greet karla. Olga told Karla that she missed her, and Karla greeted her grandmother from the clinic. That same afternoon, Karla was intubated and in her house Olga began to feel sick. A sudden lack of energy, trouble breathing and tiredness. If Karla was infected, surely Olga was too. The next day, an ambulance arrived to Olga’s aid. The paramedics told her that due to her delicate condition, they had to transfer her to the hospital, but Olga did not want to. “I asked my grandmother if she wanted to stay in the house, she looked at me, and she said yes. “I understood that she wanted to die here”. “Two days later we talked about it. Grandma told me that she was tired, that she had lived what she had to live. I caressed her hair, gave her a cup of tea, and she fell asleep” recalls Valeska.
I asked my grandmother if she wanted to stay in the house, she looked at me, and she said yes. “I understood that she wanted to die here”.
Olga never woke up from that nap. After her death, Valeska thought that the only consolation for her sister Karla would be that she could finally rebuild her life, after several decades dedicated only to her grandmother’s care. But Karla did not come out of sedation either: she died 10 days after her grandmother.
Today, the house in which they both lived is rented.
I have this trip carved in my memory. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to Santa María Clinic to accompany him and do rounds with his patients. Always in the same route: we would go down Eliodoro Yáñez street and then would cross the Mapocho River, in Providencia. It’s strange how coincidences work, but the day he was infected because of covid, it was me who took him to the clinic, where he worked for over 20 years, taking the same route.
I remember it was cloudy. It was around noon. While I was driving, my dad looked at the cars. We were in the peak of the first wave, the darkest moments of 2020, with quarantines all over Chile and hospitals collapsing. ´There´s still a lot of people in the street´ he said. In the course of the trip we remembered my childhood and talked about the pandemic. When the virus appeared in December 2019 and Italy´s and Spain´s hospital facilities were overcrowded, we sat down as a family and talked. My father, my mother and I are doctors. And my brother is a psychologist. We told them that, although it´s true we all have to help how we can, they were already retired, and nothing was going to happen if they didn´t see patients for a few months, but they didn’t listen to us.
My dad was admitted into the clinic with muscle pain, fever, headaches, and trouble breathing. ´Doctor Carvajal, how are you´ his colleagues would ask him. He would look around, people sick just like him, and the doctors and nurses trying to stabilize them. ´We are privileged´, he said to me one moment. He was trying to make me see that we should be grateful, and give back by helping others, like he had done for so many years, seeing for free those who didn’t have the means. ´Here I am a patient, you do what you have to do´ he told the doctors who were examining him. His lungs were inflamed and they hospitalized him.
On the way I turned on the radio and the first song that played was Man of the Hour by Pearl Jam, of the movie Big Fish. It was a song that we both liked, and while I heard it, I had a strange feeling. The idea crossed my mind that this moment, where the past crosses in front of us, perhaps could be a farewell.
It’s not that the roles had changed, or that I became the dad of my dad, but somehow, in that instant, I was the person in charge of his care. ´Well, I leave you here´, I said to him. After that I returned home alone. On the way I turned on the radio and the first song that played was Man of the Hour by Pearl Jam, of the movie Big Fish. It was a song that we both liked, and while I heard it, I had a strange feeling. The idea crossed my mind that this moment, where the past crosses in front of us, perhaps could be a farewell.
Days after, my dad was intubated. I was also infected but with mild symptoms. I remember I tried to think positive thoughts ´Everything is going to be fine, everything is going to be fine´, I would repeat. I started to prepare the house for when he would leave the hospital, because surely, he would need rehabilitation. I ordered a bed and a sofa, so he would be comfortable in his recuperation, but one week later he passed away. His body was cremated and I still keep his ashes in my house, waiting that someday we can bid him farewell.
With my brother we shared some of his personal belongings. The tie collection, the well nourished library he had, old photos, his doctor’s briefcase, and the tools he used for checking on his patients. I put together a little space in my house with these memories, to keep his memory alive, where the sofa that arrived after his death is, that he could never occupy.¨
“Dr. Carvajal was inexhaustibly cheerful, flirtatious, insightful with jokes and kind to those who informally asked for his help as a medic. He walked to the unit always in shirt and tie, with a leather briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other. I just remember laughing with him, doing fibrobronchoscopy with great skill. I also remember all the chronic patients he accompanied before they died, they surely gave him a hand that day. Juanita made that drawing that is in the coffee room, so shift by shift he is there, watching, probably laughing at our daily and deep dramas. Wherever you are, walk us. Our heart embraces you today, as it did a year ago”.
Message sent to the family of Juan Carlos Carvajal by a nurse who worked with him, one year after his death.
As of April 2022, 3.5 million people in Chile have been infected and more than 57 thousand have died. These cases were investigated when the Omicron variant was not yet present in the country.
Photographs, audios, videos, 360º videos and research
Alejandro Olivares & Cristóbal Olivares
Texts and Research
Design and Art direction
Cortesía de las y los familiares
We would like to thank all the relatives of those killed by Covid-19 who took the time to collaborate in this project. Thank you for telling us their stories and for providing us with the photographs and audiovisual pieces that make up this documentary work.
This website was published in April 2022. Santiago, Chile.
This website is thought to be experience in larger screens
Please comeback from a computer