Alye Gündüz, a 93-year-old patient who has successfully recovered from the novel coronavirus following 10 days of treatment, has been discharged from an Istanbul hospital to the cheers and applause of medical staff.
Her recovery from the virus, which is especially lethal to the elderly, has offered a ray of hope to health workers at Istanbul's Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty Hospital as they battle the outbreak, which risks hitting Turkey hard.
"It is promising because patients at this age and with chronic diseases are most of the time unable to recover because they are at the highest risk of COVID-19," chief physician Zekayi Kutlubay told AFP.
"That a 93-year-old woman walking out of intensive care sound and safe is inspiring for us, as well as for other coronavirus patients of her age."
Gündüz, a farmer from Turkey's southeastern city of Batman who also suffers from hypertension, was taken to hospital on March 31 with complaints of a high fever and stomach ache. She was discharged on Friday.
"I wish a speedy recovery to everyone," the elderly woman said as she was helped by her grandson.
Turkey has registered more than 47,000 COVID-19 cases – ranking it among the 10 most infected countries in the world. It has recorded over a thousand deaths and the disease is spreading fast.
Facing a growing number of cases each day, Turkish health workers have been working day and night to treat patients, with two doctors having died and more than 600 health workers having been infected so far.
"Everyone is working tirelessly as if they were at war," Nuri Aydın, rector of Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty of Istanbul University, told AFP at the hospital.
"The atmosphere here is not that of a workplace so much as a battlefield."
Istanbul, Turkey's largest city of about 15 million people, has emerged as the country's virus epicenter, hosting more than 60% of cases nationwide.
The Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty has responded fast since the outbreak in mid-March, turning its operating theaters into intensive care units and creating special COVID-19 sections, separating ordinary patients from others infected with the deadly disease.
The physicians are currently treating 210 patients with 30 others in intensive care. One building has been allocated to treat only medical workers.
Isolated from their own families, some of the health workers stay in dorms or hotels to avoid spreading the disease to loved ones.
"It's hard to put into words. They are making a superhuman effort," Aydın said. "You can't put a price on the service provided by health workers. They serve humanity."
Furkan Kurt, a 28-year-old physician associate, has been away from his parents for four weeks and lives in a rented flat.
"We are taking all the protective measures but it is not guaranteed that we will not get infected," he said.
"The only hope we have is to see better days. Apart from being hopeful, there is nothing else we can do."
After being diagnosed with COVID-19, some patients are caught unprepared without mobile phones or other personal belongings.
"On Saturday (when) I was on duty we received a patient at the emergency service. He didn't have anything – neither slippers nor pajamas. We addressed their needs and offered our mobiles if needed," said head nurse Merve Pirecioğlu.
"When they first hear the diagnosis, patients natural panic. We advise them that this is nothing to fear. With a healthy diet and strong morale, as well as by taking heed of the rules on isolation, the illness can be overcome."
Ömer Faruk Bilici, 34, a practitioner at another hospital, who caught the coronavirus, was discharged from Cerrahpaşa after 20 days of treatment – including in intensive care.
"I know what it's like to be shut in a six-square-meter (65-square-foot) room," he told AFP.
"This scared my other colleagues who are at risk like me. I've seen nobody's face for 20 days."
Bilici hopes to resume his duties as soon as his quarantine period at home is over, adding: "I cannot wait for returning to the field."
More than 70 health workers at Cerrahpaşa have been infected with the coronavirus.
"We have forgotten about ourselves, we are working day and night for the recovery of our patients," said associate professor Ilker Inanç Balkan, adding: "With each recovered patient, we become more motivated."
Despite the pressure they are under, colleagues of chief physician Kutlubay threw him a surprise 50th birthday party, while respecting social distancing rules.
Without blowing out the candles on the cake, Kutlubay, wearing a face mask, said: "May it stay this way for now, but I hope things will be different next year."
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