For Mexican doctors, a particularly sad day of the dead

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MEXICO CITY – Small figure of a skeleton in a face mask and medical cap has a hand over a bedridden patient. Next to it is the sort of sugar skull common to Day of the Dead altars. And behind it is the photo of a white-haired 64-year-old man in glasses smiling for the camera: the late Dr. Jose Luis Linares. He is one of more than 1,700 Mexican health workers officially known to have died from COVID-19 who are honored with three days of national mourning in these days of the dead.

Linares treated patients at a private clinic in a poor neighborhood in the south of town, typically charging around 30 pesos (about $ 1.50) for a consultation. Because he was not working at an official COVID-19 center, his family is not eligible for government assistance for medical staff affected by the disease, his widow said.

“I told him, ‘Luis, don’t go to work.’ But he said to me: “So who is going to see these poor people,” said his widow, Dr Maria del Rosario Martinez. She said he had taken illness precautions due to lung damage from previous illness.

In addition to the usual marigolds and paper cutouts for Day of the Dead altars, his this year includes small figures of skeletons doing consultations or surgeries in honor of deceased colleagues.

This echoes in many parts of a country which Amnesty International said in September lost more healthcare workers to the coronavirus than any other nation.

Among them, people like medic Jose Valencia and Dr Samuel Silva Montenegro from Mexico City, whose images rest on altars in the homes of loved ones in Mexico City,

Martinez’s altar is in a living room next to a room in their apartment where she and her husband have been giving consultations. Martinez, who also fell ill but recovered, now only sees his patients online or by phone.

Linares died on May 25 after being hospitalized with a spike in infections in Mexico City. Martinez passed out at the news, but when she returned she found her only son and sister hugging her. “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me!” She cried, fearing that they too would be infected.

In the height of her own illness, she went from a crowded hospital to a busy clinic, seeking help.

Martinez, 59, said she felt better now and at peace, although she was not resigned to the loss of her 36-year-old husband, whom she first met as she was selling gum outside a movie theater to help support her eight siblings.

“I feel strange,” she said. “But I owe it to the patients and they’re going to help me get through this. She said, however, that she expects to work fewer hours.

“I’m scared because we don’t know how much immunity you need to have, how long it will work,” she said. “The disease is very hard, very cruel. … All over the world we are going to have a very sad story to tell. ”

Mexico has reported more than 924,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and nearly 140,000 deaths listed as confirmed or probable, although experts say the actual numbers are likely much higher.

Martinez has always found solace in Mexican Day of the Dead practices.

“According to traditions and beliefs, he’s going to come here, accompany us, and he’s going to be happy that I’m thinking of him right now. ”

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Associated Press editor Maria Verza contributed to this report.

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