Hospitals are my new Mexico City hangout

Over the course of the last three days I have been to five hospitals. Given the local and international media coverage of Mexico’s current flu outbreak, I was expecting to find lines of people, all of them coughing into their government-issued face masks, winding around the block. Not so.

In fact, if I’m honest, it hasn’t been easy to find those who know people who have died from the new strain of flu or who have relatives suffering from them, which isn’t helped by the fact the the Mexican authorities are refusing to publish a list of the dead.

I did find people affected by the illness of course (hey – come on – I’m a snoop) but, well, given that the swine flu has been labeled a pandemic, there’s no panic in the streets, no riots in the hospitals, and no over-supply of sufferers of their families to speak to.

This afternoon outside the Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias (INER), which translates as the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases, there were at least as many journalists as there were patients or family of patients.

INER, I’m told, is Mexico’s major hospital for respiratory diseases. Cameras had been set up on tripods, and TV hosts were waiting around in their suits to do their pieces to camera. I abandoned my hope of making a video piece.

Slightly up the road from camera-land was the emergency room for respiratory diseases, and outside I found Anna Contreras, a 45-year-old housewife, waiting. Her husband Jose Luis Martinez, a 49-year-old driver, has been at the hospital for over and week and had, according to Contreras, been diagnosed with swine flu, or influenza porcina as it is being called here (the name in itself is political).

She said her husband fell ill about a month ago with body aches and a cold.

We thought it was nothing serious so we took him to private doctors who diagnosed him with having tonsillitis or a sore throat, and a third opinion said that he had the beginnings of bronchitis. But instead of improving with the medication they gave him every time he was worse and worse until around 2 weeks ago I was at the end of my tether.

Jose Luis, she says, lost 12 kilos inside of three weeks.

I brought him here [nearly a week ago] and they diagnosed that he had pneumonia due to influenza.

Does she think he has the never-seen-before swine flu?

“Well, he does have it. But I’m calm, in a way, because most of the others who have come here with the same illness and have been here less time have been put on a breathing machine or have died – that hasn’t happened to my husband. He’s stable, he can speak, he hasn’t been put on a breathing machine.

When I asked her if she knew whether many people were dying in the INER she told me,

Many, many, every day. People are dying here every day.

— Deborah Bonello,