Patients Francisco Espava, 60, is all set for his short trip to the beach.
Patients Francisco Espava, 60, is all set for his short trip to the beach.

After nearly two months of being sedated and connected to IV lines in a hospital's intensive care unit, Francisco Espana took a moment to fill his ailing lungs with fresh air at a Barcelona beachfront.

Lying on a hospital bed at the beach promenade and surrounded by a doctor and three nurses who constantly monitored his vital signs, Espana briefly closed his eyes and absorbed as much sunshine as possible.

"It's one of the best days I remember," he said.

A medical team at the Hospital del Mar - the Hospital of the Seas - is seeing if short trips to the beach just across the street can help COVID-19 patients after long and sometimes traumatic ICU stays.

Dr. Judith Marín says it is part of a program to "humanize" ICUs that the group had been experimenting with for two years before the coronavirus hit Spain.

In April, the hospital was operating several additional ICU wards and expanded its normal capacity of 18 patients to 67.

"It was a big blow, coping with scarce resources and with a big emotional toll among the medical workers.

"We were suddenly reverting to the old habits of keeping relatives away from their loved ones. And it's really hard to convey bad news over a phone call." Since restarting the program in early June, doctors said that even 10 minutes at the beach seems to improve a patient's well-being. The team wants to take this anecdotal evidence further, and see whether such outdoor trips can help in the mid- and long-term recovery of COVID-19 patients.

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