Elena is fighting corona with only ten beds on the ICU

Elena is trapped on Curacao

Fighting corona with only ten beds on the ICU

Medical student Elena Bensi was completing her internship on Curacao when the corona crisis hit. Now, she is trapped on the tropical island. ‘I feel so disconnected from everything, because it’s such a surreal situation.’
By Sofia Strodt
2 April om 14:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
April 2 at 14:42 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:19 PM.

‘I moved to the other side of the world and was just building up my life. I was barely here for four weeks and then everything changed’, says Elena Bensi on Skype. 

The UG medical student is currently on the Dutch Caribbean island Curacao to complete an internship that is part of her medical education. The coronavirus has put her training on hold, because the hospital staff wants to prevent interns from catching the disease. ‘Officially, I’m off work’, she says. ‘They asked us to assist as volunteers at the public health agency and most of us interns do that. Being a medical student, I feel like it’s sort of my duty to help out in any way that I can.’ 

I feel like it’s my duty to help out in any way that I can

So that’s what she’s doing now. It’s her task to have a chat on the phone with people that came in from abroad, asking them whether they have developed any symptoms of the virus and answering their questions, for example about going into quarantine. 

‘There is a lot of confusion among them about how to behave. We need to inform them about preventative measures they can take and emphasize why it is so important to stay home. People suffer from dealing with this high degree of uncertainty. It’s very important to stay calm to keep them from panicking.’ 


It’s another sudden change in her working life. One that came at a time when she was still adapting to the cultural differences she encountered in a hospital on the other side of the world. ‘There was a man who came into the emergency department because he was completely out of breath. He looked like a skeleton’, Elena says. 

‘We found out that he suffers from a severe case of lung cancer. He was so weak and pretty much about to die, but his daughters, who were there with him, insisted that they don’t want him to know about the diagnosis. I was shocked, but you have to be a professional and accept their wish.’ 

Lots of islanders have diabetes or other underlying health conditions, she says. ‘One day at work I had to cry, because it’s so sad to see how people have been neglected for such a long time and aren’t getting the care that they need.’ 

Also, the resources at the hospital are very limited. ‘In total we have ten intensive care beds. Ten! What if there is an explosion of corona cases? That thought really scares me.’ 

Comfortable position

She realizes she herself is in a comfortable position, as she still gets her internship compensation. But for many islanders, the problems are already huge. Not everyone can afford to stick to the recommendation of going into quarantine, due to poverty and the fact that there is no social health system in place. ‘People sometimes ask me whether I can do something to help them keep their job. It breaks my heart, because unfortunately this is beyond my power.’ 

Lots of islanders have underlying health conditions

At this point, Curacao is still calm. However, the coronavirus did reach Curacao and even though only eight people got infected, the island chose to close its borders and go on lockdown. ‘The thing that worries me most about getting infected myself is that my parents couldn’t even visit me if I’d get seriously ill. Still, I’m not going to quit what I do because I’m scared to get infected myself. I feel like it’s my responsibility to help out.’ 

Negative thoughts

Elena is trying to push negative thoughts aside. Luckily, she has a close relationship with the other medical students, which helps her to get through this difficult time. ‘We’re all worried, all of our families are far away and we’re trying to support each other.’ 

The uncertainty that comes with corona is what unnerves her most. ‘No one knows how fast it’s going to spread here, and I’m worried about what happens once the number of infected people explodes.’ 



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