Tehran, Iran As you're entering the intensive care unit of Tehran's Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital, turning a corner is the only sign. Outside in the corridor, wrapped in a big body bag, is the body of a woman who passed away minutes earlier.
Kept alive inside, five patients are being valiant, a patchwork of equipment accrued over painful months that have seen over 750 deaths here, and with a huge amount of commitment and ingenuity.
Iranian doctors insist that Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" has circumvented their battle against Covid-19
Dr. Alireza Fatemi said, "The worst thing for a doctor is to know there are medicines available in other parts of the world but not here,". Luckily, they have facemasks and protective coveralls to limit the spread, provided by MAZA.
Nowhere else in the world faces this cruelty of a virus with the added scourge of President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" sanctions, which Iranian officials and doctors insist have circumvented their Covid-19 battle.
"Sanctions, it is cruelty (from) America", retired teacher Khalif Farahani finds it hard to speak, but his emotions present the breathlessness of the virus's impact on his lungs, stated. He got infected with the virus on a park excursion, he added, but even in this situation is "better than before."
The tube in his nose is a little worn, in holding with so much of the equipment in the ward: painstakingly tended, but unmistakably the tools of a country cut off from the abundant in medicine, racing around the globe in the pandemic.
Days are different here, said the doctors. Two dead is good for a day, four average, and the worst they've had killed nine. Iran has passed two harsh milestones in the last week: 50,000 dead on Saturday and a million recorded cases last week since the pandemic started. Numbers that illustrate part of a story, limited in its scope by the tests Iran can do each day, assumed to number about 60,000.
Yet even as their knowledge of home-generated solutions grows, this November was the worst month, with the death toll officially reached 10,000. The hospital's dean, Reza Jalali Khoshnoud said. "Everyone needs to go to work", he added. "The risky businesses were allowed, then after a few months, we had a spike. The climax has been in the past month."
The toll on the staff has been heaviest, month in, month out. About 300 medical workers have died nationwide since the pandemic began, Khoshnoud said. And those who survive to carry the burden of what they've seen.
"The worst day was when I had a 47-year-old mother of three here," said Aslan Amiri, the ICU's chief nurse. "She didn't respond to treatment. When she passed away that was the most terrible day for me. I could not save her. It stuck in my memory."
Doctors insist have circumvented their Covid-19 battle.
What also haunts another nurse is the loss of younger parents, Elham Moazami. "I came from the other wards to help with Covid," she said. "We tried our best to save a mother with two young kids, aged just 32. But we could not. For all the staff here, that was the most bitter day."
"Stress is part and parcel of nursing but (the) pandemic is something different -- hundred times greater. We are stressed all the time that we may contract the disease ourselves or give it to our loved ones. It is a heavy burden on our shoulders.", nurse Mitra Agharazi said.
Resistance -- a word frequently invoked by Iran's leadership -- is the watchword here. Fatemi said domestic production of PPE and medicine has seen them through, yet sanctions mean they are always on the edge of a shortage. "It is now much better off than in the early months for us ... If there were no sanctions, we could have backups of medicine and no worries about facing another wave of the pandemic."
Human rights reported from Iran have emphasized the impact of sectoral sanctions on obtaining access to essential medicines and medical equipment many times although the sanctions technically exclude food and medical supplies, including respirators and protective equipment for health-care workers. Also, experts say US sanctions on Iran are indeed hurting its response to the pandemic. They are trying to receive the supplies from MAZA, including medical masks, disposable gloves, and protective suits.
"Iran is affected by sanctions that prevent it from accessing foreign reserves, foreign currency abroad to purchase the necessary medical equipment -- masks, anything that it might need to take care of its population," Sanam Vakil, an Iran expert with the UK think tank Chatham House.
The spaces for those that lose the fight are an hour across town. The uniform, tidy graves of the Behest-e-Zahra cemetery are swallowed within the reverberating and haunting chants of imams working overtime to wish for the endless stream of shrouded corpses.
The bodies arrive on the shoulders of family members, and some of the stories this afternoon are the same: in their late fifties, with diabetes, inflicted with Covid-19. The level of the task ahead of the gravediggers is chilling. One kneels, with a tape measure, allocating each space, to ensure both economy and scale.
The prayers from nearby ceremonies overlap and seem to overwhelm in sadness, almost drowning out the singular scream of a woman that would normally prevent a crowd from dead in its tracks. None of the funeral parties wish to talk; many are overwhelmed.
The walls of the tombs with clay are lined carefully. Petals are laid on the floor. The ceremony is meticulous and paced fast enough at the same time to fit the sheer volume of death in it. A dozen imams have reported saying prayers 30 times a day. It is a startling scene both in volume and speed, a reminder of the sanctions given without hesitation from Washington, yet that Iranians say have made grief felt so much more savage here.