Around mid March, Luciano changes his FB profile picture. He puts a frame around it that reads: please, stay at home if you can – #stayhome. He never would have imagined that only 15 days later, his home would become a living hell. On March 27 his fever begins to rise. It’s high, more than 39 degrees, but he doesn’t have any other symptoms. He then calls the elderly home in the province of Pavia (Lombardy) where he works as a caregiver, telling them he is putting himself in quarantine for fourteen days, as new coronavirus protocol demands. He was never tested, not even when he felt better. In a couple of days his fever disappears. He’s clinically recovered. But the virus hasn’t yet finished with his home. He’s infected his elderly parents with the coronavirus that he brought back from work, as they live together under the same roof, exactly what he’d hoped wouldn’t happen! After twelve days of fever and heavy coughing, his father, 77 years old, shows the first signs of difficulty breathing. He reluctantly accepts to go to hospital due to the increasing severity of his condition. Now he is in the ICU room in San Matteo, Pavia’s general hospital, where doctors and nurses frantically come and go between patients, stopping quickly to visit him and read his data at his bedside, as he stares up at them through the glass of his bowl-like breathing mask. Luciano’s mother, who is slightly younger, is at home with no worrying symptoms. “Apart from a mild fever that’s always a little high, her breathing is good” Luciano tells us, just before ending the call. It will be some time before we will understand what has happened and is yet to happen in the Lombardy elderly homes like the one in the little town of Vidigulfo of Pavia in which Luciano works. Many of these facilities have been visited by supervisors of the Health ministry as of late. In Pio Albergo Trivulzio of Milan, the biggest of the Lombardy elderly facilities, the judiciary is investigating. Here, the number of deaths is the highest in the region, with a death rate of five per day, more than one hundred deaths in total so far, the most part of them with coronavirus related symptoms. But many relatives are also worried for the other Lombardy retirement homes. The board of the Lombardy Region that decides Geriatric facility policy and much of the regions policy on healthcare, talks of exceptional circumstances. “A tsunami” is how the Councilor of Welfare, Giulio Gallera, is describing it. But the anecdotal stories of doctors and nurses nationwide are rising, not only from RSA (elderly homes) based workers. They are refusing to be sent to the front lines without the necessary equipment to keep themselves safe, despite fear of the consequence to be fired, as there was a critical lack of disposable gowns, technical face masks, gloves, and many other sanitary items necessary for doctor and patient protection, though thankfully, today health professionals have a steady supply of gowns, gloves and face masks. If that wasn’t enough, there are many mix-ups happening in the overflowing wards where covid and non-covid patients have been mis-placed, and there is still a severe shortage of coronavirus testing kits. Even though the situation seems to be changing, the outlook of most is to live day by day, with no certainty of what could happen next. “No more than a week ago, they wanted to send me to the alzheimer ward to replace a coworker who contracted coronavirus” says a phD from the Golgi Institute, a Prestigious Healthcare Facility in Abbiategrasso, Milano. “they told me to work there while wearing a black rubbish bag instead of a gown but I refused” but since the arrival of new equipment they tell us “Now I work in the Alzheimer ward with a regular gown, but I’ve asked to work with the blood tests as much as possible to search for the antibodies of the coronavirus, that way I’ll be able to send it (the coronavirus) to the hell and be done with it” When asked if they had already contracted the virus our Phd had this to say “I think so, but if so I only had mild symptoms, and like so many others, my primary test was negative. However, believe me when I say, compared to my colleagues I’ve been incredibly lucky so far”.
Written by Alberto Ferrari