by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Almost every medical professional on the front lines of Italy's battle against the coronavirus outbreak has a heartbreaking story about a patient they won't easily forget.
One spoke about a patient who seemed far too ill to survive, but then miraculously recovered -- only to be blocked from returning home because his wife had become infected while he was in the hospital. Another mentioned an elderly woman who was stoic when speaking to her grandchildren via video chat but broke down into tears as soon as the call was over, tortured by the prospect of never holding them again. One nurse spoke about a well-liked ambulance driver who got infected on the job and died in his sleep a few days later.
"I will never forget an older woman, extremely sweet, who called after her husband had been admitted to the emergency room," Federica Mencattelli, a 42-year-old nurse at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic, told Xinhua. "She was worried because he has hearing problems and had forgotten his hearing aid at home. She kindly asked us to give him special care, telling us he had not slept alone for a single day since they'd been married. We all agreed."
Mencattelli went on: "When the wife called back in the morning we had to tell her he was gone," adding "The husband didn't survive the night."
Doctors and nurses on the front line of the outbreak say they are faced with heartbreaking situations almost every shift they work. But among the more than a dozen medical professionals who spoke with Xinhua formally and informally in recent weeks, none had shown the loss of the desire to treat patient entirely -- psychologically as well as physically.
"The toughest part is the isolation," Edoardo De Ruvo, 59, an anesthesiologist, said in an interview. "It's easy for someone infected with the coronavirus to feel abandoned, forgotten. Doctors and nurses have to treat the symptoms but they must also help fight the feeling of abandonment."
De Ruvo spoke with the voice of experience. He has been under quarantine at home for more than two weeks after becoming infected at the San Camilo Hospital, where he works.
"I wanted to work, but I started to feel terrible and I ran a high fever and my throat swelled up," he said. "Now I am at home isolated from my own family as my colleagues continue to fight the outbreak."
According to 53-year-old Laura Rita Santoro, a Roman nurse who was also as a coordinator for Nursing Up, a nursing trade union, the coronavirus outbreak can make it difficult to show empathy for patients and other colleagues in traditional ways.
"We try to cheer each other up and to do the same for the patients, but it's a challenge," Santoro told Xinhua. "Patients worry about their children or parents or other loved ones and I just want to reassure them that we'll do our best and that they'll be OK."
Santoro paused briefly.
"Unfortunately, the mask means they can't see me smile," she said. "But maybe sometimes that is positive because the protective wear also makes it more difficult for them to see that my eyes could be red from crying."