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Without defence

A contribution by Daniela Alampi, researcher in Anaesthesia and Intensive care

She is seated in the dark in the doctor on call’s waiting room. Daniela is anaesthetist; her shift has already finished, but she waits for the result of the exam on Carlo, the patient for whom she was committed all afternoon. She has two kids, and she doesn’t want to come back home with uncertainty.

COVID-19, it seems the title of a science-fiction film. Instead, it is a tiny monster who has caused panic throughout the whole country. And she gave into fear too, although science and evidence.

That morning she had a bad feeling. We are in Rome, a metropolis, it is impossible to escape from the new disease. Especially for who, for work, directly faces respiratory diseases. Thus, when the colleague from the ER called her for a severe respiratory failure, she froze. It was an intimate duel between the physician and the mother.

There are no protective masks at the ER since the mass psychosis wiped out the stockpiles. She took time, watched the X-ray images, asked for a suggestion looking for comfort, so thus to find the courage to go there. She looked out to the long holding, there was the typical scenario of bundled stretchers, lying down or standing people, all with the same lost gaze, looking for help.

The patient for whom they required for her intervention is on a table on the sidelines, with shortness of breath, dark skin colour for the lack of oxygen. Daniela knows that she cannot hold her breath; she has to go. Balanced between her duty and her maternal sense of protection, she wears inappropriate devices and approaches.

He is an older man who tells his story with difficulty. He is retired, leaves home just for the grocery shopping, alone. Two days before, fever, cough, shortness of breath appeared. The rush to the hospital was inevitable. The anonymous colour and painting become Carlo. She listens to him, and while he’s speaking, she forgets where she is, the confusion, the additional stress of the new plague.

She resumes breathing, talks to him, explains what she will do to help him. Carlo is absentminded, too much exhausted to talk so far. She intubates and fosters him toward the intensive care.

It’s been two hours, Carlo is in isolation, Daniela in voluntary quarantine. She is waiting for the dark. The pager rings; it is the laboratory; the result of the exam is negative. She looks out of the window. There is the moon, and it seems rounder and brighter.

She can come back home.

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