‘Every ventilator becomes like gold’ – a doctor’s stark warning from Italy’s Coronavirus outbreak

Conte

(Credit: European Union)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ceri Parker, Commissioning Editor, Agenda, World Economic Forum


  • An Italian doctor has given an emotional warning on what it’s like to work at a hospital battling coronavirus.
  • The doctor warns against complacency in a country where more than 7,000 people have been infected by COVID-19.
  • Quarantine measures are in force in northern Italy to halt the spread of the virus.

As COVID-19, or the coronavirus, spreads across Europe, responses are mixed. While World Health Organization (WHO) guidance underscores the seriousness of the situation and some employers encourage people to work from home, for many people life simply continues as normal.

But one doctor who is at the heart of the outbreak in Bergamo, northern Italy, has taken to social media to issue an emotional warning on the reality that could await elsewhere if complacency wins.

At the time of writing, Italy has quarantined 16 million people in its northern provinces until 3 April as it battles to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 7,000 people and killed at least 366 in the country. According to the WHO, one-fifth of people infected need hospital treatment – and this could be enough to overwhelm healthcare systems if the epidemic spreads.

coronavirus spread chart
The flattened curve shows how a reduced rate of coronavirus infection could reduce the strain on hospitals
Image: Ester Kim, Carl T. Bergstrom

Dr Daniele Macchini, an Intensive Care Unit physician in Bergamo, a city near Milan, shared his experience of working in a hospital where exhausted staff battle to save patients. His Facebook post was picked up in an Italian newspaper and translated on Twitter by Dr Silvia Stringhini, an epidemiologist and researcher based at the Geneva University’s Institute of Global Health.

Below is the text of the translation, which you can also read in the thread above. As context, 80% of people with coronavirus experience mild symptoms, but an acute form of the illness can lead to life-threatening pneumonia. The elderly are particularly vulnerable.

Dr Daniele Macchini’s post, translated by Dr Silvia Stringhini

“After much thought about whether and what to write about what is happening to us, I felt that silence was not responsible.

“I will therefore try to convey to people far from our reality what we are living in Bergamo in these days of Covid-19 pandemic. I understand the need not to create panic, but when the message of the dangerousness of what is happening does not reach people I shudder.

“I myself watched with some amazement the reorganization of the entire hospital in the past week, when our current enemy was still in the shadows: the wards slowly ’emptied’, elective activities were interrupted, intensive care were freed up to create as many beds as possible.

“All this rapid transformation brought an atmosphere of silence and surreal emptiness to the corridors of the hospital that we did not yet understand, waiting for a war that was yet to begin and that many (including me) were not so sure would ever come with such ferocity.

“I still remember my night call a week ago when I was waiting for the results of a swab. When I think about it, my anxiety over one possible case seems almost ridiculous and unjustified, now that I’ve seen what’s happening. Well, the situation now is dramatic to say the least.

“The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted day and night. But now that need for beds has arrived in all its drama. One after the other the departments that had been emptied fill up at an impressive pace.

“The boards with the names of the patients, of different colours depending on the operating unit, are now all red and instead of surgery you see the diagnosis, which is always the damned same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia.

“Now, explain to me which flu virus causes such a rapid drama. [post continues comparing Covid19 to flu, link here]. And while there are still people who boast of not being afraid by ignoring directions, protesting because their normal routine is ‘temporarily’ put in crisis, the epidemiological disaster is taking place. And there are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists, we are only doctors who suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us.

“Cases are multiplying, we arrive at a rate of 15-20 admissions per day all for the same reason. The results of the swabs now come one after the other: positive, positive, positive. Suddenly the E.R. is collapsing.

“Reasons for the access always the same: fever and breathing difficulties, fever and cough, respiratory failure. Radiology reports always the same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia. All to be hospitalized.

“Someone already to be intubated and go to intensive care. For others it’s too late… Every ventilator becomes like gold: those in operating theatres that have now suspended their non-urgent activity become intensive care places that did not exist before.

“The staff is exhausted. I saw the tiredness on faces that didn’t know what it was despite the already exhausting workloads they had. I saw a solidarity of all of us, who never failed to go to our internist colleagues to ask, ‘What can I do for you now?’

“Doctors who move beds and transfer patients, who administer therapies instead of nurses. Nurses with tears in their eyes because we can’t save everyone, and the vital parameters of several patients at the same time reveal an already marked destiny.

“There are no more shifts, no more hours. Social life is suspended for us. We no longer see our families for fear of infecting them. Some of us have already become infected despite the protocols.

“Some of our colleagues who are infected also have infected relatives and some of their relatives are already struggling between life and death. So be patient, you can’t go to the theatre, museums or the gym. Try to have pity on the myriad of old people you could exterminate.

“We just try to make ourselves useful. You should do the same: we influence the life and death of a few dozen people. You with yours, many more. Please share this message. We must spread the word to prevent what is happening here from happening all over Italy.

“I finish by saying that I really don’t understand this war on panic. The only reason I see is mask shortages, but there’s no mask on sale anymore. We don’t have a lot of studies, but is it panic really worse than neglect and carelessness during an epidemic of this sort?”

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has launched a new community, bringing together experts from the World Health Organization with business leaders around the world, which will hold regular virtual meetings to boost collaboration.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the Coronavirus.

Fighting complacency

At the start of her thread, Dr Silvia Stringhini warned against a sense of complacency elsewhere in Europe.

“I may be repeating myself, but I want to fight this sense of security that I see outside of the epicenters, as if nothing was going to happen ‘here’. The media in Europe are reassuring, politicians are reassuring, while there’s little to be reassured of.”

So far, roughly 12,000 cases have been recorded on the continent. Following Italy, France and Germany are the worst-afflicted.

To protect yourself and others, World Health Organization advice is to wash your hands regularly with soap; avoid touching your face; cough or sneeze into the crook your arm or a tissue; keep a distance of 1 metre from other people; stay at home and call for medical advice if you experience symptoms of the virus.

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Europe is now practically divided as in the Cold War

Millions of people eat octopus- here’s why we shouldn’t

EU future at stake: MEPs broadly welcome Commission’s recovery package proposals

Ukraine-EU deal sees the light but there’s no defeat for Russia

European elections: A chance to repel both nationalism and no-deal Brexit

In The Bahamas, Guterres sees impact of ‘Category Hell’ hurricane, ‘powered by climate change’

A young European voice on Grexit: too high a bill and too big a deal!

Presidents of pan-European youth organisations call upon the European Council to preserve the Schengen principles

Missile strike kills at least 12 civilians, including children, in Syria’s Idlib: UN humanitarians

Fight against money laundering and terrorist financing: Commission assesses risks and calls for better implementation of the rules

UN monitoring team in Yemen verifies pullout of armed forces from crucial port zones

Half the world’s population is still offline. Here’s why that matters

Appreciation of euro to continue

These 5 start-ups are shaping the future of Africa’s cities

This cheap, 700-year old solution could change billions of lives

Burundi election countdown amid ‘deteriorating’ human rights situation

These clothes were designed by artificial intelligence

The Brussels bureaucracy blocks the Youth Guarantee scheme

Is it just visa-free travel that Erdogan demands from the EU to not break the migration deal?

Guterres expresses ‘grave concern’ following explosion at large political rally for reform-minded Ethiopian Prime Minister

The Commission tells Berlin it is legally obliged to help Eurozone out of stagnation

The MH17 tragedy to put a tombstone on Ukrainian civil war

A strong European Union is a united European Union

EU decides “in absentia” of civil society

‘Working night and day’, UN health agency seeks to prevent global coronavirus crisis

Collective action now, the only way to meet global challenges, Guterres reaffirms in annual report

Consultant in Forensic Technology – 1969

US must abide by humanitarian refugee accords: UN refugee agency

How ‘small’ is Europe in Big Data?

Brazilian health: right or privilege?

The secret weapon in the fight for sustainability? The humble barcode

AXA and Fremtind discuss how AI and analytics is changing insurance claims forever

This is why mountains matter more than you think

Africa must ‘value youth’ in the drive towards lasting peace, young envoy tells Security Council

EU to gain the most from the agreement with Iran

How secure is blockchain?

3 lessons from running an AI-powered start-up in Africa

Which countries have the highest unemployment rates?

Close to final agreement on the EU Banking Union

4 innovative renewable energy projects powering Europe’s green future

Why schools should teach the curriculum of the future, not the past

Lack of access to clean water, toilets puts children’s education at risk, says UN

More Germans are swapping planes for trains because of climate worries

‘Race against time’ to help women who bore brunt of Cyclone Idai: UN reproductive health agency

The world needs a grand coalition to tackle climate change

A Sting Exclusive: “Leading by example! EU must push for UN deal to avoid dangerous climate change”, European Parliament Vice-President Ulrike Lunacek cries out from Brussels

The role companies play in boosting growth in emerging markets

EP stands up for democracy in Hungary during COVID-19

Siemens-Alstom merger: Can Germany and France lobby to circumvent EC’s rejection, against EU consumers’ interests?

Turkey’s foreign bribery enforcement framework needs to be urgently strengthened and corporate liability legislation reformed

South Sudan: €48.5 million in additional EU humanitarian aid

EU prepares itself to fight back against hostile propaganda

Libya: Thousands seek shelter in health clinics from Tripoli fighting, UN warns

Each for Equal is the women’s day theme – these maps of the world show how far we have to go

The fatal consequences of troika’s blind austerity policy

COVID-19 poses a dramatic threat to life in conflict zones

Bahamas: ‘Clock is ticking’ to help those who lost everything in Hurricane Dorian, says UN

6 things to know about press freedom around the world

Elections in Britain may reserve a surprise for May’s Tories

OECD presents analysis showing significant impact of proposed international tax reforms

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s