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'Staff is down to the bone': Italian doctors and nurses share experiences of the COVID-19 frontline

A nurse puts on his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the Policlinico di Tor Vergata hospital, in Rome on April 8, 2020.
A nurse puts on his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the Policlinico di Tor Vergata hospital, in Rome on April 8, 2020. Copyright ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP
By Elena Kaniadakis
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'These are my first days of work and I’m facing COVID-19', said one Italian doctor who started working amid the #coronavirus pandemic.


In Italy, Europe's hardest-hit country in the coronavirus crisis, medical staff is struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the medical staff who are fighting COVID-19 are also young professionals who have started working during the outbreak of the epidemic.

Young doctors and nurses talked to Euronews about their experiences of the frontlines. 

To protect the privacy of their patients, they asked for their names to be changed.

'These are my first days of work and I’m facing COVID-19'

“These people are between life and death,” said Giovanni, 26, a young doctor in charge of monitoring non-intubated patients in a minor COVID-19 center at the Policlino Gemelli in Rome.

“They may heal or their situation could get worse. I constantly monitor their vitals because if they get worse, they immediately need to be transferred to the intensive care,” Giovanni told Euronews.

Giovanni said he realised the severity of the situation in Italy when he had to learn how to correctly wear protective gear, at the start of the pandemic, which was also his start on the job.

“It took me almost half an hour and at the end I was sweating,” he recalled. “I told to myself: ‘These are your first days of work, and you are facing COVID-19. You can handle it.”

He said he is not scared of being infected, but rather not to be able to save his patients from dying. “My biggest fear is learning that I haven’t done enough,” he said.

'Every time I leave the hospital, I fear the virus is coming home with me'

Sabrina, 25, started to work as a nurse in an intensive care unit in a private clinic in Rome just before the COVID-19 emergency begun.

“As a nurse, I’m in charge of doing the swab test to patients who are supposed to be infected,” Sabrina told Euronews.

“Every time I walk in the room where they are confined, patients look at me, terrified," she said, adding that she always tries to defuse the tension with a joke.

Paradoxically, coping with COVID-19 is easier at work than at home, she said: “At work, I’m not alone: we help each other and always try to smile and be positive. The hardest part of the day is when I leave the hospital and I fear the virus is coming home with me.”

Before the pandemic, the young nurse used to live with her parents, but she has now moved houses and hasn't seen them in a month. “I didn’t want to put their health in danger,” she said.

'The staff are down to the bone'

Marta, an educator in a health care facility for elderly people in Trentino, started her job as the first cases of COVID-19 were being reported in Italy. The centre hosts patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses.


No official data is available for such facilities in Italy, but many charities have reported that in the last weeks, the death toll has been constantly increasing in nursing homes.

"Our working hours have been completely disrupted due to the virus”, she said. “The staff is down to the bone, because some of us have been infected.”

COVID-19 has complicated everything, she said: staff has been reduced due to infections and some residents who are afraid they may die are developing behavioural disorders.

"Every day we face suffering and death and we feel helplessness and lost,” Marta said. “Now, we are too tired to think, but once we stop, we will realise the emotional impact of all this.”

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