Dispatch 5 — From the Red, Red, Red (War) Zone

Battle Scene, Gone with the Wind

My husband’s cousin is a nurse in Italy’s Coronavirus Red Zone. Although she retired on 1/1/2020, she’s being bombarded with texts from her colleagues at Pope Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo. This hospital is Ground Zero in the Italian Red Zone.

She’s been sending me texts of her texts. Warnings that make me sit up and bite my nails and spend sleepless nights, but also help me to focus.

This stuff is serious. You might not want to hear. If not, read no further. But as they say, forewarned is forearmed. But no panic. Just take stock of the situation that the experts in charge here are describing.

Here’s her shocking text this morning: headlines from an interview with the doctor in charge of anesthesiology at her old hospital.

The anesthesiologist on the front lines in the war against the virus. “We have to decide who to treat and who not to. Like on a battlefield. Christian Salaroli, anesthesiologist in Bergamo, explains “we decide on the basis of age and overall health. Some of us, doctors or young people alike, will survive, but drained.”
© Fei Maohua / XINHUA – Coronavirus

I looked the interview with Salaroli up. Here’s the link to the original in Italian. I’ll include an English translation (mine) of select portions below:

In an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper, Christian Salaroli, 48 years old, doctor, manager and anesthesiologist at the Pope Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, explains the climate and complexity of this coronavirus emergency inside Italian hospitals, including his. “We decide on the basis of age and overall health. As on a battlefield. I’m not the one who has decided this, this is what all the manuals we have studied from instruct us to do.”

Are there written rules to follow? Doctor Salaroli answers that “at the moment […] no” and that “according to practice–even if it’s terrible to say–patients with serious cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular pathologies are evaluated very carefully, because they do not tolerate acute hypoxia very well and have a small chance of surviving the critical phase of the illness.”

What does this mean? It means they probably don’t get hooked up to the necessary machinery because the machinery is in short supply. As are the beds.


Someone wrote me that they don’t know what to do.

Three weeks ago, we didn’t know what to do either. Now with three weeks of experience under our belts (a learning curve during which I went from it won’t happen to me, to it’s not that serious but doesn’t Milan look nice without the crowds, to I’ll go to the hospital if I get sick and other delusions) I’ll share another text with some advice also from a doctor at the hospital (via our cousin-nurse):

This spread of the virus happens at lightning speed. We, the medical profession, need your help. Wash your hands. Avoid going out. Avoid going to the beauty parlor, the gym, the movies, meetings for work. Avoid restaurants and bars, if you possibly can. If you don’t feel well, even if it’s “just a cold,” stay at home so you don’t spread germs and lower other people’s immune systems. If quarantine is indicated, follow the guidelines and stay at home!

This morning my husband isn’t feeling so well. Yesterday it was me. He’s in one room, and I’m in another, taking a break from a training course I’m doing about virtual teaching.

We’re together with this idea about keeping separate. It’s not psychosis or panic. We’re just trying to increase the odds of staying well, here in the Red Zone. I hope you can do the same, because we’re all in this together–each on their own. Separately together. Together separately. You get it. I hope.

8 thoughts on “Dispatch 5 — From the Red, Red, Red (War) Zone

  1. My son is in Milan (I live near Rome) so you will appreciate a mother’s concern. One way of keeping the immune system healthy is to make sure our emotional self stays as positive as it can under the circumstances. Breathing properly, deeply, calms the nervous system as does concentraing on what good there is life, on gratitude, on thoughts that reinforce our resilience. It is good to know what is going on, and of course we rely on the media for that, but it is not good to be addiced to the bad news that the media always send our way. Lots of people are healing, so that’s a good thing. The draconian measures that are being put into place will eventually bring the rising rate of contagion down. We don’t know when, true, but we have to think positively too. Raffaele Morelli has something important to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNp5ySgtXdU

    1. Thanks for this!
      My sons are also in Milan (along with my husband and me). Your perspective changes when you’re in the thick of things. But you are right. Keeping a positive outlook helps, as do following the rules. Lombardy, the powerhouse of Italy, has all but shut down. It means something serious is going on. The country is risking a recession as a result.

  2. Thanks for keeping us up to date, Nat. You present the situation in Italy in such a compelling way. I have read (and my physician family members have confirmed) that most people who contract COVID19, especially young people, will have mild cases. I hope everyone understands that! The global panic right now is nearly as dangerous for humankind as the illness itself, though I know some level of panic must be gripping most everyone in Italy, and with reason. Thanks again for this!

    1. Thanks Marthe! Yes, the numbers say that 80% of cases are mild and that young people are better equipped. Thank God for that! The hospitalization problem regards the 20% who fall seriously ill. These people need to be evaluated. For them, there is a selection process currently underway, dictated by necessity — not in my words, but in the words of the medical personnel on the ground, at ground zero. If we don’t stay home and reduce the numbers because we’re banking on being part of the 80%, then we are not helping to contain the virus. We’re helping to spread it and put those people at risk who can ill afford to cope.
      In many parts of the world, including Italy, families include elderly people. What do you do if you live with your 90-year-old grandmother? Do you still go on non-essential outings and risk passing it along to her? What about passing it along to your elderly neighbor across the hall?
      Anyway this is the picture from the red zone. We didn’t think we’d end up as the next Wuhan, yet here we are, three short weeks later.

  3. Powerful blog. Sending best wishes to you, your family, your husband’s cousin and the brave health care workers and citizens of Italy.


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