For Lucia Dario, a nurse caring for Covid-19 patients at the Gemelli hospital in Rome, it is the emotional side of this epidemic that has been particularly draining.
Yes, the full body suit gets sweaty and wearing three pairs of gloves on top of each other — a necessary protection against the virus — makes her feel clumsy.
But it’s the feeling of not being able to do more that is the toughest, she says. For the first few days of Italy’s coronavirus crisis, she’d finish her shift, get into her car and cry. She felt useless.
“The isolation rooms are like bunkers, they are parallel realities,” she said, describing the eerie atmosphere on the ward as “silence that screams.”
Dario and her colleagues are the only human contact these patients’ rooms get.
“We ask them what they need, almost everyone says nothing, at most they ask for water,” she said. Some lock eyes with her, she said, almost to signal that they will meet again one day, without the masks. She hears people sobbing, coughing and praying through the night.
“Some turn the TV on at a very high volume to stop their thoughts,” the nurse said.
Hospitals around the world have been on strict lockdown, banning visitors and limiting contact between patients, due to the highly infectious virus.
Oli Pohlová is a part-time nurse at the pulmonology ward of a hospital in the Czech town of Mladá Boleslav. With more than 600 beds, this hospital plays an important role in the region. It’s normally buzzing with activity, but since Covid-19 hit, its doors have been shut to all visitors.
“It’s very hard for the patients, many of them have not seen their families for a really long time,” she said. So, as well as all the other tasks, nurses have also found themselves trying to give patients some company and relief from not being able to see their loved ones. “It’s up to us now to chat with them, try to make them laugh for a bit, ask questions… you can’t substitute the families, of course, but hopefully you can help a bit,” Pohlová said.
Dario has been a nurse for 20 years, but she said she has never witnessed anything like this crisis.
This experience will mark all of us,” she said.
One dying patient has recently asked Dario to read her the last rites. “We are not priests of course, but we tried to do our best,” Dario said. She prayed with the elderly woman. She passed away later, alone, far from her family.