It is so painful to watch your country’s trauma abroad and it is agony when your adopted home could be set for the same fate, writes Italian student, Chiara Mingozzi.
Every single morning ever since Italy went in full lockdown, I wake up to a notification of the daily Covid-19 death toll. Then, I try to go on with my normal day.
I send a message to my parents and one to my friends, which usually leads to a lengthy discussion about how we can minimise our chances to contract the virus.
I spend the rest of the day checking the news and studying during breaks.
However, the truth is I feel guilty, I feel guilty for not being in my country during its hardest time since WWII, I feel guilty for not being there with my family. I feel guilty for having a still reasonably normal life, while they are forced at home, with hundreds of people dying around them every day.
My dad is a 62-year-old paramedic who loves his job. He sends us pictures of him smiling in his pink face mask of extremely low quality.
I have never heard him complain about being overworked since this crisis has begun, even when one healthy paramedic died last week after having contracted the virus, and he was 15 years younger than him.
Protective gear is starting to lack, and he confessed that he has worn the same disposable face mask for two or three days on multiple occasions, even if they are supposed to be discarded after every shift.
He told me he would like me to get a repatriation flight to go back home, he is worried about me being here alone. I haven’t told him I fear for his life.
But I think about it every single day, if not every single hour of the day.
I have listened to countless interviews and read hundreds of articles about patients who succumbed to this virus. They all realise they are dying, but their family is not allowed to stand by their side, nor to say one last word to them.
Doctors do not even meet the family of the victims; they give them a call instead. Often, their wife, husband or sons would implore the doctor to give their love ones a hug for them.
They will never see them again. The coffin will be sealed, and the bodies will be cremated. There will be no open funerals and deceased patients will be placed on a ‘waiting list’ to be cremated. The wait could last weeks.
On Wednesday, military vehicles were deployed in the city of Bergamo to transport coffins to a nearby town.
Bergamo’s morgue had reached its full capacity.
Then there are doctors and nurses, working 12 to 14 hour shifts with no breaks, often unable to go to the bathroom for 6 hours because of the restrictive protective gear. Doctors and nurses who are forced to treat patients in corridors and who, when they finally go home, live in fear of infecting their family.
I have been desperately trying to make sense of all this, doing the best I can to stay optimistic. Thinking that, after all, at least the air is now cleaner there. That is good news, indeed.
But then there are the thousands of people who could be jobless in a few months and thousands of companies that may go bankrupt. The last time I video called my parents, my mum asked me how I was. I have never tried so hard to hold tears. ‘I’m fine, staying optimistic’ I said.
I hung up and cried.
I thought of a conversation I had with her only a couple weeks back, when I asked her if she was still going swimming and then said ‘yeah you should go, I mean you can’t put your life on hold for fear of catching a flu like virus’.
I now get chills thinking about that remark.
You cannot ‘put your life on hold’ however you have to. What is it worth stopping, if not for saving lives? If Italy had realised it a month ago, maybe we would not be counting the 4800th death of the month right now. Most of my energy is consumed thinking about all of this.
I watch the number of cases in Ireland rise while listening to the government’s press conferences advising people on maintaining social distance.
I hear my next-door neighbours celebrating with friends while I do my best to avoid anyone on my way to the grocery store.
This reality resembles too much what Italy looked like 15 days ago. When people were still meeting up with friends or going on holiday with their families. “It’s just a flu anyway,” they say.
Does any of this sound familiar?
And then I inevitably start picturing in my head what Ireland could like in a few weeks. The country that has been my home for the past four years. An alternation of ambulances sirens and funeral tolling.
And my heart breaks again.
Chiara Mingozzi is an Italian student who is presently studying at UCC